Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Kansas Jayhawks
--by Vince Campisi
November 14th, 2009
2:30 PM CT
Television Coverage: ABC
NEBRASKA (6 - 3) (3 - 2)
KANSAS (5 - 4) (1 - 4)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Kansas
Opening: Nebraska by 4.
Current: Nebraska by 4.
09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech - L 15-16
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 55-0
10/08/09 - at. Missouri - W 27-12
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech - L 10-31
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State - L 7-9
10/31/09 - at. Baylor - W 20-10
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma W 10-3
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado
09/05/09 - vs. Northern Colorado - W 49-3
09/12/09 - at. UTEP - W 34-7
09/19/09 - vs. Duke - W 44-16
09/26/09 - vs. Southern Miss - W 35-28
10/10/09 - vs. Iowa State - W 41-36
10/17/09 - at. Colorado - L 30-34
10/24/09 - vs. Oklahoma - L 13-35
10/31/09 - at. Texas Tech - L 21-42
11/07/09 - at. Kansas State - L 10-17
11/14/09 - vs. Nebraska
11/21/09 - at. Texas
11/28/09 - vs. Missouri
Saturday will mark the 116th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Kansas, first matching up in 1892. The two have met every season since 1906. Nebraska currently holds a commanding lead in the series (89-23-3). Last season, the Huskers won an exciting, back-and-forth battle over the Jayhawks in Lincoln, 45-35. Nebraska trailed 17-21 late in the 3rd quarter before picking up some nice runs by Roy Helu Jr., and putting Ndamukong Suh in at fullback to catch a touchdown pass that helped close the door on Kansas. While the Jayhawks haven't had any luck in Lincoln over the past 40 years, they have won two in a row at home in Lawrence. The last meeting in Lawrence, 2007, Kansas scored nearly every time they touched the ball, including touchdowns on each of their first 10 possessions en route to a 76-39 victory. The hapless Husker defense couldn't stop anything the Jayhawks threw at them, as QB Todd Reesing put up 6 touchdowns through the air and RB Brandon McAnderson rushed for 4 more.
Nebraska's offense struggles to find consistency, week after week. They have yet to show any semblance of a dependable attack in games against BCS conference opposition. Last week against Oklahoma, the Huskers scored just one offensive touchdown, set up by an interception return to the OU 1 yard line. The Huskers won the game, despite totaling just 180 yards and 10 points. Nebraska currently ranks 84th nationally in total offense (347 ypg), 77th in passing (201.44 ypg), 71st in pass efficiency (126.52 rating), 61st in rushing (145.56 ypg), 71st in scoring offense (25.67 ppg), 45th in interceptions thrown (8), 90th in fumbles lost (10), and 76th in giveaways (18).
QB: TFr. Cody Green (33 for 59, 313 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) has started at QB the past two weeks. He hasn't provided the spark many had hoped, but has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB at some point down the road. He can run pretty well and has shown a very strong arm, but he just hasn't put it all together mentally yet. He has carried the ball 16 times for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns (lost 11 yards on sacks). Green was pulled last week against Oklahoma after failing to lead the Husker offense to a single first down in 5 possessions. Jr. Zac Lee (123 for 206, 1496 yds, 11 TDs, 6 INTs) looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt opposition this year, but did not produce against BCS opponents, which led to his demotion. He seems very hesitant to throw downfield, instead choosing to check down to much shorter routes. He doesn't have great pocket presence, and when pressured chooses to run to the perimeter instead of stepping up into the pocket. This has been an issue because he just isn't great throwing on the run. When Lee has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy, but he hasn't been "on" against any defense of note. He has decent speed and has rushed for 60 yards on 53 attempts (has lost 66 yards on sacks). After replacing Green in the second quarter of the Oklahoma game, Lee threw a 1 yard touchdown pass, however, did little else, throwing 5-for-9 for 35 yards. Once again, it will be a game time decision as to who will get the starting nod.
RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (139 carries, 806 yds, 6 TDs). Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them. He has really turned into a complete back over the past season. He has been bothered by an injured shoulder since the Missouri game, but finally started to show flashes of his pre-injury self last week against Oklahoma. He picked up 141 yards on 20 carries against the stingy Sooner D. The top back-up to Helu Jr. was TFr. Rex Burkhead (23 carries, 118 yds, 1 TD), an impressive young back that has had some nice rushes early this season. He broke his foot a month ago and won't be back until the season finale against Colorado. TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson (34 carries, 149 yds, 2 TDs) has separated himself from the rest of the backs and has commanded the #2 spot in the lineup. So. Marcus Mendoza (4 carries, 10 yds), So. Austin Jones (6 carries, 15 yds), RFr. Lester Ward (8 carries, 24 yds), and RFr. Collins Okafor (1 rush, 9 yds) are battling behind Robinson. Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, with Helu Jr. (19 catches, 149 yds), Burkhead (8 catches, 66 yds, 1 TD), Mendoza (7 catches, 45 yds), Robinson (3 catches, 22 yds), and Jones (1 catch, 2 yds) each catching passes this season. At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time on the field. When Nebraska lined up in the "I" last week, he proved to be an excellent lead blocker. He should see more time on the field the rest of the season.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers need to be more consistent if the passing game is going to be viable threat. There are too many instances of dropped passes and lackadaisical play at this late stage of the season. Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (25 catches, 413 yds, 3 TDs). He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills. He is very inconsistent, however, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones. Starting at "X" is RFr. Khiry Cooper (9 catches, 67 yds, 1 TD). He's probably got the most up-side of Nebraska's receivers, and was thrust into the starting role three games ago. Reserves include Sr. Menelik Holt (15 catches, 175 yds, 1 TD), So. Curenski Gilleylen (16 catches, 299 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (13 catches, 177 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (7 catches, 63 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds). Holt had been the starter at "X" for much of the year, however, dropped passes and poor blocking led to his demotion. Gilleylen is a speedster that developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat, but with Nebraska not going deep, he's been a non-factor. Brooks turned into a solid possession receiver this year and probably has the best hands of the entire group. Kinnie has great measurables and is starting to show that he can catch the ball. Henry is a big body (6'5") but is yet to make an impact. Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (17 catches, 184 yds, 3 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 61 yds), So. Ryan Hill (2 catches, 8 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (5 catches, 52 yds) competing behind McNeill. McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone. This is a deep and talented group of tight ends, which are a big strength for the Huskers' offense, however, aren't being taken advantage of properly.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line continues to be far too inconsistent at this late stage of the year. At times they do a nice job, but more often than not they are committing costly penalties and getting beat by opposing linemen. Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right. Smith is typically among the best linemen for the Huskers, but has had his share of issues as well this year. Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has potential to be a rock on the right side. He's young and has made a number of mistakes, however. Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones, even though Marcel sees more snaps. D.J. doesn't have great torque in the hips and gets beat often by athletic linemen. TFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) is another possibility to see in a reserve role at tackle. Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard. Williams is a pretty solid blocker and should only get better. He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes. Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which has caused a few personal foul flags this year. Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up. Hickman is the leader of the group and a typically solid center. He's battling an ankle injury, but should continue to start. Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and leverage.
Nebraska's defense has been very good this season, the best the Blackshirts have been in about a decade. They have been keeping game tight and winning games while their offense continues to sputter. They forced 5 turnovers last week against Oklahoma while holding the Sooners to just 3 points, their lowest output since Bob Stoops became their coach. The Huskers are currently ranked 11th nationally in total defense (274 ypg), 21st in pass defense (179.56 ypg), 2nd in pass efficiency defense (89.68 rating), 10th in rush defense (94.44 ypg), 2nd in scoring defense (10.33 ppg), 16th in interceptions (12), 80th in fumbles recovered (6), and 37th in total takeaways (18).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is possibly the best in the nation. They're big, strong, athletic, and make plays all over the field. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 3 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 8 QBH, 3 PBU) on the left. Both are very good athletes, but haven't played their best football this year. They're still playing well, and have been helped by the excellent play on the inside. RFr. Cameron Meredith (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Williams (3 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end. Meredith has been impressive in his back-up role, and is pushing for more playing time. Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (53 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 17 QBH, 8 PBU, 3 BK), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up. Suh is an elite defensive player that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers. He very rarely comes off the field, yet still has the energy to bring it in the fourth quarter. He's likely to take home many post-season awards. So. Jared Crick (57 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 FR, 13 QBH, 2 PBU, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (17 tackles) providing back-up. Crick has really turned into a big time d-tackle this season, making opponents think twice about always doubling up on Suh. He leads the team with 9 sacks.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has been playing very good football since the start of conference play. With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they continue to get better each week. Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (48 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU). Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that that has been doing a great job at WILL this year. He brings athleticism and experience to the field that has been invaluable. Behind Dillard is So. Matthew May (8 tackles). May has not seen much action this season. Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (31 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (5 tackles) is the top reserve. Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and will make mistakes. Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (32 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR. 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (8 tackles, 1 BK) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up. Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense. Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, he'll be a good one.
DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played very well this season, and kept up a high level of play no matter the competition. Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles. Jr. Prince Amukamara (43 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 1 FF, 9 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (25 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves. Amukamara is a great athlete and has been solid in coverage this season. He returned an interception last week against Oklahoma to the 1 yard line, setting up the game's only touchdown. Gomes has looked very good when on the field, and has seen more time against the spread offenses this year. So. Alfonzo Dennard (22 tackles, 6 PBU) took over the role as starting RCB a few weeks ago and has performed very well. He's a physical corner that makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler. Jr. Anthony West (8 tackles, 3 PBU) backs up Dennard, but has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel. So. Lance Thorell (5 tackles, 1 PBU) is another reserve at corner that occasionally sees time. At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (49 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 7 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) and RFr. P.J. Smith (10 tackles) backing him up. Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter. He's probably the best of the defensive backfield, with Amukamara coming a close second. Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back. Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (48 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 3 PBU) starts at free safety. O'Hanlon is often picked on and has been burned in the past, however, has made some big plays in his career as well. He is a dependable tackler and blitzes well. Against Oklahoma, O'Hanlon intercepted 3 passes, a career high. Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (8 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units, like the Husker offense, have been inconsistent this year. They have some of the best kickers in the nation, but the return and coverage units aren't always up to par. The Huskers rank 97th in net punting (33.32 yd avg), 76th in kickoff returns (20.91 yd avg), 43rd in punt returns (10.80 yd avg), 38th in kickoff coverage (20.61 yd avg), and 105th in punt coverage (13.61 yd avg).
K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. He has made 12 of his 15 attempts this season, with a long of 46. He's made 25 of his last 26 kicks from under 50 yards, missing a 43 yarder against Oklahoma last week. Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation. Kunalic has pushed 22 of 50 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.7 yard average, kicking between the 1 and 2 yard line.
P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 41.1 yards on his 49 punts with a long of 76 this season. 19 of his 49 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20 so far this year. He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and has been somewhat inconsistent when required to punt for length. When directional punting, or attempting to get the ball to down inside the 10, he's been outstanding. He had a great game last week against Oklahoma, averaging near 44 yards per boot.
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (11 kick returns, 23.8 yd avg, 33 yd long), and RFr. Tim Marlowe (7 kick returns, 22 yd avg, 30 yd long). At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (24 punt returns, 9.2 yd avg, 55 yd long). These units have been very good at times, but have been pretty average since starting conference play.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but are not immune from occasional tackling problems. They seem to allow about one good sized return each week. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.6 yards on 28 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 13.6 yards on 23 punt returns (62 yd long). The punt coverage team allowed Oklahoma returner Ryan Broyles to take a late 4th quarter punt for 35 yards, setting up the Sooners at mid-field. There were multiple missed tackles on the return, and in a tight game such as that one, it is unacceptable to have that happen.
Kansas' offense started off the season where they left off last year, putting up big numbers. That potent offense has been slowed down since starting conference play, however. The Jayhawks have been struggling to get points on the board, having a lot of difficulties inside the red-zone. Last week against rival Kansas State, they managed just 10 total points in the loss. The Jayhawks are currently ranked 24th nationally in total offense (431.56 ypg), 8th in passing (303.78 ypg), 39th in passing efficiency (137.11 rating), 85th in rushing (127.78 ypg), 32nd in scoring offense (30.78 ppg), 45th in interceptions thrown (8), 76th in fumbles lost (9), and 64th in giveaways (17).
