MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State didn’t look like a team missing some of its best players during Saturday’s 48-0 victory over Oklahoma State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The Wildcats took the field without starting quarterback Adrian Martinez and top cornerback Daniel Green, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they dominated the Cowboys. They were the better team in every way.
Behind the sensational play of Will Howard, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns, K-State raced out to an early lead and never looked back in a game between ranked teams.
Some other telling stats: K-State gained 495 yards and held Oklahoma State to 217. Deuce Vaughn rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Kade Warner added five catches for 97 yards and two scores.
It was an important win for the No. 22 Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Big 12). Not only did they qualify for a bowl game, but they also edged out the No. 9 Cowboys (6-2, 3-2) in the conference championship race.
Here are some insights from the game:
Will Howard stars as K-State’s QB of the future
Howard has done more than fill in for Martinez admirably in the last two games. He played at a high level and led the Wildcats to unexpected heights offensively.
At no other point this season has K-State’s offense looked better than it did in the first half Saturday. The Wildcats had the ball on seven drives in the first two quarters and scored 35 points on them. Bold prediction: They’ll win a few more games if they continue to average five points a game.
Howard threw a pair of touchdown passes to Kade Warner, another to Phillip Brooks and another to Deuce Vaughn. K-State’s next score came on a perfectly blocked 62-yard run by Vaughn.
He can’t run the ball as well as Martinez, but Howard is an upgrade as a passer.
Howard has obviously come a long way since he failed to lead K-State to a win against Texas in the season finale last year.
His play over the last two seasons inspired so little confidence that the coaching staff brought Martinez in on a one-year lease at quarterback. Some fans gave up on Howard when he struggled as an underclassman when he represented Skylar Thompson. But he is now throwing with much more confidence and is also making good decisions. Even when he got out of the pocket, he made things happen against Oklahoma State.
The Wildcats hope to use Howard in fewer than five games this season, allowing him to keep his redshirt. If that happens, he will have three years of eligibility in Manhattan. That’s a good thing because he could be the K-State quarterback of the future.
Heck, it might as well be K-State’s current quarterback. Martinez was close to the game on Saturday and even went through the entire warmup before choosing to watch the game from the sidelines. He could be back next week. But there’s no need to rush him back the way Howard is playing.
Hats off to the K-State defense
No Daniel Green. No Khalid Duke (in the first half). No problem for the K-State defense.
Many expected the Wildcats to struggle against Oklahoma State’s high-octane offense without Green and Duke in the lineup. It turns out there’s no need to worry.
K-State flexed its muscles against Spencer Sanders and one of the top scoring teams in the country.
Brendan Mott and Felix Anudike-Uzomah both recorded sacks, Julius Brents and Krew Jackson came up with interceptions and Nick Allen led the team in tackles.
The Cowboys just couldn’t get anything going. K-State pressured them from start to finish, holding them scoreless for the first time since 2009.
Kade Warner is suddenly a top machine
It’s hard to believe that Warner failed to catch a touchdown in his first four seasons of college football.
He was a top machine for the Wildcats this year. Howard found the senior receiver five times for 97 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. The first catch came on a 31-yard toss that Warner caught in the end zone. Warner got the second with his feet as he converted a screen pass for a 41-yard gain.
Warner was once a raider in Nebraska who was known to be little more than a property holder. But right now, he’s making big plays at K-State. Warner entered the day with 16 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. He added even more to those stats against Oklahoma State.
His best play came with Howard at quarterback.
Of course, almost every receiver looked good against the Cowboys. Malik Knowles had eight catches for 113 yards, Phillip Brooks had two catches for 41 yards and a score and Vaughn hauled in a touchdown pass on a diving catch just before halftime.
Good change on the kicker
Ty Zentner took over for Chris Tennant as K-State’s kicker Saturday and responded with strong play on special teams.
The senior connected on both of his field goal attempts and made all five extra points.
Klieman made the change at kicker after Tennant missed five of his first 14 field goals this season. Seems like a good move. Zentner is a gifted special teams player who can do it all. He also handles punts and kickoffs for the Wildcats.
The inside track to the Big 12 championship game
It might have been tough for K-State to find a way to the Big 12 championship game without a win over Oklahoma State. But the Wildcats now have the inside track there over fellow contenders Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech.
They are by no means a barrier to reaching Arlington and potentially getting a rematch against undefeated TCU, but K-State fans can dream a little after such a performance.
The Wildcats can strengthen their position over the next two weeks. Next up is a home game against Texas, followed by a road game against Baylor. K-State will almost certainly get there with wins in both of those contests. But a split would likely still keep their hopes alive.
©2022 The Kansas City Star. Visit kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.