It wasn’t the Kansas State Wildcats, and it certainly wasn’t the Missouri Tigers.
No, the North team that gave Mangino the most fits was Colorado, which
defeated Mangino in each of his first four years. Even when Mangino
finally got over the hump, it wasn’t easy. Kansas needed a
brilliant second-half performance from Todd Reesing to seal the deal in
2006 as the Jayhawks snuck away with a 20-15 victory. Then, last year,
Kansas held off a late charge in Boulder to capture the victory.
This year, it’s tough to get a gauge on the Buffaloes, who
have played a brutal schedule already and are missing several key
players to injury. Still, there’s enough firepower left on
both sides of the ball to give the Jayhawks trouble … as
Here are this week’s matchups to watch:
interior offensive line versus George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas,
If Hypolite isn’t the best defensive tackle in the Big 12,
he’s in the elite group. The 6-foot-1, 290 pounder is quick
off the ball and gives opposing offensive lines fits in both the run
and the passing game. His presence opens up plays for
Colorado’s other linemen, including Nicolas, a rough nose
tackle. Kansas’s interior line has struggled this year when
compared to last year, and they’ll face arguably their
biggest challenge to date on Saturday. If they can push Hypolite and
Nicolas out and provide holes for the run game, Kansas will have a
chance to control the game physically, and likely, control the
scoreboard. But if Colorado can force Kansas into a pass-only
situation, and if they can get pressure up the middle, it could lead to
a slow start like the one that nearly doomed the Jayhawks last week in
2) Kendrick Harper and
Chris Harris versus Josh Smith, wide receiver
Colorado’s offense has been bogged down over the first part
of the season, scoring less than 25 points per game. Smith represents
Colorado’s biggest big-play threat. The speedy receiver has
three plays over 20 yards, a punt return for 51 yards and a kickoff
return for a touchdown. He also averages about a carry per game, and
the Buffaloes might try to see if they can get him on the edge with a
reverse. His speed could present problems the way R.J. Sumrall’s speed did last week, when Kansas cornerbacks were
so paranoid about getting beat deep that they gave up easy seven- to
10-yard passes. Both Harris and Harper have shown that they have some
ability at the position, but the speedy Smith will represent a
challenge. Taking Smith out of the game would mean that Colorado
wouldn’t have much big-play ability, and with the way
CU’s offense has gone this year, that could be the difference
in the game.
3) Kansas defensive
line versus Colorado offensive line
Colorado’s offensive line is more banged up than an old
Pinto. The Buffs are missing two starters and another lineman, all of
whom are out for the year. Beyond that, they’ve lost a couple
players to academic issues. What it leads to is an offensive line with
one senior, one junior, one sophomore and two freshman, and an
increased likelihood of moving over a defensive tackle for immediate
depth. The Buffaloes gave up three sacks to the Longhorns last week,
but perhaps more importantly, they gave up pressure on nearly every
play. That could be the elixir needed for a Kansas defensive line that
hasn’t gotten to the quarterback consistently. Texas has
better horses up front, but that’s not to say that Richard Johnson Jr. and Jake Laptad won’t be able to get a much
better push than they have been getting.
4) Mike Rivera versus
Rodney Stewart, running back
Rivera pulled a Nuke LaLouche last weekend when he “announced
his presence with authority.” It was a major step forward for
Rivera, who had been chastised by some as having a subpar senior year.
All he did last week was come in and provide serious punch to a defense
that desperately needed it. Make no mistake – last
week’s game wasn’t won when Kansas came out in the
second half. It was won when a defense, led by Rivera’s
energy, began getting stops and making big plays in the first half.
That turned the team’s confidence around more than anything.
This week, Rivera will have to be his old sideline-to-sideline self in
that he’ll have Stewart, a lightning quick back who has
already drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles, to chase down. Stewart has
put up two 100-yard games already in his true freshman season, and he
uses his 4.35 speed to stretch the field. If Rivera can chase him down,
or keep him from putting up big plays, Colorado might not have any more
offensive options to stand on.
5) Kansas receivers
versus Cha’pelle Brown, cornerback
You can’t teach height. But in Kansas’s case, you
can recruit plenty of it. The Jayhawks boast three 6-foot-3 starting
receivers. The “small” starter, Dexton Fields, is
between 5-11 and 6-0 and weighs more than 200 pounds. That’s
bad news for Brown (5-7), who has been a playmaker in the Buffaloes
secondary this season. The height difference may be even more critical
this week in that free safety Ryan Walters is fighting off an injury
and likely won’t be 100 percent. That means Brown might not
get the help over the top that he needs to deal with Kansas’s
stable of big receivers who can jump.
While those might be the most important matchups for Kansas,
there’s another question – what happens when a
stoppable force meets a movable object – that should be
answered Saturday. Kansas is the nation’s worst team at
returning kicks, and has provided preseason All-Big 12 returner Marcus Herford with no space to run. On the flip side, Colorado’s
kick coverage unit is the worst in the country. This could be the
opportunity one of those units needs to build some confidence heading
later into the season.
In terms of the overall game, Kansas should win this one fairly
comfortably. You would like to think that the Iowa State game served as
a wakeup call for what can happen when you come out flat, and Colorado,
with its host of injuries and general lack of offense, seems to present
a fairly safe opportunity to put together a strong 60 minutes.
Still, no North team has played Kansas as well as Colorado under
Mangino’s tenure, so don’t be surprised if this one
CU at KU: The Matchups
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