The Kansas State Wildcats began the Chris Klieman era with a convincing 49-14 victory over the Nicholls Colonels Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Here are some thoughts, awards and grades from the game.
Player of the game
Skylar Thompson is the obvious choice. The junior quarterback grabbed the keys to a new muscle-car offense and had it running on all cylinders from the start. Not only did he complete 16 of 22 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, but he also ran for 30 yards and a score. His stat line would have been even better without four drops by his receivers. He guided the Wildcats to 573 total yards and more than 41 minutes of possession time. Best of all, they didn’t punt all night. K-State was at its best on the ground, as it churned out 361 rushing yards, but Thompson had a lot to do with that, too. Klieman raved about his run audibles afterward, including one that sprung a 24-yard touchdown for James Gilbert. He seems to be a good fit in this system.
Play of the game
There is lots of competition here. Eight different K-State players broke loose for gains of 15-plus yards and the Wildcats got a defensive touchdown from Jonathan Alexander. But the award goes to Dalton Schoen for beating his defender on a double-move in the fourth quarter for a 38-yard touchdown. Thompson and Schoen talked about trying the play throughout the game and it worked perfectly when they finally called it. The score also gave the Wildcats a 35-7 lead and ended all hope of a Nicholls comeback.
Stat of the game
K-State ran the ball 17 more times than Nicholls had total plays. The Wildcats gained 573 yards on 80 plays in Courtney Messingham’s debut as play-caller, and his ground-oriented attack (361 yards on 58 rushes) sucked the life out of the opposing team. The Colonels were only on the field long enough to try 41 plays.
Quote to note
“I was more excited to see the guys have fun and to see their excitement. Our sideline was lively, our locker room was lively. They were loose before the game. I was excited for those guys. I was excited for our staff. Me, personally, I’m blessed to have Gene (Taylor) as my boss and give me the opportunity to be here, but we are all going to do this together. We are never going to be, ‘This is about Chris.’ I am not a big fan of that.” -- K-State coach Chris Klieman.
Offense: A+. It was a dream debut for just about everyone on this side of the ball. Thompson was sharp at quarterback, Schoen had big plays at receiver and five different players had rushing touchdowns. The Wildcats lost their entire backfield during the offseason, but you wouldn’t know it. Gilbert led the way with 115 yards, but he had a strong supporting cast of ball-carriers by his side in Harry Trotter (50 yards and a touchdown) and Jordon Brown (49 yards and a touchdown). The Wildcats averaged 7.2 yards per play and didn’t punt a single time.
Defense: A. You can’t argue with the results, as K-State came up with two turnovers and limited Nicholls to 14 points. But the defensive effort could have been better. The Colonels averaged 6.7 yards per play and delivered a handful of long gains. They simply weren’t on the field very long with K-State’s offense dominating the clock. Still, it was nice to see Da’Quan Patton lead the team with five tackles and A.J. Parker grab an interception.
Special Teams: B. Blake Lynch missed a 37-yard field goal, but Phillip Brooks and Malik Knowles were solid in the return game. The big question here: When will Devin Anctil attempt his first punt of the season?
Coaching: A+. Klieman and his coaching staff made a terrific first impression. They created a fun atmosphere and gave fans reason to feel excited about the new direction of K-State football.
K-State is done playing FCS opponents this season, but that doesn’t mean next week’s game against Bowling Green will be more difficult than the opener. The Falcons are coming off a 2-10 season and are expected to finish near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference this year. They did start 2019 with a resounding victory, though. Bowling Green defeated Morgan State 46-3 on Thursday behind 253 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Darius Wade. Klieman admits he doesn’t know much about the Falcons, so that could present a challenge. K-State is an early 23-point favorite at home. The hardest thing about this game could be the change in atmosphere. There was tons of excitement around the first game of the Klieman era, played in prime time in front of a sellout crowd. Can the Wildcats duplicate the energy they displayed on Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff in front of some empty seats?