Football is a game of matchups.
If your best wide receiver can’t get open against the other team’s best cornerback, the passing offense is going to struggle.
It’s the game within the game, and it’s the main reason teams from smaller schools have a chance to upset ones from bigger conferences. Most people would admit that the talent level on the bigger team, for the most part, is deeper, and more than likely better. But if the smaller team can exploit advantageous matchups, they can cause a world of hurt for a team not taking them seriously.
1) Chris Harris, cornerback, versus Justin Gardner, wide receiver
What happens when you match up a freshman cornerback in his first high school game against an experienced receiver who had close to 40 catches last year? Unless that cornerback is good, it’s typically a bloodletting. Oh sure, the Aqib Talib-Bryan Anderson matchup has the bigger names, but there aren’t many receivers that have big games against Talib. Instead, much of the attention should be focused on Harris and Gardner. Harris, a 6-foot 170 pound true freshman, came into fall camp and surprised his way to a starting cornerback spot. His reward is Gardner, a 6-2 wide receiver who caught 52 passes for 471 yards and five touchdowns as CMU’s third or fourth receiver last year. How Harris matches up could determine if LeFevour has anywhere to go with the ball.
Brorsen took advantage of injuries and blew up in the last four games of the year, posting 22 tackles, including five for loss and three sacks … numbers that compare favorably with several of the conference’s top sack masters over the same period. At the same time, Brorsen struggled in space against Missouri. He’ll be going against Hartline, a preseason All-MAC pick at tackle, who will protect LeFevour’s blind side. Like with any good quarterback, how much time he has to pass will be critical. If Brorsen can pressure the passer on a consistent basis, while maintaining his contain responsibilities, the Kansas defense should have a good night. Brorsen will also have to make the right decisions against CMU’s read option.
The Jayhawks will likely be able to move the ball on the ground, which means in order to counter KU’s strength, the Chippewas will have to put more men in the box. That puts more pressure on the cornerbacks, and makes it more important for guys like Henry to stretch the field to loosen things up. Gordy is a former track sprinter and a sure tackler who picked off one pass last year, to go along with his 66 tackles. Gordy will give up five inches to the taller Henry, who will test him down the field at least once in this one.
LeFevour is enough of a running threat that Mortensen will spend at least part of the game spying on him. This means that not only will Mortensen have to watch to see if LeFevour is going to take off, he will have to finish LeFevour off when he is chased out of the pocket. Mortensen is a big, strong, between the tackles type player, so it will be interesting to see if he can make plays on LeFevour in space. If LeFevour can make an impact on the ground, as well as in the air, the Jayhawk defense could be in for a long night.
Playing the WILL linebacker spot, Rivera will line up on the weak side and on most plays will be in pursuit. That assignment means he’ll be in charge of cleaning up Sneed’s cutback lanes, along with chasing him out of the backfield. Sneed had an injury plagued year last year that caused his yardage to dip, but he looks back to the form that saw him run for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. Rivera will have to work on passing downs too – Sneed caught 52 passes last year and can be dangerous in space.