Jayhawks Hope to Corral Buffs Today

Rewind to Oct. 28, 2006. Kansas, which had lost four straight games and seeing their bowl hopes possibly slipping away, was down 9-0 at halftime against Colorado at Memorial Stadium.

KU coach Mark Mangino had to gamble, and he found an ace in the hole in freshman quarterback Todd Reesing. Mangino lifted Reesing’s redshirt after halftime, as the kid nicknamed “Sparky” engineered a thrilling comeback by passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another score in propelling KU to a 20-15 victory.

While the Jayhawks didn’t earn a bowl bid, Reesing revived KU’s season and the program. Beginning with the win over CU, KU has won 19 of its last 22 games heading into its matchup with the Buffaloes this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

No. 17 Kansas (4-1) is coming off a 35-33 victory at Iowa State, where the ‘Hawks rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to match the third greatest comeback in school history. Again, Reesing was the man who led KU back, completing 10 of 12 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns in the second half (18 of 26 for 319 yards for the game). Kansas scored 21 points in the third quarter and held on to win its Big 12 opener.

While the Jayhawks dug themselves a deep hole in the first half, they enter the CU game with huge momentum after the remarkable second-half comeback.

“It was amazing coming from behind,” senior linebacker Mike Rivera said. “Down 20 points, we thought we had our backs against the wall, but we just kept fighting and kept working. Next thing you know we were up 21-20, so we just wanted to finish the game strong and it was a fight to the finish. We don’t want to do it like that every week, but it was a great thing for our team to build on.”

Kansas now faces a Colorado team which has lost its last two games after winning their first three. But CU has played the strongest schedule to date among Big 12 teams. The Buffs opened the season beating Colorado State, Eastern Washington and No. 21 West Virginia, before falling at tradition-rich Florida State and No. 5 Texas (38-14) last Saturday.

West Virginia managed just 43 passing yards against Colorado, the fewest CU has allowed since 1999.

In the recent KU-CU series, the Buffaloes had won five straight meetings before KU won the last two games. The Jayhawks won last season in Boulder, 19-14, and are looking to beat CU three straight times for the first time since 1962-64.

Mangino knows his team faces a true test.

“(Colorado) is a very fine football team,” Mangino said. “Their losses have come against some very talented teams. They beat a good West Virginia team. It will be a great challenge for us. They have some good players on offense and on defense. They have Cody Hawkins at quarterback and he can make plays. He is a tough kid who takes a lot of hits.

“In the Texas game last week he took some vicious hits and got right back up. When you have that kind of leadership at the quarterback position you have an opportunity to be successful.”

Just a sophomore, Hawkins already ranks eighth in school history in career passing yards, sixth in completions and touchdowns, and ninth in total offense. He set all major passing and total offense records last season for a freshman, and also set a record for pass attempts in a season by any class.

Mangino is also impressed with CU’s freshman running backs. Tailback Rodney Stewart leads the team with 72.5 yards per game. He broke loose against West Virginia for 166 yards, the third most rushing yards by a freshman in school history. The Buffaloes also feature another impressive freshman back in Darrell Scott, who was named the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.

“They are running the ball well,” Mangino said. “(Stewart and Scott) are very, very talented.”

CU’s defense is highlighted by defensive end George Hypolite, cornerback Cha’pelle Brown (No. 35 in nation with 0.4 interceptions per game) and linebackers Brad Jones and Chris Smart.

“On defense they are fast and they run to the ball well,” Mangino said. “(Hypolite) is an excellent player. Their linebackers are very active, with Smart and Jones. They are very, very good players. Their corners are quick. They they run to the ball and cover well.”

Mangino may have found a running back last game who can run the ball and give the Jayhawks’ rushing game a much-needed spark. Junior Jake Sharp, who rushed for 821 yards last season, broke out of a slump against Iowa State last week and recorded 186 all-purpose yards, including a season-best 79 rushing yards and a career-high 107 receiving yards, the most ever by a KU running back. Sharp also had one rushing touchdown and a receiving TD.

With a rushing offense that ranks last in the Big 12 and 96th nationally at just 118 yards per game, Spark could be the answer to KU’s problems. With junior Angus Quigley starting the last two games, look for Sharp to get the call against Colorado.

“I like his attitude (and) moxie,” Mangino said. “He comes to play. This is very important to him, and he takes great pride in his performance. ...We’re leaning his way to get more work, but we certainly have the other two backs in the picture, no question,” Mangino added about Quigley and junior college transfer Jocques Crawford.

Sharp is hoping to build on his performance against the Cyclones.

“I have always been a pretty determined guy,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t only me (against Iowa State). “This was a big picture type of thing. Our linemen and our running back corps worked very hard in the last two weeks and I think we took a step in the right direction.”

KU hopes to take another big step in the right direction against Colorado. With No. 1 Oklahoma looming the following week in Norman, don’t expect the Jayhawks to look ahead.

After all, CU gave KU the fight of its life last season. The Buffaloes held KU to just 19 points and 333 yards of total offense after the ‘Hawks entered the game averaging 50.3 points and 515.8 yards. Colorado returns eight defensive starters from 2007.

Reesing would love to improve those numbers on Saturday and duplicate his performance in his first college game against Colorado two years ago. He wasn’t too shabby last year at Boulder, completing 20 of 29 passes for 153 yards and rushing seven times for 84 yards. However, CU held Reesing and Kansas to just two touchdowns.

“Last year they held us to our lowest point total of the season, Reesing said. “That is enough said right there, so obviously they did something last year that gave us a lot of problems. I would assume they would want to take a similar approach, because we struggled moving the ball at times and our passing game was rather ineffective. ... It is going to be a challenge to get ready for, but I’m looking forward to it.”

The Jayhawks are aiming to post their 20th win in their last 23 games since that Reesing-led win over Colorado in Lawrence on Oct. 28, 2006. And this time around, they want to play full throttle from the opening kickoff.

“We have yet to play a complete game this season and I think that  that is our goal,” senior defensive end John Larson said. “We dodged a bullet last week and you really have to be careful about spotting people 20 points in conference play and hope to have a winning record. We are going to come out very well prepared and ready to go for four quarters of good football.”

*Stat To Watch: Colorado ranks last (119th) in the nation in kickoff return defense (31.4 yards), while KU is 119th in kickoff return offense (13.2 yards).  Maybe Saturday will be KU senior kick returner Marcus Herford’s breakout game. Herford, who’s averaged just 12.8 yards per kickoff return this season (12 returns for 153 yards), was a preseason All-America return specialist by Phil Steele Magazine. Herford ranked second in the Big and 15th in the NCAA in kickoff return average in 2007 (28.65 yards).

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