LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman's first Sunflower Showdown turned out to be a day he would like to forget. Freeman turned the ball over six times, setting up 30 Kansas points in a 39-20 Jayhawk victory in front of a Memorial Stadium-record 51,821 fans on Saturday.
Four Freeman turnovers in the first half and a crucial roughing the punter call against K-State fueled Kansas to a 20-10 halftime lead. Then in the second half, a Freeman interception was returned for a touchdown and a fumble set up another score as the Jayhawks cashed in their gifts.
"We were a little out of sync and a little bit out of rhythm," K-State coach Ron Prince said. "Some of the plays that were very negative for us there was a variety of factors that played into that. When you're the quarterback you're the person that everyone's looking towards and those of us who are on the coaching side understand what happened on those plays. I'm the one that did a poor job, not him.
"He's a freshman quarterback who has been unbelievable for us this year. Everything he's done has been a real blessing for sure."
K-State scored the first points of both halves, but never could quite get over the hump in the second half. Jeff Snodgrass opened the second half scoring with a 47-yard boot at the 9:56 mark of the third quarter, but then KU's Scott Webb kicked one of his four field goals of the day and Kansas cornerback Anthony Webb picked off a Freeman pass that bounced off running back Leon Patton's hands and returned it 42 yards to the end zone.
James Johnson responded with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for K-State, but the Jayhawks scored the game's final nine points behind the powerful running of senior Jon Cornish. Cornish finished the game with a career-high 201 yards and 25 carries. He scored two touchdowns.
"He is a great running back, and we knew that coming into the game," K-State linebacker Brandon Archer said. "He got his yards, and we had a few missed tackles. He is a great running back, the best in the Big 12."
The win moves KU to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the Big 12, while the Wildcats fall to 7-5 and 4-4 in conference play. KU finishes its regular season next Saturday at Missouri. K-State's regular season is now complete, but the Wildcats will play in a bowl game. Big 12 bowl selections are scheduled to be announced on Dec. 2-3, following the Big 12 Championship Game between Texas and Nebraska.
Patton provided a bright spot for the Wildcats with a 102-yard outing on 14 carries, including a spectacular 44-yard touchdown dash. Patton became the first opposing back to gain more than 100 yards on the KU defense in 23 games.
K-State outgained KU 362-355 in the game, but it was Freeman's three interceptions and three fumbles that told the story of the game.
"Our pass defense continues to get better week-in and week-out," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "They are getting more confident. I told our players that if they stopped the run and we run the football, that we would win the game today. We played the run very well and forced Kansas State to throw a lot, and our kids were well prepared."
K-State struck fast on the game's first play with Freeman going down the middle of the field to fellow true freshman tight end Jeron Mastrud for a 66-yard gain to the KU 20. Kansas defense held the Wildcats out of the end zone, though, and the Cats settled for a 21-yard Snodgrass field goal.
Kansas matched the score by going 50 yards on 11 plays with Scott Webb tying the game at 3-3 with a 38-yard field goal. That's when the turnovers started for the Wildcats.
Freeman threw an interception on K-State's next possession that Aqib Talib returned 23 yards to the KSU 24. The second play of the ensuing drive was a 13-yard touchdown run by Cornish, making the score 10-3.
Freeman then fumbled a snap and KU covered the ball at the KSU 36. Scott Webb added a 49-yard field goal to push the score to 13-3 at the end of the first quarter.
K-State seemingly climbed back into the game on its next drive when on the eighth play of the possession Patton popped free from a group of KU tacklers along the east sideline and somehow avoided stepping out of bounds on an acrobatic 44-yard run. The TD pulled K-State back to 13-10 on the scoreboard, but Freeman had another big turnover to give in the first half.
Following a Kerry Meier interception caught by KSU cornerback Byron Garvin, K-State took over at the 8. On the drive's first play, Freeman was pulled down in the end zone and fumbled, giving KU defensive end Russell Brorsen a touchdown and putting KU up 20-10 at halftime.
For the game, Meier completed 11-of-23 passes for 108 yards, while sophomore wide receiver Dexton Fields caught seven balls for 72 yards. Freeman was 23 of 44 for 244 yards, but the three interceptions overshadowed the stats.
"I thought that it was a very physical game, but they all are at this time of the year," Prince said. "Everybody has these types of circumstances that they're working through. This is part of being able to win a championship and trying to prep our team for this type of run in the future that we're going to have to be able to play this way down the stretch. I thought we had good practices, obviously we walked into a team here that is very well coached and had a very good plan."