Kansas St Mississippi St Football

Kansas State defensive back Walter Neil Jr. (15) leads teammates in celebrating their NCAA college football game win, 31-24, over Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The absence of two starters on defense didn't prevent Kansas State from going on the road and topping Mississippi State Saturday.

The two Wildcats, defensive end Wyatt Hubert and defensive back Walter Neil Jr., left last week's win over Bowling Green with undisclosed injuries. Neither returned. Though the pair tried to recover in time for Saturday's game against the Bulldogs, Wildcats head coach Chris Klieman elected to hold them out.

"We thought Walt was going to be able to go," Klieman said after K-State's 31-24 victory. "We thought it was going to be a game-time decision. Wyatt, we were trying to hold out. We probably knew Thursday night, when he didn't get a chance to practice on Thursday."

Klieman said three weeks into the 2019 campaign is too early to let injuries dictate playing time.

"We have a long season," Klieman said. "I keep telling you guys: It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Hubert, in particular, is viewed as a key piece of the defensive line, earning team captain honors as a sophomore.

"He's too valuable to our football team to put him in harm's way," Klieman said. "I know he wanted to play, but it was just a deal that medically he wasn't cleared."

While the Wildcats had multiple players fill in at end with Wyatt out — Kyle Ball moved into the starting lineup — it was Kevion McGee who held down Neil's starting spot opposite AJ Parker.

In Klieman's estimation, McGee "played great." The same goes for Darreyl Patterson, who also saw extended time in the secondary.

"I think it'll make us better by having those guys play that much more," Klieman said. "It's going to make us a ton better, because 'Kevi' (McGee) had so many quality snaps. Then 'D-Pat' (Darreyl Patterson) came in and did some really good things. He and Denzel Goolsby made a great play in the corner of the end zone. They take a shot with a 6-foot-6 kid who's going to up over the top of 'Kevi,' and both those guys made a great play."

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