QB: Sr. Todd Reesing (232 of 361, 2626 yds, 17 TDs, 8 INTs) was expected to be a possible dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy this season after putting a couple of productive seasons together in a row. He started the season hot, but has cooled considerably in the past few games. Reesing has turned the ball over 10 times in the past 10 quarters. He is known for his mobility, however, has been slowed by a groin injury that has hurt his ability to make plays on the run. This has had an effect on his passing as well as his running. Last week against KSU, he ran more at a gallop than a smooth motion, and overthrew many receivers on the run. He just doesn't look comfortable running and throwing off a bootleg. He's been forcing a lot, which has been causing a lot of problems for him as well. This season, Reesing has rushed for 92 yards on 78 carries (lost nearly 200 yards on sacks). Last week he lost two fumbles, one of which led to a touchdown for KSU just before half. Behind Reesing is RFr. Kale Pick (4 of 5, 22 yds). Pick has been used primary as a rusher, carrying the ball 13 times for 162 yards. If Reesing were to get injured or pulled in a game, and Pick was then proven to be ineffective, Sr. Kerry Meier (2 of 3, 70 yds) would switch back from WR to QB.
RB: The Jayhawks' running game is led by Sr. Jake Sharp (83 carries, 368 yds, 3 TDs). He has struggled with a leg injury he suffered early in the season which has hampered him and the KU run game. When he's healthy, he's got both great speed and quickness. That quickness has helped him in the past behind an offensive line that hasn't always produced many big lanes for him to run through. Unfortunately, since the injury, he hasn't been hitting the hole as fast, and doesn't appear to have that breakaway speed right now either. Last week against Kansas State, he rushed for just 35 yards on 11 carries. Backing up Sharp is TFr. Toben Opurum (116 carries, 498 yds, 9 TDs). Opurum is a power back, a bruiser that has had a pretty nice freshman campaign, but is seeing less carries as Sharp continues to get healthier. Over the past two games, Opurum has rushed the ball just 8 times for 18 yards and a touchdown. The backs account for about 15% of the passing game, with Sharp (23 catches, 178 yds, 3 TDs) and Opurum (12 catches, 110 yds, 1 TD) each catching passes this season.
WR/TE: The Jayhawks receiving corps was expected to be a great asset this season, but hasn't been as consistent as was hoped it would be. There are still a lot of dropped balls, which has helped attribute to QB Todd Reesing losing some confidence. Also, lackluster blocking from the receivers has hurt the running game. Starting at the receiver positions are Jr. Dezmon Briscoe (61 catches, 917 yds, 6 TDs), Sr. Kerry Meier (73 catches, 758 yds, 6 TDs), Jr. Jonathan Wilson (30 catches, 361 yds), and TFr. Bradley McDougald (28 catches, 263 yds). Briscoe is a big-time playmaker that is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He's got great size (6'3") and speed which make him a tough match-up for most secondaries. He's dropped some easy passes though this season, which has not helped the offense. Meier is a typically dependable receiver with pretty good athleticism. He's the go-to guy on 3rd downs and his size (6'3", 220 lbs) makes him difficult to bring down. Like Briscoe, Meier has also dropped some easy passes this year. Wilson hasn't had the type of season he'd hoped for, but has caught at least two passes in each game this year. McDougald saw more passes come his way last week (4) than he's seen since the first few of the season. Top reserves at receiver include Jr. Tertavian Ingram (2 catches, 27 yds, 1 TD) and TFr. Chris Omigie. At tight end is So. Tim Biere (8 catches, 108 yds), with So. Ted McNulty backing him up. The tight ends don't see much action other than blocking, but Biere did manage a nice 13 yard catch last week.
OL: Kansas' offensive line has not been very good this season. Run blocking has been poor, while pass blocking has been decent. The unit gets pushed backwards throughout each game, even against average defensive fronts. This group has also struggled with blitzes off the edge. Starting at tackle is RFr. Tanner Hawkinson (6'6", 285 lbs) on the left and Jr. Brad Thorson (6'3", 290 lbs) on the right. Hawkinson has started every game this season at LT, one of just two linemen that did not get shuffled around before last week's game. Thorson was moved from starting LG to starting RT, as the Jayhawks continue to look for the best combination on the line. The tackles were fair in pass protection last week against KSU. The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Ian Wolfe (6'5", 295 lbs) and So. Jeff Spikes (6'6", 314 lbs). Spikes had been the starting RT all season up until last week when the line shuffling took place. Starting at guard is Jr. Sal Capra (6'3", 295 lbs) on the left and RFr. Trevor Marrongelli (6'4", 285 lbs) on the right. Capra is a decent blocker, but hasn't been doing a very good job opening running lanes. Marrongelli got his first career start last week, and looked like a first time starter. He was beaten badly by KSU lineman Daniel Calvin for a sack and failed to add much of a spark to the run blocking issues. Jr. Carl Wilson (6'4", 292 lbs) serves as the top back-up at both guard spots. Starting at center is So. Jeremiah Hatch (6'3", 311 lbs), with Jr. Brad Thorson (6'3", 290 lbs) backing him up. Hatch was a tackle last season, but has filled the center position pretty well this year. Like many on this line, he's young, and there is plenty of room for improvement.
