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Cats to Cap 2023 in Pop-Tarts Bowl

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (KStateSports.com) – 

BOWL PREVIEW
Following an 8-4 regular season and another final College Football Playoff Top 25 ranking, No. 25 Kansas State will be in search of its second-straight season with at least nine victories as it faces 18th-ranked NC State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday, December 28 inside Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The game, which kicks off at 5:45 p.m. (ET), will be shown to a national audience on ESPN.

The Pop-Tarts Bowl marks the 25th bowl game all-time for the Wildcats, who are advancing to a bowl for a fourth time in five years under head coach Chris Klieman. This will be Kansas State’s first-ever bowl game in the state of Florida and just the seventh game all-time in The Sunshine State.

K-State is looking for its fourth bowl victory in its last six tries for just the second time in school history and in search of ending the season with a winning note for the first time since a 42-20 win over LSU in the Texas Bowl after the 2021 season.

The Wildcats have never played a bowl game against an ACC opponent at the time of the game, but did face Syracuse three times and Boston College once when those schools were members of the Big EAST.

A LOOK AT THE WILDCATS
K-State is the only Big 12 team to collect at least eight wins in each of the last three seasons and has reached the mark in three-straight years for the first time since doing so four-consecutive years from 2011 through 2014. The Wildcats’ four losses this season were by a combined 21 points, and three of those four defeats were at the hands of teams that finished in the final College Football Playoff Top 25 in No. 3 Texas, No. 9 Missouri and No. 20 Oklahoma State.

The Wildcats started the season with two resounding wins over SEMO (45-0) and eventual Sun Belt Conference Champion Troy (42-13), the latter being a program that has won 11 games prior to its Birmingham Bowl against Duke on December 23.

The Wildcats opened conference play with a dominating 44-31 victory over new Big 12 member UCF – which is playing in the Gasparilla Bowl against Georgia Tech on December 22 – before suffering a 29-21 loss at Oklahoma State on a Friday night.

K-State rebounded from that defeat by reeling off three-straight convincing victories – a 38-21 win at Texas Tech, a 41-3 blowout of TCU and a 41-0 shutout of another new conference member, Houston.

The Wildcats then went to Austin, Texas, looking to take down the top-10 Longhorns. Trailing 27-7 late in the third quarter, the Wildcats outscored UT, 23-6, over the final 15-plus minutes to send the game into overtime. K-State held Texas to a field goal on its first overtime possession, and the Wildcats drove down to the four-yard line on their possession before a sack on 4th down ended the game with a 33-30 defeat.

Much like it did following the loss at Oklahoma State, K-State bounced back in a big way by blowing out Baylor, 59-25. The next week at Kansas, K-State trailed, 27-16, but scored the game’s final 15 points to earn its 15th-straight win over the Wildcats’ in-state rival with a 31-27 victory.

The Wildcats enter the Pop-Tarts Bowl with a sour taste in their mouth after finishing the regular season with a 42-35 home loss to Iowa State in the snowiest K-State game in recent memory.

A new era of K-State football opens in the 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl as true freshman quarterback Avery Johnson will earn his first start under center for the Wildcats. The top dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2023, Johnson has played in seven games this year, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-35 (65.7%) aim, while he has rushed for 225 yards and six touchdowns on just 45 carries. His six rushing touchdowns this season are tied for third nationally among true freshmen and tied for first among true freshman quarterbacks.

Sophomore running back DJ Giddens produced the 19th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history as he enters the Pop-Tarts Bowl with 1,075 rushing yards. It is the third-straight season the Wildcats have had a 1,000-yard rusher (Deuce Vaughn), while it is the third-most rushing yards by a sophomore in school history behind Darren Sproles (1,465 yards in 2022) and Vaughn (1,404 yards in 2021). With 66 rushing yards against NC State, Giddens will enter the school’s top-10 list for single-season rushing yards among all players.

