Kansas State will have its first road test of the season against Southeastern Conference opponent Mississippi State. The matchup will be the first time the Wildcats play a Power 5 opponent under new head coach Chris Klieman.
The Wildcats have cruised to victory in the first two games of the 2019 season but still remain unranked, not even receiving a vote in either of the college football polls.
“We are excited about the win [over Bowling Green],” Klieman said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “But we’ve got to turn our focus to nothing but Mississippi State because it’s an exceptional football team and it will be a tough environment, but it is a good measuring stick. We need this game. We need to find out as a coaching staff and as players where we are.”
K-State faced Mississippi State last season at home where the Wildcats dropped 31-10. The Wildcats struggled to get defensive stops in the game as well as take advantage of offensive opportunities.
In the matchup last season, running back Kylin Hill dominated the K-State defense with 211 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a great player; it’s fun to watch him,” Klieman said. “Hopefully, it’s not going to be fun to watch him live, but he’s tremendous. Just seeing the way that he runs, he breaks tackles. … I know that he’s going to be a focal point of what we’re doing on defense to try to slow him down.”
The defensive front seven for the Bulldogs, headlined by the since-graduated Montez Sweat, were crucial in the win for the Bulldogs. Sweat now plays in the NFL for the Washington Redskins.
The offensive line will need to be prepared for a new group of physical defensive linemen. Senior offensive lineman Adam Holtorf talked about the defensive front for Mississippi State.
“They lost a lot of great seniors last year, but they have a lot of guys that are extremely physical,” Holtorf said.
There are plenty of teams in the Big 12 with dominant defensive linemen, but with the matchup with an SEC school, the linemen must be prepared for a physical matchup in the trenches on Saturday.
“We expect to play against a physical front seven,” Holtorf said. “This is going to be an exceptionally physical front seven, so we have to prepare for that in practice making sure the scouts are given a great look and know that our technique has to be sound too.”
Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson has been dominant in the start of 2019, and he has all eyes set on the rematch with the Bulldogs.
“They beat us pretty good last year, and it was not a very good feeling walking off the field last year at all for multiple reasons,” Thompson said.
In the last matchup, Thompson went 7-17 for 86 yards with one touchdown and ran for 34 yards on 12 attempts. This game was a part of the constant quarterback circus of last season between Thompson and then-junior quarterback Alex Delton. With Delton transferring to TCU and a new offensive system, Thompson now gets a chance to stand in the spotlight.
“I looked at the game last night, I watched it on film, and it was kind of hard to go to sleep after,” Thompson said. “But it’s good to go through those times again and put myself in how I felt during that time, and it reminded me of how I felt so I’m going to go into this week as a whole new year, new opportunity and I’m going to do my best to help this team win any way that I can.”
Former Wildcat wide receiver Isaiah Zuber will line up on the opposite side on Saturday, but it is the last thing that Thompson is concerned about.
“It’ll be fun to compete against him,” Thompson said. “I haven’t thought much about it honestly and I probably won’t, but it will be fun to complete, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Entering the spring, Zuber was the top returning receiver for K-State with 619 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but decided to grad transfer following the coaching change.
Something like this could have the potential to cause some distraction, and for K-State, it is crucial to have a team-first mentality going into the game.
“It’s important that we focus on ourselves and us as a team and not get distracted by that stuff,” Thompson said.
K-State will play Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.