One, Oklahoma, was picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason, but has fallen back in its own division because of a heart-breaking loss to Texas last week. The other, Kansas, is currently leading the North division, but needs to pull off a strong performance to set up a brutal run through the rest of conference play.
The game will feature two of the Big 12’s best quarterbacks
and enough athletes on both sides to make things interesting.
Here are this week’s matchups.
1) Kansas receivers
versus Oklahoma defensive backs
There are plenty of matchups that could have fit into the number one
spot that didn’t even make the cut. But the receivers versus
the defensive backs will be the most important matchup in terms of
Kansas staying in the game. Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing showed
against South Florida that he can make plays while his offensive line
is dominated. That’s why the receivers are so important.
Kansas has had five players put up 100-yard receiving days in the
six-game season so far, and none has been Dexton Fields, arguably the
team’s top wideout heading into the year. With Fields back
from injury, the Oklahoma secondary should be ripe for the picking. The
Sooners gave up big yards through the air against Texas, and the
cornerbacks’ inexperience, coupled with the
safeties’ inability to cover in man, means that Kansas will
likely be able to move the ball and put up points. They’ll
need to put up points if they want to stay in the game.
2) Kansas defensive
line versus Oklahoma offensive line
On the other side, Kansas needs to slow down Oklahoma’s
running game to have a chance. Sam Bradford will likely get his yards
and his points regardless of what Kansas does to try and frustrate him.
Where the Jayhawks can even the score a bit is to shut down
Oklahoma’s running game, something Texas did with a lot of
success last week. Do that, and Oklahoma’s score will likely
be kept under 40, and that’s the range Kansas wants this game
to be in. But stopping the run will be no easy task –
Oklahoma’s offensive line is among the best in the country,
and is headlined by the massive left side with 337-pound tackle Phil Loadholt and 335-pound guard Duke Robinson. They pave the way for the
Oklahoma running game, and also supply Bradford with time to pass.
That’s another area Kansas will need to step up. The
Jayhawks’ pass rush has gotten progressively better, but it
will need to make a major statement to rattle Bradford. If Kansas can
get to Bradford, he can be pushed into mistakes. If not, Bradford will
move the team up and down the field with ease.
3) Jake Sharp versus
Brandon Crow or Austin Box, linebackers
The Oklahoma defense took a huge hit against Texas when middle
linebacker Ryan Reynolds went out for the season. The injury was the
turning point in the game, and when Texas made its run. The run came
with Crow in the ball game, and he’s still listed as a
starter heading into the Kansas game, along with athletic linebacker
mate Box. Meanwhile last week, Sharp helped to propel the Jayhawks to
victory over Colorado by ringing up 118 yards on the ground.
He’ll be the key to slowing the pace in this one. Kansas
showed several looks against Colorado, including going with an option
quick pitch designed to get Sharp moving forward on the outside. Crow
and Box will need to get a quick jump on the play to slow down
Kansas’s running game, but at the same time, Kansas will
utilize some zone-read game to keep them honest.
4) Arist Wright and
Joe Mortensen versus Jermaine Gresham, tight end
One of the things that makes Oklahoma’s offense so tough to
stop is the overall variety of weapons the Sooners have at their
disposal. Perhaps the best case for that is Gresham, one of the
country’s tight ends who uses his 6-foot-6 height and
outstanding athleticism to stretch the field down the seams. Gresham is
typically too big for a safety and too quick for a linebacker. That
means the job of stopping Gresham will likely fall to either Wright, a
freak athlete of his own accord, or Mortensen, both of whom play
extensively in passing situations, along with Mike Rivera, who will
likely be used to get after Bradford. If Kansas elects to play zone,
the duo will always have to keep tabs on the big tight end, who can run
away from players one second and over them the next.
5) Marcus Herford
versus the Oklahoma kickoff return unit
The Jayhawks have struggled mightily in the kickoff return game this
season, prompting Kansas Coach Mark Mangino to dub it his number one
priority in the coming weeks. Early indicators are that it will mean
the return of starters like Mortensen to the fold. If they can have a
big week, Herford still has the speed to break a big return. The
Oklahoma kickoff unit has been especially vulnerable in the return game
– both Cincinnati and Texas brought back kicks for
touchdowns. In a game that will likely turn into a shootout, every bit
counts, and Kansas certainly doesn’t want to continue to lose
the field position battle.
Kansas has a chance to make a major statement in this game by knocking
off the team that everyone considered at the start of the year to be
the class of the conference. To make that statement, they’ll
have to start well. Oklahoma has been able to blitzkrieg its opponents
so far this year, owning a 110-6 margin in the first quarter. On the
other side, Kansas has struggled to get off the ground early, falling
behind each of its last three opponents.
The game should be a shootout – Kansas has only been held
under 30 points once this year, when it put up 29 in a 29-0 victory
over Louisiana Tech. But Oklahoma has been even more impressive on that
side of the ball. The Sooners have only been held under 40 points once
this year, when they put up 35 against Texas last week. Not
coincidentally, that’s also the only game the Sooners lost.
If Kansas can keep OU under 40, it will have a chance to pull off the
big upset. But in a game that will likely feature big plays on either
side, you should typically pick the team with the most weapons, and in
this case, it’s Oklahoma.
KU vs. OU: The Matchups
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