MANHATTAN — Skylar Thompson had a simple message this past week for his Kansas State teammates, many of whom were still stinging from the whipping delivered by Mississippi State.
“The season’s not over,” Thompson said.
On Saturday, Thompson and the Wildcats did their best to start anew.
Thompson accounted for three touchdowns, Isaiah Zuber registered a career-high 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and backup quarterback Alex Delton fired a perfect scoring strike of his own as the Wildcats steadily pulled away for a 41-17 victory against Texas-San Antonio at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
While far from perfect, the Wildcats said the performance was the confidence-builder they needed heading into next week's Big 12 opener at No. 14 West Virginia.
"Everybody made it seem like it was the end of the world because it was a big game, a big stage and we were going to get truly tested with an SEC school," Thompson said of the lopsided loss to Mississippi State. "I just took a step back and was looking at it from a bird's-eye view and was like, 'It's still early in the year; we're not in conference play yet.' I would have loved to win — I'm never going to be OK with losing — but at the same time it's like the second game of the year, we still have a long, long season ahead of us, and there's no way I was going to sit here and let us dwell on it and let that one game affect the rest of the season.
"We've got a lot of good guys in the locker room — (Alex) Barnes, Dalton Risner, the list goes on and on as far as guys keeping upbeat and keeping our heads up and (saying), 'Hey, we've got to bounce back and show everybody what they're saying we can't do.' I felt like we did that today."
Few did that better than Thompson.
While the sophomore from Independence, Mo., again shared QB duties with Delton and also lost a fumble to mar an otherwise stellar performance, he now seems firmly entrenched as the Wildcats' starter after throwing for 213 yards and rushing for 66 more. He completed first-half scoring strikes of 42 yards to Dalton Schoen and 23 yards to Zuber, then authored a 27-yard, third-quarter touchdown run that included a nifty juke of UTSA safety C.J. Levine.
"He played well," K-State coach Bill Snyder said of Thompson, who was 13 of 18 passing with four completions of 23 or more yards. "I do not think his demeanor or his approach was any different; he just played a little better than he has. He made good decisions for the most part."
Thompson gave way to Delton after losing his fumble midway through the third quarter.
Delton took advantage of his opportunity almost immediately, hitting Zuber in stride along the left sideline for a 72-yard score that pushed K-State's lead to 41-7 and provided career-longs for both players.
"It was a stutter move," Zuber said. "We've been practicing it all week. As soon as the guy bites, I'm gone. As soon as he bit, Alex threw it out there, I caught the ball, touchdown."
Zuber finished with seven grabs while notching his first 100-yard receiving game, prompting Thompson to call his outing "fantastic."
"I knew Zube was capable of playing like this since the day I met him," Thompson added. "He just needed to get some confidence and believe in himself and be consistent. So far this year that's what he's been doing.
"He really showed out and played well."
K-State led just 10-7 midway through the second quarter, but the Wildcats separated from UTSA by scoring 17 straight points during the final seven minutes of the opening half. Thanks to that flurry, K-State finished the opening half scoring on five or six possessions.
That included a pair of Blake Lynch field goals, a beautiful over-the-shoulder strike from Thompson to Schoen and Zuber's 23-yard grab just 20 seconds before intermission. That final score was set up by Kendall Adams' recovery of a D.J. Gillins fumble forced by Joe Davies.
K-State's early showing also included the Wildcats' first opening-half TD of the season, a 3-yard run by Barnes just four minutes, 12 seconds into the game. Barnes' run capped a 10-play drive that featured a 37-yard Thompson toss to Zach Reuter along the left sideline.
"As an offense, we really do pride ourselves on being efficient, and being able to do that with an opening-drive touchdown, it was nice to finally be able to do that," said Barnes, who finished with 50 rushing yards on 13 carries and also made a career-best 30-yard reception.
The biggest blights for the Wildcats, whose defense held the Roadrunners to 300 total yards, came during the game's final 22 minutes, as Thompson and Delton each lost fumbles and K-State's backups allowed UTSA to score 10 points during the final 5:56. Delton's fumble deep in his own territory led to the Roadrunners' only second-half touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Gillins to Greg Campbell Jr.
"Nobody caught my eye," Snyder said when asked about his reserves. "I think that's one of the things I shared with our players afterwards. Young guys that are twos or threes, whatever the case may be, they come to practice, they work hard for the opportunity to get on the field, but when they get on the field they have to take advantage of it. We had way too many mistakes in the second half; that's what slowed the ballgame down and put our defense in a hole."
KANSAS STATE 41, UTSA 17
KST — A.Barnes 3 run (Lynch kick), 10:48
UTSA — Steward 2 pass from Grundy (Sackett kick), 5:00
KST — FG Lynch 33, :00
KST — Schoen 42 pass from Thompson (Lynch kick), 6:59
KST — FG Lynch 42, :43
KST — Zuber 23 pass from Thompson (Lynch kick), :20
KST — Thompson 27 run (Lynch kick), 9:15
KST — Zuber 72 pass from Delton (Lynch kick), 3:31
UTSA — FG Sackett 37, 5:09
UTSA — Campbell 10 pass from Gillins (Sackett kick), 3:35
A — 50,618.
RUSHING — UTSA, Rhodes 9-53, Daniels 16-47, Grundy 9-30, Gillins 2-11, Brady 1-2, Campbell 1-1, (Team) 1-(minus 1). Kansas St., Thompson 14-66, A.Barnes 13-50, D.Warmack 5-24, Silmon 8-18, Delton 4-6.
PASSING — UTSA, Grundy 14-23-0-108, Gillins 5-11-0-49. Kansas St., Thompson 13-18-0-213, Delton 1-1-0-72.
RECEIVING — UTSA, Campbell 6-41, Ogle-Kellogg 3-38, Moorhead 3-33, K.Johnson 2-30, Daniels 1-6, Woolen 1-6, McCarthy 1-3, Steward 1-2, Rhodes 1-(minus 2). Kansas St., Zuber 7-144, Reuter 2-45, Schoen 1-42, A.Barnes 1-30, Gammon 1-14, I.Harris 1-5, C.Taylor 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — UTSA, Sackett 46.