FARGO — It was the season opener for the new head football coach at Kansas State. The opponent, Nicholls State (La.), was the only FCS school on the Wildcats’ schedule this season, although Chris Klieman wasn’t so sure when he saw a Colonels’ wide receiver during pregame warmups.
Dai’Jean Dixon is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds who looks like he should be playing in the FBS Big 12 Conference rather than the FCS Southland.
“Absolutely,” Klieman said Monday. “He’s a really physical-looking receiver.”
Dixon and the Colonels, fresh off a 24-6 win over the University of North Dakota in last Saturday’s first round of the FCS playoffs, travel to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome for a 2:30 p.m. second-round matchup with North Dakota State on Saturday. Having a first-round bye is something Klieman got used to when he was the head coach at NDSU before assuming control of the Kansas State job after the Bison defeated Eastern Washington in last January’s FCS national title game.
The next game he coached, his Kansas State debut, resulted in a 49-14 win over Nicholls behind 361 rushing yards and controlling the ball for 41 of the 60 minutes. The Wildcats had a 28-0 lead but did not put it away until the fourth quarter. Leading 28-7 after three, they scored three straight touchdowns including a fumble recovery for a score.
“I thought they were a really good team when we played them,” Klieman said. “We had some success against them but I thought they would still win the Southland. I thought they would win that league. On defense, they played fast and hard.”
It took until the last minute of the last regular season game, but Nicholls got the Southland autobid edging Southeast Louisiana 28-27 thanks to recovering a Southeast fumble at the Nicholls’ 2-yard line. The Colonels took the lead with 1:30 remaining on a 57-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chase Fourcade to Dixon.
Those two teamed up for a 45-yard touchdown in the third quarter against UND that gave Nicholls a valuable two-possession lead. As much as Klieman liked the look of Dixon, he liked the veteran presence of Fourcade, a four-year starter who started 11 games as a true freshman.
Fourcade was the 2018 Southland Player of the Year. This year, he’s completed 216 of 320 passes with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He’s rushed for 607 yards and another 12 touchdowns. He was 14 of 16 for 165 yards and the Dixon touchdown against the Fighting Hawks.
“Their quarterback was an exceptional player,” Klieman said. “He’s played a lot of football and really led their team.”
As for the Wildcats, Klieman will be leading them into a bowl of some sort after finishing 8-4 including some marquee wins against Oklahoma and Iowa State. The Wichita Eagle newspaper reported likely bowl destinations include the Alamo Bowl, Camping World Bowl or the Texas Bowl.
Whereas last year at this time he was game-planning in the playoffs as well as recruiting, the FBS lifestyle is more about recruiting.
“We’ll come back on the weekends, do some bowl prep practice plus official visits,” Klieman said. "And then it’s back on the road again. That’s the kind of cycle it is now. I tell people all the time, recruiting is different from the FBS to the FCS when you think of the pool of players. It’s just more probably because it’s more national. We would like to be more regional but we’re all over the country.”