Kansas State faces tall task against No. 18 Mississippi State

MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t an ideal way start to the season for Kansas State, narrowly sneaking past South Dakota in the fourth quarter at home. The Wildcats will have a chance to redeem themselves Saturday, though, hosting No. 18 Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs didn’t have much drama in its opener, demolishing Stephen F. Austin, 63-6, despite not having starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was serving a one-game suspension for violation of team rules. Fitzgerald will be back for the game against Kansas State.

Backup QB Keytaon Thompson completed just 13 passes but still threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns.

New head coach Joe Moorhead, replacing the department Dan Mullen who is now at Florida, thinks Fitzgerald handled his suspension well.

“He was sent down to scout team during the week so he gave our defense a different look,” Moorhead said. “He was very mature during the week in meeting and on the field. On game day, I think he was a vocal presence on the sidelines and a great resource for (Thompson) in just his second start.”

Another Thompson, Skylar, got the start at quarterback for Kansas State after battling it out with Alex Delton all summer, but Thompson lasted just three series before being replaced by Denton.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, neither played well in the opener. Denton completed less than 50 percent of his passes and also threw a pick-6. Thompson only had 61 yards through the air, though he did throw the game-winning touchdown Isaiah Zuber in the back of the end zone.

Zuber also returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to keep the Wildcats within striking distance.

“Skylar was able to come in and get some movement with the team in the second half of the ballgame,” coach Bill Snyder said on the Big 12 teleconference Monday. “But everybody had their opportunities and we went three quarters without putting the ball into the end zone, so that’s obviously a major concern.”

KSU had four turnovers, including two fumbles by running back Alex Barnes. It will need to clean up in nearly every department offensively in order to have a shot against the Bulldogs

The Wildcats defense performed well in the second half, pitching a shutout. Two of the four turnovers by the offense led directly to points — Denton’s interception and one of Barnes’ fumbles was followed by a field goal.

And finally, penalties — KSU was penalized 13 times for 129 yards.

“To have 13 penalties during the course of a ballgame, I can’t remember during my tenure here having 13 penalties in one ballgame … you’d certainly have to go back some time,” Snyder said. “They stopped significant drives. Third-down penalties just take away the opportunity for you to make a first down. We had too many penalties.”

Kickoff is noon Saturday on ESPN.

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