Kansas sits in 13th place in the BCS, one of the final five remaining undefeated teams and yet still longing for a bit of respect. Outsiders point to Kansas’s schedule, which has yet to send Kansas on what they call a “real road game,” and while more people are piling on the Kansas bandwagon, several others called the Jayhawks frauds this week.
This one takes the Jayhawks to Boulder, Colo., where they haven’t won since defeating the Buffaloes 40-24 in 1995. Unlike 1995, the Jayhawks will enter the game with the bullseye on their back.
On to the matchups:
Talk about a mismatch. McClinton comes in as one of the top defensive tackles in the Big 12, feasting on most lines he has faced. So what’s his reward? It’s Maiava, a true freshman who played his first full game last week against Kansas State. At 6-foot-0 295 pounds, Maiava is as stocky as McClinton, so you wouldn’t think his pad level would be a problem. What will be a problem is that Maiava won’t have long enough arms to keep McClinton off him. If James McClinton gets to your chest, you’re done for. McClinton could completely change this game in that he should command double teams, opening things up for other defenders. He’ll be a problem for Colorado in the running game when he penetrates and forces Hugh Charles to make quick decisions and he’ll be a problem in the passing game when Kansas sneaks a linebacker just past his back on a twist.
Ed Warinner always says that he wants to pass to set up the run. Well, almost every game this year has a pattern. Kansas comes out, throws the ball out of the gate, doesn’t do much, then starts to move the ball on the second or third possession when the Jayhawks start running the ball. Running the ball well in Boulder will be important for a number of reasons. First, regardless of what Warinner says, Kansas has, at least so far, run successfully to set up the pass. Secondly, Colorado is still in a rebuilding phase, and there is a lack of quality depth on defense. If the Jayhawks can pound away at that defense, thin air or not, the Buffaloes will be the ones tiring, not the other way around. Dizon is the key playmaker for the Buff defense, and he’ll put Sharp and McAnderson to the test when he blitzes, meaning both will need to be effective in picking it up and protecting Todd Reesing. If Kansas can consistently run the ball, they likely will win the game.
3) Dezmon Briscoe, wide receiver, versus Benjamin Burney, cornerback
One of the main reasons Kansas’s offense has been so successful has been the Jayhawks’ ability to make plays with secondary playmakers. Marcus Henry may have more drops than catches in Big 12 play, but his height and athleticism still commands the opposing team’s top cornerback. That opens things up for guys like Briscoe and Dexton Fields, who is often isolated on a linebacker or a safety. Briscoe has been a pleasant surprise this year, using his 6-3 height, slippery cuts and deceptive speed to make big plays in the passing game. He may actually be Kansas’s biggest receiving threat at this point. In this game, he’ll get Burney (5-11 190), a more physical player, but one who lacks the overall polish to stay with Briscoe. If he can jam Briscoe or stop him, that means KU has to check down another option and dramatically slows the passing game down.
4) Mike Rivera, linebacker, versus Hugh Charles, running back
Charles is a very, very good Big 12 running back with excellent speed, quickness and the vision to cut back and make a big play when you overpursue. Thanks to Charles’s speed, the Buffs like to get him out to the wide side of the field and give him a ton of room to cut upfield. That means Rivera will be the backside pursuit. Rivera has put together a nice year this year, and he has the size (6-3 255) and speed to get the job done. Rivera will need to be assignment sound, and he’ll have to make the easy tackle, rather than trying to KO Charles. If he goes for the big hit, and misses, Charles is a good enough back to cut back across the grain for a big gain.
5) Todd Reesing, quarterback, versus Ryan Walters, free safety
Colorado has a decent offense this year, but it’s nothing like what the Jayhawks have. It will be Walters’s responsibility to make sure the game doesn’t turn into a track meet. At the same time, Walters is a bit of a playmaker, and can gamble at times. That’s good news for a guy like Reesing, who may try to put a pump fake on a shorter route before throwing the post over Walters’s head. At the same time, Reesing can’t stare down his receivers over the middle, or Walters would be more than happy to step in for an interception. The whole game should be a cat-and-mouse one between these two, with Reesing hoping to open things up through the air, and Walters looking to stop him.
Colorado is likely the most balanced team Kansas will see this year. Kansas State had one player in Jordy Nelson that the coaches liked to get the ball to and relied on a blitz-heavy defensive scheme that left receivers in good situations downfield.
The Buffaloes have the defensive line and linebackers to at least slow down the running game, and if they do, it could make things difficult for Kansas to get going offensively. When the Buffaloes have the ball, it will be important for Kansas to pressure Hawkins, as he can be rattled, and try to minimize the effect Charles has on the game.
I’m not one of those people that thinks KU hasn’t played a road game. If anything, I think Manhattan is a tougher place to play than Boulder. Still, don’t expect the Jayhawks to run away with this one. Kansas is better, and they’ve definitely got something to play for.