Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Kansas Jayhawks
--by Vince Campisi
November 8th, 2008
1:30 PM CT
Television Coverage: FSN PPV
KANSAS (6 - 3) (3 - 2)
NEBRASKA (5 - 4) (2 - 3)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Kansas
Latest Line: Nebraska by 1.5.
08/30/08 - vs. Florida International - W 40-10
09/06/08 - vs. Louisiana Tech - W 29-0
09/12/08 - at. South Florida - L 34-37
09/20/08 - vs. Sam Houston State - W 38-14
10/04/08 - at. Iowa State - W 35-33
10/11/08 - vs. Colorado - W 30-14
10/18/08 - at. Oklahoma - L 31-45
10/25/08 - vs. Texas Tech - L 21-63
11/01/08 - vs. Kansas State W 52-21
11/08/08 - at. Nebraska
11/15/08 - vs. Texas
11/29/08 - at. Missouri
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri - L 17-52
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech - L 31-37 OT
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State - W 35-7
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor - W 32-20
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma L 28-62
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Kansas' potent spread offensive attack is one of the better groups in the nation. After playing nine games, they rank 18th nationally in total offense (445.56 ypg), 10th in passing (299 ypg), 17th in passing efficiency (150.80 rating), 61st rushing (146.56 ypg), 24th scoring offense (34.44 ppg), and 57th in turnover margin (+.11 mrg).
QB: Jr. Todd Reesing (225 of 329, 2638 yds, 20 TDs, 9 INTs) is in the middle of another solid season this year. He is ranked 16th in the nation with a very good 150.30 QB rating. Reesing also ranks an impressive 10th in total offensive yards with 311.8 per game. He works well in the spread, able to get the ball out quickly to his receivers. He has a nice touch on his passes and throws an accurate deep ball. He hasn't performed well while under pressure though, and against Texas Tech two weeks ago really struggled with their aggressive defense. Reesing has pretty good wheels and has rushed 168 net yards and 3 touchdowns with a long of 16. He isn't a burner and hasn't rattled off any huge rushes this season, but does a nice job of getting first downs with his feet. Behind Reesing is Jr. Kerry Meier (2 of 2, 42 yds). Meier hasn't played much at QB since losing the starting job to Reesing last season, but is an impact player at WR.
RB: Kansas' running backs have been getting more production over the past few games after getting a slow start to the season. The group is led by Jr. Jake Sharp (122 carries, 647 yds, 9 TDs), who is coming off a big day against Kansas State in which he rushed for 181 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 21 carries. He is a slasher, a small back (5'10", 190 lbs.) with great quickness that can break tackles. Sharing carries behind Sharp are Jr. Jocques Crawford (55 carries, 190 yds, 4 TDs) and Jr. Angus Quigley (54 carries, 281 yds, 3 TDs). Crawford and Quigley are much bigger backs than Sharp is, with each a few inches taller and weighing at least 30 pounds heavier than Sharp. Despite their large frames, both are pretty light on their feet. The three backs have combined this season to average 4.84 yards per carry. The offense requires the running backs to catch the ball well, with Sharp (18 catches, 237 yds, 1 TD), Quigley (17 catches, 82 yds, 1 TD), and Crawford (6 catches, 46 yds) all seeing receptions this year. This unit would like to keep the ball rolling as it was against the Wildcats a week ago.
WR/TE: The Jayhawks' receiving crew has great size and athleticism. The grouping of starters at WR are Jr. Kerry Meier (66 catches, 742 yds, 4 TDs), So. Dezmon Briscoe (54 catches, 800 yds, 10 TDs), So. Johnathan Wilson (27 catches, 392 yds, 2 TDs), and Sr. Dexton Fields (10 catches, 119 yds). Meier is a converted QB that has turned into the Jayhawks top receiving threat this season. Briscoe is an outstanding athlete that is currently tied for the all-time mark at Kansas for career touchdowns at 17, not bad for a Sophomore. Wilson is a very good deep threat due to his 6'3" frame and great speed. Fields, who stands at 6', is the only starter that is shorter than 6'3" tall. Top reserves at wide receiver include Sr. Raymond Brown (5 catches, 29 yds), Jr. Raimond Pendleton (4 catches, 29 yds), RFr. AJ Steward (1 catch, 6 yds), and Sr. Marcus Herford. At tight end are TFr. Tim Biere (29 catches, 467 yds, 7 TDs) and So. Bradley Dedeaux (2 catches, 12 yds). Neither has much experience and neither has made much of an impact this season. The Jayhawks haven't used their TE's much this season as in the past when they had Derek Fine.
