Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his throwing shoulder, leaving freshman Will Howard to lead the No. 22 Wildcats the rest of the way.
Thompson was hurt two weeks ago when Texas Tech's Rico Jeffers drove him into the ground after Thompson unloaded a pass in the Wildcats' 31-21 victory. The Red Raiders were penalized 15 yards and Jeffers was ejected for the late hit.
"He had surgery last week on an upper-body injury, so unfortunately his season is over with,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said during the Big 12 teleconference on Monday. “But we are going to rally around Will Howard and Nick Ast.”
Thompson is a senior, but the NCAA has frozen eligibility clocks for the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means he could return for one more season. It's unclear whether that decision has been made.
Howard took over against Texas Tech for Thompson, who watched the rest of the game with his arm in a sling, and then made his first career start Saturday at TCU. Howard ripped off an 80-yard run in the first quarter to set up a field goal, and he finished with 117 yards passing and an interception and 86 yards rushing in the 21-14 victory.
“Brought a freshman quarterback into a tough environment and against a great defensive coach," Klieman said. “I thought Will did a great job and managed the game exceptionally well and did enough for us to be successful.”
While the defense ultimately made the biggest plays in the game, including A.J. Parker's interception return for a score, Howard and the offense avoided any major mistakes that could have given TCU a chance down the stretch.
The win kept the Wildcats (3-1, 3-0) in first place in the Big 12 heading into their week off. They play Kansas on Oct. 24.
“His composure in the huddle was what we expected,” Wildcats tight end Briley Moore said, "but to think about that after, I was talking to coach (Collin) Klein, a true freshman in his first start like that to have that composure to get settled in is an amazing thing and gives the team confidence that no matter what the situation we are going to have a chance.”
The oft-injured Thompson has been a steadying influence for Kansas State since his freshman season, and his decision to stick around after the retirement of Bill Snyder and the hiring of Klieman helped to ensure a relatively seamless transition.
He helped to lead the Wildcats from five wins in Snyder's final season to eight wins and a bowl game last season, and has thrown for 5,012 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also has 1,083 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
Howard represents the future, though. The dual-threat freshman from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was among the first big recruiting coups by Klieman's staff. He chose the Wildcats over offers from Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota and several other Power 5 programs, and his skill set fits perfectly within coordinator Courtney Messingham's offense.
“There's still a lot to clean up and you all know that and we all know that. It was far from perfect,” said Howard, the first true freshman in school history to win his first road start. "It's a blessing and all I’ve ever dreamed about, being on this stage. It's what you come to a big-time program for. I am so glad to be doing it with the group of guys I have with me. We are going to keep grinding, keep getting better, and like I said, not perfect, but we are going to keep getting better.”
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