MANHATTAN — Kansas State receiver Dalton Schoen made a promise to Skylar Thompson shortly after he arrived on campus two years ago and attempted his first pass in a college practice.
“Anytime you want to throw or do anything extra,” Schoen told Thompson, “I will definitely be there for you.”
Thompson took him up on that offer, and the two have been building a touchdown connection ever since. It started in summer workouts and grew when they both joined K-State’s scout team. Now, it’s blossoming in games.
Half of Thompson’s four touchdown passes this season have gone to Schoen. And they were both highlights that might not have been possible if not for their on-field rapport. Thompson changed the play at the line of scrimmage on both scoring plays, hoping to take advantage of man coverage against his trusted receiver. Schoen got behind the defense for a 23-yard score against Mississippi State and a 42-yard strike against Texas-San Antonio.
A look. A hand signal. A touchdown. It was that simple.
“We used to always joke about it,” Schoen said. “Skylar would say, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I always know where you are going to be and know how to throw you the ball.’ I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it has been a good thing for us.”
A deeper look back at both scoring plays reveals why their touchdown connection is getting stronger.
Schoen’s touchdown catch against Mississippi State came on first-and-10 at the Bulldogs’ 23 following a turnover. At first glance, the defense appeared ready to stop a long pass, but that changed when the Wildcats sent Isaiah Harris in motion and the Bulldogs showed man coverage without any safety help.
The switch gave K-State three receivers on the left and one on the right. Mississippi State originally showed a defender on every receiver with two safeties helping, but the defender originally lined up across from Harris stayed on the right and showed blitz, while the safety came up to account for Harris.
As soon as Thompson noticed the switch, he changed plays. Schoen, lined up in the slot to his left, went deep while Harris and Isaiah Zuber ran shallow routes.
Thompson didn’t have much time to throw, as Mississippi State blitzed two men, but he knew where to put the ball and Schoen ran under it for the Wildcats’ only touchdown of the game.
Fast forward to the UTSA game, and it’s clear the Roadrunners didn’t do their homework on Schoen.
They showed a similar defense on first-and-10 from the UTSA 42, and Thompson once again changed the play to take advantage of Schoen being in a one-on-one matchup.
This time, K-State lined up with two receivers (Wykeen Gill and Schoen) on the right and one (Zach Reuter) to the left.
UTSA held one safety back to guard against a long throw, but he was lined up too far away from Schoen to cover that much ground. And he seemed focused on the line of scrimmage.
That created an opportunity for Schoen, one that he and Thompson anticipated beforehand.
“We talked about that check way before we even made it out on the field,” Schoen said, “just so we knew we would be on the same page when it came up.”
They were ready. Wykeen Gill and Zach Reuter both ran short routes and Schoen went deep, easily beating his defender and leaving the UTSA safety with no hope of providing help.
Thompson and Schoen have had trouble connecting on shorter throws (Schoen has only caught six passes for 130 yards this season), but it has felt like they share the same mind on deep balls off audibles.
They are confident that will continue.
“Ever since I got on campus I’ve had a really good connection with him,” Thompson said. “We get each other really well, we understand what each of us are doing, what I am checking to. When I call a play, he knows why I’m checking it and I know how he is going to run it.”
“As we watch film throughout the week we get so dialed in that when we call a play we know how we are going to react, how he is going to get off the line of scrimmage and how I am going to throw it. There is a lot of work that takes place behind the scenes that goes into that.”