After last year’s game, and the one before it, Mark Mangino was quick to point out that Missouri, not Kansas State was Kansas’s rival. Why the change? Who knows, but from the amount of talking going on from the Kansas State side, there isn’t any doubt that both squads will be up for this one.
And they should be. It’s a game that both teams, if they play
well, should have a chance to win. Last year’s version saw
the Wildcats jump out to a fast start in Manhattan before Kansas came
back for a 30-24 victory. It was one of the launching steps for the
Jayhawks toward a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory, and this
year’s game shouldn’t be any less important, with
both teams hoping to position themselves for a solid bowl game.
So without further ado, here are the matchups for the 106th Sunflower
1) Jake Sharp versus
the Kansas State linebackers
Sharp has shown serious improvement this year, averaging 5.1 yards per
carry in Big 12 play. That’s bad news for a K-State team that
allows 200 yards per game on the ground. Kansas State’s
linebackers have made a habit at times at getting out of position,
which could kill them against Sharp, who has the speed to make their
mistakes count on the scoreboard. Establishing Sharp should be a large
part of the gameplan – it should help to relieve pressure on
quarterback Todd Reesing, who has seemed a bit tight at times the last
two weeks. But the K-State linebackers won’t just have to
play well against Sharp, Jocques Crawford and Angus Quigley in the
passing game. In order to slow down K-State’s blitzing,
Kansas will likely run shovel passes or other dumpoffs in order to
catch the linebackers overpursuing. If they come upfield too quickly,
which they’ll have to do to get to Reesing, Sharp could be
due for a huge day on counters and draws as well.
2) Kansas defensive
backs versus the Kansas State receivers
The Jayhawks have struggled so much against the pass that
they’re actually allowing more yards per game than the
much-maligned 2006 season. Kansas made several changes before the Texas Tech game, including moving safety Justin Thornton and receiver Daymond Patterson to cornerback, while moving Chris Harris to safety. While it
didn’t yield immediate results, the hope is that Thornton, a
big, smooth-hipped athlete, Patterson, a player with big-time speed,
and Harris, a good all-around athlete, will be able to add stability to
the unit. Also look for freshman Corrigan Powell to play a lot, while
Kendrick Harper, a usual starter, will be rotated in. They’ll
face another challenge this week in a K-State squad that boasts solid
receivers in four spots. The best of the bunch is Brandon Banks, a
playmaker who averages more than 20 yards per catch. Deon Murphy is
another receiver with deep speed, while Aubrey Quarles and Ernie Pierce
can hurt a defense that ignores them.
3) Kansas receivers
versus the Kansas State defensive backs
At the same time, the passing game on the other side may be even more
of a mismatch. Kansas boasts two of the top 10 receivers in the
conference in Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, two players likely to
take advantage of mismatches this week. Jon Wilson and Dexton Fields
are also possibilities for big weeks. Kansas State’s safeties
are among the worst in the conference against the pass, and
they’ll be forced to cover Meier and Fields in space.
It’s not a much better matchup for Kansas State with
cornerbacks Joshua Moore and Blair Irvin playing against Briscoe and
Wilson. Moore is a solid player, but he gives up inside position too
easily, something that Briscoe, a monster on slant and crossing routes,
could seriously hurt him on. Wilson will also have a chance for a big
play working against Irvin, who has given up plenty of them.
4) Kansas defensive
ends versus Edward Prince, Alesana Alesana and Nick Stringer, offensive
Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman may be the streakiest passer in
the conference. He’s capable of completing 10 straight
passes, then completing two passes over his next 10. The key to
rattling him is consistent pressure, something the Wildcats allow at
times. While he isn’t sacked often, it’s not
difficult to pressure Freeman into mistakes and he doesn’t
throw well on the run. Kansas hasn’t done well at supplying
consistent pressure off the edges, and the Jayhawks have just 15 sacks
in eight games so far, but this is an offensive line that the Kansas
defensive line should be able to beat. The efforts of Laptad, Brorsen,
Larson and Onyegbule will be even more important this week with Richard Johnson Jr., Kansas’s best interior pass rusher, likely out
5) Special teams
If there’s any matchup that stands out in Kansas
State’s favor, it’s on special teams, where the
Wildcats have proven adept at pulling key scores. They’ve
scored five times on punts this year, be it from blocks or from a
Murphy punt return. Murphy is also one of the most dangerous kick
returners in the conference, while Kansas has struggled with coverage.
The Jayhawks have done better since changing personnel two games ago,
but they’ll have to really be on their game to not lose this
matchup to a superior special teams unit. It may be clichéd,
but in a close game, field position and special teams can make the
difference. Even if the other two units aren’t that close,
special teams could make up for other deficiencies in the K-State
lineup and keep it close.
With the struggles both teams have seen on the defensive side of the
ball, this is a game that is likely to be a high scoring affair. Still,
like last year’s game that featured two great offenses,
don’t be surprised if it’s played in the
mid-to-high 20s or low 30s. Often in rivalry games, teams will come out
tight, and it takes a little while for them to find their groove.
Kansas has more weapons than Kansas State, and the Jayhawks have the
tools to take advantage of K-State’s defensive weaknesses.
This game will likely be close throughout, but the Jayhawks will pull
away at the end.
Kansas State 28
KU vs. KSU: The Matchups
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