Courtesy of K-State Athletics
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Following a convincing 24-7 win over Stanford in last week’s season opener, Kansas State kicks off its seven-game home schedule on Saturday as the Wildcats welcome Southern Illinois to Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. and will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ with Courtney Lyle (play-by-play), Brandon Weeden (analyst) and Shane Sparks (sidelines) on the call. The game can be heard across the 39-station K-State Sports Network with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play), former K-State quarterback Stan Weber (analyst) and Matt Walters (sidelines) calling the action. Fans can also catch the game on SiriusXM (XM: 389, App: 979) in addition to The Varsity Network app.
Catch K-State Football on Classic Hits 1530 AM/102.5 FM/106.7 FM KQNK in Northwest Kansas & Southwest Nebraska as well as Classic Country 1570 AM/94.1 FM KNDY in Northeast Kansas & Southeast Nebraska
A LOOK AT K-STATE
• K-State is looking to ride the momentum of its impressive 24-7 win over Stanford last week. The seven points given up were the fewest in a non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent since surrendering only six at USC in the 2001 season opener.
• The Wildcats ran for 200 yards on offense while holding the Stanford offense to just 39 yards on the ground. It was the fewest rushing yards allowed by a K-State defense since allowing 31 yards to Texas Tech in 2018, and the fewest in a non-conference Power 5 matchup since allowing 17 rushing yards to Arizona State in the 2002 Holiday Bowl.
• Quarterback Skylar Thompson, who is back for his “Super Senior” season, ranks in the top 10 in school history in 15 career categories. He had two rushing touchdowns against Stanford to give him 24 in his career, which ranks fourth in K-State history among quarterbacks.
• Thompson is one of only two signal callers in K-State history to have 5,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career (Ell Roberson), and he needs 835 passing yards to be the first in school history to reach the 6,000/1,000 mark.
• Thompson has the luxury of playing behind an experienced offensive line that brought back 100% of its starts from a year ago in addition to playmakers at every skill position.
• Headlining the skill group is running back Deuce Vaughn, who burst onto the scene a year ago as he was named the True Freshman of the Year by 247Sports, as well as an All-American and Freshman All-American by multiple outlets. Vaughn ran for 124 yards and a score last week and has a current streak of three-straight 100-yard games.
• Wide receivers Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks, the latter a 2020 All-American as a punt returner, are back, while the Wildcats welcomed tight end transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who has spent time at both USC and Illinois. Knowles, Brooks and Imatorbhebhe combined for nine of the team’s 13 receptions and 132 of the Wildcats’ 144 receiving yards vs. Stanford.
• Defensively, the Cats rotated nearly 10 players along the defensive front against the Cardinal, while linebackers Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher combined for 17 tackles and a sack.
• Russ Yeast and TJ Smith each recorded a pick last week, the latter that was returned 39 yards to set up the final touchdown.
• Taiten Winkel nailed his first career field goal attempt against Stanford, a 40-yarder that gave the Cats a 17-0 lead late in the game, while he was 3-for-3 on extra points.
A LOOK AT SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
• Southern Illinois, ranked No. 8 in this week’s FCS STATS Perform FCS Top 25, is coming off a 47-21 victory at Southeast Missouri State last Thursday night.
• The Salukis put up 553 yards of total offense against the Redhawks, including 460 yards through the air from quarterback Nic Baker who went on to earn Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.
• SIU’s first touchdown of the season was a 99-yard completion from Baker to Avante Cox in the first quarter.
• Two other receivers – Landon Lenoir and Izaiah Hartrup – also posted at least 70 receiving yards in the game with 79 and 72 yards, respectively.
• Defensively, linebacker Bryce Notree led the way with nine tackles, including a half sack. Fellow linebacker Makel Calhoun posted seven tackles.
• Southern Illinois totaled six tackles for loss, which included four sacks. Full sacks were recorded by defensive linemen Keenan Agnew, Kevin Glajchen, and Richie Hagarty.
A LOOK AT THE SERIES
• This Saturday marks the first meeting all-time between K-State and Southern Illinois.
• K-State is 15-4 all time against current members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
• Of its four losses against the conference, three came against Northern Iowa in during 1980s, while one was to North Dakota State in 2013 when current K-State head coach Chris Klieman was the defensive coordinator for the Bison.
• The Wildcats’ last game against a member of the conference was against South Dakota in the 2018 season opener, a 27-24 K-State win.