Leading the way on the ground is an experienced offensive line in which the five expected starters have combined for 228 career games played in 169 starts. That unit is led by two-time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the year and Consensus All-American Cooper Beebe, who has started 47 of his 50 career games played. He is the first offensive lineman in school history and 12th player overall to earn Consensus All-America honors, while it is the 14th time a Wildcat has earned the distinction.

Young wide receivers in freshman Jayce Brown and sophomore Keagan Johnson came on toward the end of the season as the duo combined for 371 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 27 catches over the final four regular-season games. Brown enters the Pop-Tarts Bowl ranked fifth in school history in receiving yards by a freshman and is 50 yards away from having the most in school history by a true freshman.

Defensively, K-State enters bowl season ranked in the top 30 nationally in seven categories, which includes a No. 29 ranking in scoring defense at 21.2 points allowed per game to rank second in the Big 12.  Additionally, K-State was one of the most ballhawking teams over the second half of the season, leading the country with 18 takeaways over the final seven games.

Safety Marques Sigle leads five defenders that will be playing in the Pop-Tarts Bowl that have carded at least 35 tackles this season. He is joined on that list by linebackers Austin Moore (59) and Desmond Purnell (47), safety VJ Payne (47) and cornerback Jacob Parrish (38).

A LOOK AT THE WOLFPACK
NC State finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record and a 6-2 ACC record to finish third in the conference. The Wolfpack enter the Pop-Tarts Bowl on a five-game winning streak, including a 24-17 win over Clemson, which finished at No. 23 in the final College Football Playoff Top 25.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw for 1,621 yards and 11 touchdowns on 146-of-234 (62.4%) aim and was also the team’s leading rusher with 544 yards and six touchdowns on 126 carries.

The Wolfpack defense is led by linebacker Payton Wilson, the 2023 Chuck Bednarik Award and Butkus Award winner who collected 138 tackles with 17.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and three interceptions.

TEAM NOTES
WILDCATS HEADED TO POP-TARTS BOWL
• Coming off an 8-4 regular season – including a 6-3 conference mark to tie for fourth in the Big 12 – Kansas State earned its 25th bowl berth all time and fourth under head coach Chris Klieman as the 25th-ranked Wildcats will face No. 18 NC State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday, December 28, inside Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
• Of K-State’s 25 total bowl appearances all-time, 23 of those have come since 1993.
• The Wildcats hold a 10-14 record in bowl games and are looking to win their fourth bowl game in their last six appearances. It would be the first time since the 1997 through 2002 seasons the Wildcats won four bowls in six tries.
• This will mark the ninth different state in which K-State has traveled to bowl games. The most frequent destinations are Arizona (4-Copper/Insight/Buffalo Wild Wings/Cactus, 3-Fiesta) and Texas (3-Cotton, 3-Texas, 2-Alamo).

K-STATE IN FLORIDA
• K-State is playing its first ever bowl game in the state of Florida and just the seventh overall game in The Sunshine State.
• The last time K-State played in Florida was 2011 at Miami, a 28-24 victory. Four of the other five games came in the 1970s as the Wildcats played in Gainesville against Florida (1947 – L; 1973 – L), in Tallahassee against Florida State (1970 – L; 1976 – L) and in Tampa against the University of Tampa (1973 – W).

CATS AND WOLFPACK
• For the second-straight season, Kansas State will see a first-time matchup in a bowl game as the Wildcats and NC State are meeting for the first time ever on the gridiron in the Pop-Tarts Bowl.
• Last season in the Sugar Bowl, K-State and Alabama met for the first time.
• In fact, this year’s Pop-Tarts Bowl will represent just the fourth time the Cats will face a team from the state of North Carolina.
• K-State defeated Charlotte, 55-7, in Manhattan in 2017. The Cats also split road victories against Wake Forest in 1975 (17-16 win in Winston Salem) and 1976 (13-0 loss in Manhattan).

