CARBONDALE — Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn never had the 35-yard run Southeast Missouri State's Geno Hess did against SIU's defense Saturday night.
Vaughn, the Big 12 Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, got his fourth straight 100-yard game in the Wildcats' 31-23 win in Manhattan, Kansas. Vaughn had three touchdowns, too, two from four yards out and one on a 1-yard plunge, but was a part of 32 of KSU's 70 offensive plays.
"Honestly think that if you would have told me we would have had the game against him, he probably ended up with a lot of yards, but I'll take that performance, and I bet a lot of people would trade our performance," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "He didn't have the big explosive run for a touchdown that we talked about. They're going to hand it to him a lot. He's one of the best backs, really, in the country, and will rush for 1,000 yards, and he'll have some big-time runs, and I felt like our guys tackled him well, rallied to the ball."
Vaughn, a 5-foot-6, 173-pound sophomore, rushed 26 times for 120 yards at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. He also caught two of six passes toward him. His longest run was 16 yards. Hess, a preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference pick for the Redhawks, rushed for 104 yards on 18 carries but didn't score in SIU's 47-21 win to open the season.
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The Salukis are hopeful their run defense will look more like 2019 than 2020-21 with added depth up front and 10 returning starters on that side of the football, overall. SIU allowed 26 rushing touchdowns last season. Opponents averaged 203.9 yards a game on the ground. In 2019, opponents averaged 154 yards a game on the ground and had 19 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. It was SIU's best effort on the ground, average-wise, in six years.
KSU (2-0) hurt No. 8/9 SIU (1-1) more through the air in the first meeting between the two programs in football. Starting quarterback Skylar Thompson had a 43-yard pass to Malik Knowles on the opening drive that led to a 7-0 lead, and hooked up again for 50 on another scoring drive.
Backup Will Howard, who came in when Thompson went down with an apparent knee injury, completed 8 of 17 passes for 76 yards. Howard also rushed for nine yards on eight carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run. Howard sailed a pass in the middle of the field late in the first half, which cornerback P.J. Jules returned 41 yards for a touchdown and the lead.
The Salukis couldn't hold it in the second half. Taiten Winkel hit a 34-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 24-23 in the third quarter, and Vaughn finished off a 59-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:57 to play.
SIU got all the way to the KSU 21 in the final minute before falling short. Quarterback Nic Baker was sacked by end Felix Anudike-Uzomah from behind and fumbled. Tackle Timmy Horne recovered at the 25, and Howard ran out the clock after taking a knee.
"Well we are excited to get the win against a good Southern Illinois team. I know the league really well that they play in and I know they have really good football players," said KSU coach Chris Klieman, a former head coach at North Dakota State. "Next thing it was 21-9 and then the flood gates opened because we couldn't hang on to the ball offensively, and next thing you know, we’re down 22-21 with four turnovers at half and probably deserve to be down more. I talked and said 'You just gave them life, and it's going to be a four-quarter game, period, because these guys are playing with confidence."
On Twitter: @THefferman