La Tech: It's All in the Matchups

If there was any week that showed how important matchups can be to a football game, it was last week.

East Carolina, a school that would likely struggle against a lot of top-25 teams, found itself faced with a Virginia Tech squad that proved inept at moving the ball. Final result? An upset. On a lesser scale, Alabama showed Clemson what a strong defensive line can do to a weak offensive line, and how much of an impact that can have on a game.

Mississippi State was another team that wound up getting burned by its matchups. At first glance, MSU didn’t look like they would struggle against Louisiana Tech, a visiting team picked to finish fifth in the WAC. But the SEC Bulldogs had no answer for the defense of the WAC Bulldogs, and found themselves at the wrong end of a 22-14 score line.

Then again, matchups could be the same reason that Kansas defeats Louisiana Tech by more points than it did its last foe, Florida International. Here are this week’s matchups:

1)    Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and John Wilson, receivers, versus Stevon Howze and Weldon Brown, cornerbacks

The Bulldogs consider their cornerbacks to be a position of strength. As well they should. Both Howze and Brown are effective blitzers and cover men, along with being solid tacklers out of the secondary. That allows the defense to mix and match its looks depending on what it needs to get to the quarterback. But those defensive backs also struggled at times with Mississippi State’s bigger receivers, and Kansas has three good ones in Briscoe, Meier and Wilson, all who stand 6-foot-3. Brown, at 5-10, and Howze, at 5-9, might have trouble covering those three on jump balls, especially in the red zone, where Briscoe has already proven to be a beast. But the most important part may be on the outside edge where the receivers will be blocking. If Kansas’s receivers can get a seal on the defensive backs, it could mean some big plays down the field, either from the short passing game or the running game, which could force Louisiana Tech’s hand in terms of what the Bulldogs can do defensively.

2)    Jake Laptad, defensive end, versus Rob McGill, offensive tackle

Both teams depend highly on these sophomores, for different reasons. Laptad may be Kansas’s best pass rusher, a role he excelled in against FIU, grabbing 1.5 sacks and terrorizing FIU’s quarterbacks. Meanwhile, McGill, a 6-6 tackle, was considered one of the few bright spots on a line that was generally owned by Mississippi State’s defensive line. Because Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett is a leftie, McGill doesn’t have the pressure of protecting his blindside. But he’ll still have the pressure of trying to block Laptad, a task that didn’t seem too easy last week. Bennett is an experienced passer, but he finished just 14 of 40 last week with constant pressure in his face. If Kansas can get pressure with its front four, the Jayhawks should be in pretty good shape.

3)    Chris Harris and Kendrick Harper, cornerbacks, against Phillip Livas, wide receiver

Harris and Harper are two parts to a defensive secondary that could prove to be among the conference’s best. They’ll have the tough task of keeping tabs on Livas, a slick 5-8 receiver with the quickness to make a big gain off a short pass. The Bulldogs will move Livas around to try to find him space, and they love running a short drag route and finding him on the run with space to turn up field. In that sense, the cornerbacks will need help from Kansas’s linebacking corps. But the cornerbacks will also have to make sure Livas doesn’t make a double move and catch somebody napping. If he does, Livas has the speed to take it all the way. On the flip side, if the cornerbacks can neutralize Livas, Louisiana Tech doesn’t have many weapons to turn to. Kansas will also have to watch out for Livas in the return game, where he’s capable of big plays.

4)    Todd Reesing, quarterback, versus Antonio Baker, free safety

This is an interesting matchup in that it’s between two people who create plays on the fly. Brown plays an aggressive safety, often filling hard against the run and jumping routes when he gets the chance. His risk-taking nature has served him well – his outstanding instincts led him to triple-digit tackles last season and a spot on the WAC first team. But he’ll face a tough match this week in Reesing, a riverboat gambler type who always seems to have something up his sleeve. Brown will have to watch to make sure he isn’t throwing his pads around haphazardly – if he is, Reesing’s just the guy to burn him. Watch to see if Kansas tries to get Brown to bite on the run before throwing the ball over the top. It should also be interesting to see what happens if Reesing is flushed from the pocket. Will Brown be able to sit back in coverage? Or will he try to come up and make a play. Nobody in the conference is better at dropping the ball where the defensive back was supposed to be than Reesing. At the same time, Reesing also enjoys taking some risks every now and then, and Brown is aggressive enough to take advantage.

5)    The Kansas offensive line against the Louisiana Tech defensive line

The Louisiana Tech defensive line is a solid unit that stays in its gaps and allows the linebackers to flow forward effortlessly. They rotate through nine or 10 guys (they played nine last week) to keep everyone fresh, so that those legs at the end of the game are still ready to go. But the line can be moved around, as Mississippi State discovered. MSU power back Anthony Dixon rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries, for about five yards a pop. The Kansas line wasn’t exactly dominating against FIU last week, but the Jayhawks expect, or at least hope, to have right tackle Jeremiah Hatch back. If he is back, it means the Jayhawks will employ three linemen of 310 plus, and two others at around 300. Meanwhile, the nine man rotation of Louisiana Tech boasts just two players over 270 pounds. If the Jayhawks can blow open holes for some combination of Jocques Crawford, Jake Sharp and Angus Quigley, it could be a long day for Bulldog fans.

While it’s always fun to see an upset early on in the season, in a lot of ways, it makes it tough to pull off for a second time. For one thing, you better believe the Jayhawks will have seen film of the Mississippi State game, and know the consequences of not bringing their ‘A’ game. Second, that film will likely show a little more than the vanilla that a lot of teams get away with early, because Tech couldn’t hold anything back against a major-conference opponent.

Beyond all that, Louisiana Tech, while a good, young WAC team, doesn’t appear to match up well with the Jayhawks. The defense depends on confusing the quarterback through multiple reads, while Kansas’s offense allows the coaches to make the pre-snap reads. Kansas’s quick-passing offense is also built to tear apart the blitz, which the Bulldogs need to survive. The Bulldogs also don’t match up either on the inside, or on the outside because of Kansas’s superior size, and look to struggle against the Jayhawks’ top-notch defense.

Louisiana Tech needed a lot of things to happen, including five turnovers, to win its first game. If the Jayhawks can eliminate mistakes and methodically move the ball, they should take care of business.

Kansas 38
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