K-STATE AND THE ACC
• Kansas State will be playing its 19th game all-time against current members of the ACC.
• The 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl will be the first time ever the Cats will play a bowl game against a team in the ACC at the time of the game. K-State did defeat Syracuse, 35-18, in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl and lost in the 2001 Insight.com Bowl and 2010 Pinstripe Bowl when it was a member of the Big EAST. The Cats lost to another Big EAST-turned-ACC member Boston College in the 1994 Aloha Bowl.
• This will be K-State’s first game against an ACC member since a 52-13 home victory over Miami in 2012. The Wildcats also defeated the Hurricanes a year prior in Miami Gardens.

BOWLING AGAIN
• In an era of college football where over 80 teams play in bowl games each year, K-State is one of just 16 Power 5 schools to advance to a bowl in 12 of the last 14 years.
• The Wildcats are one of three Big 12 teams to accomplish the feat, joining Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
• Since 1993, Kansas State has advanced to 24 bowl games, which is tied for 16th nationally and fourth in the Big 12.

RANKED AGAIN
• Kansas State was ranked No. 25 in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, marking the second-straight year the Wildcats were ranked in the final poll.
• The Wildcats have been ranked in 12-straight CFP Top 25 polls, which is tied for the sixth-longest active streak.

RANKED VS. RANKED
• This year’s Pop-Tarts Bowl is one of 10 bowls pitting two teams ranked in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, but one of just four that are not part of the New Year’s Six.
• The other non-NY6 ranked vs. ranked matchups this year are in the Alamo Bowl (No. 12 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Arizona), Sun Bowl (No. 16 Notre Dame vs. No. 19 Oregon State) and Citrus Bowl (No. 17 Iowa vs. No. 21 Tennessee), the latter being played inside Camping World Stadium just four days after the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

EIGHT IS GREAT
• K-State enters the Pop-Tarts Bowl with an 8-4 record, marking the third-straight season the Cats have totaled at least eight wins.
• The Wildcats are the only Big 12 team with a current three-year streak of at least eight wins, while they are one of only 11 Power 5 teams to claim that feat (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, NC State, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon and Utah).

TOP 30 IN BOTH
•  Kansas State enters bowl season ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense (37.8 points per game) and 29th in scoring defense (21.2 points allowed per game). The Wildcats are one of just 10 Power 5 teams to rank in the top 30 in both categories, joining Alabama, Arizona, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State and Texas.
• The Wildcats are looking to finish in the top 30 nationally in both categories in the same season for the first time since 2014 when they ranked 24th in scoring offense (35.8 points per game) and 29th in scoring defense (23.2 points allowed per game).

AMONG THE NATION’S BEST
• K-State has 221 victories since 1996, which is tied for 22nd nationally. Among current Big 12 teams, the Wildcats rank fifth behind Oklahoma (272), Texas (241), TCU (229) and BYU (228).
• Over the last 13 seasons, the Wildcats have won at least eight games 10 times. That is the second most among current Big 12 teams (Oklahoma – 12).

A WINNING TRADITION
• Kansas State has been one of the best Big 12 teams since the inception of the conference in 1996. The Wildcats are third with 139 conference victories, trailing only Oklahoma and Texas.
• The Wildcats are also third in the conference in winning percentage since non-divisional play began in 2011. They sit at 59.8% (70-47), trailing only Oklahoma (77.6%; 90-26) and Oklahoma State (65.8%; 77-40).
• During that stretch, the Wildcats are 39-20 (66.1%) at home in Big 12 play and 31-27 (53.4%) on the road.

A CULTURE OF WINNING
• A proven winner with a championship history, Chris Klieman holds a 110-37 career record, as his 74.8% career winning percentage ranks fourth among current FBS coaches that have led programs for at least 10 seasons.
• Klieman, who is 38-24 since arriving at K-State prior to the 2019 season, is also one of just 14 current Power 5 head coaches with at least 110 career wins.