OL: Kansas' offensive line has had some trouble at times protecting their Quarterback. The Jayhawks rank 63rd in sacks given up this season. Run blocking was fair early in the season, but as of late has gotten better. Through nine games this season, they are allowing for an average of 4.1 yards per carry and have given up just 17 sacks and 50 tackles for loss. Starting at tackle is RFr. Jeremiah Hatch (6'3", 311 lbs) on the left and RFr. Jeff Spikes (6'6", 314 lbs) on the right. Both have had some struggles this season in their first year of play. Texas Tech had their way with this group for the most part two weeks ago but bounced back nicely against Kansas State last week. Top reserves at tackle include So. Ian Wolfe (6'5", 295 lbs) and RFr. Ben Lueken (6'6", 300 lbs.). Starting at guard is Sr. Adrian Mayes (6'3", 305 lbs) on the left and Sr. Chet Hartley (6'4", 314 lbs) on the right. The middle of the line is the strength of the unit and both Mayes and Hartley have been solid again this year. Top back-ups at guard are So. Carl Wilson (6'4", 288 lbs) and So. Sal Capra (6'3", 292 lbs.). At center is Sr. Ryan Cantrell (6'3", 295 lbs), with So. Brad Thorson (6'3", 290 lbs) backing him up. Cantrell is the best player on this line and one of the better centers in college football this season.
Kansas' defense is not one of the better units in the Big XII. They are one of the worst nationally against the pass. Through nine games, they rank 82nd nationally in total defense (381.33 ypg), 110th pass defense (270.56 ypg), 55th pass efficiency defense (121.83 rating), 30th rush defense (110.80 ypg), 68th in scoring defense (26.3 ppg), 79th in fumbles recovered (5), and 16th in interceptions (12).
DL: Kansas' defensive line is a pretty solid unit that has done a good job of getting after the opposing QB lately. They also have broken up more passes as a group than is usual for a defensive line. Through nine games, they are allowing 3.7 yards per carry while also helping the defense to pick up 11.5 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Russell Brorsen (27 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 4 QBH, 3 PBU) on the left end and So. Jake Laptad (18 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) on the right end. Brorson picked off two Josh Freeman passes last week against Kansas State, placing him second on the team this season in interceptions. Laptad is the best pass rusher of the group, as he leads the Jayhawks in sacks with 6. Top reserves on the ends are Sr. John Larson (6 tackles, 0.5 sack) and Jr. Maxwell Onyegbule (6 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 2 QBH). Starting at the left tackle spot is Jr. Caleb Blakesley (15 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with So. Jamal Greene (13 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) performing back-up duties. Greene has been getting plenty of experience this season, filling in for injured starters the past three weeks. He will return to his reserve role this week, however. Starting at the right tackle spot is RFr. Richard Johnson Jr. (13 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 PBU), with TFr. Darius Parish (8 tackles) serving as the top reserve. Johnson sat out last week's game with an injury, but will be back this week for the Nebraska game.
