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NU defense turns up the heat on Freeman

Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh (left) and Pierre Allen combine to sack Kansas State's Josh Freeman in the Huskers' win Saturday. (Gwyneth Roberts)

MANHATTAN, Kan. — It’s officially time to put the Josh Freeman saga to rest.

Even if  the Kansas State junior quarterback does return for his senior season, Ndamukong Suh brings up a good point.

“I think half the team doesn’t even know who he is,” Suh said, “and know that he committed to our school.”

And if Freeman does bolt for the NFL?

Well, the Huskers will have clearly had the upper hand in a mini-rivalry that may have meant more to fans than players.

For a third straight season, Nebraska’s defense battered Freeman — this time sending the quarterback to the sideline with an apparent concussion — and defeated Kansas State in the process.

The Blackshirts sacked Freeman four times and held him to 7-of-18 passing in Nebraska’s dominating 56-28 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Freeman’s career stat line against Nebraska: 56-of-109 passing for 706 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 12 sacks.

And one concussion.

“That’s what he told me,” Nebraska defensive end Zach Potter said. “I don’t know if it was the helmet-to-helmet hit that they called or just us taking him to the ground. But we got after him today, and we put a lot of pressure on him all day.”

Potter was referring to his second-quarter sack of Freeman that was negated because of helmet-to-helmet contact.

“There’s nothing you can really do,” Potter said. “He’s 6-7, I’m 6-7. Just got to move on.”

Freeman returned to start the second half, but Rickey Thenarse leveled him for a 14-yard sack on K-State’s opening possession.

Freeman stood on the sideline the rest of the game, a stocking cap on his head.

“He wasn’t his normal self for whatever reason, and because of that I pulled him out of the game,” K-State coach Ron Prince said. “We’ll have to have an evaluation to see what’s going on.”

Prince didn’t confirm what Potter said, but K-State players were talking after the game about a Freeman concussion. Carson Coffman replaced him and led KSU to a 92-yard scoring drive, its longest of the game.

Two of K-State’s other touchdowns came on an interception return and a kickoff return. The only touchdown with Freeman under center came on a perfectly placed 63-yard touchdown pass to a well-covered Ernie Pierce in the first quarter.

Freeman also had a hard-nosed 11-yard run. Those were his only highlights on a day made otherwise miserable by the Blackshirts.

Not that Nebraska had anything personal against Freeman.

“I don’t think that’s anything that we’re trying to do … just because he committed to us and then left,” Potter said. “I don’t fault the kid. He came here and started three years and could start another year, he could go the NFL. He did what was best for him personally, and he’s played well all three years.

“But we absolutely like getting pressure on him and hitting him and stuff and talking a little smack to him, just because we know him so well.”

Potter was Freeman’s recruiting host when he visited Lincoln and committed to former coach Bill Callahan before reneging and joining Prince’s team.

“We’re pretty good friends,” Potter said. “He’s a really nice kid, and he’s a great athlete, as you can tell with everything he’s done.”

Getting pressure on Freeman was particularly impressive given K-State’s maximum protection.

“They kept their tight end in and their back in a lot, so they’re running three-man routes,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said, “and the fact we were able to get good pressure against max protection is a good thing, because then we were able to keep everybody back in coverage.”

Nebraska’s defensive line was dominant for a second straight game, this performance coming a week after sacking Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing five times.

That’s nine sacks in two games, and 25 for the season. Nebraska had 13 sacks all of last season.

“We were starting to wear their offensive line down,” Potter said. “We were rotating guys early, unlike what we’ve done in a couple of games, and we stayed fresh.

“Their O-line was good, but I think we are a better D-line. We’re a mature group up front, and you’ve seen that all year from us. We never quit, and all four of us can play really well.”

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com.

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