TO’s MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
• Prior to the Texas Tech game, K-State ranked 105th nationally in turnover margin (minus-3) but flipped that script over the final half of the regular season as it enters bowl season ranked seventh nationally with a plus-10 margin and 17th nationally in turnovers gained (21).
• In the final seven weeks of the regular season, K-State forced a nation-leading 18 turnovers (10 interceptions, eight fumbles) while only committing five (three interceptions, two fumbles).

OH, SO CLOSE
• K-State’s four losses this season are by a combined 21 points with three of those coming against teams that finished in the final CFP Top 25 (No. 3 Texas, No. 9 Missouri, No. 20 Oklahoma State).
• K-State’s 5.25 average margin of defeat this season is the smallest among three- and four-loss Power 5 teams and over 14 points per game better than any other Big 12 team (West Virginia – 19.50; Oklahoma State and Kansas – 25.75).

TOP-NOTCH DISCIPLINE
• K-State has been one of the most disciplined teams in the Big 12, ranking third with 42.75 penalty yards per game.
• The Wildcats enter bowl season ranked 22nd nationally in penalty yards per game, which would be their best ranking since finishing ninth in 2015 (38.85 yards per game).

CATS TOPS IN NON-OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWNS
• K-State is the nation’s best in non-offensive touchdowns over the last 25 seasons as it has 131 since 1999, six more than the next closest team (Alabama – 125).
• K-State recorded two non-offensive scores against Baylor when linebacker Desmond Purnell returned a fumble 15 yards for a score, while cornerback Keenan Garber returned an interception 45 yards to paydirt. It was the first time K-State had two defensive scores in a game since 2017 (Charlotte), while it was the first for a Big 12 game since 2002 (Iowa State).
• Of the 131 non-offensive scores since 1999, 44 have been punt returns, 41 interception returns, 33 kickoff returns, 11 fumble returns and 2 missed/blocked field goal returns.

OFFENSIVE NOTES
RILEY TAKING THE REINS
• Offensive line coach Conor Riley will direct the offense for the Pop-Tarts Bowl as he was named the interim offensive coordinator. This will be the first time in Riley’s career that he will serve as the primary play caller.
• Riley, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, began his coaching career as a student assistant and graduate assistant at his alma mater, Omaha. He served one season as the offensive line coach at Concordia (MN) before moving back to Omaha as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator from 2007 to 2010.
• After spending two seasons as the offensive line coach at Sacramento State (2011-12), he was hired as the fullbacks coach at North Dakota State in 2013 and moved to offensive line on Chris Klieman‘s original staff in 2014. He was with the Bison until 2019 when he followed Klieman to Kansas State.

SCORING SURGE
• Kansas State enters bowl season ranked 10th nationally by scoring 37.8 points per game, a mark that currently ranks sixth in school history.
• The Wildcats are looking to finish in the top 10 in the country in scoring offense for the first time since ranking ninth in 2003. Their current average of 37.8 points per game is the highest since scoring 38.9 points per game in 2012.
• K-State has scored at least 30 points in each of the last seven games, which is the third-longest active streak in the nation entering bowl season.

TOTAL OFFENSE
• K-State has totaled at least 375 yards in 21 of 26 games dating back to the beginning of the 2022 season. During that stretch, the Wildcats held a 10-game streak against Big 12 foes with 375 or more yards, the longest in school history.
• The Cats enter bowl season ranked 23rd nationally by averaging 446.1 yards per game, a mark that currently ranks second in school history. They also currently rank 10th in school history with 6.02 yards per play.

500 CLUB
• Kansas State produced 500-yard contests this year against SEMO (588 yards), UCF (536 yards) and TCU (587 yards), while it narrowly missed out on a fourth 500-yard game in the regular-season finale against Iowa State (497 yards).
• K-State’s effort against TCU included 406 yards in the first half, the most in a half since at least 1999. The 587 yards against the Horned Frogs were also the sixth-most in school history and most ever for a conference game.
• The Wildcats’ 588 yards against SEMO were the fifth most in school history and the most ever for a season opener.
• This is the first year K-State has produced at least three 500-yard games since 2003 (535 vs. California; 503 at Iowa State; 561 at Nebraska; 519 vs. Oklahoma) and the first time with at least two in Big 12 play since 2014 (505 vs. Kansas and 535 vs. Texas Tech).

