PREVIEW: Football returns for first 2021 home game against Southern Illinois

Bill Snyder Family Stadium was filled to the brim in 2019, including the game against TCU on Oct. 19, 2019. The Wildcats look to fill the stadium again this year, starting on Saturday against Southern Illinois. (Archive photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

After a great start to the 2021 season with a dominating 24-7 win against Stanford, the Kansas State football team (1-0) looks to keep the energy rolling this weekend against FCS opponent Southern Illinois (1-0). The 6 p.m. kickoff is the first full-capacity game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in two seasons.

To put it bluntly – the Wildcats looked great against Stanford. While head coach Chris Klieman said all the right things after the win — that the game “wasn’t perfect” and that the team must “continue to improve” — he couldn’t help but share his happiness for how well his team played.

“Obviously excited about the great performance today,” Klieman said to K-State Athletics. “Been building on this for about eight months through an unbelievable difficult winter, difficult spring, difficult summer, difficult fall camp, because we knew we needed to be better and challenge the guys and they challenged each other.”

Heading into week two, K-State is playing a lesser opponent in the Southern Illinois Salukis. Every year, K-State schedules games like these to get the Wildcats prepared for Big 12, facing teams coaches can rotate different players in to get a better feel for the game.

However, this doesn’t mean Saturday is a roll-over game. This past season, K-State looked lackadaisical in a 35-31 loss to Arkansas State. In 2018, K-State snuck away with a 27-24 win over FCS South Dakota, and in 2013, FCS North Dakota State took down the Wildcats 24-21.

The Wildcats need to keep their foot on the throttle against Southern Illinois, maintaining the same preparation this week as they did against Stanford. Every win and loss matters, so it is important to stay ready no matter the opponent.

One thing to keep in mind about Southern Illinois is their passing game. Saluki quarterback Nic Baker tossed the ball for 460 yards, four touchdowns and an interception at a 74 percent completion rate in the team’s first game against Southeast Missouri.

The Wildcats secondary only allowed 194 yards and a touchdown through the air against Stanford, picking up a couple of interceptions along the way. The group only struggled against the size of Stanford’s receivers, which shouldn’t be an issue in week two. Hopefully, this means another strong week in the passing defense.

Here’s what else to watch out for this week:

Refill the Bill

It’s no secret — K-State has one of the best home-field advantages. Between Wabash-ing and yelling on third-downs, players feed off the energy of fans throughout the game.

In the first packed game in Bill Snyder Family Stadium in two seasons, hopefully, the Wildcat faithful can provide the college football experience to the players on the field that has become as synonymous to Manhattan as Aggieville.

Daniel Imatorbhebhe as a security blanket

It looks like the graduate transfer tight end will be one of Skylar Thompson’s favorite short-game weapons, especially after the game against Stanford. With the run-game working as well as it did, K-State only needed to throw the ball 14 times, and four of those targets went to Imatorbhebhe.

Along with his solid blocking in the run game, Imatorbhebhe could see a high number of looks each game. As the Wildcats continue to figure out their offense, look for Imatorbhebhe to be used even more.

Defensive Line Post-Wyatt Hubert Update

It turns out the defensive line is really good, even with the loss of Hubert. With the double-headed monster of Eli Huggins and Jaylen Pickle up front, K-State recorded four sacks against Stanford and only allowed 39 yards on the ground.

Moving to a new opponent, guys like Khalid Duke and linebacker Cody Fletcher will have the opportunity to rack up more stats and keep the Saluki offense off the field.

Attacking the passing game

Skylar Thompson looked great in his first game back from injury, running the ball extremely well. However, with only 14 passes against Stanford, I am not ready to say Thompson is 100 percent back in the passing game.

With no touchdowns and one interception, look for the Wildcats to explore the offense through the air in week two. It’s hard to shy away from the run game when Deuce Vaughn is in, but Thompson could have been better in certain situations, especially going into Big 12 play.

K-State’s upcoming game on Saturday is available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and will also be covered by the college radio station Wildcat 91.9. Catch up with the Collegian post-game for a recap and analysis.