MANHATTAN — A funny thing happened when Daniel Sams scored on a 17-yard run against North Dakota State last week.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder ripped off his headset and threw it on the ground, leaving him with a cut hand.
Sams, a sophomore backup quarterback, had pulled off the Wildcats’ longest run of the game and had given his team a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter. Considering the touchdown came on his first play, most were expecting a positive reaction from Snyder. Instead, he was mad. Furious, even.
“Because we hadn’t put him in before,” Snyder said.
K-State coaches didn’t put him in much afterward, either. Sams only saw action in one more series. He ran the ball twice and didn’t attempt a pass.
On a night when the Wildcats struggled to run the ball — 41 yards on 23 attempts — and lost a close game in the final minute, that was one of Snyder’s biggest regrets. He left one of the team’s fastest and most athletic players, who averages more than seven yards per carry, on the bench for all but a few snaps. That was a mistake, a mistake he hopes to avoid starting with a 5:30 p.m. kickoff against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
“When you have a good athlete like Daniel,” Snyder said, “you have to find places for him, which we will.”
Jake Waters was named starting quarterback nearly two weeks ago, and he played well in his K-State debut, completing 21 of 29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. But he wasn’t perfect. Waters also threw two interceptions, and K-State’s offense sputtered at inopportune times in the second half. Maybe Sams could have done more. Maybe K-State needed a two-quarterback system.
Snyder wants to find out.
“I wouldn’t see anything wrong with both of us playing,” Sams said. “... I believe it can work, just because me and Jake bring two different styles of play to the offense. It could mess some teams up as far as change of pace.”
We won’t know how much extra playing time Sams will receive until Saturday, but he is ready for anything. He said he was disappointed that he didn’t play in the first half of the opener and shocked when he barely played after zooming past defenders for an effortless touchdown on his first snap. But he wasn’t angry.
He trusts Snyder. After the game, Sams said he told Snyder, “Whenever you want to use me, I feel like I can help the offense be successful.” He also told his teammates they needed to find their “killer instinct” on offense.
It sounds like Snyder will try to use Sams on a series-to-series basis as a change-of-pace quarterback. Think Collin Klein moving to receiver while Daniel Thomas and Angelo Pease took snaps out of the wildcat formation in previous seasons, only with a higher probability of passes. His speed could perfectly complement Waters’ arm.
Snyder was complimentary of Waters following the opener, particularly the way he hit Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson for deep touchdown passes, and his starting status doesn’t appear to be in question.
“I got really comfortable,” Waters said. “I feel like the passing game did some good things. I made a lot of mistakes and have a couple plays I want back, but for the most part I think we did some good things.”
Still, Snyder wants a complete quarterback. Sams was held back in preseason practices by a knee injury. Now that he is healthy, perhaps he can challenge for the full-time starting spot.
Sams certainly doesn’t see himself as a change-of-pace player.
“I try to stay away from a mentality like that,” Sams said. “For example, last year when Collin went down against Oklahoma State, if I had a mentality like that, who knows what would have happened?
“Even though it was hard not seeing action in the first half, I still try to keep that same mentality. I tell myself, ‘You know you are going to get in. When your time comes, just make sure to do what you do best.’”
Sams was in high school the last time he split time at quarterback. He also played running back and receiver back then, so he was always on the field. He doesn’t expect that to happen at K-State. Sams approached Snyder about switching positions as a freshman, and was shot down immediately.
Ever since, he has focused only on helping his team as a quarterback — starter or backup.
“(Waters and Sams) are always working with each other to make sure they are getting better,” junior center B.J. Finney said. “They are watching tape together, going through formations, plays, checks, everything. They are doing it together, which is refreshing to see.”
Snyder usually tries to stick with one quarterback, but he played both Carson Coffman and Klein in 2010 and has never hesitated to replace a cold hand with a backup. Every possibility is currently on the table.
The next time Sams scores a touchdown, Snyder wants to feel happy.
“It is very difficult to do, particularly because you believe in not breaking the continuity of the young person that is already on the field,” Snyder said. “But by the same token, Daniel is a very athletic young guy and that was just my feeling that he needed to be on the field. He has the capabilities of making plays and he did so. How do you balance that? I’m not altogether certain. You just say, ‘Hey, we are going to do it,’ and then go do it and see where it takes you.”