Rest assured, Deuce Vaughn has committed to memory what happened the first time that No. 10 Kansas State met No. 3 TCU this season.
While maybe not every play or every possession, there’s more than enough for Vaughn to have a clear recollection of everything that went right and then horribly wrong for Kansas State in the 38-28 TCU win. K-State led by 18 points at Amon Carter Stadium and watched it all slip away.
The two meet again for the Big 12 championship Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
The victory helped fuel TCU’s comeback legend this season. Vaughn views it differently.
“I’d say it leaves a sour taste just because we couldn’t finish the ballgame the way that we wanted to,” Vaughn, the Wildcats’ leading rusher, told reporters this week. “We played a really good first half and for some other reasons, we weren’t able to win that football game.
“To be able to have another chance at a really good football team is all you want going into this game.”
Vaughn very well could play a major role in the outcome, as could TCU counterpart Kendre Miller.
Although much of the focus is on the quarterbacks in TCU’s record-setting Max Duggan and former K-State backup Will Howard, the effectiveness of the running game remains the offensive X-factor.
Arguably, either Vaughn or Miller might be the most dangerous Big 12 running back not named Bijan Robinson, the Texas back who is a Doak Walker finalist. Vaughn and Miller aren’t far behind, although their styles couldn’t be more different.
The 5-6 Vaughn, whose size and explosiveness have drawn comparisons to former K-State great Darren Sproles, ranks third in the Big 12 with 1,295 yards (5.3 average) and has run for seven touchdowns.
TCU safety Mark Perry hopes that knowledge gained from the first meeting can help the Horned Frogs defense slow Vaughn.
“Honestly, you kind of know what type of running back he is – shorter guy, real quick, change of directions,” Perry said. “You’re kind of able to know your approach since I’ve been able to play them once now. I kind of know a little bit of what to expect.”
Like Sproles, who singlehandedly destroyed No. 1 Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 title game, Vaughn can hurt opposing defenses in multiple ways. Since the elevation of Howard to starter, he’s become a more valuable threat in the passing game. He has 25 of his 40 receptions in the last six games, with three touchdown catches in that span.
“It’s one other guy you have to think about,” K-State offensive coordinator Collin Klein told the Wichita Eagle recently. “What has been cool is we have grown this season and our offense has allowed us to generate opportunities and spread the field and get it in different guys’ hands. His playmaking ability has been tremendous.”
Miller has done far more than just minimize the transfer loss of running back Zach Evans. A three-star recruit out of small Mount Enterprise High School, Miller is now chasing records set by TCU icon back LaDainian Tomlinson.
He has 13 consecutive games with a rushing touchdown, two behind Tomlinson’s school record.
“At first, it wasn’t a big deal,” Miller said. “Now, I’m right here so I might as well break it.”
While Vaughn is an elusive target with seemingly about four extra gears, Miller can definitely move tacklers at 220 pounds. One of his more interesting numbers is that he averages 6.8 yards a carry even without traditional breakaway ability.
“He’s got amazing balance,” K-State linebacker Austin Moore told reporters this week. “It’s gonna take more than one guy to tackle him. It would be like tackling [Tennessee Titans running back] Derrick Henry or something like that. He’s a bigger dude and really good balance so that’s what I would imagine.”
While watching film of the first meeting with TCU, K-State coach Chris Klieman had a bit of epiphany, that arm tackles just won’t get it done against Miller.
“I was so impressed with him,” Klieman said. “You know we had some plays we were watching today and it’s like, ‘OK, great,’ It’s second-and-eight.
“Nope it is second-and-four because he made a guy miss or ran through an arm tackle or dragged the guy for another three yards. I think he’s one of the best backs in the league without question.”