May 25, 2024

Chris Klieman preparing for Avery Johnson to take over the offense

Kansas State Wildcats Football

Kansas State quarterback Avery Johnson prepares to take a snap during the second quarter against TCU Saturday October 21, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — There’s no denying the past 30 days have been a whirlwind for Kansas State Coach Chris Klieman.

After all, his Offensive Coordinator Collin Klein left for the same position at Texas A&M, starting quarterback Will Howard transferred to USC, and a couple of key players opted out of the bowl game. Despite all of the recent moves, Klieman remains confident in the team he plans on assembling against NC State.

That’s because the Wildcats still have several studs on the roster, and a few who are looking to spread their wings. Klieman strongly believes quarterback Avery Johnson will be one of those players. He backed up Howard all season, but will start against the Wolfpack.

Johnson generated promising performances in Big 12 play, and now Klieman is ready to see him compete for a complete game. Getting Johnson up to speed is what has Klieman full of excitement. Now the signal-caller can command the huddle, run the plays, and build more chemistry with his receivers. Johnson also learned a lot from Howard this year, and Klieman feels that’s going to be beneficial on the gridiron.

“This kid is a sponge, and he loves watching football, the kid is a junkie, and that’s what makes him really, really special here,” Klieman said. “The fact that he’s going to be able to come now and say what he likes, the concepts he feels comfortable with, so I’m looking forward to the preparation over the next two weeks before our game as he continues to evolve.”

Johnson has breathtaking mobility too. He rushed for six touchdowns, including five in the victory at Texas Tech. The Wichita native threw for a touchdown against TCU, Houston and Baylor. Kansas State fans want to see more out of Johnson in the aerial attack though, which Klieman plans on unleashing in Orlando.

An alarming number of players hit the transfer portal, including backup running back Treshaun Ward. So the Wildcats will be without some weapons on offense. Not to mention All-American tight end Ben Sinnott declared for the NFL Draft, and veteran wideout Phillip Brooks decided to sit out the bowl game. Regardless of the loss of production, Klieman continues to piece together everything around Johnson, so he can execute at the best of his abilities.

He promoted Offensive Line Coach Conor Riley to Interim Offensive Coordinator for the Pop Tarts Bowl. Klieman trusts Riley because they have a lot of history together. Jacob Knuth will be Johnson’s backup, and Klieman will give both players valuable reps leading up to the event.

Kansas State (8-4) needs to bounce back and build momentum for 2024 after that embarrassing home loss to Iowa State. Klieman is eager to get the bad taste out of his mouth, and will be relying on Johnson to get the job done.

“Excited about our conversations that we’re going to have from my advantage point as a defensive guy, to see what he’s seeing, and to see how I can help him as well,” the 56-year old coach said. “This stage isn’t going to be too big, we all know that this kid is confident, and will be ready to sling it around.”

The fifth-year coach is looking to win at least nine games for a second-straight season. Johnson has an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Klieman and the fans. Klieman has no doubt that Johnson is going to take full advantage of the spotlight. The 19-year old will have one of the best linemen in the country blocking for him in Cooper Beebe.

Johnson also has the luxury of handing the ball off to 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Giddens. He’ll give the Wildcats options on offense with his skill set. Which is why Klieman is grateful that Johnson is a Wildcat, and wants the fans to rally behind him.

“He’s here, he’s with us, he’s excited about this game, and he’s excited about the future and leading this program.”