• All-time against teams from the state of Illinois, the Wildcats are 8-2 with the last game against a team from the Land of Lincoln being a 24-23 win over Illinois State in the 2006 season opener.
• All-time, Kansas State is 92-28-5 (75.6%) in home openers, while head coach Chris Klieman is 6-2 (75.0%) in home openers as a head coach.
• Since 1990, K-State holds a 90-18 (83.3%) record in regular-season non-conference games overall, which includes a 76-8 (90.5%) mark at home.
• During those 30 years (excluding last year’s one-game non-conference schedule), the Wildcats have had perfect regular season non-conference ledgers 16 times and unblemished marks at home on 23 occasions.
ONE OF THE BIG 12’S BEST
• K-State ranks third in Big 12 wins since the league’s inception in 1996, trailing only Oklahoma and Texas.
• The Wildcats also rank third in the conference in winning percentage since round-robin play began in 2011. They sit at 58.9% (53-37), trailing only Oklahoma (82.0%; 73-16) and Oklahoma State (64.4%; 58-32).
AMONG THE NATION’S BEST
• K-State has a total of 208 victories since 1995, ranking 22nd among all FBS teams. The Wildcats are one of just 24 schools to reach the 200-win mark over the last 26 seasons.
• Among current Big 12 teams, the Wildcats rank fourth behind Oklahoma (252), Texas (228) and TCU (214).
• Kansas State has a strong history of being in the postseason, having advanced to a bowl game 21 times since 1993, including nine times in the last 11 years.
• K-State’s 21 bowl trips since 1993 rank fourth among current Big 12 teams (Oklahoma – 24; Texas and West Virginia – 23)
• In an era when over 80 teams play in a bowl game each year, the Cats are one of just 28 Power 5 teams to play in a bowl game nine times in the last 11 years.
A WINNING HISTORY
• A proven winner with a championship history, Chris Klieman holds an 85-24 career record as his 78.0% career winning percentage ranks fourth among current FBS coaches that have led programs for at least eight years.
• Klieman came to Manhattan after capping his five-year stint as head coach at North Dakota State by winning his fourth national championship in 2018. A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Klieman guided the 2018 Bison to a perfect 15-0 record, making NDSU just the fifth team in FCS history to go undefeated and untied on the way to a national championship.
• K-State has knocked off top-five teams in consecutive seasons under Chris Klieman, and the win last year at No. 3 Oklahoma carried some extreme significance.
• Down 21 points in the third quarter, K-State became just the second team in 547 tries since 2004 to rally for a win over a top-five team when trailing in the game by 21 points. The other such win was Tennessee at No. 4 LSU in 2005.
• The win was also the 10th all-time in K-State history over an AP top-10 team, and the No. 3 Sooners were the highest ranked team the Wildcats had ever defeated in a true road game.
TURNOVER BATTLE IS KEY
• One of the formulas of success for Kansas State under Chris Klieman is winning the turnover battle as the Wildcats were plus-eight in their first five games of 2020, which resulted in a 4-1 record. They also outscored their opponents, 42-7, in points off turnovers during that stretch.
• During K-State’s five-game losing skid to end the season, the Wildcats were minus-11 and opponents outscored the Cats, 48-7, in points off turnovers.
• Last week against Stanford, the Wildcats were plus-one in turnovers with two interceptions recorded on defense.
LOTS OF LETTERWINNERS
• Kansas State returns 56 letterwinners this season, which are the most by a Wildcat team since at least the 2003 season.
• The previous high during that stretch was 48 by last year’s squad.
• Of the 56 returning letterwinners, 28 are on offense, 25 are on defense and there are three specialists.
CATS TOPS IN NON-OFFENSIVE TDs
• K-State is the nation’s best in non-offensive touchdowns over the last 23 seasons as it has 122 since 1999, 10 more than the next closest team.
• Kansas State had three non-offensive touchdowns in last year’s win over Kansas as Phillip Brooks returned two punts for scores, and Justin Gardner had a pick-six.
• It was the first time the Cats had three non-offensive scores in one game since doing so against Montana State in 2008, while it was the first time K-State had a punt return score and a pick-six in the same game since the 2007 Texas contest.
• K-State has had at least five non-offensive scores in seven of the last 10 years. Last year, the Cats missed that mark by just one during their shortened 10-game schedule.
• K-State returned every start along the offensive line from last year, the second time in the last eight seasons that 100% of the starts from the previous season are back.
• The list includes a 10-game starter at center in Noah Johnson, while Ben Adler, Cooper Beebe and Josh Rivas each made eight starts.
