If the Kansas Jayhawks are to end their road losing streak and start the season 2-0, it's going to be tough, in sultry Houston, against a Rice team that is better this year than they were a year ago, when kicked a last season field goal to upend Kansas 25-24.
Still, it's a game the Jayhawks have to have and great opportunity to start off 2013 like didn't start 2012. Here's a list of five things or players to watch who will be key to KU finding road success for the first time since week two of the 2009 season.
1. The Running Game
It's no secret that the Kansas run game is fun to watch. Head coach Charlie Weis can utilize his immensely talented backfield in different ways, creating opportunity for his passing game and his quarterback Jake Heaps.
The question will be, how can he use the run game to control the clock and gain momentum against and Owls offense that can rack up yards and points and is very experienced. If Kansas can run the ball like they did in their win last week over South Dakota, they'll have a great chance to win.
2. Will the defense step up?
Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue is good and is better this year. Against Texas A&M, he riddled the defense often early on, before succumbing to the Aggies pressure and high heat in College Station. Still, he was 18-29 for 180 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. He also ran the ball nine times for 85 yards on zone read plays.
To win, the Jayahwks defense will have to step it up a notch and there's no doubt they will improve. There's always considerable growth from well-coached team from week one to week two and this Kansas team is very well coached. If they can limit big runs from the Owls and of course, force a couple of turnovers, they'll control the game.
3. Road Warriors
When Kansas won 34-7 at UTEP in the second week of the 2009 season, things were much different for Kansas football. Todd Reesing was their quarterback. Mark Mangino was their head coach and fans and players alike had visions of a Big 12 North title and maybe more.
Well, today, both of those guys are long gone and so is the Big 12 as it was known then, but this program would take a major step forward if they can finally get one on the road against a very quality opponent. From there, the sky would be the limit.
4. The Receivers
Against South Dakota, the Kansas receivers took good steps forward and will look to build on that against the Owls. Justin McCay and Rodriguez Coleman showed glimpses of what could be and this week provides the perfect opportunity to send a message that last year is long gone and better days are here.
5. The Front Seven
We could say that the offense will be a major story, but let's be honest, this game is going to come down to the front seven's ability to control the Rice running game via their spread and more accurately, controlling McHargue.
I think Jake Heaps makes some plays early and late in the game, while the running game has a solid day, aiding the process. The defense has enough of the lack of road wins and makes a play late. The win starts Kansas at 2-0 and everyone's perspective starts to get a little more positive heading next week's home game with Louisiana Tech.