For the second time in the last two games, one of the biggest storylines surrounding a Texas Longhorns opponent is the health of the starting quarterback. But while Oklahoma State Cowboys starter Spencer Sanders was merely battling an injury to his throwing shoulder that didn’t cause him to miss anything more than practice time, Kansas State Wildcats starter Adrian Martinez has actually missed most of the last two games with a knee injury.
On Tuesday, Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman expectedly declined to provide much information about the status of Martinez.
“We’ll find out how the week goes. I don’t have that answer. Now, I know that Adrian is closer,” Klieman said of his quarterback, who was a game-time decision last Saturday against Oklahoma State but did not play.
With Martinez using his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer, another significant factor for Klieman if both quarterbacks are healthy is Howard’s desire to redshirt this season to preserve two years of eligibility — with four games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats are currently bowl eligibility and second in the Big 12 standings following two appearances by Howard, so Kansas State will play between five and six more games this year.
“I’ve got to visit with Will about that,” Klieman said of how Howard’s recent performances have impacted a potential redshirt decision. “I know how Will feels for now, but I want to make sure he understands the future, too. Right now, he’s the healthiest guy we have back there of the two and so that’s why he knows he’s got to stay a viable candidate.”
Other factors for Klieman include potentially platooning the quarterbacks, something that the Wildcats head coach said he didn’t want to do if 15 plays would cost Howard a season of eligibility, or simply starting Howard over Martinez after two strong performances.
Against TCU, Howard was 13-of-20 passing for 225 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception while adding a rushing touchdown in the 38-28 loss before throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the 48-0 destruction of Oklahoma State last weekend in Manhattan.
Martinez is the better runner of the two, which could influence Klieman’s decision about a starter if the knee injury leaves the Nebraska transfer at less than 100 percent on Saturday — Howard threw as many touchdown passes against Oklahoma State as Martinez has on 140 pass attempts this season. The running ability of Martinez has translated well from to the Big 12, however, with 92 attempts for 565 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns with a long run of 69 yards in the win over Texas Tech. Against Oklahoma, Martinez had 21 carries for 148 yards and four touchdowns in what was at the time considered an upset over the then-No. 6 Sooners.
From the Texas perspective, Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski are preparing for both quarterbacks out of necessity, a task aided by the extra week of preparation.
“Obviously, the style of player that Adrian Martinez is in the quarterback run game is a real factor in the success they had with him, then obviously Will Howard, his ability to really throw the ball and push the ball down the field,” Sarkisian said. “So we’re fortunate, like I said, that we’ve had two weeks to kind of prepare, we’re able to get some extra reps on this, but whichever guy plays, they are both good players and they could both be healthy and they both could play — we don’t know — so we got to be ready for both.”
With Martinez coming from the Big Ten, the Longhorns have not faced him before, but injuries suffered by Skylar Thompson in consecutive years have resulted in Howard starting the last two Kansas State games against Texas.
In the COVID year, the Wildcats were reeling late and the Longhorns took advantage in a 69-31 blowout that featured two interceptions thrown by Howard, who was a true freshman. Last season, the gameplan learned heavily on the running game and Howard only attempted 13 passes, with a long of 14 yards, but a 71-yard touchdown run helped keep the game close and illustrated his own running ability when afforded the opportunity — in 2020, Howard had runs of 69 yards and 80 yards.
What does seem clear is that if Howard receives the start, he’s a much more mature quarterback now and offensive coordinator Collin Klein has a much higher level of trust in him after Howard threw notched career highs in passing yardage and passing touchdowns last week.