KU at South Florida Tonight on ESPN2

After opening the season with two impressive wins over Florida International and Louisiana Tech, Kansas will face its first real test of the year against No. 19 South Florida tonight at 7 p.m. (CST) at Raymond Jones Stadium in Tampa.

The game will be televised on ESPN2.
    
Kansas (2-0) is returning to the Sunshine State for the first time since it’s victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in Miami last January. The Jayhawks, who won four straight road games last year (all in Big 12), have not beat a non-conference team on the road since Sept. 13, 2003 (42-35 victory over Wyoming).         
    
South Florida, which went 9-4 last season and earned a Sun Bowl berth, is certainly in a different league than that Wyoming team five years ago.
    
“We play a very good, ranked South Florida team,” Mangino said of the 2-0 Bulls, who climbed as high as No.2 in the polls last season. “They feature an outstanding quarterback (Matt Growthe) who throws the ball very well, yet also runs the ball very well in a designed run game. They have various plays that are designed for the quarterback to carry the football in the same fashion that a tailback would carry the ball.
    
“Defensively, they are very good. They have some outstanding defensive players, including George Selvie, who is probably recognized as one of the top defensive ends in college football.”
    
“It will be a big challenge because it is our first road game of the year and you are always anxious to play well in your first road game to set the tempo,” Mangino added. “I feel very good about our preparation.”
    
Mangino feels good despite having to work extra hours to prepare for the Friday night matchup. This is just the second non-Saturday regular-season game in the Mangino era. KU lost in double overtime at Toledo, 37-31 in 2006.
    
While Mangino isn’t crazy about playing on Friday night, he said the national exposure was too good to pass up.
    
“We have to take opportunities as they come,” he said.
    
The Jayhawks will indeed have to take advantage of their opportunities to knock off the Bulls. KU scored just one touchdown in five times in the red zone in its 29-0 victory over Louisiana Tech last Saturday, although the ‘Hawks did manage three field goals.
    
On defense, Kansas must contain Growthe, who USF is touting as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Growthe is the fourth-leading rusher in school history and the third-leading quarterback rusher in Big East history.
    
Growthe, who has 7,255 yards of total offense and 19 rushing touchdowns in his career, is coming off a stellar game in the Bulls’ 31-24 overtime victory over UCF (Central Florida) last Saturday, where he passed for 346 yards and amassed 400 yards of total offense, accounting for all but 104 of USF’s yardage.
    
While Growthe is the offensive star, Selvie (6-4, 245 pounds) rules on defense. He is a preseason consensus All-American who came just a half tackle shy last season of breaking the NCAA single-season record for tackles for loss with 31.5. He also finished second in the nation in sacks (14.5).
    
“He is awfully talented and a really good football player, but we feel pretty good in our matchup,” Mangino said. “We aren’t going to spend the whole night focusing on George Selvie. When you focus on one aspect of a team’s defense, if they have enough good players, they will hurt you somewhere else. You want to do some things to keep Selvie from having a major impact on your offense, however there are so many other quality football players out there that you can’t just focus on one guy.”
    
Senior Tyrone McKenzie is one of those players and arguably the most underrated linebacker in the country. He’s tied for team lead with 12 tackles and leads the Bulls with three tackles for loss.
    
Through two games, USF ranks No.1 in the country in total defense, giving up just 161.5 yards per game. Led by junior safety Nate Allen, the Bulls have an especially impressive pass defense, ranking fifth in the nation and allowing just 94 yards per game.
    
The Bulls’ secondary will certainly be tested by KU quarterback Todd Reesing and the Jayhawks’ high-flying aerial tack. Reesing leads the country in completions per game (34.5) and is coming off a standout performance against Louisiana Tech, where he completed 32 of 38 passes for a career-high 412 yards.
    
While the passing game has been clicking, KU ranks just 76th in the country in rushing with 127 yards per game. Junior backup Angus Quigley leads the team with 131 rushing yards (6.2 yards per carry) while junior Jake Sharp and junior college transfer Jocques Crawford have struggled thus far. KU’s first two foes have tried to take away the ‘Hawks running game.
    
But this matchup against USF could be different.
    
“There isn’t a lot we can do running the ball against teams that are going to blitz their linebackers nearly every down,” Crawford said. “From the scouting report that we have seen so far they don’t seem like a team that blitzes as much, so hopefully we are able to run the ball more.”
    
Kansas will have to pull together without standout senior wide receiver Dexton Fields, who will the miss his second straight game with an injury. Starting senior cornerback Kendrick Harper likely won’t play either after suffering a head-first collision against Louisiana Tech.

The Jayhawks head into Friday night hoping to make a statement that they belong among the nation’s elite in this nationally televised showdown.
    
“It is a big game for us to go play a ranked team like ourselves and try to go on the road and win like we did last year,” sophomore cornerback Chris Harris said. “Everyone says we always play cupcakes so this is about respect for us, playing a team that is ranked. We are going to try and prove that we should be ranked higher.”
    
Mangino would certainly love to beat USF and move up in the rankings. But he’s quick to point out this isn’t a make or break game, and it certainly won’t define KU’s season.
    
“This early in the season, if we beat South Florida, I can’t tell you after the game we’re going to cruise through the rest of the season,” Mangino said. “And if we don’t (win), I can’t tell you the season is going to be a failure, because it won’t be. It’s too early to say this is a huge game, or we have to win it, or this is going to happen.”
    
Make no mistake, though, Mangino will know a lot more about his team after playing the nationally ranked Bulls in Tampa. And you can bet a KU victory on ESPN2 will capture the country’s attention and feed the growing football fever in Lawrence and throughout the Jayhawk Nation.

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