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November 15, 2008


As dispirited Kansas State fans left Bill Snyder Family Stadium in droves Saturday, someone sitting nearby wondered out loud if one of the Cornhusker defenders who spent much of the day in the Kansas State backfield might have asked Josh Freeman if he regretted sending that text message to Bill Callahan back in December 2005.

You know – the one saying "thanks but no thanks" to Callahan, who several months earlier had secured a verbal commitment to attend Nebraska from Freeman.

Former Nebraska play-by-play broadcaster Jim Rose excoriated Freeman on his letter-of-intent signing day, publicly questioning his judgment on the Husker call-in radio program. He took some heat for it, but it turns out that Rose was right. Freeman could have had a much more productive college career if he had worn the scarlet and cream.

But come to think of it, who knows if he would've beaten out Joe Ganz? Maybe Nebraska got the better end of the deal after all.

One thing's for sure. No one needs to ask Ganz if he enjoys suiting up against Kansas State.

Ganz accounted for 365 yards and four touchdowns as the Huskers pounded K-State 56-28 to give NU a modest two-game winning streak in Manhattan and sole possession of second place in the Big 12 North. Ganz threw for 270 yards, just a shade over half as many as he piled up against the Wildcats in Lincoln last season, and he tossed only a couple of touchdown passes (a far cry from the seven he hit K-State with last year).

This time, Ganz hurt the Wildcats with his running ability. Ganz rushed for a career-high 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both coming on option plays in the fourth quarter. He also broke single-season Nebraska records for passes completed and total offense, and is on track to break the single-season passing yardage record in his next game.

Meanwhile, Freeman completed only seven of 18 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown – a 63-yard pass to Ernie Pierce which accounted for more than one-fourth of K-State's total offensive output. The Cornhuskers sacked him four times.

Freeman, a junior who falls to 0-3 against Nebraska, watched much of this game from the bench, where he stayed after leading one ineffective drive at the start of the second half.

I hear some commentators talk about Freeman's NFL potential. If he has any, it's mainly based on his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame. He is a pinpoint passer when given a lot of time to throw (but so are five dozen other I-A quarterbacks). He is a mediocre runner and lacks leadership ability. He had a couple of great games against Texas as a freshman and sophomore, but he hasn't exactly shown flashes of professional talent against the Huskers during his career. Still, he'll be NFL-bound as a low-round pick. With Ron Prince leaving Manhattan this month, you've got to think the chances of seeing Freeman on the field in Lincoln next November are less than 50-50.

It may be premature to say that the Wildcat football program is in shambles, but it's definitely on the way down. The last Northern Division team to win a Big 12 football title, K-State will not return to that level anytime soon.

In the first game after much-heralded return of the Blackshirts, NU held K-State to 59 yards rushing, 247 yards of total offense and just two touchdowns. The most encouraging thing is that Nebraska did it without its two best linebackers, the injured Phillip Dillard and the suspended Cody Glenn. With Nebraska winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, its depleted linebacking staff was not really tested.

With Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, Robert Griffin, Sam Bradford and Todd Reesing finally in the rearview mirror, the Husker defensive backfield showed some improvement. The thing that's still missing is interceptions. Nebraska won despite going minus-one in turnovers.

Nebraska's d-line dominated K-State for much of the game with a straight-ahead push. When the Pelini brothers dialed up a blitz, it was usually effective. The Wildcats were on their heels for much of the game.

It didn't start out that way. Ganz gave K-State a much-needed confidence boost on his first pass of the game, throwing what may have been the worst pass of his career behind a wide-open Nate Swift and into the hands of Courtney Herndon, who returned it 57 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. But Ganz showed the same amnesia that has helped Nebraska throughout this season. He didn't let it bother him, and kept going about his business.

Ganz's all-around effort was the highlight, but it was also a day of revival for the Nebraska running game. The Huskers pounded it 53 times for 340 yards, their highest total in a conference game since Jammal Lord was running the offense in 2002. Quentin Castille, Roy Helu and Marlon Lucky all looked good, and Marcus Mendoza had an impressive touchdown run in the final two minutes.

The Huskers still have not played four quarters of solid football. After racking up 35 points in a penalty-free first half, they seemed to lose focus in the third quarter before pulling themselves together in the fourth. But overall, the offensive line was effective, even without tackles Lyndon Murtha (who didn't make the trip) and Jaivorio Burkes (who saw very little action after injuring a toe in the locker room earlier in the week). Redshirt freshman Marcel Jones filled in and the Husker running game kept improving.

The Huskers are still looking for consistency, especially on the kickoff coverage team, but they are gaining confidence in the stretch run of Bo Pelini's first season as head coach. If Pelini is serious about his ongoing claim that this team has never played to its potential, good things are in store for Nebraska.

First things first. After eliminating K-State from bowl consideration, Nebraska now gears up do the same to Colorado the day after Thanksgiving.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive