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Sunflower Showdown The only thing on K-State’s mind

By: D. Scott Fritchen

No. 12 Kansas State made a point this week, not to mention what will happen when the Wildcats beat Kansas in the Dillons Sunflower Showdown.


And for a good reason.


K-State head coach Chris Kleman The Wildcats only thought of one thing: beating the Jayhawks. And nothing else.


“These guys know what’s at stake,” said Klieman. “Our boys are smart enough to know what’s at stake. Instead of burdening them with all that stress, let’s just take the day as it goes and make sure we’re prepared for today, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then we’ll see if we’re doing well enough are.”


A win would send a senior class of 28 into Senior Night with a win and retain the coveted Governor’s Cup trophy at the Vanier Family Football Complex.


Here’s what K-State particularly emphasized: A win would earn the Wildcats a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game, 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big 12, who have won three of their last four contests. The Wildcats would face No. 4 TCU to win the program’s first Big 12 title since 2012.


“That’s something we’re not thinking about,” K-State runs back Two Vaughns said. “We can’t overlook this game.”

 

Vaughn 22 SE

Kansas, 6-5 and 3-5, has lost five of its last six and suffered a 55-14 loss to Texas last Saturday in Lawrence.

K-State’s 13 wins over Kansas is the most by either team in a streak dating back to 1902. The Wildcats have led the Jayhawks 25-4 since 1993, surpassing them with an average score of 35-15 over that span.

Under Klieman, K-State has won the last three in the series 38-10, 55-14 and 35-10.

“We have to play out our part of the rivalry,” said sophomore Kansas head coach Lance Leipold. “It wasn’t a big rivalry. We didn’t make it a competitive game last year. That’s my main focus. For what it’s worth, I think it’s great that it’s the last game of the year.”

This is the first time since 2016 that the teams will meet in the final game of the regular season.

“Rivalry games should be played later in the season,” Klieman said. “It’s great for both teams no matter what the record is. There’s a lot at stake when you end up having your rivalry game. That makes this game really unique.”

The game sold out about a month in advance for kickoff Saturday at 7 p.m. (FOX) at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

K-State Football vs. Oklahoma State, October 29, 2022. Final Score: Kansas State 48, Oklahoma State 0. (Photo by Lathe Cobb/K-State Sports)

“The last few years it hasn’t been as competitive as this year,” said the K-State quarterback Will Howard said. “Believe them credit. Coach Leipold built a culture there and they bought in and they improved a lot. That’s going to be a challenge.

“It will be an electrifying atmosphere. I know K-State Nation will come out with full support. I look forward to it. It will be electrifying.”

K-State’s offense was electric. Howard has thrown 11 touchdowns on just two interceptions in four games to relieve the injured Adrian Martinez, and the Wildcats have gained more than 375 yards on total offense in each of their league games for the first time in Big 12 history.

wide receiver Malik Knowles (44 catches), Cade Warner (34) and Philip Brooks (33) have created problems for defense along with the emergence of tight end as a sophomore Ben Sinnottwho has 25 catches for 356 yards and three touchdowns.

Knowles 22SE

Vaughn, the fourth-leading rusher in the Big 12 with 1,148 yards and six scores, also has 38 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns.

“We have so many guns that it’s hard to just take away from me because it opens up everything else,” Sinnott said. “I think, to be honest, I’m probably the least concerned about how talented our offense is this year.”

K-State has been balanced all season with 2,325 passing yards and 2,290 rushing yards.

“Anyone who catches for me, that makes my job easy because the defense has to be so worried about Deuce and they’re worried about closing the run and it opens up the passing game,” Howard said. “When they start worrying about the pass you give it to Deuce and he’s pretty good at football as you know.”

Vaughn had 162 rushing yards against Kansas last season. The Jayhawks handed Texas 427 rushing yards while Bijan Robinson rushed for 243 yards and four points.

