LAWRENCE — Late in the week, Kansas State running back Harry Trotter looked around at practice. He was practicing with the “1s” — the starters. That wasn’t entirely unusual, because he does so each week at practice, but this time, it was on purpose.
No. 22 K-State knew that James Gilbert and Jordon Brown, the two backs who handle the lion’s share of carries, likely wouldn’t be able to play Saturday against Kansas.
When Saturday came, nothing changed. K-State racked up 342 rushing yards in its 38-10 win over KU. Seven different Wildcats logged carries, including quarterback Skylar Thompson (127 yards), Trotter (92 yards), Tyler Burns (58) and Joe Ervin (46).
Thompson rarely needed to throw. His legs did the talking.
“I expected (to run) a little more than normal,” Thompson said, “just in the fact that James and Jordon — there was a possibility that they wouldn’t get to play. But I go into every week just trying to execute my role, whatever that may be, whatever that may look like.”
Part of the story was in the rest of the numbers. K-State (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) reeled off four rushes of 15-plus yards, which includes Thompson’s 34-yarder in the first quarter and his 18-yarder in the second. He was quick and nimble, which is hardly a surprise anymore, but the jukes he used to slip away from KU defenders will cement his role as a centerpiece in the Wildcats’ rushing attack.
That was hard to miss on Saturday. Thompson carried seven times for 127 yards and three touchdowns. Last week, in his club’s 48-41 win over Oklahoma, he posted 13 carries for 39 yards and four scores.
Thompson’s rushing talent may still surprise. His role on the ground should not.
“He was great,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “I tell everybody all the time — I love the kid because he’s such a competitor. He’s a winner. Whatever he’s asked to do, he’ll do. In this game, he was asked to run the ball a little bit more.”
Klieman also touched on a change his group made on Saturday: running the option. The Wildcats have seldom run the play this season.
That changed against KU. K-State ran it plenty, mostly with Trotter in the backfield. It paid dividends often, including in the second quarter, when Thompson pitched it to Trotter, who — no pun intended — trotted in for six.
Ask the Wildcats, and they’ll tell you that was always part of the plan against the Jayhawks.
“It was a thing we’d seen on film,” Trotter said. “Coach (Courtney) Messingham is great at dissecting defenses. Skylar did a great job, attacking them downhill and being able to read that well. It was definitely a good play for us today.”
It wasn’t just that K-State had its way on the ground, though. The Wildcats established themselves almost immediately. They scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives.
On the first, K-State rushed on nine of its 10 plays. On the second, it was eight of 10 plays.
By the time the first quarter ended, K-State already had registered 94 rushing yards. On its first play of the second frame, Trotter took an option pitch 9 yards into the end zone, good for a 14-3 lead — and the visitors’ 103rd rushing yard of the afternoon.
Talk about bolting out of the gate.
“Before the game, we were being confident in what our game plan was,” Trotter said. “Even the first couple drives — us being able to move the ball. That’s always a positive sign.”
Perhaps the only blight on K-State’s otherwise encouraging night running the ball were the penalties. The Wildcats were called for 11, for 113 yards. That’s by far their most this season.
K-State was flagged for one personal foul — an unnecessary roughness call on offensive lineman Nick Kaltmayer that left tackle Scott Frantz called “pretty crazy” — and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Several others included holding and false start fouls.
“The personal fouls an unsportsmanlike (calls) — that has to end,” Klieman said. “We can’t have those. I thought we were better in the second half. We’ll have to look at the film on the holding.”
Klieman also duly noted that K-State could have padded its lead if not for all the penalties. Those will have to get cleaned up, he said.
The good news for the Wildcats is that they’ll do so with a bowl in sight. They have six wins now, which means bowl eligibility. They’ll face Texas on the road next week.
In the meantime, Gilbert and Brown will try to get healthy. If they can’t, the Wildcats can maintain confidence.
After all, they posted 342 rushing yards without their services.
“They called my number a little more today to run the ball,” Thompson said, “and rightfully so. We were getting big chunks. I told them, ‘Let’s keep it rolling, baby.’”