Assessing Kansas State football's offensive performance in 24-7 romp vs. Stanford

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal

ARLINGTON, Texas — Skylar Thompson didn't want to leave the field.

Neither did the rest of the Kansas State offense.

With 32 seconds left, the game well in hand and Kansas State facing a fourth down and 2 at the Stanford 39-yard line, they talked about lobbying coach Chris Klieman for one last play.

"I knew we were calling a timeout, and I sat there and looked at them," Thompson said of the huddle before that play. "I said, 'Hey, I might need a little bit of backup right now, but let's go get coach Klieman. Let's finish this game on offense. Let's finish it the way we started it.'

"So I said, 'I will promote that to him, but I need you guys to back me up on here.'"

It turned out he need not have bothered. Klieman was on the same page.

So after the timeout, Deuce Vaughn got the ball, picked up the first down, and all that was left was to celebrate a dominating 24-7 victory Saturday over Stanford at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Klieman called it a seminal moment.

"I think the best thing you'd say about our offense today, and we had some really good plays, but they were so excited to finish the game on the field," he said. "We weren't going to punt that ball.

"That was a statement (that the offense) came over and said, 'Coach, we're going for it.' I said, 'You're dang right we're going for it. We're ending this thing and we're ending this thing on offense.' They were so excited about that. That was pretty cool."

More:Kansas State football instant analysis: Skylar Thompson dazzles in return vs. Stanford

Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn (22) sprints past Stanford cornerback Ethan Bonner (13) on his way to the end zone for a touchdown Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

For one, it showed that Thompson, the Wildcats' sixth-year senior quarterback, hadn't lost his fire after returning from a shoulder injury that cost him the last seven games in 2020. He'd already shown he was back to his old self on the field, where he completed 9 of 14 passes for 144 yards and rushed for 54 more, including a pair of touchdowns.

Throw in another electric performance by Vaughn — 124 yards on 13 carries with a 59-yard touchdown run — and the Wildcats have reason to feel good about their offense.

For Thompson, it was further confirmation that his long offseason rehabilitation from surgery was worth it. His 6-yard touchdown run to open the scoring with 3:06 left in the first quarter brought a flood of emotions.

"There was a lot that went into that touchdown, and a lot that people didn't see," he said. "A lot of time spent on my own — some hard times and being alone — and it's a lot of thoughts and hard work that I prepared for a moment like that, to come back and have a big-time play like that.

"And to see the fruit fall from the tree in the midst of a situation that once seemed very dark and stormy, to see the fruit fall from the tree. See the sun shine a little bit and be able to take a deep breath."

More:Kansas State football handles Stanford 24-7 in season opener

Vaughn, who played only three games with Thompson last year as a true freshman, also was glad to see the veteran quarterback back in the saddle.

"It showed me again how fantastic of a player he is," Vaughn said. "How smart of a player he is when we're checking things (at the line of scrimmage) and stuff like that, and he's putting everybody in the best possible situation to go and be successful on the field.

"He's a game manager, without a doubt. I'm so happy to have him back. I'm so happy for him to get this season back because, man, he's an unbelievable football player and an unbelievable person."

Thompson and the offense set the tone early with an impressive drive that ended with their only serious miscue of the game, when Kyu Blu Kelly made an acrobatic end zone interception.

Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson (7) scrambles out of the pocket against Stanford on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

"We started fast, had a big drive and turned the ball over, but I thought it was a sign of something, that we have pretty good skill kids and we were able to protect and do some good things," Klieman said. "And their kid made a good play."

Undeterred, Thompson, started the next series with a 56-yard completion to Phillip Brooks, then ran it in for the score on the next play.

The play of the first half belonged to Vaughn, who on a third-and-13 call from the K-State 41-yard line, took a handoff up the middle, made a defender miss and was off to the races.

"All throughout the week, we had seen that look," Vaughn said. "Whenever it was third-and-long, they would really be in a really soft coverage to the point where it kind of dropped everybody outside.

"So it left the middle open, and then whenever you get it through, it's one-on-one with the safety."

After a 40-yard Taiten Winkel field goal pushed the lead to 17-0 early in the fourth quarter, Thompson wrapped things up following a TJ Smith interception, running 13 yards for his second score.

Overall, the Wildcats finished with 344 yards total offense. Not a bad outing, especially from Thompson and Vaughn, the main drivers of the engine. Throw in a stellar effort from what appears to be a vastly improved defense — 233 total yards and just 39 on the ground for Stanford — and it was a pretty good day's work.