MANHATTAN — Brodrick Smith is hobbling around on crutches and Tramaine Thompson is not expected to play this week against Oklahoma State, but Braden Wilson talks about Kansas State's passing game as if both were healthy.
Following the success of K-State's offense the past two weeks — 101 points and 867 yards — how could he not?
Sure, the Wildcats are without their top touchdown threat, Smith, and their slot receiver, Thompson, but the receiving corps has found a way to produce nonetheless. Aubrey Quarles is coming off a 131-yard, one-touchdown performance, and Chris Harper is becoming a consistent downfield threat. Even little-used Cole Bachamp came onto the field against Baylor and made a 23-yard grab.
"They've really stepped up their game," Wilson said. "They're practicing harder, they're playing harder. You can just tell they've accepted the responsibility of having to fill that spot."
It was a challenge. When Smith broke his leg three weeks ago against Nebraska, K-State wide receivers didn't know how to react. Beyond comforting their injured teammate, they were unsure what their new roles would be.
But every receiver understood the injury could be overcome.
"We have guys that come in and play and are prepared and make the best of whatever happens," said Harper, a Wichita native. "They go out there and show what they can do."
K-State receivers became confident quickly. When Smith went down, and Thompson got hurt at Baylor, coaches reminded receivers during position meetings that they were capable of making big plays.
"The coaches really get us prepared on and off the field," Bachamp said. "We all go to the same meetings and we're all in the same room learning the stuff. We're prepared for anything that could happen."
In the past two weeks, that has meant catching more passes. They have been especially effective on third downs. Early in the season, K-State needed to pick up at least five yards on its first two downs in order to have a realistic chance at moving the chains. But third-and-long is no longer seen as a thorny situation.
With Quarles running his routes with precision, senior quarterback Carson Coffman is finding him for big gains. Harper is averaging 14 yards per catch. That has given K-State much more flexibility.
"They've been that good the entire season," Coffman said. "We're just going a little more to them now."
The goal moving forward is to share the ball even more evenly and include Adrian Hilburn and the Wildcats' tight ends.
Harper said he may begin seeing more time as a slot receiver to accommodate the game plan.
"Aubrey has taken that (top) position," Snyder said. "I do not necessarily like it that way. I want it to be balanced. I think that if they all do a pretty nice job of the execution of their routes and their assignments, then they have the athletic ability to be proficient receivers, and you would like to see the ball spread out.”
More players being asked to catch more passes? That shouldn't be a problem for K-State's wide receivers.
"We've had confidence the whole season," Harper said. "We've been confident in ourselves and known what we can do. We're just getting a few more opportunities lately."
OSU receiver suspended — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy suspended star wide receiver Justin Blackmon for one game — Saturday at K-State — after Blackmon's arrest on a misdemeanor DUI charge in Texas. Blackmon was arrested at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday, after police used radar to determine he was driving 92 mph in a 60 mph zone.