RUSHING TO VICTORY
• K-State has steadily been one of the top rushing attacks in the country this year as it enters bowl season ranking 13th nationally with 199.7 rushing yards per game.
• A year after ranking 15th in the nation in rushing (208.3 yards per game), the Cats are looking to finish back-to-back seasons in the top 15 nationally in rushing for the first time since doing so in 2001 (5th; 257.7), 2002 (5th; 264.1) and 2003 (9th; 228.6).
• The Wildcats are also tied for 15th nationally with 30 rushing touchdowns, needing two in the Pop-Tarts Bowl to tie for 10th in school history.

TAKING CARE OF THE BALL
• A staple of K-State football over the past decade has been committing very few turnovers, as the Wildcats rank third among Power 5 teams in fewest turnovers since 2012 with 178.
• That figure leads returning Big 12 teams, as the Wildcats are 18 better than the next closest program (Oklahoma, 196).
• The Wildcats finished the 2022 season tied for 12th nationally and first in the Big 12 with 12 turnovers lost. They also have 12 turnovers lost this year to enter bowl season tied for 15th in the country and second in the conference.

THIRD DOWN SUCCESS
• Kansas State has been one of the best teams in the nation in terms of converting on third down, as the Wildcats are eighth nationally and second in the Big 12 with a 49.3% (86-of-174) success rate. K-State’s 86 total third-down conversions are tied for third in the country and are first in the Big 12.
• The Wildcats are looking to finish 50% or better on third downs in a season for the first time since 2012 (50.0% – 80-of-160)., which was also the last time they finished in the top 10 in the country (7th).
• The Wildcats have put together four games with at least 10 third-down conversions, the most in the nation. They had 11 conversions against Iowa State and 10 apiece against Troy, TCU and Houston. The four games with 10 or more third-down conversions are the most by the Wildcats since at least 1990.
• The Cats hit on 74.1% of their third-down attempts over the TCU and Houston games (20-of-27), nearly 10% higher than any other team in the country over those two weeks.

RED ZONE SUCCESS
• Kansas State has been one of the best teams in the nation in turning red-zone trips into touchdowns, as the Wildcats enter bowl season leading the nation by finding paydirt on 78.69% percent of their red-zone possessions (48-of-61).
• K-State’s 48 red-zone touchdowns this year are tied for second nationally with Georgia and just three behind Oregon (51), while they are four more than the next closest Big 12 team (Oklahoma – 44).
• This year is a continuation of red-zone success under head coach Chris Klieman, as the Wildcats are second in the Big 12 by scoring on 90.7% (224-of-247) of their overall red-zone trips since 2019, just behind Oklahoma (90.9%).

THE START OF THE AVERY ERA
Avery Johnson, the top dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2023, is set to become just the second true freshman signal caller in school history to start a bowl game, while he will be the fifth true freshman to start any game under center.
• The other true freshman quarterback to start a bowl game was Josh Freeman in the 2006 Texas Bowl. Freeman went on to be a first-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
• The other true freshman quarterbacks to start any game for the Wildcats are James Mack (one game in 1975), Duane Howard (three games in 1976), Freeman (eight games in 2006) and Will Howard (seven games in 2020).
• Johnson did start the TCU game earlier this season as he was one of two quarterbacks on the field, lining up out wide and taking an end-around on the first offensive play.

RUNNING TO PAYDIRT
Avery Johnson has six rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied for third in school history among freshmen. He is two shy of the record held by then-redshirt freshman fullback Ayo Saba in 2002 and one shy of tying the school’s true freshman record held by running back Deuce Vaughn in 2020.
• Johnson’s six rushing touchdowns this year are tied for the third most nationally among true freshmen and tied for the most among true freshman quarterbacks (FIU’s Keyone Jenkins).