LB: Kansas' linebacking corps is the strength of the defense with three experienced Senior starters leading the way. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Joe Mortensen (55 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, FR, 8 QBH, 3 PBU). Mortensen rarely comes off the field and does not have a listed back-up. However, So. Justin Springer (15 tackles, 0.5 sack) usually plays when Mortensen is on the sidelines. Mortensen moves very well for a 250 lb. backer and is a dependable tackler. He blitzes well and leads the team in hurries at 8. At weakside linebacker is Sr. Mike Rivera (57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 4 PBU), while Jr. Arist Wright (27 tackles) backs him up. Rivera is a big OLB at 6'3", 255 lbs., but he carries it well with good lateral speed. He is the best of the unit in pass coverage, as well as a hard hitter. Sr. James Holt (71 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) starts as the strongside linebacker, with So. Dakota Lewis (11 tackles) serving as his top reserve. Holt leads the team in tackles at 71, and has been blowing ball carriers up with big hits all season long, ranking 1st in the nation with forcing 5 fumbles.
DB: The Jayhawks' secondary as been having difficulties settling on starters at cornerback this season. Starting this week at cornerback will be Jr. Justin Thornton (52 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PBU) at left corner and TFr. Daymond Patterson (6 tackles) on the right. Thornton started the season at free safety but moved to corner a few weeks ago to help out. He has done a nice job in coverage, leading the team in break-ups (10). Patterson just recently got the starting nod and will try to hang onto it again this week. Top reserves will be Sr. Kendrick Harper (32 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 6 PBU), RFr. Anthony Davis (3 tackles), and TFr. Corrigan Powell (14 tackles). Harper and Powell have both started games this season. Starting at strong safety is Jr. Darrell Stuckey (68 tackles, 3 INTs, 5 PBU), with Sr. Patrick Resby (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) serving as his top back-up. At free safety is So. Phillip Strozier (17 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PBU), while So. Chris Harris (49 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) serves as the top reserve. Harris has started seven games at corner before moving to a reserve role in the defensive backfield. On the season, opponents are completing a fairly high 59.10% of their passes with an 11 yards per completion average.
Kansas Special Teams
Kansas' special teams units have not been great this season. Other than punt returns, it has been a mostly below average year. The Jayhawks currently rank 77th in net punting (34.05 yd avg), 23rd in punt returns (12.68 yd avg), and 119th in kickoff returns (15.79 yd avg).
K: So. Jacob Branstetter has made 8 of his 11 field goal attempts with a long of 33. He hasn't been great this season beyond 30 yards, going 2-for-5. On kickoffs, he has pushed 8 of his 48 kickoffs for touchback and has a 63.9 yard average.
P: So. Alonso Rojas is averaging 41.5 yards on his 37 punts with a long of 77. 8 of his 37 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Kansas' top kickoff returners are Sr. Marcus Herford (18 kick returns, 14.6 yd avg, 28 yd long), Jr. Jocques Crawford (7 kick returns, 18 yd avg, 42 yd long), and Jr. Darrell Stuckey (3 kick returns, 17.7 yd avg, 19 yd long). The top punt returnmen are TFr. Daymond Patterson (17 punt returns, 12.1 yd avg, 1 TD, 75 yd long) and Sr. Dexton Fields (2 punt returns, 17.5 yd avg, 36 yd long).
Coverage: The Jayhawks' kick and punt coverage units have been pretty mediocre this season. They are allowing an average of 21.4 yards on 48 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage team is allowing an average of 10.3 yards per return on 21 punts. The Jayhawks allowed Florida International to score a touchdown from a punt return in the season opener.
Nebraska's offense is one of the better units in the nation statistically. Their offense is a combination of the west coast and spread offenses. After nine games, Nebraska ranks 20th nationally in total offense (443 ypg), 14th in passing (287.8 ypg), 16th in pass efficiency (152.46 rating), 54th in rushing (155.22 ypg), 31st in scoring offense (32.56 ppg), and 103rd in turnover margin (-1.00 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (203 for 296, 2303 yds, 16 TDs, 8 INTs) has had a pretty nice season, but saw one of his worst performances last week against Oklahoma. Against the Sooners, he was off the mark and threw two interceptions. He holds the 15th best QB efficiency rating in the nation at 152.20. He has a typically accurate arm and throws a decent deep ball when called upon. He has a tendency to keep plays alive too long, taking unnecessary sacks or forcing throws that aren't there which have resulted in turnovers. He is at his best when on the roll-out and also in quick timing patterns. He can run with the football, and has executed a number of option plays this season. He has rushed for 161 yards and 3 touchdowns on 57 carries (14 sacks) this season. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (6 for 8, 48 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Witt showed some nice wheels on a keeper for a 16 yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Neither back-up has played much this season.
