3 things we learned: Kansas State fends off Southern Illinois

Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn rushed for 120 yards and scored three touchdowns against Southern Illinois Saturday night. (photo courtesy @KStateFB)

Overcoming the loss of its starting quarterback and four first-half turnovers, Kansas State turned to its running game and outlasted upset-minded Southern Illinois 31-23 Saturday night in Manhattan, Kan.

Kansas State (2-0) ran 48 times for 208 yards and shut out the Salukis (1-1) in the second half.

“We came here to win and I felt like, honestly, we were the better team tonight,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said on the SIU radio postgame show. “I felt like our defense dominated the football game really and gave us opportunities to win this game.

“We couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively. That’s a good (Kansas State) defense, but we hold ourselves to a pretty high standard . . . There were a lot of things left on the play card that I wish we could have gotten to.”

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from Saturday’s loss:

  1. Big plays dig early hole for Salukis

Playing its first game in front of a packed home stadium crowd, Kansas State used long gains on passes to built a 14-0 first quarter lead that later grew to 21-3.

Quarterback Skylar Thompson connected on a 43-yard completion and then a 50-yarder to set up the first two K-State touchdowns.

Thompson, who started the first three games of the 2020 season before being sidelined with an injury, later left the game with what was labeled “a lower-body injury” on a non-contact play.

Thompson left the game 3-of-4 passing for 96 yards and an interception. He was replaced by sophomore Will Howard.

2. Turnovers fuel SIU comeback

SIU — ranked No. 8 in the FCS poll — fought its way back into the game. The Salukis forced four first half K-State turnovers. Southern used consecutive turnovers to rally for a 23-21 halftime lead.

Defensive end Jordan Berner caused a fumble and tackle Gianini Belizaire picked it up inside the red zone.

Versatile Javon Williams Jr. scored on a one-yard run with 4:14 left in the half. It was the sophomore’s second touchdown of the game.

On the next K-State series, cornerback P.J. Jules intercepted Howard’s errant pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.

SIU then thwarted a K-State drive when defensive tackle Kevin Glajchen sacked Howard and forced a fumble. Belizaire recovered it. However, the Salukis could not turn it into points.

3. K-State went primarily to run in the second half.

Kansas State, which received 13 votes in last week’s Associated Press poll, utilized a run-heavy set of play calls after halftime. The Wildcats took a 24-23 lead on a field goal early in the third quarter. The score came off a drive that featured all running plays with the exception of one pass.

SIU also gambled on a 4th-and-2 from its own 48. Baker’s incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs; there were also two SIU penalties on the play that K-State declined.

Deuce Vaughn, last season’s Big 12 Conference freshman of the year, took the bulk of the second half carries for K-State. Vaughn finished the night with 120 yards on 26 attempts. His third touchdown — which came with under two minutes left — provided the final margin.

“It was electric coming out in front of this full house,” Vaughn said on TV postgame.

“22 (Vaughn) is as good a back as there is,” Hill said.

SIU squandered a chance to retake the lead when a promising drive stalled and Nico Gualdoni’s 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left early in the fourth quarter.

Later, pressured in the pocket, Nic Baker fumbled and K-State recovered on the final Saluki drive with 19 seconds.

News and notes: SIU wore special red, white and blue helmet decals to honor the memory of those fallen in the attacks on America Sept. 11, 2001 . . . head coach Nick Hill’s shirt read: Always Remembered, Never Forgotten . . . SIU moved from FBS to FCS (I-A to I-AA) in 1982. The Salukis are 4-36 lifetime vs. FBS teams . . . The last SIU victory over an FBS team was Sept. 7, 2019, when the Salukis won at UMass 45-20 . . . Southern scored all 23 of its points in the second quarter.

What’s next

SIU hosts Dayton Saturday, Sept. 18. Dayton, a member of the non-scholarship Pioneer Conference, defeated Eastern Illinois 17-10 Saturday.

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