MANHATTAN — For once, Daniel Thomas didn't have to carry the load.
With Carson Coffman connecting on 18 of 26 passes for a career high 280 yards and three touchdowns, Kansas State's star running back got to spend the final moments of Saturday's 48-24 victory over Missouri State watching from the sideline.
After helping the Wildcats open up their passing attack by rushing for 137 yards and two touchdowns, Thomas was happy to receive the rest.
Throughout his short career at K-State, he has been a workhorse. When games are close, the Wildcats go to him early, often and late. Aside from blowout wins over Tennessee Tech and Texas A&M last year, there have been few occasions when Bill Snyder has told him to unwind.
But this game was not about him.
It was about K-State's senior quarterback showing off his arm against a lesser opponent. It was about the Wildcats' inexperienced wide receivers building their confidence before going up against stronger defenses later in the year. It was about Snyder giving Iowa State coaches something to think about before gearing up to stuff Thomas next week at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Wildcats' offense came through in all areas.
"Our goal was to come out and pass the ball a little bit," Coffman said. "They stopped the run early, and I'm glad they gave me the opportunity to get out there and throw it."
Indeed, leading up to the game, players and coaches adamantly expressed their desires to add balance to their offense. During a season-opening victory against UCLA last week they gained a whopping 313 yards on the ground, but passed for just 64.
Aubrey Quarles, Brodrick Smith and Tramaine Thompson struggled to get open, and when they found space in the secondary Coffman couldn't quite connect with them for big plays.
When asked about their performances, the three wide outs said they did a good job blocking. The best compliment Snyder had for Coffman was that he managed a good game.
They knew they could do better. For K-State (2-0) to succeed in Big 12 play, they knew they had to be better. On Saturday, they were.
Smith caught six passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, Quarles grabbed seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown and Thompson finished with 41 receiving yards. Add on a 27-yard catch by Chris Harper, and it was a big day for K-State's main receiving core.
In the end, the Wildcats gained 290 yards through the air and 203 on the ground — anything but one-dimensional.
"It definitely gives us the thought that we can go out there and make plays," Quarles said. "We can make big plays happen."
On Saturday, they came by run, by pass and by trickery.
There was the 45-yard run Daniel Thomas broke out of the Wildcat Formation early in the first quarter. There was the fake field goal that kicker Anthony Cantele — a Kapaun Mount Carmel graduate — dove into the end zone to score in the second quarter.
There were the three impressive touchdown passes Coffman tossed, with two coming from outside the red zone. And there was the nifty 21-yard run Thomas broke near the end of the third quarter before coming out of the game.
Granted, those highlights came against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that surrendered 315 passing yards to Eastern Kentucky last week. And the Wildcats' own defense admittedly let down a bit, allowing the Bears (1-1) to gain 447 yards.
"We really need to be more consistent in order to have any degree of success," Snyder said. "We just have to be more mature."
But K-State easily avoided the upset bug that has been seen elsewhere in college football lately, and its offense took a step in the right direction.
A step Thomas didn't have to take.
"It was a confidence boost for not only the wide outs," Smith said, "but the whole offensive side of the ball."