RB: Nebraska's running backs are pretty good, but don't usually have much room to run from their offensive line. Sr. Marlon Lucky (108 carries, 463 yds, 7 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (66 carries, 451 yds, 3 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (65 carries, 230 yds, 4 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart. Lucky has gotten a majority of the carries this season, however, Helu Jr. received the most touches against Oklahoma last week. Lucky does well when he has space, but battled a foot injury last week that limited him. Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He has also shown a knack for breaking tackles and making something out of nothing. Castille is the power runner of the group and is not afraid to take defenders head-on. He has a tendency to fumble though, so he has been a liability. RFr. Marcus Mendoza (5 carries, 45 yds) has also had a few touches this season, but hasn't been a big part of the offense. Lucky (20 catches, 272 yds, 1 TD) has great hands out of the backfield and has made two spectacular one-handed grabs this season for big yards. Helu Jr. (12 catches, 156 yds) and Castille (6 catches, 69 yds) have also caught passes this season. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) starts, however, is used as little more than a blocker. Sr. TE Hunter Teafatiller has also played the position.
WR/TE: Nebraska's group of receivers is overall pretty solid, but need to be more consistent with their hands as well as holding onto the ball after the catch. Sr. Nate Swift (47 catches, 690 yds, 7 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the group. He holds Nebraska's career receptions record with 150. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance which serve him well for yards after catch. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (45 catches, 527 yds, 2 TDs), a dependable receiver with great hands. Top back-ups at "X" have been Jr. Menelik Holt (25 catches, 278 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks (1 catch, 2 yds). Holt suffered a knee injury two weeks ago and will be out indefinitely. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (17 catches, 159 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (2 catches, 11 yds). Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters that could break some big plays. RFr. RB Marcus Mendoza (2 catches, 7 yds) has also been looked at to help fill in for Holt. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (19 catches, 256 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (7 catches, 98 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (3 catches, 9 yds, 1 TD) as the top pair of back-ups. Young had a big fumble last week against Oklahoma.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line has had its share of ups and downs this season and has a long way to go before they are where they want to be. This season, the line has committed many false starts and holding penalties. They have gotten better at that, but are still not mistake-free. This season the line is allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Starting at tackle is So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. They have among the more consistent performers on the line. Murtha was injured against Oklahoma and may not play this week. So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Smith and Burkes have rotated as starters this season, and both will play a lot no matter who the starter is. Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play hasn't been very good this season, but Slauson has been the best of them. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Williams and Huff will share time at the LG spot. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force by any stretch.
Nebraska's defense continues to struggle to stop above average offenses this season. After playing nine games, the Huskers rank 76th nationally in total defense (375.33 ypg), 84th pass defense (231.89 ypg), 96th pass efficiency defense (137.98 rating), 67th rush defense (143.40 ypg), 80th scoring defense (28.4 ppg), 108th in fumbles recovered (3), and 88th in interceptions (6).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, but hasn't been very consistent at establishing a pass rush. This unit was dominated for four quarters against Oklahoma's offensive line last week. Opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per rush this season, however, isn't entirely the line's fault. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (37 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (31 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 3 QBH, 3 PBU, 3 BK) on the left. Potter is the best all-around player on the line, while Allen is also playing well and flying to the ball. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (48 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BK), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (8 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes a lot of tackles for someone at the nose. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (34 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (2 tackles, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler is having a solid season after suffering through many injuries throughout his career.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking crew has had continuous problems with injuries, rarely playing a game without at least one starter out. The group hasn't been great in coverage this season, and has also had issues taking proper angles to the ball carrier. They lack lateral speed, though, so when someone is out of position, it is tough to make up ground. Jr. Phillip Dillard (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) has been the starter at middle linebacker, however, will be out again this week with an ankle injury. This unit needs Dillard on the field and having him out has really weakened the defense. TFr. Matt Holt (14 tackles) and Jr. Colton Koehler (7 tackles), among others will fill in for Dillard. Sr. Cody Glenn (47 tackles, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB after converting from RB in the off-season. He doesn't have much experience on defense, so he has to rely on his athleticism to make plays. So. Blake Lawrence (8 tackles) performs back-up duties for Glenn and saw a lot of action last week. Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (18 tackles, 1 PBU), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups. Wortman had a career high 11 tackles last week against Oklahoma.
