MANHATTAN — When Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton took over for Skylar Thompson late in the third quarter of a 35-6 loss to West Virginia on Saturday, his presence in the huddle came as a shock to all but two people in attendance.
No one informed Thompson he was getting benched. K-State offensive coordinator Andre Coleman and quarterbacks coach Collin Klein were also in the dark. As far as they knew, the plan was to keep plugging away at a comeback attempt with the quarterback who had started all four of the Wildcats’ games and had seemingly proven himself as the best passer on the roster.
But Bill Snyder was ready to make a change. So much so that the K-State head coach bypassed his coaching staff and informed Delton directly that he would finish out the game following an interception by Wildcats defensive back Johnathan Durham.
This information was confirmed by two sources with knowledge of the personnel change.
It also lines up with what Delton and Thompson said immediately afterward. Delton told reporters that Snyder “came over to me right before the drive and told me I was going in.” Thompson, with disgust in his voice, said he was blindsided.
Nevertheless, the QB switch is here to stay. Both sources said the Wildcats plan to start Delton against Texas later this week and that K-State gave him the majority of its first-team work in practice on Monday.
Snyder hinted at such a move immediately following the West Virginia game, when he went out of his way to praise Delton for playing “extremely well” and to downplay Thompson for not playing “as well as he is capable.” He later walked back those comments after watching replays of the game and realizing that Thompson (11 of 17 for 145 yards, 16 yards on 12 carries) and Delton (7 of 12 for 82 yards, 18 yards on 11 carries) played “about the same.”
Still, Snyder is ready to shake things up.
In hopes of providing a spark for a sputtering offense that is currently averaging 21 points and 347 yards (both numbers rank ninth in the Big 12, ahead of only Iowa State), Snyder wants to revert back to the ground-oriented attack K-State has used successfully in the past. He views Delton, a gifted runner, as the better QB in that system. Expect lots of quarterback keepers against the Longhorns.
It’s a bold move that, according to sources, Snyder has desired all along. Even though Thompson was named the starter at the end of preseason camp, Snyder’s preference was to roll with Delton and see how far the Hays junior could take the offense. Problem was, Coleman and Klein and the rest of Snyder’s assistants supported Thompson.
Not wanting to overrule Coleman, a first-time play caller who aimed to take the offense in a new direction following Dana Dimel’s departure to UTEP, Snyder decided against using his veto power.
Snyder didn’t publicly commit to either quarterback on Tuesday, saying he anticipates both will play against Texas. But he did explain why he benched Thompson against West Virginia.
“It wasn’t his fault that we were behind the 8-ball,” Snyder said. “The point is, we didn’t have any points on the board and we just needed to do something and needed to make some type of change. And the other young guy has been playing equally as well. Both of them have their hiccups and their issues. Skylar played well ... we just needed to try to do something to get a spark.”
It’s clear Snyder was never completely sold on Thompson as QB1. He refused to publicly anoint him as the team’s starter until the third game and, even then, rarely complimented his play. Delton has seen limited action in all four games, yet Snyder has had more positive things to say about him.
Last week, at his Tuesday news conference, Snyder had this to say about Delton: “His opportunities are going to come. They certainly will. There is no doubt in my mind about that.”
The QB change will likely be met with skepticism from some K-State fans. Thompson, who has thrown for 505 yards and four touchdowns, has been far from impressive this season. But he has been better than Delton. Though Delton has had his moments, including a 72-yard touchdown strike to Isaiah Zuber against Texas-San Antonio and 78 rushing yards against South Dakota, he has been turnover prone and taken sacks at inopportune times.
It’s also unclear what kind of effect this decision might have on Coleman. Promoted from receivers coach to offensive coordinator just nine months ago, how will he react to this type of micromanagement from his head coach? He already faced an awkward transition, starting the season calling plays from the press box but moving down to the field after two clunkers. What’s his next move?
Personnel disagreements are common on every coaching staff, but could there be a rift forming between Snyder and his young team of assistants, which not long ago seemed to energize him as he was coming off a cancer scare?
Snyder, a former offensive coordinator, said he regularly provides suggestions on that side of the ball.
“We constantly have dialogue about that,” Snyder said. “The fact that we aren’t getting the ball in the end zone, I don’t fault anybody in particular. I don’t fault our coaches. In all reality, I don’t really fault our players. Everybody has improvement to make. That starts with me ... We have all got to get better at what we are doing.”
“This is an offensive staff that, when you consider the assignments of each, it’s different. They are growing together. That part of it, I think, is improving. That hasn’t shown up with points on the board, but nevertheless I see that improving. It’s getting acclimated to it and continuing to make improvement. My interaction with it hasn’t changed from Day 1.”
Of course, others may applaud Snyder’s aggressive move, because it means Snyder is asserting himself and making a personnel change that he thinks will help the team bounce back from a 2-2 start. If he thinks the season is slipping away, perhaps he is wise to act ... even if his assistants disagree.
It’s not like Thompson has been lighting it up. The Wildcats have lost two games to ranked opponents by a combined score of 66-16. And his decision to audible out of a QB sneak and into an option pitch on fourth-and-inches against West Virginia was disastrous.
With a shaky offensive line and drop-prone receivers, the numbers advantage that comes with running the quarterback behind a lead blocker, and the confusion that comes with zone-read plays, could be just what the doctor ordered for this offense.
K-State averaged just 2.5 yards per rush against West Virginia.
Delton has a positive history as a runner. When healthy, he started over Thompson last season and made an impact against Texas after Jesse Ertz exited with an injury. He rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries during an overtime loss in Austin.
He also took over for Thompson in the Cactus Bowl and led K-State to a victory over UCLA by running for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. But he also missed the final three games of the regular season after suffering a pair of concussions.
Delton has been waiting for a moment like this.
“I feel like I am always ready,” Delton said following the WVU game. “I take my preparation serious and I take my play serious, so I am always going to be ready. When I come in I expect to be successful.”