Kansas State will continue with a two-quarterback system as their schedule gets vastly more difficult after edging an FCS opponent, South Dakota, 27-24, in the opener.
A visit Saturday from No. 18 Mississippi State, which leveled Stephen F. Austin 63-6 in its opener, could answer many questions about Kansas State.
And, present many problems for the Wildcats.
Alex Delton was their starting QB for the opener, and the junior did not revert from his stereotype, rushing for 78 yards on 12 carries, although he completed just 5 of 14 passes for 91 yards and one interception.
Going in, coach Bill Snyder said Delton would rotate with sophomore Skylar Thompson, who was more effective through the air, though the Wildcats’ first four scores came off field goals as a bobbled pass by wide receiver Dalton Schoen led to a pick-six and a 24-12 advantage for South Dakota.
“Skylar was able to come in and get some movement with the team in the second half of the ballgame,” said Snyder, “but realize everybody had their opportunities and we went three quarters without putting the ball into the end zone, so that’s obviously a major concern.”
Not enough separation was gained for Snyder to choose one quarterback over the other, particularly in a system that is still predicated off the quarterback run game, even with Andre Coleman’s promotion to coordinator.
“There were some decent things that they did during the course of the ball game,” said Snyder, “but they didn’t play nearly as well as I anticipated and hoped that they would.”
Thompson passed for 61 yards, going 8 of 14, and he fired the game-winner, a 10-yard touchdown strike to Isaiah Zuber, with 7:21 remaining. That came after an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter by Zuber sparked a lifeless Kansas State sideline.
“Without that, who knows what would have happened,” defensive end Reggie Walker said.
That comment applies to the offense and not just the quarterback who engineers it, though the Wildcats clearly need more production.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, had no problem destroying an FCS opponent in its opener, rolling for 618 total yards despite missing its starting quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, who served a one-game suspension. Fitzgerald has passed for 4,440 career yards and 39 touchdowns.
–RB Alex Barnes entered the opener as part of a crowded backfield by committee, but the junior carried 21 times for 103 yards in the win over South Dakota. Just one other running back, Dalvin Warmack, got a carry against South Dakota. Barnes fumbled three times, losing two, including one when the Wildcats only needed to run out the clock. A late South Dakota field goal attempt missed.
–PK Blake Lynch made his debut as the Wildcats’ kicker and responded with four field goals to account for all of Kansas State’s first-half scoring. Lynch, a sophomore listed at just 5-foot-5, 145 pounds, won the job in preseason camp and made his first attempt, a 24-yarder in the first quarter. He also connected from 22, 38 and 44 yards.
–WR/PR Isaiah Zuber provided a boost Kansas State desperately needed when he scored on an 85-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter with the Wildcats trailing South Dakota 24-12. Zuber also scored the decisive touchdown, a 10-yard strike from QB Skylar Thompson, midway through the final period. Zuber is considered one of the fastest Wildcats and a solid threat, though consistency has been an issue.
–RB Mike McCoy, a promising sophomore who figured to factor in a crowded mix, aggravated an injury in fall camp. The injury has prompted concern whether his career could be over. McCoy has not yet been ruled out but missed the season opener against South Dakota.