MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder probably felt pretty good about having two quarterbacks with starting experience this year, especially the way both performed at times last season.
After Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton both struggled against South Dakota, though, that confidence is a bit shakier heading into Saturday's showdown with No. 18 Mississippi State.
Thompson, a Fort Osage High School graduate, was 8 of 14 for 61 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Delton was just 5 of 14 for 91 yards and another interception. So combine them and the two quarterbacks with experience of winning in the Big 12 were 13 of 28 for 152 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Against a school from the Football Championship Subdivision.
"Both of them did some decent things and both of them struggled and made mistakes," Snyder said this week. "Both of them are going to make a significant difference in the outcome of our football season. It is still one game at a time, and we have to improve things. They are like everybody else, and we need to repair issues that we have. They're correctable mistakes, and that's easy to say."
Yes, it's easy to say. It's much tougher to accomplish, especially with a much bigger challenge coming to Manhattan in the Bulldogs, who throttled their own FCS opponent in their opener.
"I don't think that we played up to our capabilities," Delton acknowledged. "As an offensive unit, we weren't as crisp as I would like, so right now, when we watch film or do anything, we know we have to be better than last week. We have to be sharper, we have to pay more attention to detail, and that's what we are taking in this week. We know what Mississippi State can do defensively."
They also know what the Bulldogs can do offensively, and it stands to reason that the Wildcats are going to have to score more than they did in a 27-24 win over the Coyotes if they want to spring an upset.
There is ample reason to believe that's possible, though.
Remember, Thompson is still the same quarterback that threw for 203 yards, ran for 93 more and totaled four touchdowns in a win at Oklahoma State last season. Delton is the same QB who threw for 144 yards, ran for 142 and totaled four TDs in a close loss to Big 12 champ Oklahoma.
The talent is there. The execution, at least last week, was missing.
"A lot of us were pressing and trying to do a little too much and not focusing on securing the ball or catching the ball and stuff like that," running back Alex Barnes said. "Everyone just has to do their job and stay within what they are asked on each and every play."
Focus shouldn't be as much of a problem this week, not with an SEC opponent on tap.
There is also the belief, at least in some quarters, that Kansas State was playing rope-a-dope against the Coyotes — in essence, showing as little as possible ahead of a bigger game against Mississippi State. The Wildcats certainly didn't open up the playbook against South Dakota until they needed to in the fourth quarter, and if not for four turnovers and 13 penalties, they might not have had to at all.
That doesn't explain away the relatively poor performance by Kansas State's veteran quarterbacks, of course. But it's another reason to believe they will play better on Saturday.
Thompson and Delton both know they'll have to.
"Every week is an opportunity," Delton said, "and we knew even this summer that this game would be a huge opportunity for us. These guys have a lot of hype going into this year, and rightfully so. They sound like a good team, but it just gives us a good opportunity, that's all that it is. It gives us an opportunity to showcase what we can do as a team, as a Big 12 team versus a good SEC team.
"I'm confident in us. I am confident in our abilities," he added, "and I am sure they're confident too, so I'm just ready to get after it. I know that we have a good game plan."