Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein spent the final 25 minutes of Saturday night's win over Oklahoma State watching from the sideline, the coaching staff having taken away his helmet to keep him from trying to get back in the game.
The Heisman Trophy frontrunner and undisputed catalyst for the third-ranked Wildcats had just sustained an undisclosed injury in the third quarter of a 44-30 victory.
Even his teammates weren't sure how badly he was hurt — or how long he'll be out.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen. We're going to have to prepare like we do every week," said wide receiver Tyler Lockett. "I think he's going to be able to play, we just don't know."
Longtime coach Bill Snyder deftly sidestepped every question posed about the Wildcats' most indispensable player. He at first joked he was trying to give backup Daniel Sams some experience, and then conceded that Klein had been hurt at some point during the third quarter.
When that happened, and what happened, remain a mystery.
Klein scampered up the middle on a designed run for a short gain when he was tackled by the Cowboys' Alex Elkins. Klein got up shaking his right wrist but remained in the game.
Later on the drive, Klein completed three straight passes to get the Wildcats (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) into scoring position, leading most to believe his wrist was fine, and that three straight runs to get into the end zone may have resulted in some kind of head injury.
Klein bounced the first carry outside for a big gain, but slammed his head to the turf while he was getting tackled. Klein then scooted around the outside for 10 more yards, this time getting shoved out of bounds as he tried to score. He capped off the drive with his 50th career rushing TD, a quarterback sneak, but took an extra moment before rising to his feet and jogging off.
The first indication that anything was wrong came on the sideline, when Klein sat on a bench next to a trainer. They spoke for several minutes before Klein's helmet was taken away.
"He obviously was injured or we wouldn't have taken him out," Snyder said.
Few coaches in the country are more guarded when it comes to injuries, which could lead to a week's worth of speculation heading into Saturday's game at rapidly-improving TCU.
Klein never went to the locker room after leaving the game. Instead, he gathered with a few teammates to pray and then spent the rest of the time standing beside assistant coach Michael Smith, giving Sams some guidance between series and clapping whenever things were going well — certainly a good sign that his throwing hand and wrist were OK.
"I didn't even realize he had left the game," said defensive lineman Travis Britz. "We just kept trying to do our job and keep working."
Sams certainly played well running what appeared to be a condensed version of Kansas State's complex offense, going 5 of 6 for 45 yards and running seven times for 20 yards.
But the fact remains that Kansas State's prolific offense piled up 38 points while Klein was in the game against a defense that had allowed that many total the previous three games, but only managed six more points the final 25 minutes with Sams under center.
Klein finished 16 of 22 for 245 yards passing, and he had 64 yards rushing.
"Collin was still a leader. He was on the sideline getting us going, especially when things weren't going our way," Lockett said. "That's what I like about him, on and off the field. He's always a leader. Collin is someone you can always look up to."
That bodes particularly well if Sams is pressed into service next Saturday.
The redshirt freshman from Slidell, La., may be even more electrifying on the move than Klein, who earned his reputation as a run-first quarterback. He also throws a prettier ball, but he's not quite as accurate and is far less experienced than Kansas State's senior starter.
Sams has mostly played mop-up duty, when the Wildcats are keeping the ball on the ground and running out the clock. That's why he's just 6 of 8 for 55 yards. But he's also run for 243 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, an average of 7.3 yards per attempt.
"Daniel did a great job," offensive lineman B.J. Finney said. "He stepped right in and he knew what he needed to do. He was calling plays and checks, which were great checks. They were the same that Collin would have made."