MANHATTAN (KSNT) – Conversations are plentiful surrounding the quarterback situation for Kansas State football.
After appearing in only two of the first five games of the season, true freshman Avery Johnson was the star of the show in Saturday’s win against Texas Tech. Johnson ran for five touchdowns in Lubbock while splitting playing time with Will Howard.
Howard was voted a team captain before the season and widely expected to start the whole year. Now, many fans want Johnson to take over the job.
Chris Klieman spoke with reporters on Tuesday and said he does not yet know who will start in the Wildcats’ week eight game against TCU. He did say they plan to use both quarterbacks.
“We got two guys we can win with,” Klieman said.
Using two quarterbacks on a regular basis doesn’t always workout. Klieman said its too early in the week, as of Tuesday, to know exactly how the splitting of snaps will go.
“What we learned from this past Saturday is that we’ve seen Will play at a really high level and be successful and then we saw Avery play at a really high level and be successful,” he said. “We feel comfortable with both guys leading this football team… We’re going to go through the game plan and see who, where and what gives us the best opportunity.”
Johnson, who ran for 90 yards on 13 carries against TTU, can also throw the ball, Klieman says. The Maize High School graduate has completed 11 of his 13 passing attempts on the season, totaling 132 yards through the air.
Will Howard’s starting job is seemingly up for grabs after a rocky start to the 2023 season. Howard threw seven interceptions in K-State’s first five games, including three in a loss against Oklahoma State.
The idea that Howard is the passing quarterback and Johnson will always run isn’t quite accurate, according to Klieman.
“That’s why I’m excited about the fact that we have two guys that we think we can win with,” Klieman said. “Avery is a better thrower than maybe the [reputation] on him is because of how much we’ve run him. I’ve seen him [throw] an awful lot. And when healthy, Will is a really good runner.”
After winning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, defenses will certainly be preparing for Johnson’s dual-threat attack. The speedy freshmen will play teams, the rest of the season, who are game planning to stop him.
“I think it was probably a lot of things [Texas Tech] hadn’t prepared for,” Klieman said when speaking about Johnson’s performance, along with the other opportunities which opened up thanks to the quarterback run.
Throughout the process, Klieman said the senior quarterback is showing great leadership.
“I’m sure it’s not easy. I know it’s not easy. I’m sure deep down Will was frustrated,” Klieman said. “But he also wants to win and that’s what we need here and that’s what we expect here. One of our core values is to be selfless. On Saturday he had to be selfless. He helped Avery… he and Avery are very close.”
Coach also pointed out how Adrian Martinez responded, last season, when Howard slowly took over the starting job. He says that support helped him and Howard wants to contribute in the same way as Johnson begins to see the field more than previous weeks.
Klieman, like college football fans all over, was impressed by the long-haired Wichita native’s showing on Saturday. He says the composure Johnson showed, even in a hostile environment, really stood out.
“He’s tremendously gifted as we all know, but it’s hard work. It’s practice. It’s repetition,” Klieman said. “…The thing that impressed me more than anything, not his ability because we all know his ability, just how calm he was… I was just so impressed — not surprised — I was impressed with how calm he was.”
The ‘Cats head coach says Johnson has ‘absolutely’ handled his first true taste of college success well.
Will Howard, according to his teammates, is handling the whole situation like a pro.
“Will, like you guys have seen in the past, handled it exceptionally,” K-State senior starting center Hayden Gillum said. “He’s came back this week and attacked. You’re still going to see Will Howard the rest of the year. Doesn’t matter who’s back there, we’re going to win football games… He came in Monday, same leadership, still leading the team, running things… It was great to get Avery that experience, but I think you’ll see Will respond.”
Both quarterbacks appear to be showing leadership qualities.
“[Avery] is going on the right track to be a leader, man, and he’s going to be an incredible leader,” senior running back Treshaun Ward said.
Gillum, along with wide receiver Jadon Jackson, said they’re comfortable doing their job in the offensive effort with either quarterback on the field.
Will Howard has completed 113 passes this season on 182 attempts, totaling 1,310 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has 227 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground on 41 carries.
Johnson’s season stats include 11-for-13 passing for 132 yards. He’s yet to throw a touchdown or an interceptions. He has 154 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 23 carries.
K-State plays host to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 21. The game will kickoff at 6 p.m. and air on ESPN2.