Kansas State needed a football game like this.
A 41-17 victory over Texas-San Antonio on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium will allow the Wildcats to put their early struggles behind them and enter Big 12 play with confidence next week at West Virginia.
Most expected the Wildcats (2-1) to handle the Roadrunners (0-3) with ease, but nothing was a given coming off a lackluster opening victory against South Dakota and a forgettable loss to Mississippi State.
They eased those concerns with an effort that was, without a doubt, their finest of the season.
K-State looked improved on offense, survived the absences of two starters on defense (linebacker Elijah Sullivan and safety Denzel Goolsby) and excelled on special teams. This was a mismatch, and the Wildcats took advantage.
They were at their best on offense.
Earlier this week, Snyder said K-State was “beyond” rotating quarterbacks and seemed ready to commit to Skylar Thompson as not just the starter, but the full-time QB. His faith was well placed. Thompson looked more comfortable than ever and led the Wildcats to a big lead.
K-State’s offense scored one touchdown in each of its first two games, but Thompson threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 66 yards and a touchdown against UTSA.
He was exceptionally sharp in the first half, completing 13 of 18 passes to seven different receivers.
Both of his scores were highlights. First, he hit Dalton Schoen over the top of the Roadrunners’ defense for a 42-yard strike. Next, Thompson found Isaiah Zuber open in the end zone from the 23.
If there were any lingering questions about K-State’s QB hierarchy, he answered them.
You have to put up points if you hope to win in the high-octane Big 12, and the Wildcats proved they are still capable of doing exactly that.
Everyone got in on the fun. Alex Barnes rushed for 50 yards and scored the team’s first rushing touchdown of the year on the opening drive. Zuber caught seven passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Zach Reuter got open for a 37-yard grab and Schoen provided a deep threat. Alex Delton found Zuber for a 72-yard score. Even a tight end, Blaise Gammon, picked up a first down.
Blake Lynch supplied the rest of the points by connecting on field goals of 23 and 33 yards.
On defense, K-State had to get a creative. Goolsby, a safety from Wichita, missed the game because of an injury significant enough to prevent him from watching the game on the sideline in sweats. A timetable for his return is unknown. Sullivan, a linebacker, dressed but did not play. He has been battling a knee injury and was unable to go after playing through it in the first two games.
Eli Walker took over for Goolsby and did a pretty good job. His biggest moment of the day came on a monster hit in the second quarter, when he snuffed out a reverse near the line of scrimmage.
Justin Hughes and Cody Fletcher filled in for Sullivan and made a handful of tackles when needed.
Next comes the real test.
At 2-1, K-State is exactly where most expected it to be at this point in the season. Is it ready to challenge No. 14 West Virginia on the road in its conference opener?
For now, there is reason to hope.