If we’re being honest, fighting for a bowl game is not where Kansas State fans thought there team would be in early November. Expectations were such that, if things broke right, this team could compete with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for a Big 12 championship, hell, maybe even a College Football Playoff berth.
That’s not happening. Key injuries, untimely mistakes, penalties and an underachieving defense have led this team to a .500-ish season. But Saturday’s 42-35 overtime win against Texas Tech in Lubbock should give Wildcats fans reason for hope moving forward.
The biggest reason: Skylar Thompson.
Thompson replaced Alex Delton after a helmet-to-helmet hit late in the first half. He played the second half and finished 5 of 8 for 96 yards passing with the touchdown through the air. He isn’t Delton with his legs, but showed some ability, including a touchdown run. But his poise was most impressive and shined when it was needed most.
After Texas Tech kicker Clayton Hatfield missed a 31-yard field goal with 3:40 left in regulation, which would’ve put the Red Raiders up two scores, Thompson and K-State took advantage. On the first play of the drive, Thompson hooked up with Dalton Schoen for 54 yards, setting the Wildcats up at the Texas Tech 26-yard line. After Thompson’s TD run pulled the Wildcats to within two, Thompson then connected with Schoen again for the two-point conversion.
After Kliff Kingsbury inexplicably played for overtime when his team had the ball with 42 seconds left, Thompson maintained his cool and helped the Wildcats win in the extra period.
“I’m so glad we won,” Thompson said. “That’s all that matters to me is we won the game. I was ready when my number was called. I knew I needed come in and help us win the football game. I wasn’t expecting it to come down to something like that, but I was ready. I was confident and felt like everyone was confident in me.”
Sounds like a Bill Snyder guy, huh? Team, team, team. Win, win win.
Snyder is notorious for preferring players spend a redshirt season and another year or two growing through the program before getting them onto the field. But Thompson brought an ability to throw the ball that Alex Delton does not yet possess. As the Wildcats look to the future, this needs to be under consideration.
And count Snyder as impressed.
“To see the offense be down 10 points, come back, get the field goal, and then come back and get the touchdown and the 2-point conversion — I thought there was a lot of want-to,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder added. “A lot of passion involved in that. A lot of confidence involved in it as well.”
That’s as close as you’ll get to Snyder saying he loved what he saw from Skylar Thompson. Redshirt freshman or not, Thompson was a highly-touted recruit out of Independence, Missouri. The moment on Saturday never looked to big for him.
None of us outside of Bill Snyder Family Stadium have a clue as to what the health status is of Jesse Ertz. Snyder denied a report this week that Ertz was done for the rest of the season. But he’s also the same guy who said the week prior Ertz was likely to play against Kansas. So, who knows?
What I do know is that the Wildcats need to win one of their next three games – West Virginia, Oklahoma State or Iowa State to become bowl eligible. None of them will be easy.
But one win would do wonders for this program, which would get another 3-4 weeks of practice time. This can be incredibly helpful for a team as it builds towards 2018. Especially when you’re looking at two young quarterbacks battling for the job next season.
For my money, Thompson provides the ability to open up the passing game, something Delton does not. Since Delton came in against Texas, he only had one game with more than 40 rushing yards (Oklahoma). That’s because teams started locking down on the run and forcing him to throw, which he did with mixed results.
But the good news is that if the Wildcats can go, at worst, 1-2 over the final three games, they’ll have another couple of weeks to learn what exactly they have in their two young signal callers.
That would pay major dividends for 2018.