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By D. Scott Fritchen
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State welcomed UCF to the Big 12 Conference, and DJ Giddens said hello to one of the Wildcats’ more memorable individual performances in recent years in a 44-31 win before a much-needed bye week.
Giddens had 30 carries for 207 yards and four touchdowns and added eight receptions for 86 yards for the Wildcats while scoring on runs of 1, 9, 18 and 3 yards. However, one of his biggest plays came when he didn’t even reach paydirt. With the score tied 24-24 late in the third quarter, Giddens caught a third-down swing pass from Will Howard and gained 16 yards for a first down.
Howard coasted around the left side and into the end zone on the next play with 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I have to shout out the offensive line and Will for their confidence in me,” Giddens said. “I tried to make one or two people miss. That’s really what it was.”
From there, the Wildcats, 3-1, steadily pulled away from the Knights, 3-1, who played in their first conference game as a Big 12 member in front of a crowd of 51,912 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. As the fourth quarter wore on, K-State head coach Chris Klieman became more animated on the sidelines, cheering on his players after key offensive and defensive plays.
The Wildcats’ victory comes off the heels of a heartbreaking three-point loss at Missouri on a last-play 61-yard field goal last Saturday.
“What a win by our guys and our team coming off a difficult loss last week,” Klieman said. “We talked here that we couldn’t let Missouri beat us twice, and our kids rose up. We played an excellent football team. UCF is really talented. We knew this was going to be the type of game it was — back and forth.”
Howard completed 27-0f-42 passes for 255 yards and tossed one interception, and he rushed for two scores after entering the week questionable to play. He proved capable and grew stronger toward the end — rushing for a 31-yard score for a 44-24 lead.
“I knew I was playing all week for sure,” Howard said. “Once the adrenaline got going, I was fine.”
“It was a huge win,” Howard continued. “Any game in this conference is tough, especially a team like that that’s new to the conference, which wanted to come in and make a stamp. That’s a tough team. It was a big win.”
Timmy McClain completed 14-of-24 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. McClain’s favorite target, Kobe Hudson, had five catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Johnny Richardson had six carries for 76 yards.
“I was proud of our guys because whether it was throwing the ball vertical or handing it to (Richardson), they can score from anywhere, and we held them essentially to 24 points,” Klieman said. “We did some good things on defense. We’ve got to get better but we did some good things.”
K-State out-gained UCF 536 to 407 in total offense. The Wildcats were balanced with 281 rushing yards and 255 passing yards while running off 82 total plays.
“We got back to the ‘Beef’ identity tonight,” said All-American left guard Cooper Beebe. “We knew coming into this game we had to control the clock. We knew the type of offense they had. They’re a high-paced, explosive offense. We had to control the game.”
The Wildcats gave up scoring plays of 27, 69 and 46 yards but stiffened at critical times as the Knights were 5-of-12 on third down. The Knights had 10 penalties, including several delay-of-game penalties due to crowd noise.
“We’re 1-0 in league play going into an open week,” Klieman said. “Couldn’t be more thrilled. We’re by no means a finished product. We have to get a lot better as a football team. We’re still growing and learning as a team, but it was exciting to come back home in front of a great sellout crowd. Our crowd was phenomenal tonight. They were a big factor in a number of delay-of-game penalties they had in the fourth quarter.”
UCF came out of halftime and struck immediately as Hudson reeled in a 46-yard pass from McClain for a 24-21 lead. Then K-State answered as Chris Tennant tied it at 24-24 with a 30-yard field goal.
Things stayed that way until the Wildcats made their charge and Howard connected with Giddens before he kept the ball and rolled into the end zone.
It wasn’t until running back RJ Harvey scored a 1-yard run with 3 seconds left that the Knights added to their scoring total. By then, the K-State Marching Band had already played, “Happy Trails.”
And there was rightfully much happiness in Manhattan.
“It’s awesome to start this tough conference 1-0,” tight end Ben Sinnott said. “It’s very deep and very competitive. We had a bunch of ups and downs to battle. Any game you can come out with a victory and rally guys together and push through brings a team closer.”
Giddens finished with 293 scrimmage yards, third-most in school history and only behind Darren Sproles’ total of 323 scrimmage yards against Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game and his 298 yards against Louisiana in 2004.
Giddens had 14 carries for 107 yards and three touchdowns and six catches for 66 yards in the first half alone. He got K-State on the scoreboard first when he busted a 36-yard run up the middle to set up his 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. It marked Giddens’ first touchdown of the season. It gave K-State a game-opening touchdown drive in four straight games for the first time since at least 1990.
K-State’s momentum was short lived.
UCF took the lead, 10-7, after it followed a 29-yard field goal with a 57-yard touchdown drive following a Howard interception. McClain sucked in the defensive front and completed a pass to Harvey in the flat and the running back raced down the sideline and into the end zone with 1:47 left in the first quarter to snatch the lead from the Wildcats.
But the Knights’ lead didn’t last long. Howard fired back on a 12-play, 84-yard charge in which he alternated between run and pass. He hit Giddens on a short pass that he turned into a 24-yard gain. Five plays later, Giddens cut outside and outraced defenders to the right pylon for a 14-10 advantage.
Giddens was just getting started.
“I’m glad DJ got to show the world what we see in practice at all times,” Beebe said. “I love that kid to death.”
Kobe Savage forced a fumble and VJ Payne recovered the football at the UCF 38-yard line, and Giddens went to work. He carried four times and followed a 16-yard rush up the middle with an 18-yard touchdown for a 21-10 lead.
When K-State saw a drive stall, UCF quickly went to work. McClain handed off to Harvey who tossed the ball back to McClain on a flea-flicker, and Hudson got 15 yards behind the defensive secondary for a 69-yard catch-and-run to draw to within 21-17.
Jacob Parrish came up with the Wildcats’ defensive play of the first half when he got underneath a McClain pass for an interception at the UCF 39-yard line.
But the feisty Knights wouldn’t go away until the Wildcats were able to clamp down and keep them out of the end zone for most of the final two quarters.
“This shows us where we’re at,” UCF head coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’ve got to play really good. We have to play disciplined. We didn’t do the things that it takes to get a quality win against a really good opponent on their home field. We still have a really good football team.”
Coming off a close loss at Missouri, K-State appears to have a really good team as well.
“We strive on overcoming adversity and always talk about average teams get destroyed by adversity and good teams survive it and great teams get better because of it,” Klieman said. “That’s what we want to be, a great team. We have to continue to get better because of the adversity.”