Kansas' 4-2-5 defense has been pretty poor this season. Going into the season, it was a serious question mark, however, has been worse than anticipated. They were fair last week against a very mediocre Kansas State offense, however, have not been doing a very good job of keeping most opponents out of the endzone. The Jayhawks currently rank 47th nationally in total defense (344.89 ypg), 69th in pass defense (227.22 ypg), 48th in pass efficiency defense (122.07 rating), 35th in rush defense (117.67 ypg), 62nd in scoring defense (24.22 ppg), 72nd in interceptions forced (7), 46th in fumbles recovered (8), and 74th in total takeaways (15).
DL: The Jayhawks' defensive line has not been very good this season, failing to get much of a push up-front with any kind of consistency. They've been pretty solid at getting sacks, but most of those sacks came during the weak non-conference slate. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Maxwell Onyegbule (26 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) on the left and Jr. Jake Laptad (39 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR. 6 QBH) on the right. Onyegbule has been a playmaker for the defense, scoring two defensive touchdowns (1 interception return, 1 fumble return) this season. He's tall (6'5"), quick off the edge, and ranks second on the team in sacks. Laptad isn't as fast as Onyegbule, but does lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss (10). He wasn't at his best last week, missing a few tackles, including one that sprung KSU RB Daniel Thomas for a big gain. Top reserves on the ends are Sr. Jeff Wheeler (10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 FF, 6 QBH) and Jr. Quintin Woods (1 tackle). Wheeler has started a few games this season and has done a pretty good job in getting a pass rush when in the game. Starting at defensive tackle are Sr. Caleb Blakesley (11 tackles, 1 QBH) and RFr. John Williams (4 tackles). Blakesley is a veteran starter that has struggled this season. Williams went from playing offensive line a couple of weeks ago to starting on the defensive line last week, getting the starting nod in an attempt to shake things up on the line. The shakeup didn't help matters, as the unit was still being pushed around by the opposing offensive line. Top reserves at tackle include Jr. Jamal Greene (3 tackles) and So. Richard Johnson (14 tackles, 1 FR, 2 QBH). Johnson was benched last week in favor of Williams.
LB: Kansas' linebacking corps has been pretty mediocre this season, and there has been some shuffling in the starting lineup over the past few games. This group has had a lot of trouble filling gaps and getting lost in their blocks. Starting at the two linebacker spots are Sr. Arist Wright (41 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) and TFr. Huldon Tharp (43 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PBU). Wright is the most experienced of the group and has good speed and agility. Tharp is doing very well for a true freshman, but has had some issues getting off his blocks. That isn't a problem limited to Tharp, however, as the entire linebacking crew seems to have that issue. Linebackers in the reserve rotation include Jr. Drew Dudley (63 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 QBH), Jr. Justin Springer (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH), and Sr. Angus Quigley (2 tackles). Dudley had been the starter at one of the linebacker spots all season long until two weeks ago, before the Texas Tech game. Springer has seen most of his action when the Jayhawks go to a 4-3 set.
DB: The Jayhawks' defensive backfield has been fair in coverage this season, but more recently has been very inconsistent. Starting at cornerback is TFr. D.J. Beshears (17 tackles, 1 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Chris Harris (58 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 7 PBU) at right corner. Beshears entered the starting lineup a few weeks ago and has been decent for a true freshman. Harris started the year as the starting nickel back, but has been the starter at RCB since the second game of the season. He's got good size and speed, hits hard, but hasn't been great in coverage. Players in the reserve rotation include So. Daymond Patterson (31 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU) and Jr. Calvin Rubles (4 tackles), and So. Anthony Davis (8 tackles, 1 PBU). Patterson is a very good athlete that has struggled this season. He started 11 straight games dating back to last season before being unseated three weeks ago and did not play last week against Kansas State. Davis started at RCB in the opener and hadn't seen much action until last week. He committed 3 pass interference penalties and missed a couple of tackles, extending some drives for KSU. At the nickel back is Sr. Justin Thornton (57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 PBU), with So. Ryan Murphy (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) backing him up. Thornton was sloppy in coverage last week and also drew a pass interference call. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Darrell Stuckey (62 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with Jr. Phillip Strozier (8 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) providing back-up. Stuckey is a very good athlete and the most consistent performer of the group. He typically does the best job in coverage at the safety spots. Strozier was expected to be a bigger contributor this season after starting at FS the second half of last season, but just hasn't made an impact this year despite playing in all 9 contests. At free safety is RFr. Lubbock Smith (34 tackles, 1 PBU), while Thornton backs him up. Smith has good speed and is a good tackler. He had difficulties coming up and playing the option last week though, as did a majority of the defense.