• The 2021 season is a drastic change from last year as, entering the 2020 season, the Wildcats did not return a single start along the line from the year prior.
• The Wildcats brought back eight offensive linemen that have started at least one game on the FBS level, which is tied for the 10th most in the nation.
GOING THE DISTANCE
• K-State put together five scoring drives of 90 yards or longer last season, which tied with the 2008 squad for the most by the Wildcats dating back to 1991.
• When combining it with the total from 2019, K-State had eight scoring drives that have ranged at least 90 yards, which was the most in a two-year span dating back to 1991.
• Kansas State had seven plays from scrimmage of at least 60 yards last season, which ranked fifth in the nation behind Louisville (9), Alabama (8), Appalachian State (8) and North Carolina (8).
• Last week against Stanford, K-State had five plays from scrimmage that went for 20 or more yards, including a 56-yard catch by Phillip Brooks and a 59-yard touchdown run by Deuce Vaughn.
• The Wildcats’ two plays of 50 or more yards was tied for seventh nationally through play on Sunday night.
RED ZONE SUCCESS
• In the first two-plus years under offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, Kansas State has converted on 83-of-87 (95.4%) of its red zone opportunities.
• Included in that stretch is a streak of 63-straight red zone conversions, as the Wildcats were true on their final 39 tries of 2019 and their first 24 opportunities of 2020.
• The Wildcats led the nation in red zone offense in 2019 at a 96.2% clip (50-of-52). K-State was fourth last year at 93.9% (31-of-33) but second among teams with 30 or more attempts.
• K-State is the only team in the nation to rank in the top five of red zone offense each of the last two years.
• Kansas State brought back at least 70% of its rushing yards (78.4%), passing yards (97.1%), receiving yards (71.6%) and offensive line starts (100%) from 2020.
• It is the first time the Wildcats returned at least 70% in those four areas since 2017. That year, K-State brought back 79.8% of its rushing yards, 85.6% of its passing yards, 73.8% of its receiving yards and 76.9% of its offensive line starts.
AN EXPERIENCED SIGNAL CALLER
• Skylar Thompson is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation at the outset of the 2021 season.
• Thompson has 31 career starts under his belt to tie for 10th among active quarterbacks.
• Thompson’s 31 starts are tied for the second most among K-State signal callers since 1990. By starting against Southern Illinois, he will tie Ell Roberson (2001-03) for the most by a Wildcat since 1990.
• Not only did Skylar Thompson return to end his career on a high note with the team, but he will also be hunting some records during his final season in Manhattan.
• A product of Independence Missouri, Thompson ranks in the top 10 in school history in 15 career categories, including top-five marks in interception percentage (1st), yards per completion (3rd), rushing scores by a quarterback (4th), completions (5th), passing efficiency (5th) and rushing yards by a quarterback (5th). A detailed list of records can be found on page 43.
• Additionally, Thompson needs 835 more passing yards to become the first player in school history with 6,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career.
A STAR IN THE MAKING
• A Preseason All-American by numerous outlets, running back Deuce Vaughn is looking to make an impact over a 12-game schedule like he did when he burst onto the scene over 10 games a year ago.
• Vaughn, who is on the watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, was one of only three players in the nation last year to tally at least 600 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards. The others were Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris, both of whom were first-round NFL Draft picks this past April.
• Despite the Wildcats only playing 10 games, Vaughn set the K-State freshman records for rushing yards (642), yards from scrimmage (1,076) and all-purpose yards (1,221).
THRICE FOR DEUCE
• Deuce Vaughn is on a streak of three-straight games of 100 rushing yards dating back to last year. It is the 12th time in school history that a player has tallied a 100-yard rushing game in at least three-straight contests.
• Vaughn’s latest performance was a 124-yard effort against Stanford, which featured a career-long rush of 59 yards that went for a second-quarter touchdown.
• His 124 yards were one shy of his career high, which came in last year’s season finale against Texas.
• The last time a Wildcat had a streak of at least four-straight games with 100 rushing yards was Alex Barnes in 2018.
DEUCE ON THE LOOSE
• A product of Round Rock, Texas, Deuce Vaughn has put together four games of at least 150 yards from scrimmage as he did so last year against Oklahoma (194 yards), Texas Tech (174 yards,) Kansas (152 yards) and Texas (170 yards).
• At No. 3 Oklahoma, he became the fifth running back in school history – and first freshman back – to tally a 100-yard receiving game. It was the fifth most in a single game by a running back in Big 12 history and the most by a freshman back.