BOOKENDING 2023 IN ORLANDO
• The 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl will allow quarterback Avery Johnson to begin and end calendar year 2023 in the same stadium.
• A product of Wichita, Kansas, Johnson began the year playing in the 2023 Under Armour Next All-America Game inside Camping World Stadium on January 3.

GIDDENS GETTING IT DONE
• Sophomore running back DJ Giddens enters the Pop-Tarts Bowl having rushed for 1,075 yards and nine touchdowns this year in addition to collecting 286 receiving yards and two touchdowns, as he is one of 25 running backs nationally and one of seven in the Big 12 with over 1,300 scrimmage yards this season.
• Giddens enters bowl season tied for 19th nationally with 44 touches that have gone for at least 10 yards.
• A native of Junction City, Kansas, Giddens’ 5.51 yards per rush this year currently ranks eighth in school history, while he has 5.61 yards per rush in his career to rank third behind Darren Sproles (6.11 yds/rush – 2001-04) and Alex Barnes (5.71 yds/rush – 2016-18).

HITTING A MILESTONE
DJ Giddens produced the 19th 1,000-yard rushing performance in school history this season with 1,075 yards.
• He ranks third in school history in rushing yards among sophomores, while he needs 66 rushing yards to enter the school’s top-10 list overall.
• Giddens eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on his 175th carry of the season, which was tied for the third fastest in school history in terms of attempts.
• With Deuce Vaughn going over 1,000 rushing yards in both 2021 (1,404) and 2022 (1,558), the Wildcats have a 1,000-yard rusher in three-straight seasons for the third time in school history. They also accomplished the feat from 2001 through 2004 in addition to the 2009 to 2011 seasons.

BEEBE BIDS FAREWELL
• Returning for his senior season after foregoing the opportunity to go to the NFL last year, senior left guard Cooper Beebe made school history in his final season as he became the first offensive lineman in school history to be named a Consensus All-American.
• It is the 14th time a Wildcat has been named a Consensus All-American, and he is the 12th K-State player to earn the honor.
Deuce Vaughn was a Consensus All-American in both 2021 and 2022, as this is the second time in school history the Wildcats have produced Consensus All-Americans in at least three-consecutive years (1995-1999).
• Beebe has been a staple along the offensive line as the Pop-Tarts Bowl will mark his 48th-career start. He enters the final game as a Wildcat having seen action on 3,056 career snaps.
• According to Pro Football Focus, Beebe has allowed just four sacks among his 1,450 career passing blocking snaps, four of which occurred during his redshirt freshman season of 2021.
• A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Beebe has surrendered just one sack in his last 41 career games played.

EXPERIENCED OFFENSIVE LINE
• The 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl marks the final game for many experienced offensive linemen as K-State’s expected starting five have combined for 228 career games played and 169 career starts.
• Left guard Cooper Beebe has played in 50 career games with 47 starts, followed by left tackle KT Leveston (49 games/31 starts), right tackle Christian Duffie (48 games/40 starts), center Hayden Gillum (46 games/26 starts) and right guard Hadley Panzer (35 games/25 starts).

DEFENSIVE NOTES
DEFENSIVE SWITCH PAYS OFF
• Since the K-State defense switched from a four-man front to a 3-3-5 alignment at the beginning of the 2021 season (39 games), the Cats are allowing just 21.4 points per game, which ranks 17th in the nation and second in the Big 12.
• After averaging 21.0 points per game in 2021 and 21.9 points last year, K-State is looking to string together three-straight seasons allowing less than 22.0 points per game for the first time since going 13-straight years from 1991 to 2003.
• The Wildcats have allowed 29 touchdowns from scrimmage this year, which is tied for the third fewest in the Big 12.

UNDER AVERAGE
• K-State held all of its Big 12 opponents last season – and six of nine this year – under its season averages.
• Since head coach Chris Klieman‘s first year of 2019, the Wildcats have held 35 of their 45 Big 12 opponents under their season average at the time it faces the Wildcats.

