When Kansas runs the ball: Advantage Kansas State
The Jayhawks ran the ball well through their first five games, but have
seemed to hit a snag from the Colorado game on. Part of the problem
looks to be the offensive line. But part of it too may be that Jake Sharp is still recovering from his injury, as he still appears to be a
step or two slower than usual. With Sharp's return though, freshman
Toben Opurum was relegated back to spot-duty. Both will need to have
strong games against a Kansas State team allowing just 3.6 yards per
carry. Look for the Jayhawks to try to use some misdirection to get
Sharp the ball in space, where he can take advantage of his speed
against a disciplined, but unathletic Kansas State linebacking group.
If Sharp doesn't cut the mustard, Opurum is capable of grinding things
out, especially on a short yardage basis.
Intriguing Matchup: Sharp against K-State linebackers.
When Kansas passes the
ball: Advantage Kansas
Out of all the game's matchups, perhaps none are as lopsided as
Kansas's passing game against Kansas State's pass defense. Not only are
the Wildcats (with the exception of Jeffrey Fitzgerald) weak at getting
to the passer, the defensive backs have shown a tendency to lose
receivers over the middle (witness the Texas Tech and Oklahoma games).
Again, misdirection on bootlegs and play action could be key in sucking
up those linebackers and giving Todd Reesing the middle of the field to
work. The receivers, including Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, are
going to be better than the guys covering them. Having said that, it's
up to Reesing to get the ball in those receivers' hands, an issue he
has had the past few weeks. Kansas will need to pass as Kansas State's
two top tacklers are safeties Tysyn Hartman and Emmanuel Lamur. If
Reesing can force the safeties to drop back in coverage, Kansas State's
run defense gets that much worse.
Intriguing Matchup: Dezmon Briscoe against Joshua Moore
When Kansas State rushes
the ball: Advantage Kansas State
The Jayhawks have improved a bit at stopping opposing runners since
allowing Iowa State to rush for 219 yards on more than five yards per
carry. A lot of that has correlated with the development of new
defensive tackle John Williams, who clogs up lanes in the middle, and
freshman linebacker Huldon Tharp. But the Jayhawks must get more
consistent — while they have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry over the
last three games, they have also allowed Rodney Stewart and Baron Batch
to rush for 108 and 123 yards, respectively. They'll face a Wildcat
attack that averages more than 180 yards on the ground per game, thanks
to Daniel Thomas, one of the Big 12's top tailbacks. One of the tough
things about Thomas is that he'll get the ball in a variety of ways,
making it tough to key on any one area of the field. When you add in
the play of Kansas State's line against Oklahoma, the blocking of
fullback Braden Wilson and the complementary running of Keithen Valentine and quarterback Grant Gregory, you've got a pretty dangerous,
and versatile, running game.
Intriguing Matchup: John Williams against the middle of the Kansas
When Kansas State throws
the ball: Advantage Kansas
Statistically, the Wildcats just aren't very good at winging it,
throwing just six touchdowns with six interceptions. But that doesn't
mean the Wildcats can't be dangerous with the pass. They love to roll
out Gregory and give him multiple levels to throw … if you drop back,
he'll hit Thomas or tight end Jeron Mastrud underneath. And if you jump
the short stuff, he's lobbing it over your head to Brandon Banks, one
of college football's fastest players. Gregory also provides a
difficult matchup because of his scrambling ability, which slows down
defensive lines. That's an advantage in this game because Kansas's
defensive line has been successful all season at getting to the
quarterback. One way to be successful is to hem Gregory in by staying
in pass rush lanes while trying to slide a linebacker through an
interior crack to clean him up. Other than Banks, there isn't really a
receiver to scare Kansas's defensive backs. Attrail Snipes has had a
nice, if unspectacular season, while Lamark Brown is still waiting to
achieve his potential. Gregory typically makes smart decisions with the
football, but if the Jayhawks can pressure him and keep him inside the
pocket, they can drastically reduce what he can do.
Intriguing Matchup: Max Onyegbule against Clyde Aufner
Special Teams: Advantage
One team has shown the ability to score from its special teams, while
the other hasn't. The Jayhawks have struggled in coverage … which is a
bad sign when you're playing Banks, probably college football's most
dangerous return man. He has taken back four for scores already this
year, and would love nothing else more than adding to that total. On
punts, the issue won't be as important, as Alonso Rojas has shown the
ability to slow down an ace return man. Neither of the Jayhawks' return
units have been dangerous. Kicker Jacob Branstetter and Josh Cherry
have both been playing well. After a rocky start, Cherry has hit his
last five field goals, while Branstetter knocked in a career-long
57-yarder against Oklahoma.
Intriguing Matchup: Brandon Banks against the Kansas KO return unit
The Wildcats? Well, they're good at forcing turnovers, coming up with
21 in Kansas State's nine games. The Jayhawks? Well, they've been prone
to giving the ball away lately. Out of the 111 points allowed in
Kansas's last three games, a whopping 56 were created, either directly
or indirectly, by turnovers. The Jayhawk defense actually achieved a
shutout situation (the defense allowed 14 points, but created 14)
against Texas Tech, only to see Kansas give the ball away on four
fumbles (two by Reesing, one apiece for Meier and McDougald), all of
which led to touchdowns. The Jayhawks can't afford a similar situation
this week. If Kansas can stay even in the turnover battle, or better
yet, win it, the Jayhawks will have a great shot to win this game. If
not? Well, it could be a little bit of déjà vu for Kansas fans.
KU vs. KSU: The Matchups
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