It came as no surprise that Kansas State coach Ron Prince, upon reviewing the Wildcats' loss to high-powered Texas Tech, reasserted that his defense had faced the top passing offense in the nation. But as K-State prepares for an important road contest at Texas A&M on Saturday, the shocker of Prince's weekly news conference arrived when he called the Aggies' offense "extraordinary."
Under first-year coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies average 318.6 total yards, which ranks 95th nationally, including 192.8 passing yards (83rd) and just 125.8 on the ground (84th). The Aggies haven't reached 30 points yet this season and have scored 28 twice, including in a 56-28 loss in their league opener at No. 21 Oklahoma State last weekend, which dropped them to 2-3 this season.
"We have a great challenge this week," said Prince, whose team is 3-2 and embarks on its first Big 12 road game this season. "To be honest, I've spent a lot of time watching (the Aggies') offense, trying to get a sense of who they are and how we might matchup. They are extraordinary."
Prince called 6-foot, 196-pound running back Mike Goodson "as good as anybody I've seen in the past." Goodson, a junior, has a team-high 332 yards on 61 carries and four touchdowns while punishing 6-foot, 270-pound fullback Jorvorskie Lane has grown noticeably silent in his senior season.
Lane, the school's all-time leading scorer among non-placekickers, enters with a school record-tying 44 career rushing touchdowns. But Lane has gained just 65 yards on 18 carries and still seeks his first touchdown in 2008.
The quarterback position is a mixed bag, as senior returning starter Stephen McGee and sophomore Jerrod Johnson have both shared starting duties. The 6-foot-5, 229-pound Johnson has been better so far in completing 59 of 104 passes for 670 yards and nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His passing efficiency rating of 131.7 ranks 11th in the Big 12 and 51st in the nation. McGee has gone 29 of 41 for 294 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions.
Johnson was the only quarterback to attempt a pass in two of the last three games and comes off a 24 of 43 performance for 218 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Cowboys.
McGee needs just 46 total yards to join former quarterback Reggie McNeal as the only two players in school history to post at least 7,000 total yards in a career. McGee has rushed 10 times for minus-27 yards this season.
The Texas A&M depth chart doesn't identify a clear starter for the 1 p.m. kickoff at Kyle Field in College Station.
"They have two quarterbacks and both are very, very good," Prince said. "It would be very easy to look at (McGee's) resume and say he's a dual threat. He's run for a lot of yards in big games with runs that have been very significant. They have played (Johnson) a lot and he reminds me of Xavier Lee at Florida State and Josh Freeman and Jamarcus Russell. He's a big guy and to this point he's stood fearlessly in the pocket. You could see both quarterbacks. I'm not too sure."
Already freshmen Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill have emerged as the Aggies' most-utilized wide receivers. Both measure 6-foot-4 and between 205 and 210 pounds and are on pace to shatter school freshman receiving marks. While Fuller has 17 catches for 246 yards and four touchdowns, Tannehill has 16 receptions for 191 yards and two scores.
"(Fuller) has size, speed, great hands and catches in traffic," Prince said. "They have a guy that's a little bit unique in (Tannehill) and he's become one of their favorite targets. He's good in the red zone. He's good on third down. He's good out in space. He's good in close quarters."
Goodson leads the team with 20 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's very unusual that a college team will have a good running back and two really good wide receivers with size and that can catch balls in traffic," Prince said.
Arkansas State out-gained Texas A&M 415 yards to 303 in a 18-14 win against the Aggies at Kyle Field in the season opener. The Aggies managed just 236 yards in a 28-22 win at New Mexico. Since a 41-23 home loss to Miami in which the Hurricanes out-gained the Aggies 398-362, the Aggies have actually out-gained Army (290-284) and the Cowboys (402-401).
Still, Prince's admiration of the Aggies' offensive attack, which averages nearly 10 fewer yards than any other Big 12 team and enters the week with a league low-tying 14 touchdowns, raised eyebrows among observers.
"I'm watching the tape and I'm watching a lot of really good plays. I really am," Prince said. "I understand all of the things you're saying but if you just watch players and watch the plays -- I want to be clear that I haven't done as much study on their defense, as I've spent every minute since the game looking at our defensive effort and what we're going to face -- I can tell you that they've got some fine players. (Goodson) is as fantastic of a runner as I've seen in a long time. He's had a really explosive run for a touchdown in every single game where no one is even close to him.
"The Oklahoma State game was an example of basically three early plays by Oklahoma State's defense caused points, two for sure and one down there really close, so they were in a hole to start with. That's just where it's tipped balls and some of those types of things occurred and that allowed them to play ahead of the chains.
"This team can run the football and they're really confirmed in doing it. In certain games like New Mexico and in some of these other games, they really ran the football very impressively. I think they have good players and they're a good team."
K-State's well-documented defense hasn't been particularly extraordinary as the Wildcats rank last in the Big 12 and No. 102 nationally in surrendering 421.6 yards per contest. Texas Tech gained 626 total yards in handing the Wildcats a 58-28 loss for their worst home loss in a dozen years.
Senior defensive end Ian Campbell put the Wildcats' task in perspective as they seek just their third road win in 13 games under Prince. The Wildcats have dropped five straight road games by an average score of 45.6 to 29.6 since an upset win of then-No. 7 Texas last Sept. 29.
"We're facing a team that has had some struggles and right now to go out and get a win and to be 4-2 would be a big deal," Campbell said. "We need to have some momentum going out on the road. It's very important for this win to happen."
Senior center Jordan Bedore is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but Prince indicated Bedore might be a game time decision. Bedore went to the sideline with an apparent right arm injury in the second quarter against Texas Tech and didn't return. "(Bedore) got banged up in the game and the medical staff will have to tell me exactly what his status is, but he was unable to finish the game," Prince said. "He got hit pretty hard in a certain part of his arm and was unable to continue. That had us concerned. Zach Kendall did a nice job."
Prince indicated senior outside linebacker Antwon Moore should be available after he missed the Texas Tech game with an apparent right hamstring injury that he suffered in the previous game against Louisiana.
"Yes, I believe Antwon will play," Prince said.