THIRD DOWN STOPS
• K-State has not allowed any of its 12 opponents this year to convert on greater than 45% of its third-down attempts, while the Wildcats have held opponents under 50% in 23 of 26 games dating back to the beginning of last season.
• K-State enters bowl season ranked seventh nationally by allowing opponents to convert on just 28.7% of its third downs, its lowest rate since 2019 (28.0%).
• The Wildcats surrendered five or fewer third-down conversions each of their final seven regular-season games against Texas Tech (4), TCU (2), Houston (3), Texas (2), Baylor (4), Kansas (5) and Iowa State (3).
• K-State’s 47 third-down conversions allowed are tied for the sixth fewest in the nation.

DEFENSIVE RED ZONE SUCCESS
• The Wildcats have been stingy when opponents enter the red zone as they are allowing touchdowns just 41.94% of the time (13-of-31), the fifth-best mark in the nation entering bowl season. The 13 touchdowns allowed are also tied for the fifth fewest in the nation.
• It is a dramatic improvement from last season when K-State ranked 108th when 67.5% of opponents’ red-zone trips resulted in touchdowns (27-of-40).

BACK FOR MOORE
• K-State’s leading tackler from a year ago is at is again as Austin Moore ranks second on the team with 59 stops, just one behind Marques Sigle. However, Moore has improved his production in tackles for loss with 12.0 on the year, two more than his total over 14 games last season.
• A former walk-on turned team captain, Moore has at least a half tackle for loss in 12 of his last 16 games dating back to last year, including a career-best 3.0 TFLs against SEMO.

PARRISH IMPROVING HIS PLAY
• Sophomore cornerback Jacob Parrish earned his first 11 starts this season and did not disappoint as he enters bowl season tied for 16th nationally with 1.09 passes defended per game.
• Included in that total is a team-high tying three interceptions, recording one against UCF and two against Texas.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
SCORING IN THE THIRD PHASE
• Since 2005 (19 seasons), K-State has a combined 60 kickoff- and punt-return touchdowns, 20 more than second-place Alabama (40) and 26 more than the next closest Big 12 team (Oklahoma State – 34).
• Of the 60 total returns, a nation-leading 31 are on kickoff returns. The next closest team is Houston with 21.
• Entering 2023, K-State tallied a punt-return score in every season since 2014, as the nine-year stretch is the longest active streak in the nation.

MORE RECENTLY…
• Special teams have been an area of emphasis under head coach Chris Klieman, and the stats back it up.
• K-State is one of only two teams in the nation (Houston) with at least five kickoff-return touchdowns and five punt-return touchdowns since 2019.
• On the flipside, K-State is one of just eight returning FBS teams to not allow a kickoff- or punt-return touchdown since 2019, while the Wildcats are the only Big 12 team to lay that claim.

DEFENSE ON KICK RETURNS
• K-State has not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2013 season, going the last 126 games and 417 returns without allowing opponents to find paydirt on a kickoff return.
• The streak is the longest among the returning Big 12 teams.
• Since K-State allowed its last kickoff-return touchdown, the Wildcats have scored 14 of their own.

BLOCK PARTY
• K-State has totaled three blocked kicks this year, the second time under head coach Chris Klieman that the Wildcats had at least three blocks (4 in 2020).
• The Wildcats enter bowl season ranked 10th nationally in blocked kicks.
• K-State blocked an extra point at Kansas – the first by a Wildcat since Jordan Willis at Oklahoma State in 2015 – while the Wildcats blocked a punt at Texas to mark the sixth-straight season the Cats have blocked at least one punt.
Marques Sigle also blocked a field goal at Oklahoma State.

TO THE HOUSE
• Senior Keenan Garber picked up the blocked extra point at Kansas and returned it 91 yards for a defensive extra point, the fifth in school history and first since 2012 as he was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
• It was the longest defensive extra point return off a blocked kick in school history – one yard longer than Terence Newman’s 90-yard return against USC in 2002.

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