Jayhawks Won't Take La Tech Lightly

Don't expect Kansas to look past Louisiana Tech this Saturday evening for its highly anticipated showdown at No. 19 South Florida on Sept. 12.

No, that won’t happen. If there was any chance KU might take Louisiana Tech lightly, that disappeared after the Bulldogs upset defending Liberty Bowl champions Mississippi State, 22-14, last Saturday on national television.

The Jayhawks (1-0) and Bulldogs (1-0) meet at 6 p.m. (CST) at Memorial Stadium. This game will be nationally televised on FSN and broadcast nationally on Westwood One.

Yes, Louisiana Tech may sound like a cupcake team from the WAC. But make no mistake, they are for real.

“They beat a good Mississippi State team and they did it by playing good hard-nose, fundamental football,” said KU coach Mark Mangino, whose Jayhawks are coming off a 40-10 season-opening victory over FIU. “On defense, they were able to secure five turnovers. Their defense is very speedy and athletic. Their corners are very good, their safeties are very good, their linebackers are active and they have a very good defensive line.”

Some of the Bulldogs’ premier defensive players include first-team All-WAC safety Antonio Baker (he led the team with 118 tackles last season, ranking No. 34 in the nation), defensive lineman D’Anthony Smith (he recorded 43 tackles in 2007, including seven for loss and three sacks), and linebacker Quin Harris, who ranked second on team with 101 tackles last year. His 11 pass deflections were the most among any linebacker in the FBS.

On offense, Louisiana Tech may not have the services of alumnus and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, but the Bulldogs sport some impressive weapons. Senior running back Patrick Jackson ranked 44th in the nation last season in total yards per game (138.8), including 950 rushing yards, which ranked 10th all time for a single season in Tech history. Speedy senior Philip Beck led all Tech receivers with 30 catches for 359 yards, while also ranking fifth in the country in punt return average (17.39 yards). Then there’s big play sophomore receiver Phillip Livas, who paced Tech in receiving yards with 504 and three touchdowns.

Senior Taylor Bennett takes the helm at quarterback after transferring from Georgia Tech, where he started every game last season and led the Yellow Jackets to the Humanitarian Bowl. Bennett, though, struggled in the season opener against Mississippi State, completing just 14 passes in 40 attempts for 175 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception.

Mangino doesn’t expect Bennett to have two straight sub-par games.

“He can make throws and can do a lot of things,” Mangino said.

The KU coach said the Jayhawks will have to play their best to win.

“This is a very good Louisiana Tech team,” Mangino said. “They are progressing very well and it is going to be a game where we have to be very sharp, and we will be.”

The KU-Louisiana Tech series is tied at 1-1. KU defeated the Bulldogs, 34-14, at Memorial Stadium in 2005, while Louisiana Tech beat Kansas, 16-11, in Lawrence in 1987. The Jayhawks are 4-1 all time against current members of the Western Athletic Conference.

KU hopes to improves on its showing versus FIU last Saturday. The Jayhawks, who racked up 384 yards of total offense, were led by Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, who each had a career-high nine receptions. Meier was named KU’s offensive player of the game.

While KU’s passing game was clicking (Todd Reesing completed 37 of 52 passes for 256 yards), KU struggled with its running game. Junior starter Jake Sharp rushed nine times for just 29 yards, while junior backup Angus Quigley led the ‘Hawks with 47 yards on nine carries.

Despite the low numbers, Mangino isn’t at all concerned about KU’s rushing attack since FIU “didn’t want us to run the football.”

“When you take chances at trying to stop the run game there is a possibility that you will give up yardage in the other areas,” Mangino said. “Their philosophy was to come in and stop the run and force us to throw the ball, which is probably something that you shouldn’t do with us. We will throw the ball effectively under pressure and against zone coverages. That is the approach that they took so we aren’t going to beat our heads against the wall.”

Expect KU’s running game to get back on track versus the Bulldogs.

“If you look at the stats from last year, you will see that the team went as our running game went,” senior center Ryan Cantrell said. “We have to run the ball, and I think that will be a major emphasis this week as we go and get prepared.”

KU will need its offensive line to improve as well. Despite Reesing’s impressive stats, the O-line didn’t give him much time in the pocket last week. Redshirt freshman tackle Jeremiah Hatch should help that cause. He was injured and didn’t play last Saturday, but is expected to possibly start against the Bulldogs.

KU, though, will be without star wide receiver Dexton Fields, who suffered an injury against FIU.

The Jayhawks are certainly looking forward to the challenge in playing this upstart Louisiana Tech team, which went 6-7 last season in head coach Derek Dooley’s first year. Kansas wants to punish the Bulldogs.

“We want go get more turnovers,” said senior linebacker Joe Mortenson. “We are trying to lead the nation in turnovers. We got three last week, so four or five would be nice. We also want to get some big hits.”

Despite the big game versus South Florida the following weekend, KU has its eyes focused squarely on the Bulldogs.

“I think it is pretty easy to stay concentrated,” Mortenson said. “Coach Mangino keeps us level so we don’t get a big head. I think we are always really concentrated for the next game and the next game is always the most important game, as he always says. We just try to focus on that.”

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