Chris Klieman isn’t giving up hope that Skylar Thompson will be in the starting lineup for Kansas State by the time Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff against TCU arrives.
It’s just far from a certainty at this point.
Thompson left in the second quarter of last week’s win over Texas Tech with an injury. He didn’t reenter the game, and was seen on the sideline with a sling around his right (throwing) arm. K-State hasn’t specified exactly what Thompson’s injury is, other than Klieman revealing during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference that the senior signal-caller had “no fracture” in his arm.
Thompson didn’t take part in Monday’s practice, at least from a physical standpoint.
“He just took all the mental reps (Monday),” Klieman, in his second year as the Wildcats’ head coach, said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “Will (Howard) and Nick (Ast) were the main ones.”
Klieman hoped Thompson would be cleared to participate and “take some of the reps” Tuesday.
“We’ll find out how much he can take,” Klieman said. “We hope he can take a few and then obviously increase it more on Wednesday, if he’s available, and that’s going to be contingent upon what he can do today and (Wednesday).”
Regardless of how much, or little, Thompson can practice this week, Klieman said the quarterback reps will be divvied up among all three player.
“I want to make sure that Will and Nick can take some snaps and be able to operate our system in case Skylar, after Tuesday or midway through Wednesday, doesn’t feel like he can go (Saturday),” Klieman said. “But we think he can.”
Tight end Briley Moore, a childhood friend who is particularly close with Thompson, said in spite of the circumstances, his teammate has “been very positive” since the end of last week’s game.
“He’s a great person, a great teammate,” Moore said. “So whenever he’s been in the building, and all the times I’ve been around him, his spirits have been high. He’s been positive and been encouraging us while he was taking mental reps (Monday) at practice. It’s a testament to what type of person he is with just how positive he’s being in the situation.”
Noah Johnson, K-State’s starting center, acknowledged it was “tough” to see Thompson taken off the field last week.
For multiple reasons.
“One, as an offensive lineman, and two, as just a friend,” Johnson said. “Skylar is one of my best friends, so that sucks. But at the same time, you’ve got to push on with the guy who’s in there. Next man up, and Skylar would have that mentality if any of us went down.
“It sucks to see your teammate and your brother get a little bit banged up, but you’ve got to focus on the now and on the next guys in there, rallying around Will, playing our game and controlling the line of scrimmage to give him time to make plays. That’s what we did.”
Howard, a freshman from Pennsylvania, replaced Thompson and finished the game, throwing for 173 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-12 passing. If Thompson doesn’t play Saturday, Howard would be in line for his first career start. The same goes for Ast, who hasn’t appeared in a game this season. He played in five games in 2019, all as Thompson’s backup. To date, Ast has just three pass attempts at K-State — though he completed all three, for 28 yards, in last season’s 52-0 blowout win over Bowling Green.
Klieman vows that whoever is under center Saturday, the offense will remain the same.
“We won’t change it if Nick Ast is playing or if Will is playing or if Skylar is playing,” Klieman said. “It’s just getting the pictures and the looks to those three guys to make sure that they understand, ‘OK, this is a pressure look, a coverage look, a rolled coverage. What is this picture?’ That’s the challenge for (quarterbacks) Coach (Collin) Klein and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Courtney) Messingham, but the players are ready for the challenge. They spend an awful lot of time watching film with each other and picking each other’s brains.”