MANHATTAN, Kan. – Chris Klieman wasn’t the only one making his K-State debut on Saturday night. Almost all of K-State’s running backs were as well.
All left positive first impressions.
K-State won, 49-14, against Nicholls in front of a sold-out crowd. The Wildcats, who returned zero rushing yards from running backs from last season, amassed 361 rushing yards to open the Klieman era. It marked the most in a K-State season opener since at least 1981.
The Wildcats accomplished this behind, mostly, a trio of K-State newcomers: James Gilbert, Jordon Brown and Harry Trotter. Those three combined for 214 rushing yards, led by Gilbert’s 115 yards on 18 carries. Each of them had one touchdown, all coming in a first half that K-State dominated by a 28-0 margin.
“We have a three-headed monster,” Trotter said of the trio of transfers. “I think it can be demoralizing, just hoping one guy gets tired and then, after a first down, a new back will come in and then you pound them some more. I think that will be the way we do it all season, just keeping guys fresh and keeping everybody on their toes.”
Tyler Burns, who returned to K-State’s program after a season away, joined the rushing fray late on Saturday. He rushed for 60 yards on 10 attempts, including 56 yards on nine carries on K-State’s final scoring drive about midway through the fourth quarter. He finished it with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“I was really pleased we were able to get a lot of guys carries. They were running behind an offensive line that was blowing holes open and doing a great job,” Klieman said. “That’s what we’d like to see, to be able to have three or four guys get multiple carries. It keeps guys fresh, keeps guys engaged. I was really pleased with all of them.”
For a position group that started all but empty when Klieman and his staff took over, depth did not look to be an issue after nine months of work.
Gilbert, a graduate transfer from Ball State, became the first Wildcat to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first K-State game since Daniel Thomas in 2009. Gilbert’s longest run, a 24-yard scamper in the second quarter, finished one of K-State’s five scoring drives of at least 10 plays.
“I think we proved that we all can tote the rock,” Gilbert said. “We all can do different things out of the backfield. We all have different skillsets and that’s going to be our advantage throughout the season.”
Trotter, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Louisville, collected 50 yards on 10 carries. The Atchison native ran through multiple tackles on a 9-yard touchdown run that capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive to open the game. K-State followed with three straight scoring drives.
“It’s pretty deadly just in the fact that we can keep us all going and healthy and energized,” Trotter said. “It felt great rotating in with those guys and getting in a rhythm.”
Brown, a graduate transfer from North Carolina who joined the team in July, added in 49 yards on 11 carries. He scored on a 14-yard run early in the second quarter, but he also snagged a pair of passes for 28 yards from redshirt junior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who finished 16-of-22 through the air for 212 yards and a touchdown.
“I just enjoyed how much fun we had as a team,” Brown said, as K-State’s 573 yards of total offense tied for the seventh most in program history. “We came out as a group and really had a lot of success. That’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
The run game set the tone, helping K-State eat up more than 41 minutes of clock. But the defense factored into that as well.
K-State allowed only 17 yards in the first quarter and 64 in the first half. AJ Parker jumped a pass for an interception on Nicholls’ second offensive play of the day, setting up K-State’s second touchdown. The Colonels did not get a first down until the second quarter and finished with only two in the opening half.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Alexander forced a fumble and scooped it for a 25-yard touchdown. He celebrated with a sledgehammer on the sideline, part of K-State’s “Pound the Stone” mantra that Klieman said the team fully bought into coming into this season.
“(I was happiest with) how the guys attacked the preparation, how the guys attacked each day,” Klieman said, as K-State hosts Bowling Green on Saturday, September 7 at 11 a.m. “You can’t win a game on Monday. You have to stack Monday on top of Tuesday and continue on. I knew they were ready to play, but to be able to be ready to play and still detail your work, detail your plan and make sure you finish on plays was really fun for me to see.”