DB: Nebraska's secondary has been lackluster this season against good passing teams. Opposing receivers are frequently seen running wide-open throughout the defensive backfield. Tackling has been a problem this season as well, with numerous big plays sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (31 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 7 PBU) starts at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (32 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (2 tackles) backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but is not immune from getting beat on occasion. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 4 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (20 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played well for Sophomores, but have also given up big plays this season. At strong safety Jr. Larry Asante (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) starts, with Jr. Major Culbert (10 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a good athlete that is getting better in many phases of the game, but still has much room for improvement in coverage. He recorded 13 tackles last week against Oklahoma. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) share the top spot at free safety. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is a harder hitter and better athlete.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been a mixed bag this season. While their kickoff and punt return teams have been pretty good, the punters and coverage units have been quite poor. The Huskers rank 98th in net punting (32.59 yd avg), 17th in punt returns (14.54 yd avg), and 37th in kickoff returns (22.59 yd avg).
K: So. Alex Henery (9 for 12, 48 yd lng, 1 BK) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs because of his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 22 of 53 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 66.2 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages 39 yards on his 28 punts with a long of 58. 9 of his 28 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He hasn't performed as well as he did last season when he averaged over 41 yards per punt. However, he did look good last week against Oklahoma, averaging 45.7 yards per punt with 3 of his 7 punts being downed inside the Sooners' 20. If he is back to that form, he can be a good weapon for Nebraska.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (32 returns, 24.1 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (3 returns, 10.7 yd avg, 12 yd long). At punt returner is Sr. Nate Swift (7 returns, 17.3 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long) and So. Niles Paul (6 returns, 11.3 yd avg, 28 yd long). The return game has been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams continue to struggle with missed tackles leading to extra yards for opponents. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 24.2 yards on 33 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 8.1 yards on 13 punt returns. The kick coverage performance was awful last season as Oklahoma averaged 36.6 yards per return on 5 returns with a long of 62.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Kansas' Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz struggled out of the gate last week against Oklahoma, throwing a pair of picks in the first three drives that helped put Nebraska into an insurmountable hole. He battled back and finished fine, but it definitely isn't a game he'll want to remember. He has had games this season where he looked like an All-American and other games where he looked questionable as a starter. The Nebraska offense lives and dies with how he performs, fair or not. When he has been off the mark, Nebraska doesn't seem to have a strategy to work around that problem and it becomes stagnant. When he is on target, the Husker offense can seem unstoppable. The Jayhawks' defense played well last week against the Kansas State, keeping them from scoring through the air, however, a week earlier Texas Tech scored at will with their passing game. The Kansas corners are exploitable and Ganz should be able to have a pretty nice day through the air. On the season, Kansas is allowing opponents to complete 59.1% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 68.6% of his attempts.
Kansas has struggled to find a pair of corners the defense can depend on, and will try out Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson again this weekend. One way the Jayhawks have tried to neutralize this problem is to get pressure on the QB, and had a lot of success last week against Kansas State in doing so. With the pressure they have brought, it has resulted in some poor throws that the defense has been able to pick off. The Jayhawks rank 16th in the nation in interceptions this year with 16, with SS Darrell Stuckey leading the way with 3. The safeties are still pretty solid despite Thornton moving from FS to CB a few weeks ago.
