Skylar Thompson returned for Kansas State against Oklahoma. Here's what it meant.
MANHATTAN — Skylar Thompson was understandably ecstatic.
After missing most of last season and then two full games this year with injuries, the chance to return to the lineup against No. 4-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday meant everything.
But thrilled as Thompson was to be back on the field, his Kansas State teammates and coaches were equally excited, and with good reason. With their sixth-year senior quarterback behind center, the Wildcats' offense finally found its groove.
Never mind that K-State lost the game, 37-31.
"Just having him on the field, in the huddle, the leader that he is, the player that he is, we were super ecstatic whenever we got the news that he was playing," running back Deuce Vaughn said. "He's a leader of men, he's our guy, and he's somebody that I'm going to be right behind forever."
K-State coach Chris Klieman and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham's message throughout the week was that Thompson's return against OU was doubtful. Klieman said it remained a game-time decision.
"He had thrown seven-on-seven and done some things a little bit each day, but we wanted to get final clearance and we did this morning," Klieman said. "He said that he felt ready to go when I visited with him this morning and I think you guys know that he's a really good player and gives us an opportunity to be successful with a sixth-year senior that has played Oklahoma and played them really well."
Thompson led the Wildcats to upsets of Oklahoma each of the previous two years and was just as sharp in his return, even if the result was not the same. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and spread the wealth among 10 different receivers.
"He played really well and he doesn't want to tell you that because we didn't win the game," Klieman said. "But to think that he has not played since whenever it was, the second quarter or first quarter against Southern Illinois, to do what that kid did against that defense, and be under duress and know he's not running all over the place.
"We didn't run options and we didn't run a lot of the bypass read zone stuff that we've done with Will (Howard). He hung in there and said, 'I'm going to pitch it around,' and the kid was on point today."
For his part, Thompson was simply glad to be back in the saddle.
"I was super excited," he said. "And the crowd roar whenever I was announced that I was starting that first possession, a lot of thoughts going through my head at that moment. It was the loudest that I've ever experienced the stadium and it was special.
"I was excited to get back out there with my teammates. Unfortunately I've experienced too much time on the sideline being hurt and not playing here in the past couple of years, it feels like. But just being in the fire and being in the mix of competing, that's what I love."
In an effort to protect his injured right knee, Thompson did not carry the ball once, except for taking a 9-yard sack. But he hung in the pocket, and with the exception of a pair of early overthrows, he was on target.
"I had so much confidence going into today and our o-line did a tremendous job of giving me a pocket to step up into and protecting me," said Thompson, who threw touchdown passes to three different receivers — Phillip Brooks for 2 yards on fourth down in the opening quarter, 7 yards to Vaughn in the third and 6 to Landry Weber in the fourth to cut OU's lead to 34-24. "I was able to get the ball out and distribute the football."
Weber said having Thompson back made a big difference for an offense that ranked dead last in the Big 12 in passing and 118th nationally with just 160.8 yards per game.
"He was doing great and he was awesome," said Weber, a senior whose four catches for 65 yards were a career best. "I really thought we were clicking well with him, his adjustments in the huddle and whatnot is great.
"I felt like we were all clicking together, the whole team, the whole offensive unit in the huddle. We all just really felt good today."
With Thompson at the controls, K-State outgained Oklahoma 420 yards to 392. Had it not been for a red zone turnover on their first possession — Jacardia Wright's fumble inside the 15-yard line was returned 70 yards and resulted in a Sooner field goal — thee was good reason for the Wildcats to feel good going forward.
"There's a little different energy, I believe, throughout the whole football team for him to be out there," Klieman said of Thompson. "Just because of not only the leadership ability, but his ability to improvise and make some plays and give us probably a lot more balance.
"We were able to rush the football against a good team and we were able to rush it for 100 yards. We always want to be better, but against a good football team to rush for 100 yards and that was able to set up a number of our play-action stuff."
K-State (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) now has an open week before returning home Oct. 16 to face No. 18 Oklahoma State.