Originally posted on emawonline.com
by Alec Busse
NORMAN, Okla. — Kansas State’s All-American running back Deuce Vaughn stood in a small room inside Gaylord Memorial Stadium on the campus of Memorial Stadium and prepared to answer questions following Kansas State’s (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) dramatic 41-34 victory over No. 6 Oklahoma (3-1, 0-1 Big 12).
Clad in a purple 91 jersey, the jersey number of his roommate and Kansas State’s second-best player Felix Anudike-Uzomah. It was an ode to the impact that Uzomah has had on Kansas State’s quality start to the season — an upset loss to Tulane aside.
The jersey was a loud, but a friendly gesture from Vaughn. Still, a louder, more friendly gesture was the star tailback calling starting quarterback Adrian Martinez “my quarterback” following his potential Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week performance.
A week ago, few, if any, Kansas State fans continued to sing the praises of Martinez. He had just 304 passing yards in the Wildcats’ first three games of the season. Sure, they didn’t have to throw the ball in the second half against an inferior opponent in Week 1 and soaking weather conditions against Missouri in Week 2 meant lots of running through puddles for Vaughn. But Martinez — and first-year offensive coordinator Collin Klein — teamed up to combine for just 10 points in Week 3 against Tulane.
Kansas State players and coaches, though, never stopped singing the praises of Martinez despite his ugly passing performances to start the season. On Saturday, against No. 6 Oklahoma, Martinez showed why.
The fifth-year Nebraska transfer totaled 382 yards with five touchdowns, none bigger than his one-yard touchdown run with less than 2:00 left in the game to put Kansas State up 41-27. Just a few plays before, though, Kansas State was still in Oklahoma territory and faced a third and 16 up only a touchdown. The Wildcats needed to find a way to convert otherwise Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel — who had 330 yards and four passing touchdowns of his own — would get an opportunity tie the game and potentially force overtime.
Martinez had other plans processing in his head. Klein called four verticals, hoping that a soft Cover-3 zone defense would allow his quarterback to find one of his receivers open over the middle of the field streaking the hash marks. The Sooners covered it perfectly. What they didn’t cover, though, was Martinez’s legs. He stepped up into the pocket with two shuffle steps before bolting up the field past the outstretched fingertips of Oklahoma defenders until sliding out of bounds at the two-yard line.
“He made one guy miss and I saw him turn it on to another gear,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “That was fun to see.”
Vaughn, who was on the field for a 55-yard run, saw Martinez split the two linebackers after he split the two linebackers began screaming and started running to follow his quarterback.
“He put a bow on the type of game he played tonight,” Vaughn said. “It was super exciting to see. It was one of those things, like, that’s my quarterback. He showed everybody tonight why he’s my quarterback.”
Following Kansas State’s 17-10 loss to Tulane a week ago, Klieman, Klein and Martinez had two separate meetings. The first came on Sunday. The second came on Monday. The Wildcats head coach expressed that he still believed in his transfer starting quarterback. He shared that he loved him, that his teammates loved him. Kind, honest words that Martinez probably needed to hear when people — like myself — were critical of his play throughout three weeks. Klieman encouraged him to “cut it loose” against Oklahoma and that’s what Martinez did.
For the first time as a Wildcat, he played free. Shackles around his arms were released early in the game when Martinez his on seven of his first eight throws for 93 yards and a touchdown pass to Malik Knowles to put the Wildcats up 14-0.
Martinez completed eight passes of at least 10 yards on Saturday night, including three of them to tight end Ben Sinnott who had a career night with four total receptions and 80 yards.
“I had a really good conversation with Coach Klein and Coach Klieman,” Martinez said. “Really, this team they installed a lot of faith in me and a lot of confidence. I felt like I left some heart on the table last Saturday and it hurt. I feel like I didn’t do my teammate’s justice. I wanted to make sure that I came out there tonight and they knew that I gave everything I had left in my heart out there — and I feel confident I did that.”
While making his decision to transfer to Kansas State from Nebraska prior to the 2022 season, Martinez expressed that he may not want to run the football as much as he did as a Cornhusker. The constant beating that Martinez took because of poor offensive line play, regularly sprinting across the field evading tacklers left him bruised, battered most weeks. He even played through a broken jaw last season that had to be held shut with special bands to prevent further injury.
But Martinez had one of the most impressive rushing performances of his career against Oklahoma. He led the Wildcats with 148 rushing yards on 21 carries. His four rushing touchdowns eclipse a previous single-game high of three touchdowns, which came against Northwestern a year ago in Nebraska’s lone Big Ten victory.
“Being decisive,” Klieman said of his quarterback’s rushing performance. “If it wasn’t there, I’m going to go, and then we’re downfield. … That was vintage Adrian. That was a big-time college football player.”
The last four years playing football for Martinez haven’t always been the most fun. His Nebraska teams didn’t when many games and his greatest moments in red were often followed up by a horrendous moment that left Cornhusker fans angry and labeled him as a scapegoat for all the problems their team had. It’s possible, people thought Martinez might have been damaged goods considering his play in the first three weeks of the 2022 season.
Instead, Saturday’s game showed that Martinez isn’t broken beyond repair. He had real fun on a football field, something that has evaded him like he eluded Oklahoma tacklers for much of the Wildcats’ upset victory.
“Beating a team like this on the road is a special feeling,” he said. “One I’ve never had in my career. So, really, just trying to be thankful for all of it and thankful for the guys that believe in me to get it done.”