Manhattan — Kansas State coach Ron Prince said again Tuesday that Josh Freeman was the new starting quarterback. But the freshman won't have to look far to find a sympathetic ear.
How about a few yards behind him and a few feet to the right?
Prince said freshman Leon Patton would start at running back when Kansas State (3-2, 0-1 Big 12) plays Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-0) in the Cowboys' Big 12 home-opener on Saturday, part of a contingent of five freshman who will start on offense.
Jeron Mastrud is listed as a starter at tight end, joining red-shirt freshmen Brock Unruh at right guard and Nick Stringer at right tackle.
"Every practice, every game, we're judged," said Prince, whose team is coming off an embarrassing 17-3 loss to Baylor, in which Kansas State scored the fewest points of any Big 12 team in 81 games against the Bears. "That's really how I care to look at it."
Freeman, an 18-year-old who came into the game against No. 8 Louisville in the third quarter the week before, did the same Saturday against Baylor. He threw three interceptions and was 11-for-33 for 196 yards against the Bears.
"We talked about it at halftime, that if this is going to be what we're going to do, this was going to be the change," Prince said. "It's not the way I had it planned. It's not the way I would have liked to have scripted it."
Senior Dylan Meier, the starter the first five games, was 11-for-22 for 100 yards against a Baylor defense that entered the game No. 10 in the Big 12. He was told after the game that Prince had made Freeman, who graduated from high school in December and enrolled at Kansas State early, the starting quarterback.
"In fairness to both guys, I did not want to put the other quarterback in unless this is what we were going to do in the long-run," Prince said.
Many Kansas State fans had pined for Freeman, the highly sought prospect who spurned a commitment to Nebraska, since the beginning of spring practice. But few saw running back Thomas Clayton giving way to Patton, a freshman who has only 13 carries for 57 yards through the first five games.
Clayton, a senior, has rushed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in four games, and his 80.5 yards per game is sixth in the Big 12. He also has eight catches for 48 yards, which ranks fifth on the team in receiving.
But Clayton has had his share of problems. He was suspended for the season-opener for an altercation with a parking services employee last fall and has been prone to fumbling. He coughed one up inside the Baylor 15-yard line Saturday, spoiling a scoring opportunity.
He finished the game with only 38 yards rushing on 18 carries.
"We think his expectations are higher than that," Prince said of Clayton, who was demoted to third string behind junior Terry Petrie. "Ours are as well."
Patton, who at 5-foot-7 has drawn comparisons to former Wildcat Darren Sproles, committed to Kansas State when Bill Snyder was head coach last year.
He stayed on after Prince was hired in December.
Prince said he hoped the influx of youth will jump-start a stagnant offense that ranks 11th in the Big 12 in scoring, pass offense and total offense, trailing only Colorado in each category.