Oklahoma State Gets Rematch Against Freeman, No. 25 Wildcats
Friday, October 19th 2007, 10:55 am
News On 6
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma State was there when Kansas State turned to Josh Freeman as its quarterback of the future. And how could the Cowboys possibly forget?
After a pedestrian showing for 55 1/2 minutes in his first career start, Freeman turned it on in crunch time to lead the Wildcats back from a 10-point deficit and send Oklahoma State to a crushing 31-27 defeat.
It was an early sign of what could be for the Wildcats. Just over a year later, Kansas State (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) finds itself ranked No. 25 heading into the rematch with Oklahoma State (4-3, 2-1).
"I think that was a really big turning point for us last year in the season. I think it was important for Josh (Freeman) to get that confidence and that game experience," Wildcats defensive end Ian Campbell said.
"For him to know and for us to know that Josh has the ability to bring us from behind and get the win is obviously very important in a young quarterback's career. Confidence is really important in college football."
Before last year's meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, Freeman had come off the bench in the second half of consecutive games to try and revive a scuffling K-State offense. It hadn't worked.
By the time he led Kansas State's fourth-quarter comeback, the Wildcats hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in seven quarters. Freeman came alive to complete his final six passes for 128 yards, including a 43-yarder that set up a Wildcats score from the 1-yard line, and he also ran 21 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:11 remaining.
Oklahoma State linebacker Rodrick Johnson called it "a heartbreaking loss" that he's tried to forget about.
"It's never fun losing," offensive tackle Brady Bond said, "but when you lose it like that it's not fun at all."
Both teams enter this year's game jockeying for position in conference play. The Cowboys are in a four-way tie for the Big 12 South lead, and Kansas State is tied for second in the North. The Wildcats have won 10 of the last 11 meetings, with the lone loss coming when they were upset as the No. 22 team in the country in their last visit to Stillwater.
"I really just look at it as another notch in the Big 12. We just need to keep building our Big 12 status. The national scene, we're not really worried about," Kansas State linebacker Justin Roland said. "It's all about the conference play."
But K-State coach Ron Prince said he'd rather have his team stay relaxed and try to have fun than get wrapped up in thinking about the North title.
"We kind of find ourselves in the playoff hunt here, but I think for us to start thinking about the endgame, I don't think we're at a point right now where we can do that with our team," Prince said.
"I think we've got so many little things to improve on and things to get better at. It is a carrot that's dangling out there, and a lot of people are going to talk to our kids and the people in our organization about that. But really this idea of just trying to improve and manage our own situation, we need the mental discipline to do that."
Part of that equation will be Freeman, who threw three interceptions in a 30-24 loss to Kansas the last time K-State broke into the top 25. He bounced back with an interception-free game in the Wildcats' 47-20 victory against Colorado last week.
Prince sees eliminating those turnovers as a big part of Freeman's development.
"He's been pressed into service probably early in his career to play and play at a high level and mean so much for us. I don't know a lot of true freshmen who have to go out and mean so much to their team because that's what that position's about ... and then to be a true sophomore and do the same thing," Prince said.
"I'm very pleased with him and how he's performing. He knows he's got work to do. We all do."
Even Freeman said he thought he might be a "little behind" where he should be at this point.
But Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy expects to see a "big difference in experience" for Freeman now that he has 14 starts under his belt.
"He's dangerous and talented. Because of his size and strength, he can make a play at any time," Gundy said. "Obviously we caught him last year at the start of his career, and now he's much more polished."