Nebraska struggled to find a third go-to guy last week with Menelik Holt injured. The main targets are still Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, but unless a third man makes a clear jump into a playmaker role, the offense will not be as potent as it could be. It is possible Holt could play this weekend, however, he is still not 100% and would likely be used only sparingly. Given the problems the Jayhawks have experienced in the defensive backfield this season, you would have to like Nebraska's chances for a big day, given that a third competent threat is found.
Nebraska's ground game continues to improve this season, but there are still a few problems. Marlon Lucky has not been able to perform at 100% the past couple of games, but is said to be as healthy as he has been all season gearing up for Saturday's game. Roy Helu Jr. made another statement in the second half against Oklahoma that he deserves a bigger share of the carries as he ran hard for 157 yards on 16 rushes. Given Nebraska's defensive struggles, it is important for Nebraska to be able to run the ball to keep them off the field as much as possible. The offensive line is very inconsistent, however, as you will see a number of plays each week in which the opponent has 3 or 4 defenders ready to meet the ball carrier in the backfield as the hand-off takes place. At other times they do a good job of opening some holes to get 4-5 yards a pop. It is critical for the team to have balanced success to be more consistent in all phases of the offense. Kansas' rush defense is pretty decent, but gave up a lot of yards on the ground to Oklahoma (206 yds, 4.7 yd avg) and Texas Tech (138 yds, 4.8 yd avg) recently. With a spirited effort, Nebraska should be able to run the ball effectively against the Jayhawks.
Nebraska' trio of solid running backs may turn into more of a duo because of the fumbling problems Quentin Castille continues to have. A combination of Lucky and Helu Jr. should work out well for the Huskers, just as long as they keep in one back if he should get into a good rhythm. The Kansas linebackers are sturdy tacklers with good speed and will present a good challenge for the Husker run game at the second level. Because of their hard-hitting ability, Castille's fumbling issues would be a big liability this week.
Nine games into the season, Nebraska is converting 49.2% of their third downs (11th nationally), and is scoring on 88% of red-zone opportunities (30 TDs, 5 FGs) (26th nationally). The Jayhawks' defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 40.2% of their third downs (74th nationally), and allowing them to score on 74% of their red-zone chances (24 TDs, 4 FGs) (21st nationally). Kansas State converted 47% of their third downs last week against Kansas. The third down match-ups certainly appear to favor the Huskers, and if Nebraska is able to chew up yards and convert on third downs, Kansas will have to be on target offensively.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Kansas' average defensive lineman is 6'4", 265 lbs. It is a big weight advantage, but it will be up to Nebraska's line to keep the quick Kansas players out of the backfield, especially RE Jake Laptad. With Nebraska's RT Lydon Murtha out with an injury, whoever is in that RT spot will have their hands full. Nebraska has given up 14 sacks and allowed 49 tackles for loss on the year, while Kansas has picked up 20 sacks and 54 tackles for loss through nine games this season. On the season, Nebraska averages 4.5 yards per carry while Kansas is giving up 3.7 yards per carry.
Kansas' Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Kansas' passing attack is ranked 10th in the country for good reason, QB Todd Reesing can sling it all over the field. He broke out last season, leading the Jayhawks to a 12-1 season and has had another strong season again this year, although not with the same W/L record. Reesing does a nice job of spreading the ball around to many receivers, but he has two favorites in Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe. Meier and Briscoe have combined for 53% of the catches (120), 57% of the receiving yards (1,542), and 70% of the touchdowns through the air (14). One problem that Reesing has had this season is maintaining his poise under pressure. When the heat is on, he tends to rush decisions, and in some games this season made really bad choices. He isn't a long distance runner, but can definitely extend drives with pickups of 5-10 yards on occasion. Reesing is completing 68.4% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 61.7% of their passes.
Nebraska's pass defense continues to struggle this season, as Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Co. went wild last weekend. Time after time the secondary has left receivers streaking downfield wide-open. Many of the players in the Nebraska defensive backfield are young and inexperienced, but they don't appear to really be progressing as a whole this season, which has to be a concern for the Husker Coaches. Free Safety Matt O'Hanlon really struggled last week against Oklahoma and barely played in the second half. That might mean Rickey Thenarse will get a majority of the plays at FS this week. Thenarse has had injury problems at Nebraska, but is a better athlete than O'Hanlon is.
