HOUSTON – The Deuce Vaughn and Kansas State Wildcats ended a streaky season on a positive note Tuesday night with a dominant 42-20 victory over short-handed LSU in the Texas Bowl.
Vaughn, a second-time runner and first-team All-American as an all-purpose player, rushed 146 yards on 21 carries. He scored four touchdowns – three rushing and one receiving.
“The aggressiveness of our calls opened up the running game,” Vaughn said. “Everyone played and our O-line remained engaged in the fight against a really good defense.”
Kansas State (8-5) also got a strong performance from quarterback Skylar Thompson, who returned to make his last collegiate start after missing the regular season finale with an ankle injury.
“For him to be on point as he was and throw strikes, he was phenomenal,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said. “Seeing him go out that way was huge. He wanted to play well in this moment, and he did.”
Thompson completed 21 of 28 passes in 259 yards and three touchdowns and was selected for the Texas Bowl MVP. Malik Knowles had two touchdown catches and a 42-yard reception.
“It flew by, but it was a special way to end it,” Thompson said. “Holy smoker, I could not have drawn a better way to end it than tonight.”
While LSU (6-7) had a tough time slowing down Vaughn and Thompson, the Tigers had another uphill battle in attack.
When starting quarterback Max Johnson had switched to Texas A&M, backup Myles Brennan recovering from surgery and a third-string freshman who would have had to burn his red shirt to play, LSU came into the match with a big question marks below the middle.
The Tigers turned to senior receiver Jontre Kirklin, who had not played quarterback since high school in 2016. Kirklin had only played in 25 games over five seasons, including his first two years as a cornerback.
The Tigers did not get a first try until late in the second quarter. By that time, Kansas State already had 12 first downs and a 21-0 lead. However, LSU later scored on that drive, a 23-yard touchdown catch by Jaray Jenkins.
Kirklin was 7-of-11 passes in 138 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while also rushing 61 yards on 11 carries. He passed an 81-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hilton Jr. as time ran out.
The Tigers were led by interim coach Brad Davis, the offensive line coach who was filled during the transition from Ed Orgeron to former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. LSU announced in December that Davis would return to Kelly’s staff as an offensive line coach.
Davis said LSU only had 38 scholarship players available for the game, but backing out was never an option.
“We are not lagging behind from a challenge,” Davis said. “There was never a thought in our minds not to play this match. We fully expected to win.”
Kansas State seemed to have a slight advantage in the crowd, despite the fact that Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was nearly 500 miles closer to Houston than Manhattan, Kansas.
The Wildcats led 21-7 at the break.
Kansas State enjoyed its most skewed victory over an SEC opponent in the school’s history, improving to 5-17 against the conference.
Kansas State looked strong on both sides of the ball, with great performances from graduates and players returning next season, on track for the Wildcats’ first bowl victory since the 2017 Cactus Bowl.
LSU had hoped to continue the positive momentum from an upset victory over Texas A&M in the finals of the regular season, but transfers and injuries got the best of the Tigers. They will look to quickly recharge next season under the new regime.
Kelly joined the TV show and was asked about his time in the spotlight with viral videos that made fun of his dance with recruit Walker Howard or his newfound fake southern accent.
“Listen here, whether it’s dancing or I could not get my accent down with ‘family’, so listen, I’m from Boston – we do not have strong accents,” Kelly said.
PRAISE TO THE CHURCH
“He’s the epitome of a selfless child. He probably did not have the career he expected to get out of high school, but he never complained or wavered or thought about moving or quitting. In fact, he was the opposite.” – Davis at Kirklin.
Before the game, the Texas Bowl introduced the 2021 class of Gridiron Legends, which included Dennis Gentry, Keith Kilgore, Shane Lechler, Mike Singletary, RC Slocum, Emmitt Thomas, Jerry Ball, Wade Phillips, Steve Worster, Vince Young and Dick Olin.
Kansas State will have a new quarterback in 2022, but the offense is likely to continue to flow through Vaughn. The Wildcats open against South Dakota.
LSU has an important offseason with the transition to Kelly, who has more wins than any active coach in major college football. The Tigers open against Florida State.