KU vs. OU: The Matchups

Saturday's game features a matchup between two one-loss teams.

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.

Oklahoma 38
Kansas 31

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