Kansas is a must-win, not only for maintaining hopes of a Big 12 Title, BCS bowl, or improbable MNC berth, but to halt the development of a pattern of November choke jobs that have undercut program success and relegated us to second tier bowl games for the last two years. Whatever happens with the BCS or the Tech/OU/OSU tournament, an 11-1 regular season isn't something any sane Longhorn fan could complain about. That's why finishing is so crucial.
Let's take a look at the Jayhawks and see what problems they may present in Lawrence.
The KU offense is currently being compromised by shoddy OL play. In six Big 12 contests, the Jayhawks have allowed 17 sacks and Reesing has thrown eight interceptions. The former is leading to the latter and Reesing is forcing throws: he only threw seven picks over 13 games last year. That they're still averaging 34 ppg in Big 12 play is a bit of a triumph for Reesing and his receiving corps, all things considered. Speaking of the WRs, Briscoe and Meier present legitimate problems. Briscoe is tremendous after the catch, has deceptive long stride speed, and he's a big body (6-3 200) who attacks the ball in the air while former starting QB Meier is a big body (6-3 220) with glue hands and a telepathic connection to Reesing. We need to be cognizant of their physicality and put big on big - Deon Beasley on either long term is likely FAIL.
Kansas starts pre-schoolers at OT and they've struggled all year. That written, Nebraska's five sacks largely came from pressure inside. A boy named Suh collapsed the pocket at will and finished the game with 2.5 sacks, Reesing's bloody socks clutched in his paw, and OG Chet Hartley's girlfriend. Given that Brian Orakpo is back practicing and Roy Miller excels at flushing QBs into Kindle's arms, this does not bode well for the Jayhawks. Expect a lot of bubble screens and quick throws from the traditional pocket while they take their shots downfield from a moving pocket or bootleg. We played the bubble better last week, so that's encouraging. Containment will be vital - you need to force Reesing to make his throws in a collapsing pocket without a clear line of sight. If you let him flush with sloppy contain, a clear line of sight generally means a long completion downfield. Put our over/under on sacks at 4.
To slow the pass rush, Kansas has also made a more concerted effort to run the ball with Jake Sharp. Sharp is a shifty guy with good quickness though I question his ability to stand up to the 20+ carry per game workload long term. Still, I do pull for white runners for the same reasons I pulled for Yannick Noah in tennis. That's right: good hair. Shut down Sharp early and Kansas gets decidely one dimensional. Sharp isn't a game breaker, but he'll absolutely bust a 25 yarder on you and he's nifty as a pass receiver.
The heart of the Kansas defense is its LBing corps. Unfortunately, that heart is frequently exposed by a lack of speed in their front four more surely than an Aztec Sun God rite. They also have a moribund secondary which led to a number of benchings, lineup shifts, and inconsistent play over the last few games. Good passing teams have torn them up and Darrel Stuckey appears to be the only Jayhawk DB with a discernible pulse. If Colt gets any time at all, Kansas is going to get carved up. To their credit, they do some things with alignment and coverage mix that causes turnovers, so Colt will have to exercise some care. I'd expect one of our drives to be halted by a WTF? interception.
With the news of Chris Hall's injury, Kansas is going to blitz heavily until we stop it. We'll be starting a true freshman center and you can bet that they're going to overload, run a lot line games, and give us some exotic fronts to see if he can get us in the right play. Expect them to use Rivera and Mortensen as A gap blitzers and try to get hits on Colt. Our WRs will also need to be nails running hot routes, catching the ball, and shaking a tackle to punish. Snow will need to demonstrate some composure.
LB James Holt is a stud. He's a great blitzer off of the edge, he can run, and he causes mayhem when he gets there. If there's someone that disrupts our offense consistently on Saturday, it will probably be Holt. He leads the country in forced fumbles and he's a clear All Big 12 guy. If we try to handle him with a TE, I'm going to throw my remote control through Dave Lapham's digital forehead. Rivera and Mortensen are big physical dudes who can eat up the inside the tackle running game but they're consistently exposed in space. You can take the corner on them.
DE Jake Laptad is their other pass rushing threat (6 sacks) and the rest of the Jayhawk DL is decidely mediocre. They have some potential at DT, but they're all one great play, three plays off guys. I don't know if that's conditioning or effort related. Probably both. Overall team speed on defense is poor.
Arguably the worst kickoff return game in America. So good news for us. There's a decent likelihood that Kansas will start a number of their possesions inside their 20. Their overall net punting game is pedestrian. Their FG kicking is fine. Overall, special teams should represent an advantage for us, particularly with guys like Shipley and Williams in the return game.
I don't think the home environment in Lawrence is daunting. In fact, I think Jayhawk fans are counting the days til basketball season right now. I am mildly concerned about the 11:30 am start time in an unfamiliar place. It may take us a little to acclimate. Cold is no concern. In fact, it should add some vigor and pep to a few of our DL chasing Reesing around.
If this team is properly focused, there's no reason we shouldn't win handily. I expect a sluggish start, a strong finish in the 2nd quarter and a dominant second half. I think we're three touchdowns better. A loss is certainly possible if our OL completely implodes with a 18 year old making our line calls, but that's really my only real losing scenario.