If you take a quick glance on paper, you’ll just write off Kansas’ chances of scoring a huge Homecoming win over Texas, Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium and that would be fair. After all, the Jayhawks haven’t defeated the Longhorns since 1938 and aside from a couple of heartbreaks in 2004 and 2012, they haven’t really been that close.
However, at 2-1, KU has a chance to get it done against reeling Texas (1-2). That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. In fact, Kansas must play near perfect to win this game out of respect to the talent that is still on the team for new head coach Charlie Strong, who dismissed a ninth player from his program this week.
Still, the combination of factors, including the fact that Kansas catches Texas early in the season and in the their transition gives reason to hope. Here are five question that surround today’s conference opener for both teams.
1. Is Montell Cozart turning the corner?
In last week’s win over Central Michigan, quarterback Montell Cozart was solid, completing 23 of his 33 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll have to improve on that and be ready to run, as Texas will blitz and bring pressure from their dynamic front four alone. If he’s at rattled as he was against Duke, it will be a very long day for Kansas.
2. How will Cozart handle the pressure?
Piggybacking on the first question, what happens if the Texas pressure gets to Cozart? He has looked badly shaken against heavy pressure and Texas will present the biggest challenge of his young career. Defensive tackle Malcolm Brown (6-2 320) is a stud, a one man wrecking crew who could inflict damage against the still maturing Kansas offensive line.
The unit’s speed will also cause problems, as they may make it difficult for the Kansas offense to get the quick hitters and bubble screens that they’ve used through the first three games. If these elements are shut down, how does Cozart react and how will the game be called by offensive coordinator John Reagan?
3. Can Kansas match the physicality?
From a man on man standpoint, the answer is no. However, football is a team game and Kansas can match the intensity by just playing sound, fundamental football with tremendous heart and passion. In 2012, a team that had no business being in a game with just about anyone, let alone Texas, came a couple of plays from pulling off the upset. There’s more talent on this Kansas team and this Texas team isn’t team that survived in Lawrence, two years ago.
4. Could Tyrone Swoopes be the first quarterback to be rattled?
Lost amidst the talk about Cozart is young Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who will be starting just his second game after starter David Ash had to retire because of recurring concussions. So, today’s game will mark his first Big 12 start. Though, Lawrence’s Memorial Stadium can many times be as intimidating as a school library, what happens if the Homecoming crowd has reason to get rowdy, say if Kansas takes a second half lead? If the game is tight, will Swoopes and the Longhorns get tight?
5. Finally, will Kansas finally breakthrough and beat Texas?
Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996 and not counting the two new teams in the league, Kansas has managed to beat everyone at least once, except Texas. In 2004 and 2012, the Jayhawks had their collective hearts ripped out by the Longhorns and some of their friends (cough, Freeman Johns, cough). Can this be the year that KU finally gets it done?
Even though Texas is struggling and could be staring at 1-5 with a loss today and Baylor and Oklahoma next on their schedule, this would be a victory that would merit the goalposts going for a swim. It’ll be tough, but it has to happen eventually and today would present a tremendous opportunity for the Jayhawks to be great.