COLUMBIA — A year later, Missouri defenders say Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman has become a more complete player. He no longer collapses upon contact. He maintains a stronger pocket presence. At last, he has learned to use the physical 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame that have NFL scouts fawning over his potential.
"I can tell that he's a lot tougher than what he was last year," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "Guys aren't bringing him down as hard. A couple times last year, I brought him down after plays where I know he should have broken the tackle. This year, he's breaking those tackles."
Kansas State (4-5, 1-4 )
at No. 13 Missouri (7-2, 3-2)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
On Saturday night, Freeman will lead depleted Kansas State into Columbia with the program's future in doubt. On Wednesday afternoon, Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause fired third-year coach Ron Prince, effective at the end of the season. . Krause said he will form a search committee with hopes of hiring someone by the end of the season.
Freeman proved to be Prince's marquee signee. In 2005, the Kansas City-Grandview product and former Elite 11 Quarterbacks Camp participant committed to Nebraska. Many expected Freeman to become the focal point of former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan's West Coast offense. Then, in December 2005, Kansas State hired Prince after legendary former coach Bill Snyder retired. Prince's energy impressed Freeman. That month, Freeman switched his commitment and later signed with Kansas State.
Since, Freeman has struggled against Missouri. In 2006, he threw two interceptions and completed 5-of-19 passes for 63 yards. Last year, he was sacked four times and failed to keep pace with Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel's four-touchdown performance.
Still, Freeman has earned respect among Missouri defensive coaches.
"He's an NFL quarterback," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "He makes all the throws. He's just a talented guy. You see some of the things he does with the football, it's pretty amazing.
"When you play a great quarterback like this, you have to be sound in your fundamentals and you have to be sure you execute your defensive call. If not, he's going to take advantage of what he sees."
Freeman will attempt to prevent history. Missouri last won three consecutive games over Kansas State when it the beat the Wildcats five consecutive seasons from 1986 to 1990. The Tigers last won consecutive games over the Wildcats in Columbia in 1987 and 1990 (the 1988 and 1989 matchups were played in Manhattan).
"He's a tough, physical quarterback," defensive end Stryker Sulak said. "That's something we're definitely going to have to play for."
Freeman is on pace for a career season. He needs to throw four more touchdowns to break a career-best 18, set last year. The past two seasons, he has finished with negative yards rushing. But, this year, he has 313.
"I watched him against Oklahoma (on Oct. 25), and he was doing pretty much what he wanted to do," Weatherspoon said. "Guys were sliding and falling off of him. He's a big guy, and he understands that. He's using that now."