MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Chris Klieman thought Kansas State had a nice set of offensive plays ready for the opening series of the season.
The Wildcats only got to call one of them Saturday night.
That’s because Malik Knowles took the opening handoff 75 yards for a score, setting the tone for the rest of the game, and Deuce Vaughn proceeded to run for 126 yards and another touchdown in a 34-0 rout of overmatched South Dakota.
“We won the toss, took the football and scored on the first play,” Klieman said with a smile. “We had a really nice series of plays that we were going to operate and we ended up scoring on the first play.”
Not that the Wildcats ever slowed down.
Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez, who was just 11 of 15 for 53 yards through the air, added 39 yards rushing and a touchdown for Kansas State. Desmond Purnell returned an early blocked punt for a touchdown, and backup running back DJ Giddens reached the end zone midway through the third quarter to extend the lead to 34-0.
By that point, the Wildcats had built such a comfortable lead that they began resting their starters, and they in turn began thinking ahead to next weekend. Former conference rival Missouri is returning for the first time in more than a decade.
“I know they’re a really good program, lots of talent,” Klieman said. “I’m excited to have that rivalry game played again.”
Carson Camp had 139 yards passing and an interception for the Coyotes, who couldn’t overcome an abundance of dropped passes, silly penalties and other miscues against a team that expects to contend for the Big 12 title.
The game certainly looked nothing like their 2018 meeting, when the Coyotes lost a 27-24 heartbreaker.
“You have to learn from a game like this and get better for next week,” South Dakota coach Bob Nielson said.
The Wildcats started with a bang Saturday night, but it wasn’t their high-profile transfer quarterback or star running back that stepped into the spotlight. It was Knowles, the somewhat mercurial wide receiver, who took a simple end-around and, picking up a nice block from Vaughn, raced 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play.
Things didn’t get any better for South Dakota.
After the Coyotes were held to a second straight three-and-out, Seth Porter got his hand on the ensuing punt and Purnell picked it up, then ran untouched 17 yards to the end zone to give the Wildcats a 14-0 lead.
Vaughn shook free for the first time late in the first quarter, when he split the defense on a 39-yard touchdown run.
Just about the only thing that went wrong for the Wildcats, who also got a second-quarter TD from Martinez, came when Chris Tennant missed an extra point. Otherwise, their offense piled up 269 yards in the first half while their defense held the Coyotes to 99, and made a fourth-and-1 stop on South Dakota’s only promising drive.
Kansas State scored again on its first possession of the second half, when Gidden checked into the game and found a 12-yard lane to the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 34-0 lead and effectively putting the game away.
“We played a ton of players that are going to get a great education from film,” Klieman said, “because we’re going to need them as the season continues on, but overall I’m very pleased.”
Martinez spent most of the night checking down — at least, when he wasn’t taking one of his three sacks. But that didn’t bother Klieman, who was happy with the way the veteran transfer handled the Wildcats’ revamped, up-tempo offense.
“I’ve seen us operate at a really high level throwing the football throughout fall camp,” Klieman said, “and it’s something we’ll just continue to work on. But I’m not concerned about it. We’ll be better and we’ll be more efficient.”
South Dakota has five top-10 teams from the Football Championship Subdivision awaiting down the road. None of them will be as good as the Wildcats, so getting the experience the Coyotes did on Saturday night is bound to help.
Kansas State cruised without showing much offensively, and that bodes well for next week’s showdown against the Tigers. Martinez only took a couple shots downfield all game as the Wildcats pounded the ball and dominated the clock.
South Dakota heads to Montana next Saturday.
Kansas State welcomes the Missouri Tigers to town next Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.