Kansas State looked like a different football team without Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson.
That was to be expected, of course. Not only did the Wildcats have to get by without their top two receivers, they were also down their top two returners. With them on the sidelines the past two games, K-State has been unable to throw the ball deep or aggressively return kicks and punts.
Lockett, a junior captain, and Thompson, a senior speedster, are both expected to play against West Virginia on Saturday. The Wildcats will welcome their return in several areas.
Here is a statistical look at the impact they have made on games this season:
Lockett (31 catches for 475 yards and a touchdown) and Thompson (13-185-1) are clearly the team’s top two targets in the passing game. In K-State’s first four games, they combined for 44 catches, 660 yards and two touchdowns. The rest of the team managed 54 catches for 637 yards and four touchdowns in six games.
With Lockett and Thompson actively involved in the offense, K-State was averaging 246.75 yards passing. With them out, that number dipped to 155.
Now, some of that can be explained by the emergence of sophomore Daniel Sams, a gifted runner who has totaled more than 300 yards on the ground in K-State’s past two games. With a mobile quarterback and a depleted receiving corps, the Wildcats haven’t attempted the same number of passes they did with strong-armed Jake Waters under center and a healthy group of receivers.
Still, a 37 percent drop in passing production is significant. K-State isn’t the same passing team without its top two receivers.
That could change against West Virginia. Who knows? Maybe we will see more of Waters now that his favorite two deep threats are back.
Lockett and Thompson also have a significant impact on special teams. With Thompson returning punts, K-State averaged nearly 34 return yards. With Ty Zimmerman deep the past two weeks, that average dropped to 6.5 yards. And that’s only if you count return yards after a blocked punt. Zimmerman attempted one return, and lost a yard in the process.
K-State hasn’t suffered as much on kick returns. With Lockett and Thompson returning kickoffs, K-State was averaging 71.5 return yards. Without them, that number actually increased to 82.5, but that is somewhat misleading because K-State has faced high-powered offenses the past two weeks and seen an increase in kickoff returns. Opposing teams have also been unafraid to test K-State on kickoffs without the threat of two home-run returners.
That might not be the case on Saturday. Lockett and Thompson are capable of making a big impact.