Duke (1-1) vs Kansas (2-0)
Lawrence, Kan. - Memorial Stadium
TV: Versus / Kick-off: 12:00 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: Big 12 Nickname: Jayhawks Colors: Red & Blue Head Coach: Mark Mangino (8th season) Career Record at Kansas: 47-41
Kansas will bring its high powered offense home to Memorial Stadium looking to start 3-0 on the season for just the third time in the last 12 seasons. History is not on the side of the Blue Devils as non-conference opponents have posted just a 2-18 record against the Jayhawks in the last 20 games. Non-Big 12 teams have done even worse on the Jayhakws' home turf, losing 18 consecutive games played in Lawrence.
The two schools, long considered basketball elite, have never met on the gridiron.
Duke has an all-time record of 42-34-3 when playing a team for the first time. Kansas marks the fifth school from the Big 12 that Duke has faced. The Blue Devils own a 2-3 record against current Big 12 schools..
What To Watch For On Offense:
Pretty much everything. In the last two seasons the Jayhawks have racked up offensive totals that would make most video gamers proud. The 2007 squad (Mangino's 'breakout team') set school records in total offense, passing, and scoring. Last season's group made their own mark on the record books, setting a new record for passing offense per game at 305.6 yard per contest while scoring just under 34 points per game. Such a dynamite and diverse offensive attack has propelled the program to national prominence and a combined 20-6 record in 2007 and 2008.
2009 appears to be more of the same as the Jayhawks have put up 30-plus points in both of their first two games while rolling to more than 500 yards of total offense in each contest. It all starts with senior quarterback Todd Reesing, who is coming off a junior campaign of nearly 3900 yards passing. Through his first two games the senior has averaged 266 yards of production including 260 passing yards in week two against UTEP and a versatile 208 yards in the air against Northern Colorado. In that game he also ran for 79 yards. In short, Reesing is going to throw the ball a lot against he Blue Devil defense with eyes on extending his streak of at least one touchdown pass to 21 games.
Reesing's receiving targets of note are led by Dezmon Briscoe who has racked up five consecutive 100 yard games. That he's eclipsed the century mark five straight times is impressive, but it's his average per game of 152.2 over that span that should have Duke fans nervous. Fellow starter Kerry Meier did suffer a slow down against UTEP (four catches for 15 yards), but that merely stopped a three game streak of eclipsing the century mark. True freshman Bradley McDougald has moved up the Kansas depth chart over the first two games and has earned enough time to average just under 49 yards per game.
When the Jayhawks aren't firing the ball all over the field in the passing game, they are doing work on the ground in the form of 5'10, 195lbs senior back Jake Sharp. Like Reesing and the receivers, Sharp has started 2009 with a bang, eclipsing the century mark against UTEP and Northern Colorado while also moving past the 2,000 career yardage mark against he Miners last week. Not only a threat on the ground, Sharp has accounted for rushing and receiving touchdowns in each of the first two contests. Sharp is spelled by 6'2, 235 pound true Toben Opurum who has already recorded 24 carries for 141 yards and three scores on the season. Opurum will lineup as the fullback when the Jayhawks go to a two back set.
With so much fire power at the skill positions, the only weakness could be the inexperience of the offensive line. In the season opener the Jayhawks were forced to start three first timers along the line including LT Tanner Hawkinson, LG Brad Thorson and RG Sal Capra. The youth movement is a theme that saturates the offensive line as the program lists no seniors on the two-deep. Two juniors start at right tackle and center. Two sophomores and one freshman round out the starting five. The second team O-line consists of three juniors, one sophomore, and one true freshman. Center Jeremiah Hatch is a converted offensive tackle while Capra saw extensive time in a backup role last season.
What To Watch For On Defense:
Though the old saying goes that the best defense is a good offense, the Jayhawks' defensive unit can make life difficult for opposing teams. To that point Kansas held UTEP to just seven first downs - allowing just three snaps past the 50 yard line. In fact, opponents have not fared overly well when it comes to reaching the Kansas red-zone - making just two trips all season which accounted for a total of three points. Given Duke's lack of prowess in the running game against Army and Richmond, Blue Devil faithful will no doubt worry about the Duke running backs facing a defense that is allowing an average of 1.7 yards per rush. As a unit the Jayhawks have recorded 16 tackles for loss, including nine sacks.
The defensive line is led by right end Jake Laptad who recorded two sacks in the season opener and is coming off all-conference honorable mention honors a season ago when he led all KU linemen with 38 tackles while recording seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Bookending the tackles with Laptad is senior Max Onyegbule who enters the Duke game touting Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording six tackles, two sacks and another tackle for loss against the Miners. In the middle are senior Caleb Blakesley and sophomore Richard Johnson. Blakesley was another conference honorable mention candidate, while Johnson started eight games as a freshman before an injury curtailed his season.
The linebackers boast three upperclassman starts with juniors Justin Springer and Drew Dudley at the slot and middle backer spots and senior Arist Wright on the weakside. Despite their elder clansman status, only Wright entered the season with any experience in the starting lineup. Dudley has done a good job in clogging up the middle and getting into the backfield, recording a sack in each of the team's first two games. True freshman Huldon Tharp will also see time in a back-up role as will JUCO transfer Vernon Brooks who was a NJCAA First Team All-American in 2008.
Chief among those Knights putting pressure on the Eagles' signal caller was senior Victor Ugenyi (6'3, 260). A converted defensive end, Ugenyi posted a career high 2.5 sacks last week good for a -31 yard net to the Eagle offense. Junior DE Josh McNary also joined the pass rush another 2.5 times, while leading the team in regular tackles on the day with nine. Such pressure could spell trouble for a Blue Devil rushing attack and blocking unit that accounted for just 19 yards against Richmond. It certainly stifled the Eagle attack, holding Eastern Michigan to just 40 yards rushing on 29 attempts.
The secondary is a bit more proven. Their experience begins at the safety position where senior Darrell Stuckey roams the field. A first team all-Big 12 performer and candidate for national honors as a senior, Stuckey is coming off a junior campaign in which he recorded 98 tackles and a team best five interceptions. Nickelback Justin Thornton compliments Stuckey well and has proven to be quite the ballhawk, picking off his eighth career pass against UTEP. Third year player Phillip Strozier is the second safety who, statistically, takes a backseat to Stuckey and the cornerbacks. Corners Daymond Patterson and Anthony Davis combine to form a competent tandem on the outside.
The odds certainly don't favor Duke in this one if you go by the teams' performances to date. The Duke defense did well enough against Army's oddball option based offense. And the Blue Devils were able to compete against Richmond. The problem is that Kansas' offense is far superior to either team. The Jayhawks have an all-conference quarterback throwing to experienced receivers. When they change pace they have a running back who has accumulated more than 2000 yards in his career. The bottom line is that Duke is going to give up points against Kansas, no matter how many times they pressure the passer, or even get to him. There's too many weapons. Logically that means the Blue Devils are going to need to score points in order to make a game of it. Here is where the offense is going to need to seriously up their level of play. The Duke running game has produced just 44.5 yards per game against defenses that just aren't on the level of anything they'll see in Lawrence. If Duke can't produce more than 100 yards of offense on the ground, it's unlikely that the Blue Devils will be able to sustain enough presence to allow the passing game to get the Devils into the end zone enough to compete. Then again, Duke went into SEC country a season ago and won. Plus they've shown the ability in the past to scare heavy favorites on their home field. Look for this game to be decided by halftime one way or another. If Duke has been able to find a balance on offense, it could be interesting. If not, Kansas will move to 3-0 by a comfortable margin.
Predicted Final Score:
Duke - 13
Kansas - 31