Kansas State beat Southern Illinois 31-23 in the first home game of the season. But make no mistake, this was not a win; it was an escape. What looked like a comfortable victory in the first quarter turned into a battle to the finish by the end.
Although the Wildcats won the game, Kansas State may have lost the war. Skylar Thompson was attempting to throw a block for Deuce Vaughn when he just sort of buckled and ultimately limped off the field. Although he later walked back to the locker room unaided, the nature and extent of his injury remains unclear. We know only that he has a right keen injury at this point. It could be anything from a season-ending torn ACL to a dislocated knee that might only need a couple of weeks of rehab.
We know this much. Thompson is not just this team’s leader, he is also its emotional core. As he lay on the field, the entire team—offense and defense—and even the coaching staff were immediately out of sorts. The players shown on camera looked devastated, their emotions matched only by the heartbreak on Chris Klieman’s face. It was, at least for one game (and hopefully just one game), an insurmountable loss.
We know this much. With Thompson out of the game, the team and the coaching staff did not have a contingency plan for a smooth transition. Will Howard, talked up in the preseason as much improved over last year, didn’t really look it, or at least not until late in the game. He consistently threw high and missed open receivers, or stared down his target and threw into traffic. He lost a fumble that the Salukis turned into an easy score. He threw a pick six, and was almost intercepted a second time. Last year, I was willing to chalk his problems up to his lack of experience. This year though, he just wasn’t ready, and I put this as much on the coaching staff as on Howard himself.
He probably wasn’t expecting to play until garbage time, but he was once again thrown into the deep end. Howard plays like he’s still thinking about his worst outings from last season, and while that’s reasonable, it may be a thing he can’t really overcome. Maybe with a full week of practice reps with the starters under his belt, Howard will play with more confidence next week. We know this much: he absolutely has to for Kansas State to have anything like success this season.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom on Saturday at The Bill though. The defense really showed out in this game, particularly in the second half, when the unit forced two turnovers and got in a couple of sacks. Overall, keeping SIU out of the end zone helped cement a win for Kansas State.
On a day when erstwhile powerhouse Florida State lost to Jacksonville State on a walkoff touchdown (the school’s first loss to an FCS program), and bluebloods USC and Texas got curbstomped by conference foes, current and future, maybe escaping with a win was all Kansas State really needed.
Coming off a 2-0 loss at Purdue on Thursday night, Kansas State (4-3-0) will take on Indiana tonight, the second straight match against a Big Ten team. The match is scheduled for 7 PM at Buser Family Park.
The Wildcats have scored 12 goals through six games, a record for the fledgling program. The team is also currently third in the Big 12 for total goals and goals per game.
The VolleyCats are riding a five-match winning streak, extending the streak with a five-set win over Fresno State, 23-25, 25-10, 25-21, 18-25, 15-8. The match capped an undefeated weekend for the host team at the K-State Invitational.
Aliyah Carter had her second double-double (20 digs, 16 kills), while teammates Haley Warner (18) and Jayden Nembhard (14) also tallied double-digit kills.
Up next, the VolleyCats will hit the road for a match against former Big 12 foe Missouri on Tuesday afternoon.
Kansas State announced it will begin construction on a new volleyball facility, an Olympic performance center, and a new indoor football facility, pending approval by the Kansas Board of Regents. The athletic department has raised $96.5 million of the approximate $126.5 million cost to begin construction on these new facilities.