FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The body types are certainly different for TCU’s Kendre Miller and Kansas State’s 5-foot-6 dynamo Deuce Vaughn, yet the third-year running backs that will be featured in the Big 12 championship game look pretty similar in what they do on the field.
Like Vaughn, the 6-foot, 220-pound Miller can be shifty, elusive and quick. While being nearly 50 pounds lighter, Vaughn can also be hard to tackle and doesn’t shy from contact whether running or blocking. That was on display last week when he bulldozed a Kansas defensive back to spring Malik Knowles for a touchdown.
Miller has rushed for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns, running for a score in every game this season for third-ranked TCU (12-0, 9-0 Big 12, No. 3 CFP). His 153 yards six weeks ago against Kansas State included two TDs after halftime for the Horned Frogs, who won 38-28 after overcoming an early 28-10 deficit.
“He’s a physical hard runner that doesn’t come down with arm tackles. We didn’t wrap up well. We have to get more bodies to the ball,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “He makes guys miss and runs through arm tackles and drags guys for another 3 yards.”
No. 13 Kansas State (9-3, 7-2, No. 10 CFP) gets another shot at Miller and the playoff hopeful Frogs on Saturday, when the Wildcats play in their first Big 12 title game since upsetting then-undefeated No. 1 Oklahoma in 2003.
While Vaughn (1,295 yards) and Miller are 3-4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards, both also catch the ball out of the backfield. That has been a bigger part of K-State’s offense since Will Howard took over as the primary quarterback after dual-threat Adrian Martinez got hurt on the opening series against TCU. Vaughn has 25 catches for 274 yards with all three of his receiving TDs since.
“He’s a load trying to tackle him when they hand it do him, but they’ve done a really nice job getting him on linebackers and him running routes. They’ve been really creative in some of the things they’ve done as far as making him a receiver,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “So that’s going to be challenging for us to try to not only stop him carrying football, and also receiving the football.”
Vaughn, the first-team AP All-American as an all-purpose player last year, ran for 147 yards and had two catches for 82 yards Saturday against Kansas for his league-record fifth career game with at least 70 yards rushing and 70 yards receiving. He is one of only three players in school history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons — joining Daniel Thomas and Darren Sproles, a similar-sized shifty back who went on to play 183 NFL games with three teams over 14 seasons.
“I’m geeked up right now,” Vaughn said about playing for the Big 12 title. “This is it. This is what you’ve worked for. Because we worked so hard for, you can’t let off the gas right now.”
Coming out of Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas, Vaughn was largely overlooked by most major programs, including those in his home state like TCU.
Miller, from the tiny east Texas town of Mount Enterprise, is TCU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2016. His 13 consecutive games with a rushing TD is the nation’s longest active streak, and only two shy of the school-record 15 in a row set by NFL Hall of Fame back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000.
“At first, it wasn’t a big deal,” Miller said. “But now, I mean, I’m right here, so I might as well break it.”
Vaughn and Miller don’t have to do it by themselves for their respective offenses, with plenty of other talented skill players around them.
Kansas State also has a bigger back in DJ Gidden, and Howard can also throw to all-around receiver Malik Knowles (46 catches, 679 yards, three TDs), who also has run for three scores. The Frogs have one of the NFL’s top prospects in receiver Quentin Johnston (49 catches, 764 yards, five TDs), while senior quarterback Max Duggan leads the Big 12 with 3,070 yards and 29 TDs passing.
“It’s a big deal, just having other people to lean on. Our offense is a pretty high-power offense,” Miller said. “Just having dudes like Q and Max who can make plans any time, it’s a really big deal, because as a defense game planning, it’s pretty hard to scheme for us because you don’t know who’s going to make big plays.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
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