Kansas State coach Ron Prince has seen many dual-threat quarterbacks. The Wildcats prided themselves on producing several great ones through the years. On Monday, Prince indicated his defense could face a stiff challenge from senior quarterback Michael Desormeaux and an 11th-ranked Louisiana running attack as the Wildcats hope to capture a much-needed win in their non-conference finale Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"You hear the term 'dual-threat quarterback' and I think of all the ones I've seen, this might be the best one," Prince said during his weekly news conference. "Legitimately, he's an unbelievable passer, very accurate and has a tremendous sense of timing on his passes."
It will mark the first time this season that K-State, 2-1, will face such a multi-faceted passer. Louisiana, 1-2, bounced back from a 20-17 loss at No. 24 Illinois with a 44-27 win against Kent State last weekend as Desormeaux threw for 235 yards and one touchdown and added 150 yards on the ground and one score. Senior running back Tyrell Fenroy had 194 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns for the Ragin' Cajuns, who average 254.7 rushing yards per game this season.
"(Desormeaux) can pass within the pocket and on the move and he's the leading rusher among quarterbacks in the country," Prince said. "When you have (Fenroy) in the backfield with you, that gives you a potent combination."
For a K-State defense that surrendered a season-high 577 total yards, including 303 on the ground in a 38-29 loss at Louisville last Wednesday, such numbers give the tackle-challenged Wildcats a four-alarm point of emphasis as they seek to avoid their first loss to a Sun Belt Conference opponent at home since 1985.
"It's very important for this defense to re-establish itself and to go out there and get wins," said defensive end Ian Campbell, the leader of a unit that allows an average of 324.3 yards (51st). "It'll be very important for Kansas State, for the Wildcat defense and for the confidence in each of these players."
K-State has won 11 of its last 16 non-conference contests and is 39-6 against non-conference foes during the regular season in the last 12 seasons. It is 13-1 against the Sun Belt and has won its last 10 contests against the league.
Prince, who is 7-1 in non-conference games at home, indicated that game planning is a constant balancing act or battle between K-State's strengths and the opponent's strengths on both offense and defense.
"We always try to play to our strengths," Prince said. "There's a way that we try to put our team together. You always want to play to your strengths regardless of the strengths of your opponent."
Quarterback Josh Freeman guides a K-State passing attack that ranks eighth nationally in averaging 307.7 yards per game. Freeman has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 833 yards and eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw both interceptions while completing 22 of 42 passes for 313 yards and also tossing three touchdowns in the loss to the Cardinals.
Freeman knows that Louisiana allows 456.7 total yards (112th nationally), including 194.7 yards (30th) through the air per contest. It remains to be seen whether a Wildcats' running attack that averages just 124.3 yards per game (89th) will get untracked against a unit that surrenders 282.7 yards on the ground (118th), but the Ragin' Cajuns have Freeman's attention.
"We try to respect every opponent and we understand they're a hungry bunch of guys and they play hard, but obviously going into every game you feel you have some areas where you can exploit them and do certain things," Freeman said. "I know they're going to come into here and try to give us all they've got.
"We have to be prepared for a fight."
Prince hopes his team performs better in this battle after the defense during a 10-day preparation period emphasized the run but was unable to stop the Cardinals' ground game.
"You always have to recognize what they're very good at and try to do everything you can to limit what they're good at," Prince said. "The (Louisville game) was frustrating because we put quite a bit of emphasis on their running game. We had an extra defender down in the box the entire game and only played one snap of cover-2 the whole game. We either blitzed or played eight in the box the entire game. We gave it the proper attention but missed some tackles and didn't execute on some of the cutbacks the way we should have. We did lose some leverage at the cornerback position and didn't get any turnovers. It didn't turn out too well for us and we were just out there too long."
Louisville supplemented its running attack with an array of mid-range passes that continuously moved the chains with 31 first downs.
Louisiana likely recognized as much in the game tape. Desormeaux has completed 49 of 77 passes (63.6 percent) for 551 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Jason Chery has 10 catches for 121 yards, seeks his first touchdown of the season and is the only pass-catcher with double-digit receptions.
Damage comes in bunches on the ground, though, as Desormeaux has gained 338 yards on 47 carries (7.2 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns. Fenroy, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior, needs just 13 yards to become the first player in school history with a combined 4,000 rushing and receiving yards. Fenroy has 50 attempts for 282 yards (5.4 per carry) with four touchdowns this season and needs 510 to pass North Texas' Patrick Cobbs as the all-time leading rusher in Sun Belt history.
With 730 yards on the ground, Fenroy would become just the seventh player in NCAA history with four consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
"We're pretty aware that the Ragin' Cajuns have an excellent running game," Prince said. "Many teams that run the ball in such a sophisticated way as they do usually aren't able to pass it as well as they can. They have an excellent play-action pass game and a terrific tempo they play with.
"They're really able to wear teams down."
Which is exactly what the Wildcats cannot afford during an important final non-conference contest.