Nevada's challenge at Kansas State got a little easier over the weekend when the Wildcats' star quarterback Skylar Thompson suffered a leg injury that will keep him out of Saturday's game against the Wolf Pack.
Thompson, a sixth-year senior, went down via a none contact injury while trying to block for his running back early in the game. It was initially feared Thompson had suffered a season-ending injury for the second straight year, but coach Chris Klieman said he expects Thompson to play again this year. He just won't be ready for Nevada.
“We don’t believe it to be a season-ending injury, which is what I know I feared on Saturday, that he would be lost for the season,” Klieman told reporters Monday, including the Wichita Eagle's Kellis Robinett “We don’t feel it to be that way. But it’s going to be some time. I can’t tell you how long.. But he’s going to be out indefinitely as we continue to get more information. We had a MRI yesterday that confirmed some things that we will keep in house. But he’ll be out indefinitely.”
In addition to being the heart and soul of Kansas State, Thompson is a talented quarterback. In 37 career games, the 6-foot-2, 223-pound dual-threat quarterback has completed 60 percent of his passes for 5,261 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He's rushed for 1,116 yards and 24 more touchdowns. Thompson had a 165.3 quarterback rating last season, higher than that of Nevada's Carson Strong, before suffering an injury in Kansas State's third game.
Thompson's backup, Will Howard, started for the Wildcats after Thompson's 2020 injury to mixed results. Kansas State ended the season on a five-game skid after starting the year 4-1, although that wasn't fully on Howard considering the Wildcats' defense allowed 40.6 points per game during that five-game stretch. Their offense averaged just 18 points per game during the losing streak.
Howard, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore, completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,178 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in nine games as a freshman last season. He posted a 116.3 quarterback rating. In relief of Thompson in Saturday's 31-22 win over FCS foe Southern Illinois, Howard was 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) for 76 yards and one interception. He also lost a fumble. He posted a 72.8 quarterback rating but did score on a 1-yard running play.
Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said he was disappointed to hear of Thompson's injury and said Kansas State won't deviate far from its typical game plan, which includes a heavy emphasis on the run. The Wildcats have run the ball on 62.5 percent of its plays during Klieman's three seasons as head coach, including on 69.3 percent of plays this season. Kansas State will try and gash a Nevada run defense that allowed 5.7 yards per carry in its season-opening win against Cal.
"I know he got some experience last year, and I'm sure that he's learned from that," Norvell said of Howard. "He does have playing time, so it's not like a guy that's just going in there who hasn't played. You know, it's always tough. You hate to see injuries, and it's always hard for any team when you lose a guy that you feel is your starter. But just like every team, you have to be ready to go in. I don't think it's going to change what they do offensively very much. I know they'll continue to stress the things that they like to do, and we're going to have to be prepared for them."
Kansas State is 2-0 this season with wins over Stanford (21-7) and Southern Illinois (31-23). The season-opening victory over the Cardinal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas looks even more impressive after Stanford blew out USC in Week 2, leading the Trojans to fire head coach Clay Helton. Nevada, also 2-0, opened as a 2-point betting-line favorite.