Kansas Special Teams
Kansas' special teams units have not been good in any area this season. They are among the bottom half of the nation in all areas. The Jayhawks currently rank 79th in net punting (34.70 yd avg), 66th in kickoff returns (21.55 yd avg), 91st in punt returns (6.33 yd avg), 66th in kickoff coverage (21.86 yd avg), and 91st in punt coverage (11.75 yd avg).
K: Jr. Jacob Branstetter has made 9 of his 14 field goal attempts with a long of 57 this season. He has had a great amount of difficulty from 30-39 yards out when kicking at an angle, missing 3 of his 7 attempts in that range. Last week against Kansas State, he made just one of his 3 attempts, the longest, 46 yards, was made while he missed two from 30 yards out. Branstetter also works as the kickoff specialist, pushing 8 of his 53 kickoffs for a touchback this season. He is averaging 63.4 yards per kickoff, kicking to between the 6 and 7 yard line.
P: Jr. Alonso Rojas is averaging 41 yards on his 39 punts with a long of 72 this season. 13 of his 39 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He is one of the better punters in the Big XII and has been on the Ray Guy watch list all season.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Jayhawks consists of Sr. Darrell Stuckey (4 kick returns, 38.2 yd avg, 67 yd long) and TFr. Bradley McDougald (16 kick returns, 19.9 yd avg, 47 yd long). Stuckey entered the top unit in place of Dezmon Briscoe a few games ago and has shown some nice moves. Last week, he had a great 67 yards return against Kansas State. The top punt return men are So. Daymond Patterson (19 punt returns, 6.9 yd avg, 49 yd long) and TFr. Bradley McDougald (2 punt returns, 0.5 yd avg, 1 yd long).
Coverage: The Jayhawks' kick and punt coverage units have been mediocre this season. They haven't given up any touchdowns, but they consistently give up pretty fair sized returns. On the season, the kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 21.9 yards on 42 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 36. The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of just 11.8 yard on 12 punt return attempts, with a long of 50. The Jayhawks did a nice job of keeping punts and kicks away from KSU's Brandon Banks last week, allowing him just 2 total returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Kansas' Defense
Nebraska's offense, which has been in a walking coma this season, run an ultra-conservative game plan last week against Oklahoma, calling 3 running plays for every 1 pass play. Nebraska has an issue at quarterback, having two that are struggling to get the offense moving. It's been a game time decision the past few weeks as to who the starter will be, and that hasn't changed for this game. Cody Green has started the last two games, but after seeing Nebraska pull Green in the second quarter in favor of Zac Lee last week, the nod may go back to Lee. Lee wasn't any better than Green last week, but the coaches felt he would be less prone to making mistakes, being that Green is a true freshman. Green is the better runner of the two, but couldn't get anything going against the Sooners last week, often getting tackled by the first defender that got to him. Lee is mobile as well, but isn't much of a physical runner and shies away from contact. One of these two QB's needs to step up their level of play and get the Husker offense out of the mess they're in right now. Both have struggled with accuracy in the passing game, and are taking too long to make decisions in the pocket, which has led to some extra sacks. Improvement should be shown this week, since they won't be up against a defense like Oklahoma's. The Jayhawks' defense has allowed their opponents to complete just 60.2% of their passes this season, while Nebraska QB's Zac Lee and Cody Green have combined to complete 58.9% of their attempts on the year.
Nebraska's receivers weren't given too many chances to get things done against Oklahoma, with just 15 passes thrown and 7 caught. Brandon Kinnie was the only wide receiver to catch a pass last week, bringing in 2 for 21 yards. There's plenty of potential within the receiving corps, but the Huskers badly need someone to turn into a playmaker. Niles Paul is supposed to be that guy, but he disappears far too often in games and has also dropped a number of passes this year. The tight ends should be the greatest asset this team has, but they have been under utilized to this point in the year. They aren't going to play a defensive back seven like Oklahoma's the rest of the regular season, so production should increase over the next three games, and if it doesn't, expect more ugly games.
