Cats, Huskers Meet in Sold-Out Battle Tonight

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State will be out to keep the good times rolling at home tonight, when the Wildcats welcome Big 12 North Division co-leader and 21st-ranked Nebraska to sold-out Bill Snyder Family Stadium for Harley Day.

Tonight’s game is being cablecast on a pay-per-view basis by Big 12 Special Order Sports, the pay-per-view division of Fox Sports Net. The telecast will be available on cable systems throughout the states of Kansas and Nebraska as well as on participating satellite systems nationwide.

This evening’s match-up can also be heard live 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. Network programming will begin with the countdown to kickoff show two hours before game time.

Fresh off a thrilling victory over Oklahoma State, Kansas State enters tonight’s game with a 4-2 (1-1 Big 12) record, and has won four of its five home games.

The Wildcats will be looking to build on what they hope was a breakout performance against Oklahoma State on the offensive side of the ball. K-State, which has had its fair share of struggles on offense this season, hit the Cowboys with two big touchdowns in the closing three minutes of its gut-check 31-27 win.

Not to be outdone, the Wildcats’ defense also had a huge finish against the Cowboys, holding Oklahoma State to a critical 3-and-out after K-State had pulled within a field goal, before snuffing out OSU’s bid to win the game on an interception by Marcus Watts in the end zone as time expired.

Nebraska is 5-1 (2-0 Big 12) on the season and enters this evening’s battle riding a three-game winning streak. The Cornhuskers have not lost since dropping a 28-10 decision at then No. 4 Southern California back on Sept. 16. Since then, Nebraska has blanked Troy and opened Big 12 play with wins over Kansas and Iowa State.

The Huskers will present another stiff test for K-State’s upstart defense, which is proving to be one of the best stories in the Big 12 thus far in 2006.

Nebraska enters tonight’s game with the league’s top scoring offense and has averaged nearly 40 points per game. The Huskers also lead the Big 12 and rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing (210.7 ypg) and total offense (463.8 ypg).

On defense, Nebraska is yielding a stingy 15.2 points per game. Still, the unit hasn’t been nearly as efficient as the offense. The Huskers are giving up 320 yards per game to rank seventh in the Big 12 in total defense and have been particularly vulnerable against the pass (209 ypg).

With freshman quarterback Josh Freeman leading the way behind a completely re-tooled offensive line, Kansas State could be on the verge of turning the corner on offense. Freeman has quarterbacked the Wildcats for the last six quarters and the offense has responded by averaging 350 yards per game in its last two outings.

The unit really came of age during the last 4:25 of K-State’s win over Oklahoma State, as Freeman marched the Wildcats on touchdown drives of 92 and 58 yards to overcome a 10-point deficit down the stretch.

On Kansas State’s final two possessions, Freeman, who was making his first collegiate start, connected on six of his final seven passes for 128 yards. Senior Jermaine Moreira, who ranks second in conference games in receiving yards, was the big target down the stretch, hauling in receptions of 12, 31 and 43 yards to get the Wildcats within striking distance.

K-State also got a huge game from true freshman running back Leon Patton. He shredded the Cowboys for 151 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown on the ground, including bursts of 40 and 35 yards. He also had a 33-yard reception and nifty 95-yard kickoff return that netted him Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors.

In all, Patton totaled a freshman-record 301 all-purpose yards, which ranks as the fifth-most prolific day in school history.

On the other side of the ball, K-State’s rejuvenated defensive unit continues to be one of the nation’s best. With Big 12 tackle-for-loss leader Ian Campbell, Butkus Award candidate Brandon Archer (seventh in the Big 12 in tackles with 49) and free safety Marcus Watts (fourth in the Big 12 with three picks) leading the way, the Wildcats’ defense has been rock solid.

K-State has also received plenty of production from linebacker Zach Diles (40 tackles) and defensive backs Byron Garvin (35 tackles), Kyle Williams (28 tackles) and Justin McKinney (21 tackles).

As a result, K-State heads into tonight’s game ranked No. 27 nationally in total defense (288.7 ypg), ninth in tackles for losses and 17th in sacks. The unit also ranks 28th in scoring defense and 13th in turnovers gained with 14.

And the unit’s improvement over last season continues to be nothing short of staggering. During the first six games of 2005, the Wildcats yielded 152 points. In 2004, that figure was a whopping 182 points. This year against the likes of Illinois State, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, Louisville, Baylor and Oklahoma State that total has shrunk to just 98 points.

The last time a K-State defense yielded fewer than 100 points through its first six games dates to the 2002 campaign, when the Wildcats allowed just 80 points in their first six contests. Incidentally, the 2002 unit ending the year ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense at 11.8 ppg.

Nebraska has opened Big 12 play with a flourish, notching an overtime win over Kansas and an impressive 28-14 victory at Iowa State in the last two weeks.

Senior quarterback Zac Taylor, who was knocked out of last year’s nip and tuck affair in Lincoln, leads the offense. He has already passed for nearly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and enters tonight’s game ranked No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency.

Taylor’s favorite targets have been wide receivers Terrence Nunn and Maurice Purify. Nunn leads the team with 19 receptions for 318 yards, while Purify has 11 catches for 260 yards. Fellow wide out Frantz Hardy has paced in touchdowns so far this season with three.

But it’s on the ground where Nebraska has truly been able to do damage and it’s been a by-committee affair. Sophomore Marlon Lucky is averaging 67.5 yards per game to lead the way. He is one of four backs averaging 45.0 yards per game or more. Included in that group are I-backs Cody Glenn and Brandon Jackson, who both topped the century mark in last week’s win over the Cyclones.

Linebacker Corey McKeon leads the Husker defense with 36 tackles and is one of four Nebraska players to collect at least 30 stops this year. As a unit, Nebraska had totaled 41 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including seven by defensive end Adam Carriker, but has had difficulty getting to the quarterback. Last year, the Huskers led the nation with 50 sacks. This season, Nebraska has collected just eight.

In the secondary, Andrew Shanle has already snagged three interceptions.