MANHATTAN — What started way back last spring as a spirited quarterback competition is morphing into a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Five games into the season, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is still searching for a definitive starter between sophomore Skylar Thompson and junior Alex Delton, and he’s getting tired of hearing about it.
The Wildcats are 2-3 with a 0-2 Big 12 record, facing a pivotal game Saturday at Baylor (3-2, 1-1), and the questions keep coming from all sides. Finally, after four different queries about his quarterbacks during Tuesday’s weekly media briefing, Snyder had enough.
“You write what the hell you want to write,” he snapped at a reporter.
Public opinion is leaning heavily toward Thompson, who started the first three games and turned in a solid relief effort in the second half of last week’s 19-14 loss to Texas. The numbers would seem to bear it out as well.
Thompson has completed 56 percent of his passes for 601 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception in 84 attempts. Delton’s completion percentage is 47.4 on just 38 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions. Thompson also has a slight edge as a runner, averaging 3.4 yards per carry to 3.1 for Delton.
The first question for Snyder, given Thompson’s statistical edge, was what people were missing in his insistence on playing both quarterbacks.
“Probably just that you’re not on the field, coaching,” Snyder replied.
The follow-up was what it would take for Thompson to win the job outright.
Snyder: “Continue to play well and improve his play.”
Asked what intangibles Delton brought that might not be readily apparent in the statistics, Snyder was a bit more expansive.
“I don’t know what the stat sheet means,” he said. ”(Delton) runs the ball well, I think he can throw the ball well — sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t.
“It’s just a comparison that you make between one player and another that plays at the same position. The comparison is, you take the previous ballgame, he comes in, he adds some spark to the team against West Virginia and advances the ball.”
Delton entered the West Virginia game, a 35-6 K-State loss, toward the end of the third quarter with the Wildcats limited to one field goal. They settled for that field goal on the opening drive of the second half after Thompson had two passes dropped in the end zone.
Delton’s first possession started in West Virginia territory after an interception and also resulted in a field goal.
“We move the ball some in the second half against West Virginia and he was at the helm,” Snyder said of Delton. “If you’re not doing it with one, you’ve got to try something.
“It’s either that or I’m calling on you,” Snyder told a reporter, “and I’m doggone sure not going to do that.”
In the Texas game, K-State trailed 19-0 at halftime with Delton running the offense, though he did have a sure touchdown pass dropped in the end zone on the last play of the second quarter.
Thompson started the second half and marched the offense 82 yards, picking up the final seven yards on a quarterback keeper. He also led a 16-play, 70-yard fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Snyder attributed that spark to the offense as a whole, led by the improved play of a fired-up offensive line.
“The thing in the second half, and Skylar was part of it, but the thing that happened in the second half, I saw coming out of the locker room ... I thought there was an immense determination from the players in the program,” Snyder said.
“I thought there was an anger, just at their own performance and lack of success that they were having, that I thought carried over into the second half of the ballgame.”
After he was again questioned about Thompson’s role in the comeback, Snyder shut it down.
If the frustration of a losing record and the uncertainty at the quarterback position are spilling over to the team, the players continue to put on a brave face. In fact, the mood on Tuesday, buoyed by the second half against Texas, was visibly upbeat.
“I think we’ve done a great job of keeping a positive attitude, not hanging our heads, just putting our nose down and going to work,” center Adam Holtorf said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a point so far this year that the opposite has happened, where guys start getting down on themselves.”
The same has been true of the coaches’ demeanor, according to wide receiver Zach Reuter.
“We’ve only had (Monday) with them so far, but (offensive coordinator Andre) Coleman especially has been positive,” Reuter said. “Coach Snyder has just continued to preach the same thing: it’s the little things, it’s the discipline, that matters.
“So we’re looking forward to having a good week of practice and coming out strong against Baylor.”
Linebacker Elijah Sullivan and kicker Blake Lynch, each of whom missed the Texas game, continue to be “doubtful” for Saturday’s Baylor game, according to Snyder.
He indicated that junior Nick McLellan, who kicked a pair of extra points against the Longhorns, will continue in Lynch’s place.
With Sullivan out and Sam Sizelove injured in the Texas game, junior Justin Hughes stepped in at linebacker and recorded six tackles.