Kansas State Preview: Revenge Factor

Texas' season was sent spiraling downward on a frozen night in Manhattan, Kan. last year. Throughout the week, Texas coaches and players have publicly cooled on the idea that the rematch is a payback game, but will the Wildcats find on Saturday that revenge is a dish best served cold?

"This is not a revenge game. What happened in the past is in the past," said Texas offensive tackle Tony Hills. "We're just looking forward to opening the conference and playing well."

Yeah, right.

And I'm sure the opponent quote sheet that gets handed out to the team on Friday won't have a peep on it about last year's 45-42 upset in Manhattan. I'm sure it won't include Kansas State receiver Reggie Walker's gem: "We're as fast as anybody that we're going to play. You can mark that down. We're not concerned with how fast they are." I'm sure.

Or, perhaps it won't.

At the very least, the Texas fans will remember the bitter loss that knocked Texas out of the national title hunt and a guaranteed trip to Kansas City for the Big 12 Championship. It was also the game where the Longhorns lost quarterback Colt McCoy to a neck injury as he plunged in for the opening score. Even with McCoy on the sideline, it would be the first of many scores, but when the dust settled it was the Wildcats that emerged victorious.

Fast forward to 2007. McCoy is back in the saddle and getting his first real shot at K-State, assuming he's not knocked out on the first drive of this game as well. But it's also been a rocky start to the season for the sophomore QB. McCoy has already thrown five interceptions, compared with seven all of last season. However, he looked much more consistent last Saturday against the Rice Owls, hitting on 20-of-29 passing for 333 yards and three TDs. This week, Texas head coach Mack Brown explained why McCoy struggled early:

"A lot of times a sophomore quarterback goes through a transition period because in their first year as a freshman, if they played, things were really simple for them and coaches were very careful. And then all of a sudden you give them the entire offense and if you're not careful, you start looking for too much and you're trying to do too much and it gets you off your rhythm some. And then it even got worse for Colt in the beginning of the year because we didn't have experienced offensive linemen and then some guys got hurt and we didn't have our full corps of receivers. So we feel like now the offensive line is maturing and they're playing more consistently and we've got all of our receivers back now and they're well."

The receivers are healthy now and with the "probable" return of RT Adam Ulatoski, so is the offensive line. Texas is set to get back on track and the same could be said of the Wildcats because Kansas State has a sophomore quarterback who went though a transition period of his own.

Josh Freeman has four interceptions and only two TDs this year. In the season-opener against Auburn, Freeman completed only 56.1 percent of his passes (32-of-57), had two picks and no touchdowns. But in the following two contests, Freeman completed 69.4 (25-of-36) and 66.7 percent (26-of-39) of his passes against San Jose State and Missouri State, respectively.

While San Jose State and Missouri State won't be mistaken for world-beaters, they did provide necessary confidence and rhythm, just as the Longhorns received from the Owls.

Freeman's No. 1 target, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, said he's exceptionally pleased with the progress of his quarterback.

"Josh has gained a lot of confidence and is in a great rhythm," Nelson told the Associated Press. "We have a lot of confidence in him and he's a very productive quarterback when he gets into a rhythm like that."

Kansas State will bring the confidence gained from these past two games, the confidence gained from a win last season over Texas, the freshness of having last weekend off and its 2-1 record into Austin for the 2:30 p.m. kick-off at DKR on Saturday.

There is no mistaking that this offense begins and ends with Freeman. The Wildcats have thrown the ball 136 times this season, compared to only 81 rushes. But K-State, as we saw in last year's game against Texas, will throw more at you than just a standard passing attack. Texas coaches have made guarding against the trick play a priority this week because of both the Wildcats' effectiveness in executing the unexpected and how many times the Horns bit on it last season.

Kansas State has already shown its proclivity for the trick play this season. Nelson, a wide receiver by day, has thrown two touchdowns in his two passing attempts off of trick plays, equaling Freeman's total of two in his 132 attempts. When Freeman does throw the ball, it is typically to Nelson. The senior wideout has double the next closest number of catches on the team with 30, picking up 381 yards and a touchdown in the process. He's also coming off a huge game, totaling over 200 yards against the over-matched Missouri State.

When the Wildcats do run the ball, look for James Johnson to carry the load. The senior running back has made the most of his 38 carries, picking up 239 yards (6.3 ypc) and four touchdowns.

Defense didn't play much of a role in last year's 45-42 shootout. Rather, the lack of defense was notable. But this year's Texas-Kansas State game may prove to be very different.

One of the most important factors in the Longhorns' opening up the offense is the success of the running game and they'll face a stout run defense on Saturday. The Wildcats' attacking 3-4 defense is only giving up 68 yards per game on the ground this season and is 14th in the NCAA in total defense (258.3 ypg).

The leading tackler on the team, by a good margin, is hard-hitting cornerback Justin McKinney, with 22 stops, but the player to watch is all-everything defensive end Ian Campbell. The 6-foot-5, 249-pound junior leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss to go with his 1.5 sacks in three games.

Even with a healthy McCoy, Texas will be in for a much tougher fight offensively against a team that is only giving up 15.7 points per game this season. Expect grit and determination from the Wildcats as they try to pull off the miracle upset for a second year in row, this time on Texas' home turf.

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