Kansas State running back D.J. Giddens runs for part of his 202 yards in a win over UCF, Sept. 23, 2023.

Running back D.J. Giddens was called upon to be the workhorse for Kansas State Saturday night and responded as the Wildcats opened the Big 12 season with a 44-31 win over UCF.

With tandem-mate Treshaun Ward sidelined by injury, Giddens carried the ball 30 times for 207 yards and four touchdowns as K-State improved to 3-1 despite occasional defensive breakdowns and special teams miscues. Behind an offensive outburst of 536 yards and a second half that included points on all four drives, the Wildcats rebounded from their loss to MIssouri a week ago.

As they did against the Tigers, K-State elected to take the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss. They proceeded to put together a strong eight play, 75 yard drive in just under 3:30 minutes, finished off by Giddens hammering the ball in from the one. One play earlier, Howard showed he was in shape for the contest by running for seven yards, but was stopped short of the goal line, to the consternation of the sell out crowd of 51, 192.

UCF reeled off two big runs to open their drive after the kickoff placed them at the 20. Quarterback Timmy McClain gained a first down on a bootleg, followed by a 48 yard trot by Johnny Richardson. That set up the Knights at the K-State 15. Desmond Pursell and Khalid Duke made key tackles on running plays before McClain threw an incompletion. Colton Boomer’s 29 yard field goal finished the drive to give the Knights their first points in Big 12 Conference play.

UCF would get a crack again after K-State reached mid-field but Howard misfired on a pass intended for Keegan Johnson. Corey Thornton stepped in front of it to give the Knights their second offensive possession just inside of the halfway point of the first quarter.

The visitors would take advantage of the Cats’ defense on a third down screen that became a 27 yard touchdown for RJ Harvey, The score finished a nine play drive to capitalize on the interception.

K-State would answer as Howard peppered the defense by connected on five of seven passes as part of a 14 play drive that ate up 4:23 of the clock and 84 yards. Giddens finished the drive on a nine yard draw to put the Wildcats back in the lead at 14-10 with 12:19 to play in the first half.

After a prayer of a pass from McClain to Javon Baker reset the down marker, The Cats defense got their chance to making change. On third down, Harvey had the ball stripped by Purnell and the recovery by VJ Payne gave K-State possession.

Back to back double-digit yardage carries by Giddens resulted in points, the capper an 18 yard run where two defenders were left clutching air. With the eight play drive, K-State ran another four minutes off the clock and pushed their lead to 21-10 with 6:20 remaining in the second quarter.

After each team traded punts, UCF would close the gap on a 69 yard pass down the middle of the field as the Cats’ defense left Kobe Hudson running free on a flea flicker and McClain didn’t miss.

K-State would get 20 yards in 5 plays, but needed one more as Jadon Jackson was tackled short of the stick, giving the ball over to UCF with a chance at points before halftime and 1:23 to work with.

McClain tried again to complete a scramble pass down the sideline, but this time it was only purple in the area as Jacob Parrish claimed the interception.

The Wildcats would get to the eight, but fail to boost themselves to a larger lead. On third down, Howard had a pass blocked back into his face and Chris Tennant’s 26 yard field goal try bounced off the left upright with eight seconds to play.

UCF’s McClain took a knee to end the half with K-State leading 21-17.

Johnny Richardson’s 51 yard kickoff return to begin the second became points three plays later as UCF regained the advantage. McClain nailed a 46 yard pass to Hudson in the front corner of the end zone and the Knights held a three-point cushion at 24-21.

Then Giddens’ breakout night resumed. K-State took possession at the 20 and Giddens ran 49 yards on the first two snaps of the drive to put the Wildcats inside the opposite 30. The drive stalled after another first down, setting up Tennant to take another crack at points, and he tied it from 30 yards out with 9:33 to play in the third.

After UCF’s next drive stalled near mid-field and ended with a punt, K-State drove 85 yards in 11 plays to eat more than five minutes off the clock and regain the lead. Will Howard’s one yard keeper off the left side of the line from two yards out put the Cats up with 1:28 remaining in the third 31-24.

The Knights would again threaten but was forced to eat up close to six minutes off the game clock before a field goal try from 52 yards went awry. Boomer’s miss followed the K-State defense tightening up on the heels of a pass interference call against Parrish. Duke collected a sack to force UCF into second and 22. Two run stops brought on the FG attempt that went wide right and fell short.

Giddens would add his fourth TD of the night on an option from Howard to finish off a 13 play drive that traveled 65 yards and took another six minutes off the clock. The three yard run pushed him past 200 yards for the night on his 29th carry.

After the defense loaded up and pushed UCF backwards on the next possession, forcing the ball over on downs, Will Howard tacked on a 31 yard run to run the score to 44-24. UCF would get a garbage time score with three seconds remaining to make the eventual difference on the scoreboard 13 points.

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