The Kansas State Wildcats football team closed out the 2021 season with sound throttling of the SEC’s LSU Tigers.
The Kansas State Wildcats and LSU Tigers met Jan. 4 in the TaxAct Texas Bowl, the final bowl game before the CFP National Championship. The Wildcats scored 21 unanswered points in the first half and never looked back, beating the Tigers 42-20. Kansas State earned its first bowl victory under head coach Chris Klieman, in a purple-painted NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
“It’s fun to win a bowl game,” Klieman said. “First time I’ve won a bowl game, won a few national championships and been on a stage but this was pretty special. And my hat’s off to K-State nation and the fan base for coming out. What an electric crowd and our fans were in it from the start. Our guys really got energized by our fan base and the credit goes to our fan base for how loud they were, because I think they had fun watching our guys play.”
Sixth-year senior quarterback and fan-favorite Skylar Thompson ended his college career on a high note, being named the bowl’s MVP completing 21 of 28 passes for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns. He leaves a great legacy at Kansas State, capped by one of the team’s best statistical offensive performances all year.
“It honestly hasn’t registered what just happened,” Thompson said. “It was that much fun. I felt like that was our best offensive performance of the season on all cylinders.”
All-American running back Deuce Vaughn did not show any winter rust, as he rushed 21 times for 157 yards. He tallied three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. Vaughn’s 24 total points set a Kansas State bowl record. The stellar performance caps off a sophomore year where Vaughn surpassed 1,800 all-purpose yards and scored 22 touchdowns.
“[LSU] just won a national championship a few years ago and to get the opportunity to play them in a big-time bowl game back in Texas and have the opportunity to play with these guys…again for the last time and then come out on top is big time in the regard of playing against a top tier team and you’re gonna do it with your brothers,” Vaughn said. “That’s why it was so big tonight.”
Albeit against a depleted LSU squad, this bowl victory has a lot of meaning for the Wildcats. Kansas State ended the year 8-5, the school’s 21st season of at least eight wins. 19
of those seasons have come since 1993, and two under Klieman. He is the first coach in school history to lead his team to a pair of eight-win seasons in his first three campaigns. Reporters did not give Klieman much time to savor Tuesday’s victory, before moving on to 2022.
“I just think you can build on what we did to win this bowl game in January, gave us a little bit of time off,” Klieman said. “We’ve got a really lot of talented guys coming back. I think they have a lot of energy going into the offseason. But I’m going to try to cut it down and relax for a little bit.”
Looking to 2022, former Wildcat quarterback Collin Klien had a historic debut as offensive coordinator. With Klien at the helm, the Wildcats racked up 442 offensive yards and a season-high 42 points. Kansas State also set a Texas Bowl record with the longest scoring drive in bowl history, an 18-play drive taking more than nine minutes off the game clock. While noncommittal, Klieman had nothing but good things to say about the interim offensive coordinator.
“It was a body of work,” Klieman said. “I’ll visit after he gets a little break because he needs a break as well. But I loved his preparation. He had a great body of work. The guys love Collin, and they’re going to play their tails off for Collin. And they should. He’s K-State, in my mind.”
Klieman was right about the players’ love for Klien. Vaughn spoke on the close in-game connection Klien had with the players during the Texas Bowl.
“Coach Klein told us before the game that if you see something on the field, speak up,” Vaughn said. “Tell your position coach and he’ll get back to me and then that’s how we’ll dictate how we play this game. That’s when the aggressiveness came. It came from us relaying back to our coaches, them giving us the driver’s wheel in a sense and coming back to the sideline. Coach Klein, doing what he does, he called a great game tonight.”
Rightfully so, the Wildcats have nothing but optimism and hope entering 2022 after a dominant bowl win. This team’s season began with a victory over Stanford at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and ended with a win in the same state. While expectations were middling for the Wildcats, with several bumps along the way, this Texas Bowl victory is the right way to close out the 2021 season.