TCU and Kansas State are kind of a Spiderman pointing at himself meme when it comes to playing each other in football - from the QB that donned both shades of purple to the former linebacker for one that now coaches another, it’s clear these programs have quit a bit in common.
But, Saturday, the Frogs and Cats will try and be the better version of themselves, as both look for a critical win early in conference play. To get a better look at K State from the inside, we turned to Luke Thompson, a part of the Bring on the Cats family.
Melissa Triebwasser: Chris Klieman isn’t Bill Snyder, and in some ways, that’s probably a good thing for K State. What has their new coach brought to the program in his first few months on the job?
Luke Thompson: Well, although there are some noticeable football differences (not relying on a QB run game is great) the biggest changes have all come off the field. K-State finally has a social media presence and it is excellent, the coaching staff is putting forth serious recruiting efforts, even during the season, assistant coaches can talk to the media, we got some new alternate uniforms that made fans go crazy, reporters can watch parts of practice, and our pregame music no longer sounds like something I imagine you would have heard at a George W. Bush rally circa 2000. I know none of that sounds unique, but it’s all new for us.
MT: How long will it take Klieman to build the Cats (back) into a contender? Is he the guy for the job?
LT: Chris Klieman is a good coach and I think his blue-collar mentality with a heavy focus on the running game rather than the spread offense everyone loves is a good fit for Kansas State. That being said, he’s in a really, really tough spot. Not only is he replacing the only successful coach in school history, he’s trying to live up to those expectations with a depleted roster that is lacking in Big 12-caliber talent. If he’s going to build the Cats back into a contender it will take at least 3-4 recruiting cycles, and I think it might be more likely he ends up laying the foundation for the next coach, especially if the administration gets impatient (we know the fans will).
MT: After getting off to such a promising start, K State has fallen back to earth a bit since conference play began. Is there something you can point to for the change, or is it competition level?
LT: Regrettably, I think a lot of it is competition level. We already knew Nicholls and Bowling Green are bad teams (BGSU’s shocking win over Toledo notwithstanding) and it’s looking like Mississippi State isn’t very good, either. Plus, it helped that their QB situation was a mess that week so they couldn’t take advantage of K-State’s shaky pass defense. The other big part of it is teams are selling out to stop the run and Kansas State’s passing game is just not up to the task, especially with top receiver Malik Knowles injured.
MT: On that note, Skylar Thompson looked like a world beater early on, but has regressed to the mean the last couple weeks. Do you think he can be an elite QB in the Big 12? What’s his ceiling and his floor as a passer?
LT: I don’t think Skylar Thompson will ever be an All-Big 12 quarterback. That said, I think he can be very good when he has time to throw and his receivers are getting open. Sadly, that hasn’t happened much lately and so we’ve probably seen what his floor looks like the past couple weeks. The bright side is that even though his confidence looks a bit shaken, he’s still a very smart player, so he’s only turned the ball over twice in Big 12 play.
MT: It seems that TCU’s offensive strength play’s right into Kansas State’s defensive weakness - the run game. The Cats are giving up chunks of yardage on the ground so far this year. Do you think they did anything to remedy that over the bye week, or can the Frogs continue to run the ball well against them Saturday?
LT: I sure hope that was a big focus, because the run defense needs a lot of work. However, they made some strides between the Oklahoma State and Baylor games, so hopefully the defense can continue that progress on Saturday.
MT: Let’s stay with the defense. I know there are some questions with the secondary - do you think they will be able to contain a pretty anemic passing attack by TCU? Who is the playmaker on that side of the ball if they do?
LT: Kansas State’s been playing a lot of aggressive man coverage and the biggest problems have come from bad matchups against athletic, talented receivers. Tylan Wallace put up 145 yards, Denzel Mims went for 83 yards and Tyquan Thornton had 4 catches for 92 yards because Kansas State decided to not cover him at all for a couple plays. Outside of those three guys, the pass defense has been great. So yeah, I’m terrified of what could happen if TCU decides to actually throw the ball to Jalen Reagor consistently. As for a playmaker, if I had to pick one it would be free safety Denzel Goolsby, but I’m not super confident in anybody back there.
MT: The TCU defense has been at times stout - and at times... well, less so. K State moved the ball so well in their first three games, but has just 25 total points in the last two. What do you expect them to do against the Frogs, and how will they attack GP’s D?
LT: The top priority is always going to be establishing the run game, and unlike past years, that means actually giving the ball to running backs like James Gilbert and Harry Trotter. Ideally, that will set up some play-action, which is when Skylar is at his best. I’d like to think KSU will be willing to throw deep if TCU focuses too heavily on the run defense, but I’m not sure the coaching staff or Skylar has enough confidence in these receivers for that to happen.
MT: TCU seems to be nearing a crossroads that Wildcat fans are all too familiar with... the impending retirement of a literal living legend. While we don’t think Patterson is any hurry to leave, we are starting to feel that the end isn’t all that far away. What was it like navigating Snyder’s retirement? How do you honor a legend while also acknowledging that there comes a point where all good things must end?
LT: The short answer is it was an extremely painful process with a terrible ending. Personally, I think that although K-State knew it could never actually “fire” Snyder or publicly force him to resign, his retirement still wasn’t entirely voluntary, but reasonable minds can differ. TCU should just be grateful that (presumably) Patterson won’t have a succession strategy that absolutely no one else wants, as the idea of Sean Snyder becoming a head coach caused a lot of unnecessary friction. You also don’t want to get into a position where you’ve got 4 or 5 years of “Is he going to retire?” so it helps that Patterson is much younger and I think the key is communication early and often to ensure the coach and administration are on the same page.
Thanks to Luke for taking the time. Be sure to give him a follow (@AhearnAlley) and check out his work at www.brongonthecats.com!