Old Big 8 Rivals Meet Today in Manhattan

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Kansas State Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Bill Snyder Family Stadium for their 2006 Big 12 Conference home opener this afternoon and renew their long-standing series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Unlike the last two home games there is no television for today’s battle of former Big Eight rivals. The game will air on the radio across the 31-station K-State Sports network, including KMAN (1350 AM) and KMKF (101.5 FM) here in Manhattan, with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play) and Stan Weber (color) calling all the action.

The Wildcats, who sprinted to a 3-0 start out of the gates this season, will be looking to get back on the winning track after dropping a pair of tough decisions against No. 8 Louisville and at Baylor.

But in order to do that Kansas State will need to get more production out of its offense. The Wildcats have shown a penchant for the big play, but have had trouble converting yards into points. Over the past two games, K-State has had nine drives end in enemy territory with a total of just three points to show for it.

Kansas State is expected to make a change at quarterback today in an attempt to reverse those fortunes with true freshman Josh Freeman taking the reins of the Wildcats’ offense.

Freeman, who settled in to throw for 196 yards in the second half last week at Baylor, would become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Wildcats since Darrell Dickey in 1979.

On the other sideline, a well-rested Oklahoma State squad will also be looking for a bounce-back win. The Cowboys have had a full week to ponder their first loss of the season, a 34-25 setback at Houston on Sept. 23. OSU, like K-State, opened the year with three straight wins and will be gunning to open its Big 12 slate on a positive note after being tripped up by the Cougars.

The Cowboys are expected to be yet another good test for what has turned out to be a very stingy Kansas State defense. The Wildcats enter today’s game ranked 20th in the nation in scoring defense (14.2 ppg) and have held the opposition off the scoreboard in 10-of-20 quarters this season.

K-State has been particularly tough against the run thus far and had held 3-of-5 opponents below 60 yards on the ground. As a result, the Wildcats rank 25th nationally in rushing defense and ninth in tackles for losses.

Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has had its way with opposing defenses for the most part. The Cowboys boast the nation’s No. 7 scoring attack at 40.0 points per game. The Pokes also possess one of the nation’s most balanced offensive attacks and average over 200 yards per game rushing and passing.

The Oklahoma State defense has been stellar in spots as well. The Cowboys yield an average of just 14.8 points and have held 3-of-4 opponents to 10 points or less. OSU also ranks in the top 10 nationally in both tackles for losses and sacks.

Today’s game also features a match-up of two of the country’s youngest head coaches. Kansas State’s Ron Prince turned 37 on Sept. 18 and is the third-youngest head man in the nation. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State’s head coach, celebrated his 39th birthday during training camp. Interestingly, both men are also coaching in their home states. Prince grew up just 20 minutes from the K-State campus in Junction City, while Gundy prepped in Midwest City, Okla., before going on to quarterback the Cowboys.

With the Kansas State offense still trying to develop consistency, the Wildcats have relied heavily on a defense that continues to deliver. K-State has given up just 71 points this season and is off to its best start since yielding 48 points in the first five games of the 2000 campaign.

Big 12 tackle-for-loss leader Ian Campbell and Butkus Award candidate Brandon Archer fifth in the Big 12 in tackles with 43 continue to lead the way as Kansas State ranks No. 28 nationally in total defense (280.2 ypg), ninth in tackles for losses and 17th in sacks. The unit also ranks 10th in the nation in turnovers gained with 13.  And it’s hardly been a two-man show. A total of 19 different Wildcats have tallied at least one tackle behind the line of scrimmage, while 10 defenders have collected turnovers.

Linebacker Zach Diles has proven to be a steady force in the middle and ranks second on the team in tackles with 29. Defensive backs Byron Garvin (26 tackles) and Kyle Williams (23 tackles) have also displayed a nose for the football. Both have an interception and a fumble recovery this season and each rank among the Big 12’s
leading tacklers out of the secondary.

The Kansas State offense has been much more of a feast-or-famine proposition. The Wildcats have topped the 340-yard mark in total offense in 3-of-5 games this season, but have struggled to finish drives, especially in the last two games.

Inopportune turnovers have also played a big part in conspiring to keep K-State off the scoreboard, including three inside the 15-yard line last week at Baylor.

Still, there have been plenty of bright spots and if the Wildcats can start clicking in the red zone things could turnaround quickly.

Kansas State got its passing game on track last week against the Bears as the Wildcats threw for 296 yards, including 196 by Freeman in the second half, for their best passing day in almost a year.

The Cats also displayed something that’s been missing from their arsenal for a long time the deep strike. Freeman hooked up with Yamon Figurs on a 68-yard pass in the third quarter, then came back with a 55-yard connection to Jermaine Moreira in the fourth.

The two plays marked the first time since the 2003 Big 12 Championship game that Kansas State has connected on two 50-plus yard pass plays in the same game.  On the ground, Thomas Clayton has led the Wildcats’ running attack and has accounted for nearly 63 percent of K-State rushing offense. He enters today’s game as the Big 12’s sixth-ranked running back and has averaged 80.5 yards per game, including a 119-yard performance vs. Louisville.

One of the most productive teams of the young season, Oklahoma State opens Big 12 Conference play today with their second of three straight road games. Idle last week, the Cowboys have had two weeks to regroup and prepare for Kansas State after having their 3-0 start disrupted by a 34-25 setback at Houston.

Still, OSU has proved to be a potent bunch on both sides of the ball. The offense has been led by dual-threat quarterback Bobby Reid, who has blossomed nicely in his second year for the Cowboys.

He currently leads the nation in yards per pass attempt and ranks third in passing efficiency with a rating of 199.8 on 41-for-73 passing, including 10 touchdown passes. In all, Reid has had a hand in 72 of the Cowboys’ 160 points this year.

Reid’s favorite targets have been wide receivers Adarius Bowman and D’Juan Woods. Bowman, the Big 12’s leading receiver (96.0 ypg), has hauled in 15 receptions for 384 yards (25.6 ypc), while Woods has eight receptions for 167 yards.

Mike Hamilton is the Poke’s leading rusher, but OSU has also received plenty of production from Keith Toston and Dantrell Savage. Hamilton averages 79.8 yards per game, while Toston and Savage average 44.0 and 54.0 yard per outing, respectively.

Oklahoma State’s defense has been a group effort. No less than 14 Cowboys have already collected double-digit tackles thus far in 2006, with none totaling more than Andre Sexton’s team-leading 20. Defensive ends Victor DeGrate and Nathan Peterson have reeked havoc in opposing backfields and have both totaled three sacks. Fellow end Marque Fountain is OSU’s leader in tackles behind the line of scrimmage with 5.5 on the year.