• For his efforts against the Sooners and Red Raiders, Vaughn was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week following both contests, while he was voted the 2020 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches.
WELL-TRAVELED TIGHT END
• Kansas State transfer tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe is looking to make a splash with the Wildcats in his seventh and final season of college football.
• Imatorbhebhe is on his fourth FBS school as he signed and went through spring practices with Florida in 2015, transferred to USC for the 2015 through 2019 seasons and spent the 2020 campaign at Illinois.
• He is one of just two active players to have spent time at four FBS schools joining Texas Tech offensive lineman T.J. Storment (Old Dominion, Colorado State, TCU).
BEHIND THE LINE
• Kansas State totaled 68 tackles for loss in just 10 games a year ago, which were the most by the Wildcats since the 2016 squad had 70.
• A total 22 Wildcats carded at least a half tackle for loss, 16 of which are back in 2021.
• Last year’s figure was given a boost late in the season as the Wildcats recorded 13 against Baylor, the most in a game since recording 13 in 2007 against Baylor. K-State also had nine at West Virginia and eight against Oklahoma State.
• Last week, the Wildcats recorded eight tackles for loss with seven different players chipping in.
MEET ME AT THE QB
• Included in K-State’s 68 tackles for loss last year were 28 sacks in 10 games, which were the most for an entire season since a 13-game 2016 campaign (30).
• The Wildcats’ per game total of 2.8 tied for 27th nationally, which was their highest NCAA ranking in the category since 2015 (ninth).
• Kansas State registered at least one sack in every game last year, the first time the Cats did so since 2013. K-State carded at least three sacks in six of its 10 games in 2020, which included a seven-sack performance at Baylor, the most in a game since recording eight against the Bears in 2003.
• They continued the trend last week as four different players recorded a sack apiece against Stanford.
• After allowing 69 points and 608 total yards – including 334 yards on the ground – in last year’s season finale against Texas, the revamped K-State defense made a statement in the 2021 opener against Stanford.
• The Wildcats, who had five new starters on defense against the Cardinal, allowed just seven points – which came with less than four minutes remaining in a 24-0 game – 233 total offensive yards and only 39 rushing yards.
• The seven points allowed were the fewest since shutting out Bowling Green in 2019, the fewest against a Power 5 program since the 2018 Texas Tech game (6) and the fewest in a non-conference Power 5 game since the 2001 season opener against USC (6).
• The 233 yards of total offense allowed was the fewest since allowing 140 to Bowling Green in 2019, while the 39 rushing yards was the fewest since surrendering only 31 to Texas Tech in 2018.
• With its impressive performance, the Wildcat defense debuted at No. 8 on ESPN’s efficiency list.
STRONG AT THE START
• The Kansas State defense has been strong at the beginning of games since the start of 2020 as seven of the Wildcats’ last 11 opponents have come up empty on their first possession of the game.
• K-State has allowed only 13 total first downs on their first series over the last 11 games (1.2 per game) and 293 total yards (26.6 yards). Included in that total is three-and-outs last year against Arkansas State, Kansas and Baylor.
EXPERIENCE COMING BACK, EXPERIENCE COMING IN
• Of the 12 combined players that are either coming back to K-State for a second senior season or transferring in from another FBS school, nine are on the defensive side of the ball.
• The nine defensive players are Julius Brents (DB; Iowa), Cody Fletcher (LB), Timmy Horne (DT; Charlotte), Cincere Mason (DB; Kennesaw State), Bronson Massie (DE), Jahron McPherson (DB), Eric Munoz (LB; Utah State), Reggie Stubblefield (DB; Prairie View A&M) and Russ Yeast (DB; Louisville).
• Those nine players have combined for 288 career games played and 152 starts at the Division I level – and eight of the nine played significant minutes against Stanford.
• Of the eight Division I transfers K-State brought in prior to 2021, six reside on the defensive side of the ball.
DEPTH IN THE SECONDARY
• Of the six defensive transfers, four are in the secondary that have combined for 82 career Division I starts, which includes starts by Julius Brents and Russ Yeast last week against Stanford.
• Yeast started 29 games over four years at Louisville, Cincere Mason started 28 games over three seasons at Kennesaw State, Reggie Stubblefield started 18 games over four years at Prairie View A&M, and Brents started five games in 2018 at Iowa.
• Pairing the 82 starts from the transfers with the rest of the secondary, the Wildcats are currently at 129 combined career starts by defensive backs.