Kansas' receivers have the talent to pick on the struggling Husker secondary, and with three of the top four receivers being 6'3", they have a nice size advantage over just about any defensive backfield they play against. There are five legitimate quality receivers for Kansas, and a pair of running backs in Jake Sharp and Angus Quigley that have shown nice hands out of the backfield. Not only have these receivers been a big reason for the passing game being so effective, but their ability to block has been key in the development of the Jayhawk run game over the past few weeks this season.
Kansas' run game has been improving over the course of the season and looked fantastic last week against Kansas State. Top back Jake Sharp had 181 yards and 4 touchdowns last week, much of that well before halftime. He was able to hit the hole quickly and shred the Wildcat defense. Sharp is the fastest of the Jayhawk backs, with the top two backups, Angus Quigley and Jocques Crawford being bulkier runners. It is important for Sharp to give the Nebraska defense something else to worry about, other than QB Reesing's arm. Still, this ground game hasn't been consistent all season long, and there remains the question as to how good it really is. Kansas State isn't exactly a great measuring stick as to how good you are.
Nebraska's defense has been pretty mediocre against the run this year statistically, in large part to their lack of sideline-to-sideline speed. Not many teams have been able to consistently pound at the Huskers for 4-8 yards a carry, it has mostly been short gains with an occasional big play. Nebraska's front seven definitely missed MLB Phillip Dillard last week against Oklahoma, giving up 193 rushing yards, and will again be without his services this week. Until he recovers from his ankle injury, there will be a difficult to fill hole in that defense.
Kansas is converting 52% of their third downs (7th nationally), with a 86% red-zone scoring average (28 TDs, 9 FGs) this season (38th nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 38.1% of their 3rd down attempts (59th nationally), and has allowed a solid 77% red-zone scoring percentage (23 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (31st nationally). Nebraska's defense had an awful outing against Oklahoma last week, as the Sooners converted on 54% of their third downs. In the two weeks prior to the Oklahoma game, Nebraska's third down defense held Iowa State and Baylor to a measly 8.7% conversion rate. The Jayhawks converted on 67% of their third downs last week against Kansas State.
Up front, Kansas' average offensive lineman is 6'4", 308 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. Kansas has been pretty mediocre this season in pass protection, and will be up against a pretty solid Nebraska defensive front. The Husker defensive line didn't perform very well last week against Oklahoma, and tends to be inconsistent from play-to-play, but will have opportunities to make plays in the backfield on Saturday. The most interesting spots to watch will be Nebraska's ends against the Kansas tackles. The Kansas tackles, Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes are Freshmen playing against Nebraska's Zach Potter and Pierre Allen. Potter and Allen have both shown a lot of ability this year, and will be up against some of the more inexperienced tackles they will face this season. Kansas is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 4.3 yards per carry this season. The Jayhawks have allowed 50 tackles for loss and 17 sacks, while the Huskers have accumulated 48 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in eight games this season.
Keys to the Game
1.) Stop Turning the Ball Over - Huskers had 3 turnovers in first 5 offensive plays last week. You can't beat anyone doing that.
2.) Pressure KU QB Todd Reesing - Reesing has had all sorts of trouble when defenses get in his grill. This is a must for Nebraska.
3.) Run the Ball Consistently - Nebraska should be able to run the ball with a combination of Lucky and Helu Jr. against the Jayhawks. This will wear down the KU defense, opening up some big plays in the passing game.
1.) Keep QB Todd Reesing on his feet - He can pick apart just about anybody...as long as he's comfortable in the pocket.
2.) Continue Strong Run Game - Recent success in the run game has really been a help to the overall success of the offense. If they can have a balanced attack, the Jayhawks will be tough to stop.
