The themes that surfaced throughout Kansas State’s 31-12 loss to Baylor on Saturday won’t enthuse many on the Wildcats’ side.
Fumbles. Offensive inconsistency. Rushing struggles. Short-yardage inefficiency, among others.
Instead, it was the personnel K-State turned to that might lead to better days and a brighter future.
They’re both true freshmen, in fact: wide receiver Joshua Youngblood and running back Joe Ervin.
K-State coaches gave both a shot on Saturday. Youngblood, who caught two passes for 15 yards and returned three kickoffs for a total of 71 yards, played the most prominent role. Ervin carried five times for 21 yards.
Relatively small sample sizes, but still: For a K-State offense that has sputtered in its past two outings — 13 points against Oklahoma State and 12 against Baylor — the duo could be in for more playing time as the season marches on.
Just ask the man in charge of it all.
“The moment wasn’t too big for him,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said of Youngblood. “He hit the hole hard and played with some urgency. Even away from the ball sometimes, he does a really good job of getting open or a really good job of blocking.
“As far as Joe, with us losing Jordon (Brown) for a little bit, we wanted to get another back involved that had a little bit of juice like Joe does, so we gave him a few carries, and we were really pleased with what we saw. Same thing — the stage wasn’t too big for him, and I think moving forward, you’ll see more of both of those guys.”
Youngblood always figured to see the most playing time. Ervin said he came in expecting to redshirt, but if he plays four or fewer games this season, he’ll remain eligible.
Plus, when the season rolled around and the Wildcats had lost two of their top receivers — Isaiah Zuber, who transferred to Mississippi State, and Hunter Rison, who left the program — over the offseason, it stood to reason that Youngblood might see some sort of playing time. It was just a question of how much, and what his role would look like.
We’re finding out now. Youngblood is still getting his feet under him, Klieman said, and he doesn’t figure to start this season. But he’s showing the kind of kickoff return potential that lends itself to a more concrete spot back there.
“Josh is further ahead,” Klieman said, “simply because I think he did a phenomenal job during the summer of trying to learn as much as he could from the older guys, and it just came to him a little bit easier.”
One of the most noticeable mistakes Youngblood made last week came on kickoff returns. On a couple, he retreated several yards into the end zone — farther than his coaches would have liked — and took it out for the return.
On one occasion, he returned it 33 yards. On another, he was tracked down at the 17-yard line. “I’ve just got to listen to my coaching,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood said he’s already began adjusting to the rigors of Big 12 competition.
“(I’m) adjusting to rolling coverages,” Youngblood said. “Last week, they were in Cover 3, but they rolled into Cover 2, and I immediately converted the route. That’s something they’ve really tried to teach me and put emphasis on, so it was good to actually do it in a game.”
For Ervin’s part, things are a tad more complicated. The NCAA’s new redshirt rule dictates that players can play up to four games in a season and still redshirt to retain another season of eligibility. Ervin has played two — against Bowling Green and Baylor — so he could still redshirt.
“We have to make some decisions, but part of that is (running back) Jordon Brown (and his injury),” Klieman said. “I don’t want to burn a guy’s shirt if he can’t help us substantially, play a bunch of snaps for us. The guys know about it, that’s the thing.
“The players are more educated on it now of, ‘How many games I’ve played. Am I playing enough?’ Everybody wants to play. Every freshman wants to play. It’s us trying to tell those guys, ‘Trust me. In four years, when you’re a redshirt senior, you’re going to look at me and say, ‘Thank you for holding my year so I’m able to play as a 22-year old.’’”
That Ervin has inspired questions about whether he should redshirt speaks to how well he’s played. Against Bowling Green on Sept. 7, the South Carolina native carried eight times for 28 yards and a touchdown.
He might get even more action.
Two more games, at least.
“It’s slower now,” Ervin said, “and I understand the game more, thanks to (running backs) Coach (Brian) Anderson and the rest of the coaching staff. So now I can believe in myself to do more and take on a bigger role.”