Skylar Thompson stood on the sideline, hands hung from his chest pad as the Kansas State quarterback waited to jog onto the field for his team’s next offensive series against Baylor. The Wildcats had languished all game — to the tune of a 17-3 deficit — and this represented Thompson’s chance to finally lead his club on a long drive in a game short on them.
Long drive: check. Thompson and the Wildcats drove from their own 34 to the Bears’ 27.
It just didn’t end how the hosts would have liked. Thompson fumbled. Baylor recovered. One of K-State’s few promising drives ended in just the opposite way.
K-State had its offense to blame for its 31-12 loss to Baylor Saturday afternoon, and that doesn’t tell the whole story. Thompson threw his first interception of the season. They could have lost more than their two turnovers, both from Thompson, if not for a couple fumble recoveries.
“I’m taking ownership in everything. If you want to blame a loss, blame it on me,” Thompson said. “I threw an interception. I fumbled the ball. I could have done better. That’s my fault, and I can handle that.”
K-State’s Saturday outing was, empirically, bleak. Thompson had a forgettable outing — 22-for-34 passing for 218 yards, a touchdown and an interception — and while running back James Gilbert finished with 18 carries and 94 yards, several of those came on chunk plays during drives that didn’t end in points.
Besides, Gilbert lost two fumbles. Recovered both, but still: Things could have somehow turned worse than they already were for this offense.
Another issue with K-State’s offense was that it could have turned issues into positives, even — and especially — on the drives that looked most encouraging.
One example: Late in the second quarter. K-State’s drive started at its own 32-yard line. Thompson found receiver Dalton Schoen for 27 yards into Baylor territory. Three plays later, the Wildcats were facing fourth-and-6 from the Bears’ 37.
K-State punted. The Wildcats entered halftime down 10-3.
Another example came in the third frame. The Wildcats produced a long series, getting two third-down conversion on passes from Thompson to Phillip Brooks, who totaled seven receptions for 69 yards.
Eventually, the drive fizzled out at Baylor’s 11, where K-State faced a fourth-and-4.
The decision: field goal. Blake Lynch nailed a 29-yarder, trimming Baylor’s lead to 17-6.
“It’s all the feel, all the flow of it,” Klieman said. “You’re fourth-and-3, fourth-and-4. You’re not running the football exceptionally well. I wanted to try to keep the game as close as we could to give us a chance in the fourth quarter. That’s why we did it.”
The one time K-State did score a touchdown came on fourth down. The Wildcats, starting at their own 33, reeled off an eight-play drive until they faced a 4th-and-goal from the Bears’ 5.
This time, K-State went for it. Thompson connected with Schoen for five yards and a touchdown.
It bears noting that this was, effectively, garbage time. Fourth quarter, down 12, and Baylor scored on its next drive, anyway.
Even so: It’s an example of K-State playing with aggression.
“I was working an overscheme,” Schoen said, “kind of got a rub with Josh (Youngblood) there with the switch release, and I know (my defender) was running with me in man (coverage). I kind of just dragged it all the way across the back of the end zone. I thought Skylar did a great job of keeping it alive with this feet and putting it in the one spot he could.”
One word that came up several times after the game: Consistency. Klieman said that’s the main problem with his team’s offense. Schoen did, too. Thompson mentioned it as well.
That’s important, but it’s also plagued K-State. The Wildcats managed just one touchdown in their 26-13 loss to Oklahoma State last week. Same on Saturday night. Both, as it happens, came when each outcome was effectively decided.
“We’ve got to be consistent in the fact that we’ve got to be able to put drives together,” Schoen said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball and throw the ball, because when we can’t do one, it gets us out of rhythm.”
That’s where Schoen came in. The senior produced his best game of the season: six catches, 69 yards and a touchdown. Made several tough catches, too.
The catch: Schoen might not have needed to snare so many passes if redshirt freshman receiver Malik Knowles didn’t leave the game early on. Knowles, who missed the Oklahoma State game with an injury, was targeted three times on K-State’s first drive Saturday and missed a pass on its next series before leaving the game for good.
Klieman said he didn’t “have anything” on Knowles’ status. Still, it’s worth explaining how Knowles’ absence affects K-State’s offense.
“He’s a deep threat, and he’s athletic,” Thompson said. “Guys have to respect him for that, his speed. That’s challenging, but at the same time, guys have to step up. Dalton Schoen stepped up today.”
Thompson made sure to mention that Youngblood did, too. Thompson even targeted true freshman Chris Herron, a quarterback-turned-receiver, on a pass that Herron couldn’t corral. Freshman running back Joe Ervin got involved, carrying five times for 21 yards, in part because Klieman grew “frustrated” with Gilbert’s two fumbles.
So that’s where K-State’s offense stands ahead of the coming bye week: Inconsistent, according to the men tasked with making it work. Injured, too, which adds another dimension of difficulty to the puzzle.
Maybe the off week will help the group after all.
“People did their part,” Thompson said. “We’ve just got to be more consistent and continue to put more of those together and execute when we really need to.”