Kansas State football vs. Nevada report card: Another solid effort across the board

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas State got key contributions across the board, especially from their defense and running game, Saturday to pass their biggest nonconference challenge against Nevada.

Sophomore quarterbacks Will Howard and Jaren Lewis, thrust into the lineup with last week's injury to super-senior starter Skylar Thompson, did their part by avoiding turnovers and feeding the ball to running backs Deuce Vaughn and Joe Ervin, who combined for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, the Wildcats limited Nevada's high-powered offense and quarterback Carson Strong to 331 yards and two touchdowns. 

Here are the grades from K-State's 38-17 victory over the Wolf Pack:

Offense: Wildcats well grounded

Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman congratulates offensive tackle Cooper Beebe (50) following a Wildcats touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday against Nevada at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

What better way to take the pressure off your young quarterbacks, not to mention your defense, than pounding the ball on the ground? Especially with Deuce Vaughn and now Joe Ervin providing the one-two punch.

"When you rush the ball for 269 yards, we're going to continue to rush the football," K-State coach Chris Klieman said matter-of-factly after watching his offense amass 398 yards while attempting just 13 passes.

The Wildcats simply played to their strength and it worked.

With Vaughn and Ervin eating up huge chunks of yardage — they combined for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries — and quarterback Will Howard adding 56 yards and two more scores, why indeed would they throw it?

It didn't hurt that Howard showed off his arm on the second play of the game, hitting tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe deep down the middle for a 68-yard touchdown that accounted for more than half of their 129 passing yards. Howard has been turnover prone in his young career and fellow Lewis was making his college debut in the second quarter, so allowing the running back tandem to carry more of the load only made sense.

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Howard was a respectable 7 of 10 passing for 123 yard and Lewis 2 for 3 for 6 yards. Compare that to Vaughn's career-high 127 yards rushing on 23 attempts and 82 yards for Ervin on 11 carries.

The only negative was a scoreless third quarter during which Nevada erased a 10-point halftime deficit to tie it at 17. That was quickly corrected on the first play of the fourth period, when Vaughn's 11-yard touchdown run put the Wildcats in front for good.

Howard looked much more comfortable than he did the previous week, when he came on for the injured Thompson. That's good news heading into next week's Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State.

Grade: A-

Defense: More big stops in crunch time

K-State gave up 331 yards, the most so far this season, and was burned on a pair of explosive pass plays. But let's look at the bottom line. Holding Nevada, quarterback Carson Strong and an elite receiving corps to 17 points is not too shabby.

And how about that run defense?

"We talked about having to make them one-dimensional," Klieman said. "I think they rushed for 25 yards on 23 carries (they did), and that's making them one dimensional."

Nevada had allowed a total of two sacks in its first two games. K-State got to Strong three times, plus got an interception from Tee Denson in the second quarter that led to a field goal.

And then there were the back-to-back fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter with the game outcome still very much in question. After the Wildcats took the lead, Nevada moved into K-State territory, only to turn the ball over on downs when Nate Matlack stopped Strong a yard short at the 38.

More:Kansas State football pushes past Nevada, 38-17, thanks to a big fourth quarter

The offense marched 62 yards and took six-plus minutes off the clock to score again. Nevada did not pick up another first down the rest of the way and a fourth quarter that started in a dead heat turned into a laugher.

The Wildcats' depth, especially up front and in the secondary, again paid dividends. A total of 24 players recorded defensive statistics, and other than middle linebacker Daniel Green's nine tackles and safety Russ Yeast's four, nobody else had more than three.

After three solid games in a row now, it's time to consider this defense legit.


Special teams: Still nothing special

For years, K-State has hung its hat on special teams magic. As Klieman said during his news conference Tuesday, there has been nothing inherently wrong with the special teams so far this season, but given the amount of time the Wildcats spend on the kicking and return games, they need more.

Credit Nevada's kickers for completely neutralizing the K-State return game. The Wildcats did not record a single return yard.

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K-State kicker Taiten Winkel did his job, converting his only field goal attempt from 37 yards and plus all four extra points. Ty Zentner shanked one punt that helped set up Nevada's third-quarter touchdown and booted another into the end zone, and the Wolf Pack had one 30-yard kickoff return, but otherwise the Wildcats were solid if not spectacular.

Klieman was right, though. There will come a time this season where the Wildcats again will need their special teams to be truly special.

Grade: C-

Coaching: Pushing the right buttons

Kudos again to Klieman and his staff, for exploiting the Wildcats' strengths, minimizing their weaknesses and keeping everybody engaged by continuing to develop the depth that was sorely lacking a year ago.

On offense, the decision early in the week to use two quarterbacks could not have worked out much better. Lewis got his feet wet in the backup role by leading the Wildcats to 10 second-quarter points, primarily handing the ball to running backs Vaughn and Ervin.

With Ervin emerging as another serious running threat and Vaughn proving that he is more than capable of handling 20-plus touches a game, keeping the ball on the ground served a dual purpose. Not only did it take pressure off the young quarterbacks but also kept the defense — and Nevada's offense — off the field for long stretches.

On defense, the Wildcats shut down Nevada's rushing attack, forcing Strong to beat them through the air. For the most part they kept the Wolf Pack's standout receiving corps in front of them.

Grade: A