Skylar Thompson, Will Howard or Jaren Lewis? Who will start at quarterback for Kansas State vs. Oklahoma
MANHATTAN — The depth chart shows no changes in Kansas State's quarterback pecking order this week, but in reality the picture is a little murkier than that.
Is this the week that Skylar Thompson returns from his knee injury with a chance to lead the Wildcats past No. 4 Oklahoma for a third straight time? Is backup Will Howard ready to go after suffering an injury last week against Oklahoma State? Or will Jaren Lewis have to make his first career start?
Coach Chris Klieman cast doubt on Thompson's return Tuesday but did not rule it out. As for Howard, who started the past two games since Thompson went down three weeks ago against Southern Illinois, he was more optimistic.
Howard remained at No. 1 on this week's two-deep ahead of the Big 12 home opener against Oklahoma, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Fellow sophomore Lewis, who played the entire second quarter and most of the second half at Oklahoma State, is listed as the backup.
"I would say not likely this week," Klieman said about Thompson, who made the trip to Stillwater and warmed up before the Oklahoma State game, though he did not suit up. "He's doing more things, but I just think it would be maybe late in the week (before) we will have a better understanding, but right now I would say it's going to be Will and Jaren.
"Our hope all along was the open week, getting him a chance to be back for Iowa State. That's kind of the timetable it was. I don't think that will change. He's doing more things, but to play a game, I don't think so."
K-State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) has an open week after the Oklahoma game before playing host to Iowa State on Oct. 16.
The reason Howard came out of the game last week after giving it a try to start the second half was his inability to run the ball with his injury. Howard broke a 37-yard run on the game's first drive that set up a field goal in the Wildcats' 31-20 loss, and is considered the strongest runner of the three quarterbacks.
"Right now he's banged up — a lot of guys are," Klieman said. "But I believe over the next two or three days, some of the soreness will come out and I think he'll be effective."
While K-State fans may fret over the uncertainty at quarterback, the Wildcat players seem less concerned.
"(It's) not tough at all, because at the end of the day, the mission's the mission," said running back Deuce Vaughn, who had 22 yards rushing against Oklahoma State after breaking 100 in each of the first three games. "No matter which quarterback's in there, I feel like every single time they step in there, they're taking command of the huddle and we're going, 'Hey, we've all got to go out there and we've got to rise up as a team. Us as an offense, especially.'
"No matter who's in there, everybody has to rise up, from the quarterback to the O-line, backs and wide receivers and tight ends and fullbacks. We all have to rise up just because we're in this situation."
Senior wide receiver Landry Weber echoed the company line.
"I don't think it's a huge issue, as big of an issue as people make it to be," he said. "We have confidence in all three of the quarterbacks that have played this year.
"We get reps with all three of them during practice, so I feel like we have a good relationship with all of them when it comes to the passing game. When you're out there, you're really just focused on executing, on your assignment."
The biggest question, if neither Howard nor Thompson are available Saturday, is how limited the Wildcats will be with Lewis as the lone experienced quarterback. Keep in mind that Lewis made his college debut just two weeks ago against Nevada, and next in line are true freshman Jake Rubley and redshirt freshman Max Marsh, not necessarily in that order.
In fact, Klieman admitted that limiting Lewis in the quarterback run game in the second half against Oklahoma State likely had less to do with his skill set than keeping him upright.
"The fact that we really went into that game with two guys taking reps throughout the week of practice and we saw Will have some decent runs — one big run — and then got hit," Klieman said. "And then when we came back out at halftime, I know Jaren ran a couple of times, but the other two guys that we brought on the trip weren't ready to play, so we were down to one guy.
"(Lewis) was going to take some shots anyway because they were going to blitz, and we needed to make sure to keep him healthy because we knew coming into this week now we will get Jake and Max Marsh some more reps and ready to play, because we don't know about Will (and) Skylar's doubtful."
For the second straight week, Klieman said he hopes it doesn't come down to putting an untested freshman on the field against Oklahoma.
"Who's that next guy coming in (after Lewis)? And I couldn't tell you who that would be," Klieman said. "We're hoping that Will progresses this week, and I think he will.
"I really firmly believe that Will will be fine come Thursday. He was a little bit sore (Monday), but the injury that he sustained, I know that he'll get better this week."
And what if Thompson is ready as well?
"We're going to still have to rise up no matter who's in there at quarterback, so if Skylar Thompson is back, whenever he does come back, it's (something) that's going to be really uplifting for our offense, because that's our guy," Vaughn said. "That's our QB1."