It was cold and wet, and not everyone played, and it was still just a glorified practice. But we still learned a few things from the Spring Game, got a few rare insights into the Kansas State Wildcats football program, and saw a few things that we won’t normally see in a regular game.
We’ll start with the offense, and follow up with the defense and special teams later on. For clarification, the Purple offense and the White defense were the first-team units, while the White offense and Purple defense were the second-team units.
What We Learned
Expected starters Dalton Risner and Abdul Beecham were held out of the practice, presumably healing from injuries, so Josh Rivas and Nick Kaltmayer (who started the Cactus Bowl in place of the inured Risner) got the start on the right side of the Purple o-line. Clearyl, Kaltmayer was #2 at tackle, but it’s a good sign that Rivas, a redshirt-freshman, is living up to his potential and pushing for time at guard. Fellow redshirt-freshmen Bill Kuduk and Ben Adler joined Rivas in the 2-deep, making that 2017 recruiting haul on the line look even better.
Overall, the line performed generally well with the ground game allowing the running backs to run for a combined 316 yards, with 172 coming against the first-string to only three tackles-for-loss for just five yards. The pass game looked less stellar, even considering they weren’t going up against a stiff pass rush, as the White defense recorded two sacks and the Purple defense recording three sacks. Some of that is related to down-field coverage, back-up QB’s, and the wet weather, but it will give the line something to work on.
As expected with the departures of Byron Pringle (NFL Draft) and Dominique Heath (transfer), the starters for the Purple offense were Isaiah Harris and Dalton Schoen. Both proved themselves in 2017, and Schoen appears to have bounced back quickly from his season-ending injury.
The real story came from the White team receivers, as Zach Reuter, who has had a couple big spring games already, and Chabastian Taylor got the nod as the second two up. Taylor, a redshirt-freshman, is a physical freak at 6’4”, 223lbs, but also has good speed and showcased all aspects of that physicality with a broken-tackle TD catch in the first half, and a TD grab in the second half where he out-jumped the defender, maintained balance, and scored his second TD. Taylor lead all receivers on the day with 118 yards on 5 catches and those two TDs. Transfer Hunter Rison also saw the field, showing that, while he will have to sit a season, he is picking up the K-State system rather quickly.
Tight Ends & Fullbacks
We’re going to group the big “skill position” guys together. Blaise Gammon, son of former Chiefs long-snapper Kendall Gammon, appears to have the nod at TE. He’s not a big around as Dayton Valentine, and has shown flashes of catching ability (even though TE’s never get thrown to), so expect a bit of a different look at the end spot from the past couple years (think: Travis Tannahill). All but one of the listed TE’s played least a few snaps, and redshit-freshman Spencer Misko was the only other TE to play on the first unit. Redshirt-freshman Trace Kochever was the lone holdout.
Moving back to fullback, Adam Harter appears to have the edge over Luke Sowa on replacing Winston Dimel. Harter is in his second-year at K-State after walking-on from Butler CC in 2017. The junior from Overland Park was actually the leading pass for the purple squad, with seven receptions for 60 yards and a score. He also added 37 yards on 6 carries. Sowa, the highly-sought JUCO transfer, tallied 39 yards on two carries and a score for the White offense. Taking some action from Sowa on the white squad was Terrance Richards, who picked up 32 yards on 6 carries. Nick Lenners saw action at both the TE spot and the FB spot for both units, which seems to fit nicely with the split role as listed on the roster.
There are five running backs on the spring roster, only four played any minutes, and just three got actual carries. Alex Barnes cemented his hold on the starting job, and looked like he was able to shake of the nagging injures that slowed him during the 2017 season, as he totaled 94 yards on 18 carries and scored a touchdown in the second quarter. Barnes ran with purpose, looked decisive, and even in the wet conditions looked like his freshman-year speed had returned. Justin Silmon recorded four yards on two carries on the second Purple drive, but then did not see any more action.
Cornelius Ruff, a redshirt-freshman walk-on from Kansas City, started the game for the white team, totaling 31 yards on five carries, with half of those yards coming on one 16 yard scamper. Mike McCoy got in for a few snaps*, but did not record any stats. Ruff and Barnes were generally spelled by the fullbacks, and the occasional TE, and there were a lot of one-back sets. The running back picture didn’t get any more clear in the middle, with Dalvin Warmack sitting and Justin Silmon and McCoy’s lack of stats. But the depth is there, and Ruff can be a very serviceable emergency back if the need arises.
*according to the official participation report from K-State Athletics
We saved the big one for last. Skylar Thompson got the starting nod for the Purple squad thanks to a pre-game coin flip. His first series ended with a missed field goal (more on that later), and then he sat out for two series while Alex Delton led the White squad to a touchdown on his first drive, then switched jerseys and drove the Purple team to field goal range before another missed FG ended that drive. Thompson then also drove the White team to a TD, and then flipped jerseys and finally drove the Purple squad down for a touchdown. The two then rotated series on Purple to finish out the game, with Delton leading two of his three drives for TDs (the final drive of the game ended with a Delton fumble as time expired), and Thompson leading one of his for a TD and one for a FG.
Both had similar stat lines, with Delton going 16-21-0 for 144 yards and 2TDs to go with 18 yards on 3 carries with the Purple and Thompson going 13-19-0 for 149 yards and one score to go with 19 (sack-included) yards on 5 carries. Thompson was the only Purple QB sacked, picking up one on his first drive and the second on his last.
If the season started this Saturday, you could flip a coin and either QB should be able to lead the offense with competence and give their team a reasonable chance of winning. Which is basically where we ended the 2017 regular season.
Hunter Hall, Ryan Hennington, and Nick Ast all got time leading the White squad after Thompson’s last series. Hall was able to lead his team on a TD drive, mostly thanks to Taylor’s aforementioned circus grab, but also threw the game’s only interception. Hennington led his only drive for a TD, though he and Luke Sowa were the only two to touch the ball on the drive, and Sowa scoring the TD. Ast struggled, completing just one pass and getting sacked three times on his two drives. If Delton and Thompson both go down, Hall should be a serviceable replacement, but hope it doesn’t get that far.
We gleaned a few things, like Taylor has a ton of potential and Barnes looks healthy again, but overall is was your average spring game. You likely aren’t going to see that many carries by fullbacks and targets to tight ends and fullbacks, and the QBs getting plenty of daylight without a true pass rush.
The biggest takeaway is that the offense has a ton of depth at every position, and there should be significantly less drop-off if a backup comes in than in some recent years.