Kansas' secondary is the strongest unit on defense, but still not a great group. The Jayhawks are giving up 227.2 yards per game (4th in Big XII) through the air while allowing 12 touchdowns and picking up 7 interceptions. Like other areas of the team, there have been some changes in the starting lineup over the past month or so, although not as many wholesale changes. Darrell Stuckey is the is the only defensive back to start at the same position in every game this season. He's also the most consistent performer, although the safeties did have issues covering the speedy KSU receiver Brandon Banks last week. Nebraska doesn't have a receiver with his speed, but covering deep will be something to watch for. Nebraska hasn't gone deep very often recently, but they might want to test this unit on Saturday. One interesting area is going to be how Nebraska plays against left corners D.J. Beshears and Daymond Patterson, who area each just 5'9". Nebraska did well against similarly sized DB's early in the year and the Jayhawks will have to make sure that area doesn't become a weak link. In pass coverage, the Jayhawks' secondary ranks 48th nationally, allowing a rating of 122.07, while Nebraska's QB's rank 71st nationally in pass efficiency (126.52).
Nebraska's running game got some things going last week against Oklahoma as Roy Helu Jr. finally appears to be getting healthy after struggling with shoulder problems for much of this season. It certainly wasn't a consistent rushing attack, but he ended the day with 138 yards on 20 carries. He's the team's best playmaker on offense and if he is indeed getting healthier week-to-week, he's going to provide a spark for the struggling Husker offense. True freshman Dontrayevous Robinson has played well the past few weeks, but didn't have any room to run last week against Oklahoma. The "x"-factor is the offensive line for this group. The backs are good when they've got holes to run through, but can't get much going if 4 defenders are on top of them as soon as they get a hand off. Look for this unit to put up some good numbers against a struggling Kansas front.
Kansas' rush defense has mediocre this season, giving up an average of 117.7 yards per game on the ground (7th in Big XII). Kansas State's ground game chewed through the Jayhawk defense with relative ease last week for 266 yards, including a 185 yard day from Daniel Thomas, who was never tackled for a loss in the game. Kansas had great difficulty defending the option and plays run out of the wildcat. Two weeks ago, Texas Tech running back Baron Batch reeled off 123 yards on the ground, which was a surprise considering the Red Raiders' difficulties running the football this year. The linebackers have been a problem, as they have not been doing a very good job of filling lanes, which has led to some big runs for opponents. Also an issue is the lack of a run stopper on the defensive line, as they are better at rushing the passer rather than plugging gaps.
Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a mediocre 39.20% of their third downs (65th nationally), and scoring on an average of just 76% on red-zone opportunities (18 TDs, 8 FGs) (99th nationally). Third down conversions have been very poor in Big XII play and were awful last week against Oklahoma, converting just 7% (1 of 14). Nebraska was 2 of 3 last week in the red zone (1 TD, 1 FG). The Jayhawks' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a pedestrian 37.59% of their third downs (54th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on 83% of their red-zone chances (21 TDs, 4 FG) (69th nationally). Kansas allowed Kansas State to convert just 27% (3 of 11) of their 3rd downs and score on 1 of their 2 red-zone opportunities last week (1 TD).
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Kansas' average defensive lineman is 6'5", 281 lbs. On the season, Nebraska is averaging 4.8 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Kansas is giving up 4.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). Nebraska has allowed 12 sacks and tackles for loss in eight games this year, while Oklahoma has picked up 27 sacks and 80 tackles for loss (11 last week) in their nine games this season. Nebraska's offensive line continues to be a mediocre unit this season. After a couple of weeks where they lowered their number of penalties, though, they drew a high number of costly penalties last week against Oklahoma. The penalties killed drives and helped OU's field position in the first half. Blocking is far too inconsistent, especially zone blocking which this line doesn't appear that comfortable with. The Jayhawks' defensive line has been able to put pressure on opposing QB's, but not with much consistency since entering Big XII play. Other than a 5 sack effort against Texas Tech, Kansas hasn't been getting much of a push up front. Last week against Kansas State was not a good performance, as the Wildcats rushed for 266 yards on 43 rushes. While Nebraska hasn't shown the blocking to get that kind of day against Kansas, as RB Roy Helu continues to get healthier, it will be a huge help.
