No. 15 K-State tries to avoid another non-conference letdown with Troy on deck

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State began last season with a shutout of South Dakota, ran roughshod through Missouri in Week 2, then faced a team from Tulane that the Wildcats were expected to beat at home.

They were dumped 17-10 and left searching for answers.

The Wildcats quickly found them, beating Oklahoma the following week and rolling to the Big 12 title game, where they beat College Football Playoff participant TCU for the championship. Those answers have stuck with the No. 15 Wildcats through a shutout of Southeast Missouri State to open the season and with Troy visiting Saturday — a team much like the Green Wave, talented and successful.

“We don't want to have a moment like that where we have to kind of have a little reality check to learn from,” said Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, who threw for 297 yards and two scores while running for a touchdown and catching a TD pass in the 45-0 romp over the Redhawks. “We don't want to have, like, a hiccup to come back from, you know?”

Perhaps the Wildcats (1-0) were overconfident a year ago. Or maybe they were looking ahead to their trip to Oklahoma. Whatever the reason, coach Chris Klieman's bunch look nothing like the team that beat the Sooners when they lost to Tulane.

“Any team can beat you. I don't really care what level they're at," Klieman said. “And that's not just physically, that's mentally; that's emotionally. (Troy) is a really good football team and could beat a lot of Power Five schools.”

Indeed, the Trojans (1-0) played Ole Miss tough a year ago, and South Carolina down to the wire in 2021. They have two wins over Big 12 teams, beating ex-member Missouri in 2004 and Oklahoma State three years later. And they were 12-2 last season, winning the Sun Belt and the Cure Bowl while finishing 19th in the final AP Top 25 poll.

They opened last week with a 48-30 win over perennial FCS power Stephen F. Austin.

“The biggest part of this game is really putting us on the map,” said Troy offensive lineman Eli Russ, who played at Kansas State when he was at Oklahoma State. “I think a lot of people kind of doubt us. They say we're a little bit of a smaller school. We're not as athletic as these guys. But I disagree with that. I think we work harder than almost anybody.”

The question is whether hard work can overcome the Trojans' shortcomings on the road against a Big 12 power.

“If we don't play a lot better,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall warned, “it will be a blowout against us. This is a legitimate top-20 football team. If our guys aren't excited about getting ready for this game, we've got problems.”


Troy running back Kimani Vidal ran for a school-record 248 yards on 25 carries a week ago. He's eclipsed 200 yards in three of his last five games, and Vidal needs just 845 yards the rest of the season to break the school's career rushing mark.

“He had some big home runs,” Klieman said. “He's a physical runner. He's got great vision, great quickness.”


Along with losing to Tulane last season, the Wildcats lost to Arkansas State in their only non-conference game during the 2020 season, which was altered dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Kansas State is 3-0 against non-conference Power Five opponents during that stretch, beating Mississippi State, Stanford and Missouri.


Klieman said not to read too much into the fact that freshman Avery Johnson got second-team reps against Southeast Missouri State. He has been competing with Jake Rubley for the job, but the veteran quarterback was nicked up heading into the opener and sat it out. Johnson was 3 of 4 for 55 yards with 35 yards rushing and a touchdown.


The Trojans have won 12 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the nation behind the 18-game of top-ranked and defending national champion Georgia. Troy's winning streak, which began after a loss at Appalachian State last September, is its longest since the 1987-88 seasons, when the Trojans were still a Division II school.


The Wildcats hope to have Iowa transfer Keagan Johnson available after the wide receiver missed the opener with an undisclosed injury. They also will get North Dakota State transfer Marques Sigle back after the safety was suspended for Week 1. Both of the newcomers earned rave reviews throughout fall camp and fill significant positions of need for Kansas State.

“Trending towards being able to play,” Klieman said of Johnson. “We’ll just have to play it as the week goes.”


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