Preview: Kansas State takes on transitioning LSU in Texas Bowl

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Jontre Kirklin
Jontre Kirklin may be asked to return to his high school roots behind center for LSU in the Texas Bowl.

The 2022 Texas Bowl featuring Kansas State and LSU should be an intriguing contest between the 7-5 Wildcats and the 6-6 Tigers. One team wants to make a statement to cap their year while the other is just trying to piece together its lineup.

The two schools have met just once on the gridiron. On Sept. 13, 1980, Jerry Stovall earned his first win as head coach of his alma mater one week after a 16-0 opening loss to Florida State. The Tigers have him a shutout victory, 21-0, over the Wildcats in Tiger Stadium.

Alan Risher connected with Tracy Porter for a 12 yard opening score. Fullback Jude Hernandez’s eight-yard run and back up QB Robby Mahfouz’s seven-yard scamper accounted for the rest of the scoring. LSU finished with 190 yards on the ground, holding K-State to a mere 19 yards total rushing. Albert Richardson led the Purple and Gold with 16 tackles while fellow linebcker Lawrence Williams chipped in with nine stops and defensive end Lyman White added eight.

LSU topped Texas Tech in their first Texas Bowl appearance in December 2015, 56-27.

As for this year’s matchup, K-State has some key performers of note.

Senior QB Skylar Thompson operates the offense. He managed 1,854 passing yards this season with nine TD’s and four interceptions, completing 68.8% of his throws. He has 42 starts under his belt, having started since 2017. Injuries have cost him snaps during his tenure in Manhattan. Thompson injured an ankle vs. Baylor on Nov. 20th but is expected back. If he isn’t a full go, freshman Will Howard gets the call.

The biggest weapon for K-State comes in a miniature box, but the young man packs dynamite type wallop.

A just 5-6 and 173 pounds, sophomore running back Matthew “Deuce” Vaughn has proven himself as a big time player. . The Round Rock, Texas native fielded offers from Kansas State, Missouri, South Florida, North Texas, Air Force and Arkansas. Deuce (no one calls him Matthew) runs a 4.44 and squats over 500 pounds.

Vaughn ran for 1,258 yards ( 5.9 yard average) with 15 touchdowns and compiled 1,717 yards from scrimmage with 18 total scores. He had an 80-yard run for a touchdown against Kansas as the Wildcats routed their in-state archrival.

In an obvious comparison, Vaughn says he models his style after an ex-Wildcats star with similar stature, Darren Sproles But the thing that sets him apart from Sproles is Vaughn’s proven ability as a receiver with 72 catches for 905 yards and 5 scores for his career. Like Sproles eventually proved as a pro, Vaughn has shown himself to be a dangerous option in the passing game.

The K-State defense is led by junior linebacker Daniel Green who has 83 stops and 3.0 sacks. Cody Fletcher, another linebacker, is a senior with 69 tackles, a sack and 7.0 TFL.

Sophomore defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, the Big 12 co-defensive lineman of the year, racked up 14.5 TFL, six forced fumbles and 11 sacks in 2021. Five of those sacks occurred in one game against TCU.

Russ Yeast led the conference with 10 passes broken up. The senior safety also had three picks. His father played nine seasons in the NFL while his mom played basketball at Kentucky.

One impressive statistic for a team from the pass-happy Big XII: Kansas State has only allowed an average of one touchdown pass per game.

Phillip Brooks, a shifty wideout. snared 38 passes for 474 yards and 2 scores. The 5-foot-7 playmaker added three punt returns for touchdowns this season. The Wildcats feature another special teams ace in Malik Knowles, who paced the Big XII with a healthy 33 yards per kick return average.

What can LSU fans expect to see as the Brian Kelly era begins to take shape? It’s hard to tell when the 2022 season will bring jut yet as offensive line coach Brad Davis will guide the team through the bowl game.

Opt outs took a toll on the Tigers defensively, with Butkus Award finalist Damone Clark and defensive tackle Neil Farrell no longer available. No one has made a bigger jump from 2020 to ’21 than Clark, who totaled 135 tackles, 15 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Farrell managed 45 stops, 10 TFL and 4.0 sacks. They will be tough to replace in Houston.

Senior linebacker Micah Baskerville assumes a larger role. After recording 55 tackles with 4.5 TFL as a junior in 2020, the product of Evangel Christian Academy nearly doubled those numbers with 83 tackles, 9 TFL and a pair of sacks this season.

Defensive end B.J. Ojulari had a break out campaign with 49 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.0 sacks in 2021.

Dwight McGlothern, a Houston native, has grabbed the role as a LSU’s new No. 1 cornerback in the absence of Derek Stingley, Jr. and Eli Ricks. McGlothern will be in front of family and friends looking to cap a fine second college season.

Senior safety Cameron Lewis could use this game as a launching pad for a professional career. The Wossman High product had 55 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks this season.

I anticipate lots of experimentation by the Tigers staff. Even though Kelly won’t be running the show, he essentially will be calling the shots from afar. This game has the feel of a spring game with all of the opt outs, outgoing transfers and overall turmoil in the coaching transition. LSU will focus on fundamentals and execution during the 15 practices leading up to game time.

The offense that takes the field for the Tigers will be a patchwork unit. All of the players who may be declaring for the NFL draft haven’t made their final decisions known yet. One in particular, top running back Tyrion Davis- Price, is opting out of the bowl game and entering the draft.

The power runner didn’t quite duplicate Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s stellar breakout 2019 season (1,414 yards rushing) but Davis-Price proved his worth in 2021 with 1,003 yards and six touchdowns, including a school record performance of 287 yards with three touchdowns against Florida.

Without TDP in the mix, Corey Kiner (271 yards), former walk-on Josh Williams (75 yards) and Armoni Goodwin (65 yards) will divide the carries. The future status of John Emery, Jr., suspended for this past season due to academics, is unknown.

A waiver for freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier to be able to play without losing his redshirt has been requested. I expect the waiver will be granted. With Max Johnson bolting for Texas A&M following the season, the true freshman Nussmeier became the only scholarship signal-caller remaining.

If Nussmeier is denied, look for senior Jontre Kirklin to get some reps behind center. The former Lutcher High quarterback has grabbed 20 passes for 313 yards and three scores as a wideout. Kirklin also played defensive back and on special teams as a freshman and sophomore. Possessing 4.5 speed, he was a prep star with 147 total touchdowns , 7,595 yards passing plus 3,082 yards rushing. Kirklin would likely run something akin to a Wildcat attack for the Tigers.

Another option is walk-on freshman Matt O’Dowd. Out of Douglas High in Plantation, Fla., he held one scholarship offer from Davidson.

The Tigers who do play Tuesday night with try to impress Kelly and his new staff, as all eyes will be focused on the players by those who make roster and lineup decisions after the Texas Bowl is complete.

Keep your fingers crossed that the COVID-19 spread doesn’t have an adverse affect on the game.

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Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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