Will Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson's injury keep him from playing against Texas?

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson (7) passes as he is pressured by Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle (5) during Saturday's game in Manhattan.

MANHATTAN — Don't count Skylar Thompson out just yet.

Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said Monday that Thompson, who left Saturday's game against Baylor with an apparent ankle injury, has not been ruled out as the possible starter at quarterback this Friday when the Wildcats travel to Texas for their regular-season finale.

"There's an outside shot actually of Skylar (playing). So that's the positive sign," Klieman said of the sixth-year senior, who already missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. "I don't think he'll do anything (Monday), and Tuesday would be iffy.

"But the kid wants to play and we're going to see where he's at, and I don't think that will be determined until later in the week. If he can't go, both guys will be ready with Will (Howard) and Jaren (Lewis), and Will would be the guy that we would start."

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Since returning from the knee injury against Oklahoma on Oct. 2, Thompson had put together the best stretch of his career, throwing for over 1,600 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He was not particularly sharp in the 20-10 loss to Baylor, but has been the team's unquestioned leader.

Should Thompson not be ready, Howard would burn a planned redshirt to take his place, something he did last year as a true freshman when Thompson missed the last seven games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Howard has appeared in the maximum four games allowed for retaining a redshirt this season, but Klieman said that was not an issue.

"Very positive, because he knows this is a great opportunity for him to play and solidify himself," Klieman said of Howard's reaction to the prospect of starting against Texas. "He's played a lot of football, considering him still being a freshman, and I've seen enough situations in my time coaching where if you're healthy and you have an opportunity to play, typically kids want to play, because you can't forecast the future (and) what happens next August or if something happens, though knock on wood nothing like that does."

More:Kansas State football vs. Baylor report card: How we graded the Wildcats in a 20-10 loss

Howard, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore, could still be considered a freshman in eligibility if he preserves the redshirt, given the extra year granted to all players last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

None of the quarterbacks — Lewis also is a sophomore, but without a redshirt year available — were available to the media Monday in an abbreviated news conference because of the six-day preparation for Friday's game.

Sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn, who passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season against Baylor, said the team is confident that Howard is up for the challenge if he gets the call.

"That's my guy. We've seen all year the way he's prepared behind Skylar, and he's had Skylar in his corner all year," Vaughn said of Howard. "Even dating back to whenever (Thompson) got back after last season, the progress that he's made because of Sky-T, and just the way he's seeing the looks and he's been in the weight room and he's been running with us, he looks even better.

"It's one of those things where if he has to go on Friday, we're ready to roll. We're going to rise up with him. We're going to execute as a team and as an offense and that's what we have to pride ourselves on. If Sky-T plays we're going to have to rise up as well."

Howard made his first appearance this year when Thompson went down in the second game of the season against Southern Illinois, then started the next two weeks in a 38-17 victory over Nevada and 31-20 loss at Oklahoma State. He also played briefly in a blowout win at Kansas.

More:Four takeaways from Kansas State's 20-10 loss to Baylor

Since the KU game, he has continued to practice with the second team.

"(He has taken) a lion's share of the reps, and has taken as many reps with the twos and probably more than Jaren," Klieman said of Howard, who has completed 50% of his passes for 267 yards with one touchdown and one interception this year. "We split those up.

"Sometimes we'll put him in with the ones, so he's taken a lot of repetitions. And I met with Will (Sunday) afternoon for a while and he's excited for the opportunity because he just feels like he's grown from watching Sky for the last seven, eight weeks in his preparation and visiting with him, whether it's in game and weekly stuff."

Last year, Howard completed 53.6% of his passes for 1,178 yards and eight touchdowns with 10 picks in winning his first two starts before the Wildcats ended the season on a five-game losing streak. Lewis has appeared in four games, including the Baylor game, where he took Thompson's place and immediately threw an interception.

Injuries woes mount for K-State Wildcats

K-State had been slowly working its way back toward full strength during a four-game winning streak, but took some hits last Saturday in the Baylor game.

Thompson and starting safety Jahron McPherson left the game, as did backup running back Joe Ervin.

"We had, I thought, some really good depth until Saturday, but now we've been knocked down again," Klieman said. "There's probably a lot of schools like that.

"You hope all those young-guy practices that you've done and sessions with the players that maybe haven't played quite as much, that they're going to have an opportunity to even play a little bit more. That's going to probably be one of those weeks where we have to have all hands on deck."

Klieman said that McPherson, the team's fourth-leading tackler, came out of the Baylor game in better shape than first feared and might be able to play.

"I don't know if J-Mac will be able to play, but he's going to try like heck to, because for one, he's only got a few games left that he knows he's going to play.

"We got better news on J-Mac yesterday. We didn't think the news was going to be good, but it came back much, much better. So we're going to try to work him in and see what he can do this week."

Klieman added that the availability of Ervin, who has rushed for 322 yards and two touchdowns as Vaughn's primary backup, also could be a game-time decision.

On a positive note, defensive end Spencer Trussell, who missed the Baylor game, might be cleared to return at Texas.

Klieman said the Wildcats will use their one permitted exemption to take extra players on the Texas trip in order to enhance their depth, particularly on special teams.