Originally posted on emawonline.com
by Alec Busse
All-American running back Deuce Vaughn is quite the luxury for Kansas State. The third-year tailback has 271 rushing yards in the Wildcats’ first two games and three rushing touchdowns and dating back to the 2021 season, Vaughn has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in eight consecutive games. He also has at least one rushing touchdown in all eight games.
On Saturday, against Mizzou, Vaughn ran through a Tigers defense to the tune of 145 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.0 yards per carry while pacing the K-State offense deep into the fourth quarter.
Depth, at running back, though, is never satisfactory for many teams. In an unforgiving sport, running back is one of the most unforgiving positions. Rushers are routinely beaten and battered by defenders more than many other players on the field, and it often leads to nagging, frustrating injuries that often last weeks at a time.
It’s why developing a secondary and potentially third rusher is important for Kansas State. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is a gifted runner, but he’s not looking to scramble around the field as much as he did during his career at Nebraska before transferring to K-State for his final season of eligibility in 2022. Second-year running back DJ Giddens has carried the football eight times for 86 yards in K-State’s first two games of the season, and he also has two touchdowns including a long touchdown run of close to 30 yards against Missouri.
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman called Giddens the “clear number two” running back behind Vaughn on the depth chart. But his eight carries through two games means Vaughn has been asked to carry the football 42 times in Kansas State’s first two games despite outscoring South Dakota and Missouri by a combined score of 74-12.
Against South Dakota, Giddens received most of his opportunity in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, and in Week 2 Klieman said his staff decided to opt with Vaughn because of the damp conditions at Bill Snyder Family Stadium due to heavy rainfall throughout the game.
“When a guy is warm and playing all the time and not sitting on the sidelines soaking wet,” Klieman said. “You’re going to give it to the guy who is your guy for starters. I feel bad for Anthony [Frias] (who had a fumble against Mizzou). He sat cold and wet all game then he didn’t hold onto the football. That’s not Anthony. Anthony’s going to be fine. He’s beating himself up too much and we’ve got a lot of belief in him.
“I didn’t want to do the same thing to DJ. Deuce is fresh, he’s warm and he’s carrying the load. He’s a pretty good football player and DJ had an impact; he had a big run for us.”
The plan entering the Missouri game was to have a diverse rushing attack that featured more of Giddens. But after creating a 20-6 lead and the soaking conditions, Kansas State stuck with Vaughn, until the fourth quarter, before allowing Giddens to get into the game for carries when the game had been all but decided.
“It was soaking wet and a downpour,” Klieman said. “It was let’s not turn the ball over, let’s give it to Deuce. Plus, with the amount of pressure we were seeing we did not want to take sacks. We did not want to take a bunch of negative plays.”
A more diverse rushing attack, though, could also help the elusive, agile Vaughn find more success on each carry, despite receiving a smaller share of handoffs, potentially. Martinez is tall, has long strides and has long strides to help him gain large swaths of yards in short amounts of strides. Giddens is more powerful than Vaughn and has an impressive burst, which helps him get to the second level of the defense.
“If you have Adrian Martinez back there, myself and DJ Giddens and the offensive line that puts in the world that they do, it’s real,” Vaughn said. “It’s kind of a pick your poison almost. You throw in some read option things to really get a defense guess at which one they want to take away and you have somebody like 9AM (Martinez’s nickname) back there besides myself behind that o-line that’s going to be useful for the entire season.”
The clashing styles of Vaughn and Giddens, in particular, has the potential to be difficult for opponents to successfully stop.
“We go hand-in-hand,” Vaughn said. “DJ, you see the power he runs with, the burst he has. The frame and body that he has to be able to get hit and grab five or six more yards and to have that compiled with myself is a yin and a yang.”
The Wildcats have found vast amounts of success with Vaughn rushing the football in eight consecutive games – and they’re likely to continue to find success by putting the ball in his belly and telling him to run. But K-State is likely going to need a secondary running back to emerge as the second continues to help spell Vaughn. Giddens can, and should, be that guy.
“I told him that the season he’s going to have this year is going to be big time,” Vaughn said of conversations with Giddens. “And we’re going to need him every single week. Don’t change, be the same person you have always been, take care of your business during the week and when your name is called go run hard.”