“Wherever Kansas is on our schedule, we’re going to attack it just like it’s the first game of the season,” Vaughn said. “It’s the last game and it’s sold out and KU so it’s great that we can end it like this and have a great game against a great football team.”

Kansas started their season 0-5 before a 38-31 loss to No. 17 TCU that started the Jayhawks’ relegation. In Kansas’ losses, it has allowed opponents 38, 52, 35, 43 and 55 points.

“Every day is a test of your culture,” Leipold said. “We didn’t play well and didn’t handle some situations well. For me, building a consistent program is just part of the whole growth process. We’ve made a lot of progress and there are days when you take a step back.”

Meanwhile, K-State wants to take another step forward.

“Coach Kliemann and his staff did an excellent job,” said Leipold. “They have an excellent football team with a lot to play for and they deserve that right. They have a lot of weapons and one of the best defenses in the country. It will be a big task to get there.”

Defense 22 SE

K-State has kept every FBS opponent below their point average at the time the teams played and three conference opponents without a touchdown in wins at Iowa State (10-9), Oklahoma State (48-0) and held at Baylor (31-3).

However, the Wildcats will be without starting security Cinder Masonwho picked up a season-ending injury in last Saturday’s 48-31 win in West Virginia after replacing starter Kobe Savage, who picked up a season-ending injury the week before.

Klieman went into the week with uncertainty as to who would replace Mason in the lineup.

“It’s tough,” cornerback Julius Brents said. “My heart breaks for these guys. We have to make sure we have that next man up mentality and make sure we don’t lose a shot. It’s hard to lose two guys like that with their leadership roles in the backend.” Team. We’ll make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone is ready.”

K-State will face a Kansas offense that is its best in more than a decade. Kansas is averaging 36.9 points per game, its best since averaging 42.7 points in 2007. The Jayhawks have 52 touchdowns after not surpassing 36 in a season in the past 10 years. Kansas is averaging 7.20 yards per game, which ranks third on the FBS with Tennessee and behind only Ohio State (7.39) and USC (7.28).

Quarterback Jalen Daniels started the final game against Texas, marking his first game action since his Oct. 8 exit from the TCU game. Against the Longhorns, Daniels went 17 of 26 for 230 yards and two touchdowns and an interception with a 55-yard completion for Quentin Skinner.

With Daniels out, Jason Bean took over the starting quarterback role for four games. Against TCU, Bean threw for 262 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

Both quarterbacks can run — Daniels has 353 rushing yards and five touchdowns and Bean has 212 yards and three touchdowns.

“(Daniels) causes a lot of problems because he can throw exceptionally well and he can run and lengthen plays,” said Klieman. “He does a little bit of everything. He makes everyone around him better and I would say the same about Bean. Both quarterbacks had really good successes.

“I suppose we’ll see that either or both will be available. They are both really dynamic players. They are an explosive offensive.”

Brent's 22 SE

Brents understands the importance of this encounter.

“This game means a little bit more because it’s a rivalry,” he said. “We will get their best out of them and give them our best. It’s definitely a game that you’ve been circling this year as well, and since it’s the last game it’s a great way to get out there.”

Klieman, who hit 100, was asked to describe his team’s emotions this weekth Career win last Saturday, replied: “I never believed in putting all your eggs in that basket because what happens when you don’t succeed? That’s the pressure on the kids.

“Some of that is outside noise that they need to block out. We have a really good group of leaders and a great locker room where they block out some of the outside noise and realize that the focus is on us, not even KU or whatever comes after that, but it’s us and what we do on a daily basis have to do to prepare.”

The Wildcats appear relaxed and ready for action.

“When we play with that swagger, you can tell we’re having fun – seeing the defense celebrate after a turnover and seeing us celebrate after a touchdown,” Howard said. “It’s just fun, you know? If you can make this game for fun, a lot of good things will happen.”

If K-State gets past Kansas, something really good is going to happen.

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