J-MAC IS BACK
• One of those experienced returning defensive backs is Jahron McPherson, who is back for his sixth year of eligibility in 2021 and has totaled 23 starts in his career.
• A transfer from Butler Community College who redshirted the 2017 campaign, McPherson started 12 games at nickelback in 2019 before moving to safety and starting all 10 games in 2020.
• McPherson, who led the team in tackles a year ago with 54, had 11 tackles, a tackle for loss, forced fumble and an interception in K-State’s win at No. 3 Oklahoma.
• He was the first Wildcat to record double-digit tackles, a TFL, a forced fumble and a pick in the same game since Bryan Hickman did so against Iowa State in 2002.
GETTING THEIR FEET WET
• Linebackers Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher had a great showing to start the season at two of the linebacker positions against Stanford as they led the Wildcats in tackles with nine and eight, respectively.
• It was the fourth-career start for Fletcher, who started each of the final three games in 2020. Green started two of the final three games of last year.
• Fletcher, who is returning for a sixth year of college football, led K-State with a career-high nine tackles last year at Iowa State.
• The next week against Baylor, Green paced the defense with a career-high 13 tackles, the most by a Wildcat since 2017.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
• Kansas State has always been known to have excellent special teams, and that trend continued in 2020.
• The Wildcats finished second nationally last year in special teams efficiency according to ESPN.
• K-State finished highly in the efficiency index thanks to ranking second in the nation in punt returns (22.1 yards per return), 12th in punt return defense (2.00 yards allowed per return), first in blocked punts (3), fourth in blocked kicks (4) and first in both blocked punts and blocked kicks allowed (0).
• Additionally, the Cats led the Big 12 in net punting (39.3 yards).
SCORING IN THE THIRD PHASE
• One of the main reasons the Wildcats have been a successful program the last three decades is a knack for momentum-swinging plays in the return game.
• Since 2005 (17 seasons), the Wildcats have a combined 55 kickoff- and punt-return touchdowns, 22 more than second-place Alabama (33) and 25 more than the next closest Big 12 team (Oklahoma State – 30).
• K-State blocked punts in the first three games of 2020 and blocked a field goal in its fourth game of the year at TCU.
• It was the first time K-State blocked a kick in four-straight games since at least 1990. Additionally, the blocked punts in the first three games marked the first time the Wildcats accomplished that feat in three-consecutive games since 1995 (Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma).
• K-State was the first team in the FBS to block kicks in each of the first four games of a season since Texas did so in 2016.
• When the Cats blocked punts in each of the first three games, they were the first FBS team to do so since Memphis in 2012.
BROOKS LOOKS TO ADD TO IMPRESSIVE RESUME
• Junior Phillip Brooks was one of the top return men in the nation last season as he was a Third Team All-American selection after averaging 23.7 yards on 11 attempts.
• This year, Brooks has earned Preseason All-America honors from Phil Steele, USA TODAY, CBS Sports and 247Sports.
• Brooks’ average last season would have led the nation and been the best in school history if he had one more return to meet the NCAA required minimum.
• A product of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Brooks ranks second in school history and tied for sixth in Big 12 history with three punt-return touchdowns, while he is 23 yards shy of entering the school’s top-10 list for career punt return yards.
BROOKS’ HISTORIC DAY
• Phillip Brooks put together a historic performance against Kansas last season, setting the school record with 189 punt-return yards and becoming the first player in school history with two punt-return touchdowns in a single game.
• Brooks’ two punt-return touchdowns were the most by a Big 12 player in a conference game in school history.
• Additionally, his 47.25-yard average on punt returns vs. Kansas was the highest by any player nationally with at least 4 attempts since 1996.
• For his effort against KU, Brooks picked up Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week accolades, while he was named the First Team All-Big 12 punt returner by the league’s coaches.
IN SEARCH OF A NEW KICKER
• K-State is using the first part of the season to figure out who will replace its regular place kicker from a year ago, Blake Lynch, marking the first time since the 2018 season the Wildcats will open the year with a new player handling placements.
• The first kicker to get his shot this season was Taiten Winkel, who connected on a 40-yard attempt and was perfect on all three extra-point attempts.
• Prior to K-State, Winkel was primarily a punter at Butler Community College as he was just 1-for-3 on field goals in 2019.
• Also vying for the kicker spot is Ty Zentner, who was a teammate of Winkel’s at Butler.
• Zentner has handled kickoff duties during parts of the last three seasons for K-State and has also punted 31 times dating back to last year.