Saturday’s contest between the Nevada Wolf Pack and Kansas State Wildcats featured the battle between two 2-0 teams and two offensive stalwarts: Nevada quarterback Carson Strong and Kansas State tailback Deuce Vaughn.
Behind its staunch rushing attack with dominant offensive line play, Kansas State came out on top — earning the 38-17 victory Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan.
The Wolf Pack got eviscerated up front, surrendering 269 rushing yards (on 5.6 yards per carry) with four touchdowns. It’s the first time since the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Ohio (Jan. 3, 2020) where the Pack have given up more than 260 yards rushing on 5.5 yards per attempt.
Meanwhile, collectively, Nevada generated just 1.1 yards per carry. Its three tailbacks — Toa Taua, Devonte Lee and Avery Morrow — conjured up only 2.2 yards per attempt.
Nevada drops to 2-1, including 0-6 against the Big 12 all-time. Though they earned the 22-17 road victory against Cal in their season-opener, the Pack have not won two road games against Power-5 foes in a single season since they joined the FBS in 1992. In fact, they have just three in its program history (Washington - ‘03; Cal - ‘12, ‘21).
The Wildcats move to 3-0 for the second time under Chris Klieman, who’s in his third year as Kansas State’s head coach.
Nevada tallied 331 total yards with 14 first downs. Carson Strong completed 27-of-40 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
For the second time in three games, the Wolf Pack backfield failed to register more than four yards a carry. Devonte Lee had a team-high 10 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown. Taua had six carries for 15 yards, while Morrow added one carry for minus-2 yards.
Romeo Doubs and Melquan Stovall each topped the Pack with seven catches apiece; Doubs accumulated a team-high 121 yards while Stovall finished 76 yards, the second-most.
The junior’s 76 yards were the second-most of his career, trailing the 84 yards against Ohio in 2019. Elijah Cooks had four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Tory Horton added three catches for 26 yards.
Nine different Pack players had receptions.
Kansas State entered Saturday without its starting signal caller Skylar Thompson, a sixth-year senior, who was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a non-contact knee injury last weekend against Southern Illinois.
With Thompson out, the Wildcats knew it would have to rely on its running game — led by Vaughn — even more than usual. Mission accomplished: Kansas State tallied 269 of its 398 — or 67.6 percent — of its total yards on the ground. Kansas State had 48 rushing attempts (!) compared to just 13 passing attempts.
Vaughn, voted Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2020 by the coaches, tallied 127 yards on 23 carries (5.5 ypc). The 5-foot-6 sophomore’s recorded at least one touchdown and 120-plus rushing yards in all three games this season, including posting one or more touchdowns in nine of his 13 career games.
Joe Ervin tallied a career-high 82 yards — topping his previous career mark (47 yards) set a week ago — with a touchdown.
The Wildcats used two quarterbacks: Will Howard and Jaren Lewis.
Howard received most of the snaps, completing 7-of-10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore added 56 rushing yards (third-most) with a team-high two rushing touchdowns. Lewis completed two of his three pass attempts for just six yards.
Philip Brooks, the only Wildcat with multiple receptions, had five catches for 28 yards.
Howard’s first pass attempt — the Wildcats’ second play — resulted in the 68-yard touchdown to Imatorbhebhe, Kansas State’s first (and only) touchdown pass of the year.
Strong’s 55-yard heave to Doubs set up Devonte Lee’s one-yard touchdown with eight seconds left in the opening quarter, tying it at seven. Kansas State responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive — earning the 14-7 lead after Joe Ervin’s 22-yard rushing score, his second of the season.
Strong’s interception established good field position for the Wildcats, who began just shy of midfield. They eventually tacked on three more points courtesy of Taiten Winkel’s 36-yard field goal before halftime, extending their advantage to 17-7.
Kansas State had 219 yards compared to Nevada’s 142 yards in the first half and more than doubled the Pack’s first down total (11-5).
Nevada, who began the second half with the ball, were pushed out of the red zone after head coach Jay Norvell picked up a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The drive resulted in Brandon Talton’s 46-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 17-10.
Strong followed suit with a 14-yard touchdown connection to Elijah Cooks — their fourth touchdown connection through three games — tying it at 17 with 4:08 remaining in the third quarter. Cooks had eight touchdowns in 2019.
It would be the last score Nevada had on the afternoon.
Deuce Vaughn found the end zone on the Wildcats’ following drive, which ate up 4:14 off the play clock, making it 24-17 with 14:54 in the final quarter. It was Vaughn’s first-and-final score of the game and fifth of the year.
Nevada wasn’t able to find-and-sustain any rhythm offensively thereafter. Kansas State exhausted 10:26 of the 4th quarter — including two eight-plus play drives that lasted 6:09 and 4:11.
Howard’s two rushing scores, from one- and two-yards out, capped off the aforementioned drives — the nail in Nevada’s coffin.
Next up: Nevada will have next week off before traveling to Boise State for its first Mountain West matchup of the year. Kick off for the Oct. 2 meeting has yet to be announced, though it will be televised by FOX’s family of networks.
TOUCHDOWN NEVADA— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) September 18, 2021
Devonte Lee powers it into the endzone.
Q1 0:08 | Nevada 7, Kansas State 7#BattleBorn // #NevadaGrit pic.twitter.com/WKTZue1CWM
First half flicks#BattleBorn // #NevadaGrit pic.twitter.com/e0p4k5m0sP— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) September 18, 2021
Final. pic.twitter.com/DEy5XWHmbF— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) September 18, 2021