Date: Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m.
Location: Memphis, Tenn.
Stadium: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (57,266)
Series: First Meeting
CATS, MIDSHIPMEN TANGLE ON NEW YEAR’S EVE IN AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWLAn eight-win regular season was rewarded with Kansas State’s ninth bowl berth in the last 10 years as the Wildcats look to win three-consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history against first-time opponent Navy in the 61st Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The game is slated for a 2:45 p.m., kickoff on Tuesday, December 31, inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. The Liberty Bowl is the 22nd bowl game in school history, with 21 of those coming since 1993. The Wildcats are advancing to postseason play under first-year head coach Chris Klieman, who has the most wins by a first-year head coach in school history and the second-most victories this season by a first-time Power 5 head coach (Ryan Day, Ohio State). The 2019 version of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be K-State’s second trip to the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll as the Wildcats will look to avenge a 45-23 loss to Arkansas in the game following the 2015 season. The Wildcats are one of just 22 teams in the nation to advance to at least nine bowl games this decade, including one of four in the Big 12 (Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State). In its last two bowl games, the Wildcats defeated Texas A&M, 33-28, in the 2016 Texas Bowl prior to a 35-17 victory over UCLA in the 2017 Cactus Bowl. It was the second time in school history that K-State won consecutive bowl games as the Wildcats look for their first three-game bowl winning streak against Navy.
A LOOK AT K-STATE
K-State rode the waves of celebration and adversity on its way to an 8-4 regular season as the Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 start – highlighted by a 31-24 win at Mississippi State – before dropping its first two Big 12 games. The win in Starkville was the Wildcats’ first at an SEC venue, going 0-11 prior to the fourth-quarter comeback victory. Following the 0-2 start to conference play, the Wildcats got back on track with a 24-17 victory over TCU, which preceded a 48-41 upset victory over then-No. 5 and now College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma. The Wildcats erased a pair of 10-point deficits by outscoring the Sooners, 41-6, over the second and third quarters before hanging on in the final period for the win. K-State went on to earn its 11th-straight Sunflower Showdown victory over Kansas the next week, but it dropped the next two games by a combined seven points – a three-point loss at Texas on a field goal as time expired and a four-point defeat to West Virginia. The Wildcats pushed through adversity to secure wins their final two contests, a 30-27 victory at Texas Tech and a 27-17 win in the regular-season and home finale over Iowa State, K-State’s 11th win in the last 12 years over the Cyclones.
Kansas State is led on offense by junior quarterback Skylar Thompson, a 2019 Honorable Mention All-Big 12 pick who is in line to make the 27th career start. The Independence, Missouri, native has set career highs in passing yards (2,191), touchdowns (12) and completions (167) this season, while he has been one of the more effective running quarterbacks in the Big 12 in 2019. The Wildcats boast three running backs with at least 250 rushing yards, led by graduate transfer and All-Big 12 pick James Gilbert with 698 yards and six touchdowns. Another grad transfer, Jordon Brown, has 367 yards and four scores, while junior Harry Trotter has 261 yards and three scores. The trio has run behind a senior-laden offensive line that seen five of the six regular contributors earn All-Big 12 honors this season. The wideouts are led by senior Dalton Schoen, who has 35 catches for 567 yards and four scores, while freshman Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks also have at least 20 catches for 250 yards.
Defensively, senior safety Denzel Goolsby leads four players that have at least 50 tackles, while First Team All-Big 12 defensive end Wyatt Hubert ranks second in the league in sacks (7.0) and eighth in tackles for loss (12.5). Cornerback AJ Parker has a team-high three interceptions and eight total passes defended, while Goolsby and linebacker Da’Quan Patton each have two picks.
Kansas State has been known to have stellar special teams, and 2019 is no different as its place kicker, Blake Lynch, punter, Devin Anctil, and kick returner, Joshua Youngblood each earned All-Big 12 honors. Youngblood was the 2019 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year with a nation-leading three kickoff-return touchdowns. Anctil ranks first in the Big 12 with a 45.0-yard average, which including 17 punts of 50 or more yards. Lynch ranks seventh nationally in field-goal percentage (90.0%) and 22nd in field goals per game (1.50).
A LOOK AT NAVY
Navy enters the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with a 10-2 record – including a 7-1 mark to tie for first in the AAC West – fresh off a 31-7 victory over Army to claim the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. Navy’s only two losses this year are a 35-23 defeat at Memphis – the Group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six – and a 52-20 setback at then-No. 16 Notre Dame. The Midshipmen rank first in the nation with a 363.7-yard average on the ground, 66.5 yards better than the next best team. Quarterback Malcolm Perry ranks second nationally with 150.3 rushing yards per game as the Mids’ signal caller is coming off a 304-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Black Knights, a game in which he did not attempt a pass. Perry has 21 touchdowns on the season, while Jamale Carothers is second with 14 touchdowns and a 79.1-yard rushing average per game. Linebacker Diego Fagot has a team-high 93 tackles, while striker Jacob Springer paces Navy in both tackles for loss (16.0) and sacks (8.0). Three Midshipmen have two interceptions on the season.
Director of Football Communications