PREVIEW: Wildcats face legitimate test against talented Nevada squad

K-State kicks off against Stanford in the Wildcat's 24-7 victory over the Cardinal on Sept. 4 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Archive photo by Elizabeth Proctor | Collegian Media Group)

Coming off a 31-23 home opener victory against Southern Illinois, the Kansas State football team (2-0) looks to avenge the loss of star quarterback Skylar Thompson in the Wildcats non-conference finale against the Nevada Wolf Pack (2-0). The game takes place at 1:05 p.m. this Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Going into week three, the thing to look out for is the preparedness of sophomore backup quarterback Will Howard. Playing as a starter this past year after Skylar Thompson’s season-ending injury, Howard struggled against Southern Illinois when he was thrown into the game in the first quarter after Thompson went down with yet another injury.

Head coach Chris Klieman did share an inspiring update on Thompson’s injury, though. Without going into specifics, Klieman said Thompson’s career at K-State might not be over just yet.

“We don’t believe it to be a season-ending injury,” Klieman said in an interview with the Kansas City Star, “which is what I know I feared on Saturday, that he would be lost for the season. We don’t feel it to be that way. But it’s going to be some time. I can’t tell you how long.”

Looking ahead, Thompson’s “indefinite” injury reserve status isn’t the end of the road for the Wildcats. With playmakers like Deuce Vaughn and Malik Knowles — who shared big games against Southern Illinois — K-State should still lead a big offensive attack on Saturday against Nevada.

The Wolf Pack already took down a Power 5 opponent this year in their season opener against the California Golden Bears (0-2). Because of a heavy passing attack (but limited run game), Nevada has caused trouble for defenses, with two wins this season. Look out for the Collegian’s “Know Your Opponent” article for more in-depth coverage on the opponent.

The K-State secondary will need extra preparation against Nevada’s stellar aerial attack, but it isn’t anything the Wildcat defense can’t handle. Thanks to a great pass rush and key new members in the secondary, the defense has only given up 294 yards through the air going into week three.

One week until Big 12 play

Following the game against Nevada, the Wildcats travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to start conference play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. With a tough road game in the back of their mind, it is important for the Wildcats not to get caught up in the road ahead.

Nevada — a pretty good all-around team — could cause trouble if K-State looks away for a brief moment. Take what happened after Skylar Thompson went out — any hiccups could give away the game.

Helping Deuce Vaughn

It was clear once Skylar Thompson left the game against Southern Illinois that Deuce Vaughn was going to see more of the football. Whether handing him the ball in the run game or forcing it to him in the passing game, K-State’s strategy was to give the ball to the best player. At times, it seemed Southern Illinois had the plan figured out.

With players like Malik Knowles, Phillip Brooks, Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Joe Ervin and Jacardia Wright, there are plenty of people to pick up the hole that Skylar Thompson left. Of course, that is up to coach Klieman.

Continued success for the Defense?

Giving up a combined 22 points through two weeks is not something to overlook. Timmy Horne continues to impress up front alongside Jaylen Pickle, who recorded his first career interception against Southern Illinois.

A week away from Big 12 play, can the coaching staff solidify rotations and any question marks regarding the depth chart in Saturday’s contest? Everything looks great so far, but this is the last week before any problems need to be solved.

Jake Rubley time?

It is unlikely the highest-rated K-State quarterback commit since Josh Freeman in 2007 jumps to lead the offense this early in his career. However, the question remains: will the true freshman get a shot?

Before Thompson’s injury, Rubley was sitting fourth on the depth chart behind Thompson, Howard and sophomore Jaren Lewis. However, despite only playing as a practice team member, coach Klieman confirmed that Rubley and freshman quarterback Max Marsh were being brought up for third-team reps this week.

Don’t hold your breath on the 12th-ranked pro-style quarterback getting into the game, but if coach Klieman makes it an open competition and Howard continues struggling, we might see the phenom get some real playing time.

Catch the game at 1:05 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and Wildcat 91.9 on the radio. As always, check in with the Collegian after the game for recap and analysis.