3.) Better performance from Cornerbacks - the CB's have struggled this season, and Nebraska has some weapons to exploit this weakness. They have to play improved football this week and try to keep big plays to a minimum.
Special Teams: Nebraska
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - illness - questionable
LB - Phillip Dillard - ankle - out
OT - Lydon Murtha - foot - doubtful
WR - Menelik Holt - knee - questionable
Saturday marks the 115th all-time meeting between Kansas and Nebraska, one of the longest running series' in all of college football. Nebraska holds a dominant edge in the series at 88-23-3 since first meeting in 1892. Kansas has won 2 of the last 3 games, however, since defeating Nebraska in 2005 for the first time since 1968. Kansas still has not won a game in Lincoln since that 1968 contest. Last season, Kansas scored more points against Nebraska than the school had allowed in its history, winning 76-39. The last game in Lincoln was an exciting 2006 contest that saw Kansas come back from a 17 point deficit, forcing a single overtime game that Nebraska would win 39-32.
Kansas is currently (6-3), still able to win the Big XII North if they are able to win out. That is a tall task, however, with games against Texas and Missouri still on the horizon. This week's game is clearly the best opportunity to get a win left on the schedule. A loss could point the Jayhawks squarely at a (6-6) finish. Nebraska is sitting at (5-4) looking for bowl eligibility with a win this weekend. Nebraska is also mathematically alive in the Big XII North race as well. They would need to win out and have Missouri drop 2 of their last 3 games to get there, however.
Nebraska and Kansas have shared 3 common opponents so far this season in Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas Tech. Oklahoma dominated Nebraska to a 62-28 victory, while Kansas was competitive against the Sooners before ultimately dropping the game 31-45. Both of those games were played in Norman. Iowa State also hosted both teams this season, with very different experiences. Kansas came back from a 20 point deficit to beat the Cyclones 35-33, while Nebraska dominated Iowa State 35-7. Texas Tech was the most surprising of all common opponents, however. The Jayhawks hosted the Red Raiders and were annihilated 63-21. Nebraska, however, traveled to Lubbock and took Texas Tech to overtime. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz threw an interception in that overtime, giving the win to the Red Raiders 37-31. You don't want to put too much stock into performances against common opponents, but it is something interesting to look at.
This is probably the most even match-up either team will have the rest of the season. Kansas will likely be sizeable underdogs against both Texas and Missouri, while Nebraska is likely to be well favored over both Kansas State and Colorado. The odds makers started this week having Kansas a 1.5 to 2.5 point favorite, however, most now list Nebraska as a 1.5 point favorite going into Saturday's contest. In other words, this game is more or less a pick'em, being difficult to pick a far and away better team.
Lincoln, Nebraska has not been a fun place for the Jayhawks to play over the years, dropping 19 straight to the Huskers in Memorial Stadium. And actually, Kansas has not had much success away from Lawrence against many teams in recent history. This season they are (1-2) away from home, playing with less consistency on the road than at home. Nebraska and Kansas match-up very closely to one another, especially on offense with each possessing a great passing attack and decent ground game. Neither defense is world-class, with Kansas giving up slightly more yards (381.33 to 375.33 per game), but slightly less points (26.33 to 28.44 per game). The biggest differences between these two teams are seen in schedule strength, which Nebraska is listed as 17th and Kansas 41st, and in turnover margin where Kansas has a (+.11) per game and Nebraska has a (-1) per game.
All signs are pointing to a high scoring affair in Lincoln on Saturday afternoon. Kansas has problems defending good passers, so if Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz can keep from many mistakes, he'll be able to put up some big numbers. Nebraska has the same problem against quality quarterbacks, and if they aren't able to get hands in the face of Kansas QB Todd Reesing, he'll also have a field day. Each team has a pretty decent ground game, and whichever team can have the most balance is probably going to win this football game. Expect this to be a close game with the teams trading scores throughout. Nebraska will bounce back from the loss to Oklahoma with a close victory over the Jayhawks. Nebraska by 3.
Kansas - 31
Nebraska - 34
Nebraska vs Kansas Game Preview
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