Courtesy of K-State Athletics
AUSTIN, Texas – Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown, but a struggling offense failed to convert on fourth-and-1 on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats suffered a 22-17 loss to Texas in the final game of the regular season at Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.
K-State finished 1-for-9 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down, and none proved more costly than when Texas stopped the Wildcats on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 at the Longhorns’ 17-yard line with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We should be able to get a yard, that’s the bottom line, or half of a yard,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “They did a good job and we didn’t get it done.”
Sophomore Will Howard made his third start of the season and first since at Oklahoma State on September 25 in place of injured sixth-year senior starter Skylar Thompson, who was dressed and on the sideline. Howard completed 9 of 13 passes for 65 yards and had 82 rushing yards on 8 carries and 1 touchdown — a 71-yard scoring run in the second quarter, as the Wildcats took a 14-13 lead.
However, K-State, 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12, was largely quiet from there. Their final score came when Chris Tennant hit a career-long 51-yard field goal for a 17-13 lead with 1:56 left in the second quarter.
Thompson appeared to injure his left leg in the final minutes of a 20-10 loss to No. 11 Baylor last Saturday on Senior Night in Manhattan. It was his second leg injury of the season.
“(Thompson) was close,” Klieman said. “He progressed throughout the week, and he wanted to go through warmups and see what he could do, and he couldn’t push off like he wanted to, so we had to make the decision not to play him.”
Vaughn had 24 carries for 143 yards and 1 touchdown when he ran 9 yards down the sideline into the end zone for the Wildcats’ first score with 4:44 left in the first quarter. He’s just the third K-State player to reach 100 rushing yards in five straight games joining Darren Sproles (2002 and 2003) and Isaac Jackson (1973). Vaughn’s 108 points scored this season are most in school history by a sophomore and the 10th most in school history overall.
“Deuce is a special player and a really talented kid,” Klieman said. “He makes some great plays. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. It’s frustrating because we have some kids really hurting (in the locker room). They really wanted to beat Texas. Our effort was good. The kids played their tails off. We just didn’t get it done and it’s really frustrating.”
No other Big 12 Conference team outscored opponents better in the fourth quarter than K-State. No league team likely had more tough luck in the fourth quarter than Texas, which saw leads dissolve with regularity during a disappointing season.
But K-State, which led 17-16 at halftime, was unable to produce any points down the stretch while Texas kicker Cameron Dicker punched in a pair of field goals of 39 and 22 yards, which provided the final margin for the Longhorns, 5-7 and 3-6, who snapped a six-game losing skid, their longest since 1956.
“They had some long drives, their running back and offensive line did a good job, and we found a way to get a couple stops and force some field goals, but we couldn’t get off the field on third down, and we couldn’t stay on the field on our end on third down,” Klieman said. “You try to get into a rhythm offensively, and you can’t because you can’t convert on third downs.”
K-State has now lost five straight to Texas and hasn’t won in Austin since a 17-13 victory in 2011.
Texas allowed an average of 32.4 points per game, near the bottom of the league, but for a second straight game the Wildcats were unable to score in the second half. K-State, which earlier in the league season won four straight games, ended the regular season with consecutive losses against the Bears and the Longhorns.
“I’m very, very frustrated, and I know the guys are frustrated,” Klieman said. “We haven’t played our best football the last two weeks and that’s disappointing. It starts with me. We have to do a better job as coaches and I need to do a better job to make sure we have really good plans to be able to execute, and we didn’t do that today. That’s really frustrating.
K-State entered the game outscoring its opponents 98-40 in the fourth quarter, the best in the Big 12, but were largely ineffective in the second half with two of five drives going three-and-out, and another drive traveling 16 yards on four plays, before the Wildcats scrambled in the final seconds of their final possession.
Texas outgained K-State 381-293 and behind 209 rushing yards. That included 179 rushing yards on 31 carries and 1 touchdown from Roschon Johnson, who operated largely out of the Wildcat formation. Quarterback Casey Thompson went 17 of 23 passing for 170 yards and 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The Longhorns converted 8 of 16 times on third down.
“They used their Wildcat formation and we didn’t sustain enough things defensively,” Klieman said. “We knew they were going to run the football. They’d been averaging more than 200 yards rushing. We didn’t get the stops when we needed to get the stops.”
Texas showed impressive balance early struck first as it used plenty of wide receiver Xavier Worthy and Johnson. Worthy had catches of 13 and 17 yards and Johnson ran it six times. The Longhorns got on the board when Johnson ran it 9 yards out of the Wildcat formation for a 7-0 lead.
However, K-State answered. Linebacker Daniel Green had a season-high 9 tackles in the game, including two on the opening drive. Safety TJ Smith intercepted a deep pass on the first play of Texas’ second possession to give the Wildcats the ball at the Texas 32-yard line. From there, Vaughn carried the ball on five of seven plays, including the 9-yard touchdown run when he outran defenders down the sideline.
“(Smith) made a great play there,” Klieman. “I’m proud of TJ. He played an awful lot of plays out there and he needed that for his confidence. He needs that for the experience factor moving forward.”
Thompson picked his spots in the throwing game and perhaps his best pass came on a fade route to Cade Brewer from 10 yards out. Brewer got behind two K-State defenders in the corner of the end zone and came down with the ball on third down — one of three third-down conversions on the drive by the Longhorns, who missed the extra point but took a 13-7 lead after a 13-play, 73-yard drive.
The Longhorns didn’t lead too much longer.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Howard faked a handoff to Vaughn, found a seam and outran three defenders on a 71-yard run in which he dived into the end zone with cornerback D’Shawn Jamison in pursuit. The Wildcats suddenly led 14-13 with 12:50 left in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 17-16 advantage.
But inefficiency doomed the Wildcats in the second half of another tough defeat.
“I’m frustrated just like you guys are and just like our fanbase is, and should be, because we were in good position at halftime,” Klieman said. “But we just didn’t convert and capitalize. I’m frustrated just like everybody else is.”