Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder says the Wildcats will continue to play two quarterbacks against Mississippi State, because he didn’t see “a dramatic separation” between Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton last weekend against South Dakota.
“Both of them did some decent things and both of them struggled and made mistakes,” Snyder said. “Both of them are going to make a significant difference in the outcome of our football season.”
That logic is reasonable in the sense that neither Thompson nor Delton dazzled in K-State’s opener.
Thompson had a better showing (8 of 14 for 61 yards, a touchdown, an interception and 58 yards rushing) than Delton (5 of 14 for 91 yards, an interception and 83 yards rushing), but you could certainly argue his outing wasn’t dramatically better.
Still, there’s no doubt Thompson padded his lead in K-State’s ongoing QB derby. Based purely on Game 1, Thompson deserves to once again start in Game 2 and receive increased playing time.
Start with this: Thompson was the victim of dropped passes. If tight end Nick Lenners holds onto a pass in the end zone on K-State’s third series, Thompson finishes the game with two touchdown passes. And if Dalton Schoen corrals a well-thrown pass down the sideline in the fourth quarter, there’s a chance Thompson finishes with three scoring strikes. Instead, the play led to an interception.
Look a little closer, and it was also clear that Thompson had the superior pocket presence. He went through his progressions on several passing plays and checked down to running backs when his primary targets weren’t open.
He displayed good patience on a go-ahead touchdown pass to Isaiah Zuber in the fourth quarter, remaining in the pocket until Zuber slipped into open space against zone coverage and then firing a well-thrown pass to the back of the end zone.
Thompson also did a nice job throwing on the run, particularly on a key third-and-5 in the final minute. After rolling to his left behind a wall of blockers, he found Schoen for a 6-yard gain that put the Wildcats in position to run out the clock.
But Thompson wasn’t perfect. He had an opportunity to find Zach Reuter in the end zone in the first quarter while scrambling to his right, but gave up on the play a second too soon and ran out of bounds.
Thompson had an average day running the ball, finishing with 58 yards on 11 carries. But 44 of those came on one brilliant play in the first quarter. Analyst Travis Tannahill, a former K-State tight end, was critical of Thompson’s zone-read decisions early on during the game broadcast, pointing out he put running back Alex Barnes in a difficult situation by not keeping the ball on the second series with an unblocked defensive end closing in.
Barnes lost a fumble on that play.
Delton, as expected, was the better QB on the ground. He rushed for 78 yards on 12 carries and made South Dakota’s defense pay when it went with man coverage.
On one play in the second quarter, K-State sent all of its receivers deep against a man look and Delton took off for a nifty 14-yard gain.
That’s a play K-State can only take advantage of with Delton. But it’s not nearly as effective against zone coverage, which Delton learned as the game progressed. After getting burned by Delton on the ground, South Dakota switched to zone formations and effectively took away his scrambling ability.
Not good for a QB who seemed eager to run rather than go through his progressions.
Delton found early success as a passer and made nice throws over the middle to Schoen, but the Coyotes slowed him down with zone coverage there, too.
He threw a pick six into double coverage, apparently not seeing a linebacker in front of his targeted receiver.
Later, he almost threw another interception against similar coverage. But the pass was merely swatted to the ground. Perhaps sensing his struggles, offensive coordinator Andre Coleman began calling plays that featured more sideline looks and passes that were less likely to be thrown into traffic.
Delton was a smidge off on most of those attempts, which explains his low (35.7) completion percentage.
It will be interesting to see how K-State rotates quarterbacks this week. Thompson dominated snaps in the first and fourth quarters against South Dakota, while Delton played in between.
Will Snyder favor another even split? Will he go with the hot hand? Or will he commit to a primary QB before kickoff?
For now, Thompson and Delton have to stay prepared for anything.
“You have to understand what the coaches want,” Delton said. “If they want to play two quarterbacks, we are going to play two quarterbacks. As you saw last week, it was in and out at random times. We just have to stay ready.”