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September 29, 2008

Tech vs. K-State: Quarterback clash

College football fans that enjoy efficient quarterbacks, speedy wide receivers and explosive plays could hit the jackpot on Saturday when No. 7 Texas Tech visits Kansas State for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams, which will be televised regionally by ABC at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. No matchup during the week will feature two higher-scoring squads, as K-State junior quarterback Josh Freeman looks to show that the Wildcats belong among the league's better teams.

"It's always exciting to start the Big 12," Freeman said while meeting with reporters on Monday. "We're going to have to go out and be extremely efficient and put up some numbers that will compete in this league. We're eighth in the country in scoring offense, but that's good for only fifth in the league.

"This is a conference that puts up a lot of points and has a lot of good teams. We have to bring our A game every week if we want to compete."

K-State, 3-1, averaged 47.0 points during its four non-conference games, including a narrow 45-37 escape of Louisiana last weekend. Texas Tech, one of five teams that enter the Big 12 at a perfect 4-0, sits right behind the Wildcats at No. 9 nationally in delivering 45.7 points per contest.

Texas Tech, which comes off a bye week after outscoring its opponents 183-64, ranks No. 3 with 572.7 total yards per outing while junior Graham Harrell averages a nation-leading 393.2 passing yards and has thrown 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Freeman ranks No. 8 with a passing efficiency ranking of 175.8 (Harrell is No. 20 at 153.6) and averages 276.2 yards through the air, which ranks No. 20 and fifth among Big 12 passers. The Wildcats average 441.2 total yards, No. 23 nationally.

"It's going to be a shootout," said K-State sophomore Lamark Brown, who had 137 yards on 29 carries with one score in his debut at running back against Louisiana. "They put up a lot of points and we put up points. Both offenses are really good. We're going to go out, work hard and see what happens. It should be fun."

With 272 yards passing last weekend, Freeman became the school's all-time leader with 6,238 passing yards, ahead of K-State great Lynn Dickey, who totaled 6,208 between 1968-70. Harrell enters needing just 175 yards to pass Kliff Kingsbury's school mark of 12,429.

Harrell and Freeman have helped to engineer an array of explosive plays this season, as the Red Raiders have had 18 offensive plays travel longer than 25 yards; the Wildcats have had 12. Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree and K-State wide receiver Brandon Banks have been the recipients for many of those chunks.

Banks, a junior college transfer, leads the nation with 115.7 receiving yards per game and already has six touchdown catches of 30 or more yards, the most since K-State wide receiver James Terry had seven in 2003. Meanwhile, the Harrell-to-Crabtree connection remains on pace to become the top touchdown tandem in Big 12 history. They have combined for 28 touchdowns, tied for second with the former Iowa State duo of Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe, and must combine for just four more scores to pass the Oklahoma State tandem of Josh Fields and Rashaun Woods, who had 31 between 2001 and 2003.

Crabtree, the 2007 Biletnikoff Award winner, currently ranks No. 3 with 114.9 receiving yards per game to go along with 11 touchdowns this season.

K-State coach Ron Prince wasn't ready on Monday to make any comparisons between the Texas Tech and K-State duos as the Wildcats seek to upset a ranked opponent for the second time in as many league openers.

"(Harrell) has been doing this for a while and has been very successful doing it with some staggering numbers and (Crabtree) has been doing this for at least one more season and has pretty well established himself as being one of the better players," Prince said. "Both of our guys are good players. They've got a lot to prove in this contest. I don't think that right now you can say it's apples to apples, but we'll go see.

"We'll take ours and we'll play theirs and we'll feel good about it and go see how it turns out."

Banks believes he has something to prove in his Big 12 debut. The 5-foot-7, 142-pounder, the lightest wide receiver in the Football Bowl Subdivision, has made a living of proving himself on every stage.

"Graham and Crabtree are pretty good players and they have a lot of experience over me," said Banks, who had six catches for 127 yards and a 53-yard touchdown against Louisiana. "Josh has a lot of experience, but I'm still trying to fit in and get the game and timing down for the Big 12. I'm not going to say it's apples-to-apples yet because they're pretty good players, but I'm going to go out there and pretty much show them what I've got."

Texas Tech is 13-1 when it scores 40 or more points under Harrell, who has thrown for at least 400 yards in seven of his last nine outings and guides a Red Raiders' team that has produced eight straight 30-point games, the longest streak in the nation.

K-State is 4-0 when it reaches 40 points under Freeman in Big 12 contests.

"You have to outscore them to win," Freeman said. "They're going to put up some numbers and we're going to put up plenty of numbers. It's going to be a matter of who plays better defense. I have confidence in our guys."

K-State strong safety Courtney Herndon doesn't believe Texas Tech is a defensive nightmare.

"It's a dream," said Herndon, who is third on the team with 21 tackles. "Crabtree is a competitor, Graham Harrell is a competitor. It's a dream, a chance to get picks and opportunities. It's what we want."

K-State has forced just four turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) in its last 526 plays from scrimmage against FBS opponents. Texas Tech is currently tied with Vanderbilt for the national lead in intercepting 10 passes in its first four games.

Freeman is excited for the challenge.

"We know they're gong to be talented and physical," he said, "but if we play our game, we can have some success."

In this meeting between two potent offenses, there should be an abundance of fireworks.



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