Like last week, the Jayhawks are up against an explosive offense, and a team that typically starts quick, so it’s vital that Kansas gets out of the gate well.
Here are this week’s matchups.
1) Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch versus Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, defensive ends
If you can say one thing about Hatch and Spikes, it’s that the duo is seriously battle tested. They faced decent defensive ends against Iowa State and elite ends on the road at South Florida and at Oklahoma. They have yet another tough match this week with starting end Brandon Williams and pass rush specialist McKinner Dixon. Both are among the Big 12’s sack leaders and both could have a large factor in this game if they can get to Reesing. Watch for Kansas to do some things to keep them from teeing off, from short passes to shovel passes and delayed runs. Kansas may also try to run the ball, which would slow the pace of the game down and allow the Jayhawks to control the ball. That won’t be easy either, as Texas Tech boasts the conference’s second-best run defense. If Kansas runs the ball well, the Jayhawks should have a great chance to win the game. If Kansas falls behind though, it could free up Williams and Dixon to create some serious damage off the edge.
2) Kansas linebackers versus Baron Batch and Shannon Woods, running backs
Texas Tech’s running backs present a unique challenge for defenses in that they’re just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, in the passing game. Both average about 12 yards per catch, and both do well enough running the ball to give Texas Tech some semblance of balance. The difficult task of staying with those running backs will fall to Kansas’s linebackers, which haven’t looked great in coverage so far this year. When the running backs get the handoff, the linebackers will have to close out the play because secondary members will already be retreating to defend against the pass. Kansas’s linebackers have the personnel to slow down Texas Tech’s running game, but it will be difficult to account for them in the passing game.
3) Dezmon Briscoe against Jamar Wall, cornerback
For much of this season, Briscoe has played second fiddle to slot receiver extraordinaire Kerry Meier. But Briscoe took a backseat to nobody in the Kansas loss to Oklahoma. Briscoe did it all, stretching the field, pulling down jump balls and giving the Jayhawks a presence in the vertical passing game. That’s why he’ll be important Saturday. If Briscoe and John Wilson can make some big plays on the outside, it will only open things up more for players like Meier and Dexton Fields in the middle of the field. Wall is a player with a lot of playmaking ability, but he’s also been susceptible to the big play. He’ll face a tough matchup in Briscoe, and it’s one he will need to win to slow Kansas’s offense down.
4) Chris Harris versus Michael Crabtree, receiver
To gauge Crabtree’s talent, one only has to look at his stats this year. Crabtree, from looking at the numbers, is having an off year. But for the 6-3 sophomore, that means he’s only on pace for 87 catches, 1,241 yards and 21 touchdowns. Crabtree has it all, combining speed and quickness with size and uncanny body control. He runs routes like an NFL veteran, which makes him even tougher to cover. All that sets up a major challenge for Chris Harris, Kansas’s top cover cornerback. Crabtree will likely get his yards, but Harris needs to stick with him enough that Kansas doesn’t have to roll its coverages his way. If Harris can do that, this matchup has to be considered a Kansas victory.
5) Richard Johnson Jr. and Jamal Greene versus the Texas Tech interior offensive line
The Texas Tech quick passing game slows up and frustrates any pass rush from the edges, making the interior players that much more important. With Caleb Blakesley listed as questionable, that will put the onus on Johnson and Greene, both who have some pass rush ability. They might not get to the quarterback, but that’s OK. What’s more important is that they’ll have to clog up the passing lanes and get penetration to get into the face of Graham Harrell. But they’ll also have to watch out for counters and draws if they get too far upfield. On Tech’s side, they’ll have two guards who weigh 330+, with an emphasis on the plus. The Red Raiders boast one of the better lines in the conference, so Johnson and Greene will have to be on their games.
While all the above matchups could be important, special teams could wind up deciding the victor. That edge goes to Kansas, which was solid in those phases against Oklahoma. Texas Tech, meanwhile, will likely use a walk-on kicker that coaches discovered during a contest between the third and fourth quarters of one of the games.
The special teams aspect will likely affect the game in other ways. With Texas Tech’s kickers struggling to connect, look for Texas Tech to go for it on fourth down more often than normal, rather than attempting a field goal. That means both teams could see some momentum swings based on the outcome of those plays, and makes it even more important for Kansas defenders to get a solid result on each down.
Both teams will get their share of points because both wide receiver corps will be far superior to the players guarding them. In the end, it will be the home team, by the special teams margin, that pulls this one off.
Texas Tech 35