A disheartening Friday night loss in Stillwater left many questions about the status of Kansas State football and starting quarterback Will Howard in particular. However, if the best is still to come for K-State, it’ll be behind the leadership of Howard.
Few people would have expected the reigning conference champions to have two losses through five games, but that’s the reality. Howard has thrown an interception in every game, most recently with three against Oklahoma State.
One of Howard’s three picks was a pick-six that played a large part in the Cowboys upset. The senior posted a quarterback rating of 42.4, the worst of his career since his last trip to Stillwater in 2021.
“We didn’t play well, I didn’t play well and I’m going to have to own every bit of that,” Howard said after the loss. “I didn’t play well enough for us to win and I made too many mistakes, can’t say much more than that.”
K-State’s struggles at Oklahoma State are well-documented, coming away with only one victory at Stillwater in the last eight tries. The Wildcats were also down starting cornerbacks Jacob Parrish and Will Lee III for the majority of the game.
The road loss on Friday was an indictment of the team, as opposed to all blame falling on Howard’s shoulders.
“We’re not a very good football team right now,” head coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “I told them that, but it starts with me. I’ve got to be a better head coach.”
One play in particular that highlighted his message was an awkward missed block by senior Phillip Brooks that could’ve seen Howard walk in for a touchdown.
This is tough to watch. Great read as 2 defenders go to the back. You can’t have a breakdown like this in blocking. https://t.co/qSklVMwuVB
— ksu_FAN 🌻 🌻 🌻 (@ksu_FAN) October 8, 2023
Still, many fans have grown impatient directly with the quarterback, and call for a change to highly-touted freshman Avery Johnson.
Avery Johnson can still win this game. Would obviously have already, but still can.
— steve dave (@stevedaveKSU) October 7, 2023
Johnson showcased his potential in limited snaps, in particular by picking up 34 yards on five carries against Missouri. He even registered a passer rating of 190.5 in relief of Howard during the season-opening defeat of SEMO.
Despite Johnson’s ceiling as a dual-threat quarterback, the Wildcats’ best chance at bouncing back this season is with the experienced Howard as the signal-caller and only relying on Johnson for certain plays.
Very few, if any, of K-State’s issues tonight would be solved by replacing Will Howard with Avery Johnson.
Would I be opposed to see Johnson be sprinkled in on some packages throughout the rest of the season? Absolutely not, but Howard is QB1. End of story.
— Ryan Gilbert (@GPCRyanG) October 7, 2023
Last October, the Wildcats dealt with the quarterback debate between Howard and Adrian Martinez while owning one conference loss and one-non conference. Committing to Howard ultimately led K-State to its conference title. The same story isn’t out of the picture yet for this year.
“We believe in Will,” Klieman said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Let’s not forget he helped us win a Big 12 championship. We’re not going to give up on him like maybe some people want us to.”
Only two ranked teams remain on K-State’s schedule with road games against Texas and Kansas. If the Wildcats beat one of them and take care of the unranked teams — as expected before the season — a two-conference-loss team could be in contention for Arlington.
Parrish could return as soon as this week against Texas Tech after Klieman said his status is day-to-day. Lee could remain out longer but should return at some point, as the defense looks to gel following the season loss of star linebacker Daniel Green.
All is not lost for K-State despite its early season struggles if the team stays committed to Howard. The Wildcats’ path may be difficult to see now, but where there’s a Will, there’s a way.