Jesse Ertz has started 18 consecutive games for Kansas State, and Bill Snyder says that streak will continue if the senior quarterback is at or near full strength when the Wildcats host TCU on Saturday.
“If he is that by the end of the week, he is our starter,” Snyder said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “He is our starter. That’s been defined. But only if his health is in the best shape.”
Ertz is a master of shrugging off injuries and playing through pain. He amassed 2,767 total yards and led K-State to nine victories as a junior, while playing the final seven games with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery to repair. He has also twice battled back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Still, even he may not be currently fit enough to play.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Ertz run with the speed or power that sets him apart as a dynamic quarterback. He looked slow last week against Baylor, and it was once again obvious he was playing at less than 100 percent during a double overtime loss at Texas. He removed all doubt when he stumbled to the ground on an awkward run and asked out of the game late in the third quarter.
He later returned for a series in the fourth quarter, but missed both overtimes. Two days later, his playing status is in question.
“That remains to be seen,” Snyder said. “It kind of depends on the week ... It depends upon whether Jesse is totally capable of going or not. We want to make sure he is healthy.”
K-State has a capable backup.
Alex Delton, a sophomore from Hays, came in and played well, leading K-State back from a 24-17 deficit and engineering three scoring drives. He provided an obvious spark in the running game, zooming past Texas defenders for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. His passing numbers (2 of 5 for 30 yards) left something to be desired compared to Ertz (12 of 18 for 224 yards and two touchdowns), but he proved himself in the clutch.
“I was pleased with Alex’s performance,” Snyder said. “I thought he did quite well in the ballgame and managed the ballgame well, which is always significant for a quarterback.”
Is K-State better off with a healthy Delton or a hobbled Ertz? That’s the question Snyder may have to answer.
It is unclear what injuries are bothering Ertz. Snyder hasn’t said anything about his starting quarterback other than that he is banged up.
Delton lacks experience, having played in only eight games. But the Wildcats have confidence in him.
“Alex has been a good player for us all along and has some experience from last year and played well last year when he had the opportunity to do so,” Snyder said. “He’s very conscientious about his preparation and always has been that way. He has a good understanding of our offense and obviously has the capacity to execute it, as well.”
It’s also possible K-State will use both quarterbacks against TCU. The Wildcats rotated passers as recently as 2013 when Daniel Sams and Jake Waters took turns leading the offense, depending on the situation.
Snyder said playing Delton and Ertz was “a good thing” against Texas, before adding “we’re not really a two-quarterback system.”
Perhaps there is a way for the Wildcats to get both of them involved against TCU, with Delton handling the majority of running plays and Ertz throwing most of the passes.
Then again, Snyder strives for a balanced approach and hates predictability.
“The important thing is, however many you use -- one, two, three -- that they can do the things that you need to be able to do to maintain the continuity and balance within your offense,” Snyder said. “It’s important that both can run and both can throw, and when you have that then certainly utilizing them interchangeably can be a positive thing.”
What method will K-State choose against TCU? For now, the answer depends on Ertz and his health.