MANHATTAN — Malik Knowles was pretty sure after a solid week of practice that he was good to go.
It didn't take him long Saturday against Texas to confirm it.
Barely a minute and a half into the game, he hauled in a short pass to the left side from Skylar Thompson, and with one swift cut left the Longhorns' defender grasping at air on the way to a 70-yard touchdown.
"I'd say I felt that feeling all week in practice, just practicing all week without the brace, just trying to get my confidence up," said Knowles, Kansas State's redshirt freshman receiver and No. 1 big-play threat. "But making that move in the game, it showed me that I can do it at tip-top speed."
Knowles' tip-top speed has been a missing ingredient for the Wildcats much of the season as he battled both foot and knee injuries. He had a breakout game against Bowling Green on Sept. 7 and followed that with a game-changing 100-yard kickoff return in a victory at Mississippi State the next week, but has not been at full strength since.
"He's probably 85%, to be honest," K-State coach Chris Klieman said Tuesday during his weekly media session. "He's had a number of small things that have been nagging.
"I was pleased that he made a great play. He made the kid miss and took it to the house and that's something that's been missing that he can do for us."
The Wildcats lost at Texas, 27-24, on a last-second field goal, and they continue to battle injuries at running back. Wideout Wykeen Gill, who had the other receiving touchdown against the Longhorns also is ruled out for this Saturday's 2:30 p.m. home game against West Virginia.
But with the speedy 6-foot-2, 186-pound Knowles getting healthier each week, they now can stretch the field in the passing game.
"I think dealing with injuries, when you make a move like that it helps your confidence a lot because most guys when they get hurt they'll be timid or try to shy away from making that move or putting weight on that injury," said Knowles, who missed the Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State and played sparingly against Baylor the next week, but has played in each game since.
He still is tied for second on the team with 19 receptions, trailing only Dalton Schoen's 30, and he leads the Wildcats with 17.1 yards per catch. He had three for 94 yards against Texas.
"He's a big-play playmaker," said Thompson, who threw for a career-high 253 yards in the game. "He's really fast without the ball and with the ball in his hands as far as extending plays and getting yards after the catch.
"I think that's the biggest thing for us because we've kind of struggled with some of the yards after the catches and just making big plays. Malik does a great job of that with his speed and his athleticism."
The key now is to keep Knowles healthy.
"I know that he was sore Sunday and Monday, and we need to be smart with Malik throughout the week to see if we can get his legs back underneath him, because he's a difference-maker," Klieman said. "I don't envision Malik missing any time, but I don't think he's 100 percent."
Knowles said he is taking a full-speed-ahead approach.
"I think since the injury happened I've tried to attack it more, just so I can get it back healthy and be the same way as when I was running well," he said.
Thompson, for one, is glad he did.
"He's a big part of our passing game," Thompson said. "He stretches the field, has great hands (and) he's a bigger target.
"He's a redshirt freshman and he's only going to get better, and he's going to be a great player. He's starting to get back to being fully healthy, as you can probably see. It's really good to have him back."
Klieman said Tuesday that true freshman running back Joe Ervin will be back this week after missing the Texas game with a concussion. Starter James Gilbert continues to battle a slow-healing ankle injury and backup Jordon Brown re-aggravated an injury, but both could be ready for West Virginia.
Gill, who was injured on a targeting call against Texas, will not be available, and redshirt freshman tight end Samuel Wheeler was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
K-State will feature throwback helmets in the West Virginia game, absent the powercat logo. The headgear will be white with Cats in script, a look last worn in 1989.
Klieman said it is a one-time change, part of a celebration of 150 years of college football. The Wildcats wore white helmets — in place of the regular silver — with the powercat earlier this year against Baylor.