The Liberty Bowl was a surreal experience for Kansas State senior Kody Cook.
Never during his K-State career did he think he would start a game at a position other than receiver. Yet there he was Saturday, taking the field with the Wildcats as the team’s top passer. He was making his first start at quarterback in his final game.
“I didn’t expect it,” Cook said. “I just tried to do what my team needed me to do to win and to fit wherever they need me. They just happened to need me at quarterback the last couple games. ... I am thankful for the opportunity at either receiver or quarterback.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder remained coy about his quarterback approach throughout bowl practices, waiting until warmups to reveal his starter.
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Quarterback has been a troubling position for the Wildcats this season. Jesse Ertz was named starter before opening day, but he tore his ACL on his first play from scrimmage. Backup Joe Hubener took over and started the next 11 games, but he faced little competition when teammates Alex Delton and Jonathan Banks were injured.
Cook, the team’s top receiver through nonconference play, was named emergency quarterback and took over for Hubener at various times, including a 24-23 victory over West Virginia in the final game of the regular season. Cook led a come-from-behind effort against the Mountaineers, and Snyder decided to keep him at quarterback for the postseason.
“Kody was on the field today because of the way he has practiced and prepared himself,” Snyder said. “When we were back in Manhattan, he practiced extremely well. Then we got here and he practiced even better. He just earned the right to be here.”
Cook provided mixed results against Arkansas, completing 12 of 24 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown to go with 19 rushing yards on 12 carries. He was sharp at the beginning of the first and third quarters, leading the Wildcats on touchdown drives. He also avoided turnovers.
But he was erratic at other times.
“A lot of times the biggest difference is just that you touch the ball every play as opposed to not,” Cook said. “A lot of the things are the same. The quarterbacks and the receivers are on the same page, knowing the schemes and concepts we run. As far as emotionally, it is different. You have to stay in check. It’s not as intense, because you have to stay focused. But, for the most part, you just go out and compete and take the same attitude you do every game.”
Cook’s receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping some potential big gains, but his throws were also occasionally off the mark. On one play in the third quarter, Deante Burton went into motion and ran a perfect underneath route that could have easily been a touchdown. But Cook, showing fatigue near the end of a day filled with hits, threw behind Burton for an incomplete pass.
Hubener saw time on K-State’s final series, and threw an interception on his only attempt.
K-State will look much different at quarterback next season with all of its injured passers returning. This season, Cook was glad he could could fill in, including at the Liberty Bowl.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett