Both teams will need that resiliency, the ability to battle back from adversity in this game:
1) Jeff Spikes and crew versus George Selvie, defensive end
Redshirt freshman versus a returning All-American. Sure, on paper, this matchup looks like a major mismatch in USF’s favor. But that’s why the game isn’t played on paper. When Kansas runs the ball, Selvie (6-foot-4 245 pounds) will have to fight off Spikes (6-6 314), who outweighs him by nearly 70 pounds. Spikes, who Mangino has said could be one of the best linemen he’s had at Kansas, also has the athletic ability to mirror Selvie in some situations. But Selvie, a quick athlete with a non-stop motor, will have the advantage in passing situations. That’s when Spikes will likely get some help, either from left guard Adrian Mayes, tight end Tim Biere or one of the Kansas running backs. If Spikes can match up well enough with Selvie that he needs minimal help, the Kansas offense should get rolling. On the flip side, should Spikes need multiple players to help out, it will both decrease what Kansas can do offensively and increase what South Florida can do to shut down the Kansas attack.
2) Kansas wide receivers versus the USF defensive backs
The Jayhawks received a blow this week when they found out that Dexton Fields, the team’s leading returning receiver, would not be available for tonight’s game. But the Jayhawks are far from decimated in terms of weapons available. Last week saw two 130+ yard receivers on the team, with one coming from true freshman Daymond Patterson, Fields’s replacement out of the slot. Dezmon Briscoe, Jon Wilson and Kerry Meier give the Jayhawks three 6-3 receivers who can run and catch. The USF defensive backs have looked good this season, and safeties Nate Allen and Carlton Williams are proven commodities. But cornerback is a different story, where the Bulls lost two starters to the NFL. Their replacements, Tyller Roberts and Jerome Murphy are tall and athletic, but untested. If those four can’t get a handle on Kansas’s four of Briscoe, Wilson, Meier and Patterson, then it could be a long night for the Bulls defense.
3) Kansas defensive backs versus the USF receivers
The same is true on the other side of the ball, where Kansas must slow down USF’s receiving corps to have a successful night. Chris Harris is considered one of the Big 12’s top cover cornerbacks, while Justin Thornton and Darrell Stuckey may make up the conference’s top safety unit. But it’s at that second cornerback spot, and at the third spot, where some problems could arise. Isiah Barfield will start at the cornerback position opposite Harris, thanks to an injury to Kendrick Harper. Without Harper, the Jayhawks lose a steady cover man and a physical presence against the outside run and outside short pass. The nickel lineup will stay the same with the only change as Barfield for Harper, but Stuckey, who often plays cornerback in Kansas’s nickel schemes, will have his hands full, and the Jayhawks have no sure third cornerback option against the spread, meaning KU could use true freshman Corrigan Powell or redshirt freshman Ryan Murphy. They’ll go up against a deep and athletic receiving unit for the Bulls, including Taurus Johnson, a fast field-stretcher and A.J. Love, a talented sophomore. Any of the four starting receivers can hurt you, and the fifth, Carlton Mitchell, actually led the team in receiving last year. And don’t forget, tight end Cedrick Hill, an athletic option who is deadly around the end zone.
4) Russell Brorsen, Jeff Wheeler, Jake Laptad, Max Onyegbule and John Larson versus Matt Grothe, quarterback
Grothe is an athletic quarterback who stretches the field vertically with his passing and horizontally with his ability to scramble and run up the field. He’s second on the team in rushing, while completing 60.4 percent of his passes. He’s not afraid to avoid pressure to give his speedy wideouts a few extra seconds to get downfield, which is one of the things that makes him most dangerous. That’s where Kansas’s rotation of five defensive ends come in. Other than Onyegbule, they aren’t an overly athletic group, but what they lack in athleticism, they make up for in smarts on the field. You’d be hard pressed to find a group of ends that are more assignment-sound, and their assignment for this game will likely be to get up the field and pressure Grothe, while at the same time maintaining contain responsibilities to stop him from rolling outside. If Grothe can break contain, it will give him more time to find his receivers or cut up the field and get yards on the ground. If the ends can contain him, but not pressure him, then the Jayhawks will have to send blitzes to get pressure, which could lead to a big play if Grothe makes a quick read. At the same time, Grothe has shown that he will make mistakes at times if he is pressured and kept in the pocket.
5) Angus Quigley, Jocques Crawford and Jake Sharp versus Tyrone McKenzie, Brouce Mompremier and Kion Wilson, linebackers
The Jayhawks have struggled to get the running game off the ground in the first two games, and the running backs will face a tough challenge tonight. Not only will they be trying to run the ball effectively against a defense that has been one of the best run defenses in the country, but they also will likely have to help block Selvie or any one of USF’s linebackers on a blitz. Either Quigley or Crawford should likely get the start, but don’t be surprised to see Sharp play a big role in this one either. Kansas has typically utilized Sharp well against fast defenses that can at times overpursue, like against Kansas State and Virginia Tech. If the run game isn’t working, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kansas throw a few screen plays or shovel passes to get the running backs the ball in space. That’s when they could wind up one-on-one against one of USF’s talented group. McKenzie is the best of the three, a former second-team All-Big 12 player and a second-team All-Big East player last year. He’s familiar at Kansas from his time at Iowa State, though that wasn’t a pleasant experience for him. Sure, the then Iowa State sophomore grabbed nine tackles, including one in the backfield. But the Jayhawks rolled up 403 yards of offense as they beat the Cyclones 41-10. He’s got a better defense around him this time. Mompremier is athletic and tough while Wilson has great potential and is settling in nicely.
Both defenses have been excellent this year. South Florida is tops in the country in total defense and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown. Meanwhile, Kansas’s defense hasn’t allowed any touchdowns this year. Still, despite the great talent on the defenses, this is a game that could get high-scoring. Both teams also boast excellent offenses that stretch the field and give defenses nightmares.
A wild-card factor in this game could be special teams, which would have to favor Kansas. USF will be plugging in a true freshman kicker after their other kicker went 1-4 and missed a potential game-winning field goal at the end of the UCF game. They’ve also struggled a bit to cover, which is a problem when you’re facing returners like Marcus Herford and Daymond Patterson.
But the reason everybody will tune in will be to watch Todd Reesing versus Matt Grothe, even if they don’t play at the same time. In this matchup, I have to give the edge to Reesing, who not only makes plays, but does it within the offense and makes very few mistakes. Grothe, on the other hand, has elite playmaking ability but also the potential for errors. In a big game, there’s nothing better than having a tried-and-tested quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes, and Kansas has that in Reesing. He’ll be the difference.
South Florida 20