In the offseason, much of the buzz around the Kansas State Wildcats surrounded a swarm of newcomers expected to impact the program right away. The Wildcat rookies did not disappoint, but it was quarterback Josh Freeman who controlled the K-State season opener. Freeman passed for three touchdowns and rushed for two more, leading the Wildcats to a 45-6 pasting of the North Texas Mean Green.
"I thought he was spectacular tonight," Wildcat coach Ron Prince said of the junior. Freeman, who completed 75-percent of his passes for 232 yards, did it despite working with a new set of offensive skill position players.
With 2007 consensus All-American Jordy Nelson now catching passes in Green Bay and Deon Murphy being limited to punt return duty due to an undisclosed injury, the Wildcat passing attack still proved potent. All told, Lamark Brown and junior college transfers Brandon Banks and Aubrey Quarles combined for 11 catches and 190 receiving yards.
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"I thought all three of those guys did a really nice job," Prince said of the receiving trio. "I was really pleased with them. I think you could see some of the talent they have. We'd like to be able to take advantage of that."
Through the air, Freeman connected with the diminutive Banks for a pair of scores.
"Banks is a good player; a playmaker," Freeman said. "That's what he's been doing all camp, so I wasn't surprised to see him do it in the game.
Banks, a junior-college transfer standing 5-foot-7, totaled 88 receiving yards on just three receptions.
Sophomore Brown hauled in the first touchdown reception of his collegiate career with a seven-yard score late in the second quarter. Brown's snag gave the Wildcats a comfortable 28-0 lead going into the half.
On a night when the Wildcats honored members of the 1998 K-State squad that achieved a No. 1 ranking, the offense even seemed to hone a bit of the 1998 strategy. The second of Freeman's pair of rushing touchdowns came via the option, a staple of the 1998 playbook.
"I enjoy (running the ball)," Freeman said. "I'll do whatever coach wants me to do."
Despite his success, Freeman was quick to point out that there's still room for improvement. "I did all right," Freeman said. "There will still a couple mistakes you'd like to clean up out there."
Mistakes or not, the Wildcats had firm control of the contest by late in the third quarter. Freeman and most of the other Wildcat starters were relieved of duty with a 42-0 lead.
Runningback Keithen Valentine wasted little time in introducing himself to Wildcat fans, toting the ball four yards for a touchdown on his first carry just two minutes into the game. Valentine's score was also the Wildcats' first offensive play from scrimmage, set up by a 3-yard punt return courtesy Murphy.
"I can't even describe it, it's just exciting," Valentine said of reaching the end zone on his first Division I carry.
"I though Keithen did a really nice job," Prince said of the walk-on.
Valentine totaled 65 yards out of the Wildcat backfield, leading the Wildcats in rushing.
True freshman Logan Dold also piled up yards in his K-State debut. Dold, despite being recruited as a safety, tallied 53 yards on just nine carries while backing up Valentine.
"We complement each other," Valentine said of the running back duo. "It's nice to have two running backs back there that are going to be consistent."
In contrast, the Mean Green offense had little luck finding success in any area. The K-State defense limited North Texas to just 205 total yards. The defense carried a shutout late into the third quarter, before North Texas found paydirt when quarterback Giovanni Vizza connected with Alex Lott from nine yards out.
The starting cornerback duo of Joshua Moore and Blair Irvin, neither of whom saw action for K-State in 2007, combined for 12 Wildcat tackles. Moore, a 2007 redshirt, and Irvin, a junior college transfer, both played a part in containing North Texas receiver Casey Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who totaled 1,322 receiving yards last season, was the Wildcats' main focus on defense.
"I was concerned coming into the game that we would end up chasing [Fitzgerald] all over the field," Prince said.
The Wildcats limited Fitzgerald to just 31 receiving yards on six receptions.
"Overall, we played a pretty decent game," senior Ian Campbell said. "K-State needed a win. We got some young guys some experience. You can't go wrong with that."
Campbell, back on the defensive line after spending time at linebacker in 2007, picked up one of the Wildcats' two sacks on the day.
The Wildcat defense was especially stingy when it came to eliminating drives, allowing the Mean Green to convert on just two third downs.
Prince stressed the importance of starting the season with a victory after dropping the final four games of the 2007 season. "It's been a long time since we've won a game," Prince said. "So we're real pleased to get that done."
"This is a new year," Freeman said, "and our team came to play."
The Wildcats return to the field next Saturday, when Montana State visits Bill Snyder Family Stadium.