Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Freeman's KSU stats hurt by weak supporting cast
TAMPA - The fuel behind the storm of criticism that has been raging ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Josh Freeman their first pick in Saturday's draft is a stat line that looks as ominous as a billowing black-gray rain cloud. During his three-year run as the Kansas State Wildcats starting quarterback, Freeman completed just 59 percent of his passes while throwing 34 interceptions against 44 touchdowns. Freeman and the Wildcats didn't win very much either. They were 14-18 when he started, and fans fear the Bucs' record will take on a similar look if Freeman takes control of their offense. The Bucs and Freeman see things differently, of course, and at the heart of their argument is the knowledge that Freeman will be playing with a much better supporting cast than what he had at Kansas State.Other than Freeman, not one player from the Wildcats' 2008 squad was drafted by an NFL team last weekend. In fact, since Freeman arrived at Kansas State, the school has produced only six draft picks, including just two (wide receivers Yamon Figurs, third round, Ravens, 2007, and Jordy Nelson, second round, Packers, 2008) among the first 100 players selected. With so little talent around him, particularly on defense, where the Wildcats finished 117th in the nation in total defense and 110th in scoring defense, the responsibility for winning usually fell directly on Freeman's shoulders. Freeman says he didn't shy away from that responsibility, but he admits that playing from behind so much forced him into mistakes he otherwise would not have made. "It came down to me trying to do too much,'' Freeman said. "I felt like I had to be Superman or had to have some amazing effort if we were going to win. It made me play out of character, and I definitely think it ended up hurting me.'' It really didn't hurt Freeman as much as some seem to think. Though he completed only 58.6 percent of his passes, he threw just eight interceptions against 20 touchdowns last year. He also compiled an impressive 136.5 passer rating, a 7.71 yards-per-pass attempt mark and 2.09 interception percentage that was better than those posted by Georgia's Matthew Stafford (2.61) and Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez (2.73), both selected Saturday in the top five overall. More often than not, though, the positive stats that Freeman posted are tossed out of the argument against him because he competed regularly against weak defensive schools in the Big 12 Conference. The Big 12's top defense, for example, was put up by the Texas Longhorns, who ranked 51st overall in the nation in total defense last year. Nebraska was 55th and Oklahoma 68th, but every other school was 78th or worse. "It is an offense-driven league,'' Freeman said. "These offenses are putting up huge numbers. You look at the SEC, and you see games that are 3-2 and stuff like that. You'd never see that in the Big 12. "We played Oklahoma and the score was, like, 55-35 at halftime. You get all these huge numbers. There's a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball in the Big 12. Week in and week out, it's just hard for defenses to handle.'' Freeman has handled the criticism leveled at him rather well. Though he seldom had time to set up and throw and was hurt by dropped passes and penalties, he refused to blame his teammates. "It's kind of interesting really,'' Freeman said. "My freshman year, I had 15 interceptions and six touchdowns and 52 percent completions. I mean, I played horrible as a freshman, yet that was the year we won seven games and it could have easily been eight or nine. "And then my numbers and my play steadily improved, but we weren't winning any games. So I think that it's hard to put it one thing. All I know is that as an individual player I just need to focus on what I can do to help the team win and me grow as a quarterback.''
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.