Kansas' Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Kansas' passing game, led by Todd Reesing, has not been as explosive as they have been in the past two years under his leadership. He's playing behind a porous offensive line, and struggling with a groin injury, a tough combination to deal with. His receivers have also been dropping passes, and he appears to have lost confidence in himself and his receivers. He's been a turnover machine as of late, with 10 giveaways in the last 10 quarters. Not good news going up against a Nebraska defense that just forced 5 turnovers last week against Oklahoma. Last week against KSU, Reesing was 27 of 41 for 241 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. There are just a lot of inconsistencies in his game right now. He'll make a few nice plays in a row, then overthrow his man on the next couple. With his groin injury, his running has been anything but smooth, yet they are still running draw plays with him. The last time he played against a defense in the class of Nebraska's, three weeks ago against Oklahoma, Reesing threw 3 interceptions. Unless he turns it around fast, the Jayhawks might end up missing out on a bowl game. Back-up Kale Pick might see action on Saturday as well, but he will is counted on to make plays with his legs more than with his arm. After playing nine games, Reesing is completing 64.3% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 49.8% of their passes this season.
Kansas' receivers haven't been the most consistent bunch in the Big XII, having some problems with dropped balls. Even the stand outs of the group, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier have not been immune. While those two have dropped some fairly easy passes this season, they are still the top guys in this offense to get the ball to, and are dangerous threats to any secondary in the Big XII. Briscoe is particularly scary when he is on top of his game, with excellent speed to go along with his big body. Meier is another tough guy for opponents to match-up with, a big body that is tough to bring down one-on-one. Coach Mark Mangino has not been satisfied with his offense and believes defenses have caught up to the spread attack. There are a lot of quick slants used in this offense as well as bubble screens, and those were not terribly successful for Oklahoma against Nebraska last week.
Nebraska's pass defense is among the best in the nation this season (179.6 ypg), which is an outstanding turnaround from a year ago (233.4 ypg in 2008). The secondary has been excellent since getting the right combination of starters back there. There is a lot of quality depth within this group as well, so they are able to go into nickel and dime without really having any weak link. This defensive backfield does really well in coverage, however, does tend to give up one or two big plays every week. They shut down the speedy Oklahoma receivers pretty well and kept them out of the endzone last week. Briscoe and Meier are as good of receivers as the Huskers will have matched up with this season, and would cause a lot of problems if Nebraska was sloppy in coverage, but they just haven't been. It's going to be tough for Kansas to get a consistent passing attack going with Nebraska getting pressure on Reesing and good coverage in the secondary. In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 2nd nationally, allowing a rating of just 89.68, while Kansas' Todd Reesing ranks 41st nationally in pass efficiency (136.48).
Kansas' ground game continues to struggle behind an offensive line that isn't opening many holes for them to run through. Jake Sharp has been battling a leg injury this season and is trying to get back to his fast form, but isn't there yet. Because of this, he just hasn't had that breakaway threat he's had in the past. Behind him is Toben Opurum, a bigger back that had some success against the lesser teams on the schedule this season in Sharp's absence. The Jayhawks haven't rushed for more than 81 yards in a game since October 10th against Iowa State. They haven't rushed for more than 109 yards since the third game of the season against Duke. Without a good rushing attack, this offense is sinking. Last week against Kansas State's defense, they rushed for just 60 yards on 23 carries. They are going to have to produce against the best defensive front 7 they've seen since Oklahoma a few weeks ago, not a good recipe for success.
Nebraska's rush defense is among the best in the country, ranking 4th in the Big XII and 10th nationally (94.4 ypg against). The Huskers' front four has done a great job of shutting down opposing run games. No opponent has had much success in slowing down Nebraska's defensive tackles, and the linebackers just continue to impress, led by Phillip Dillard. The secondary has also done a nice job of rush support, and made some big tackles last week against Oklahoma. Considering Nebraska's defense held Kansas to 118 rushing yards on 39 carries last season and the Nebraska defense is much better than a year ago, things don't look good for the Jayhawks getting a ground game established.
Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Kansas has converted a solid 42.75% of their third downs (39th nationally), with a very good 85% red-zone scoring average (28 TDs, 5 FGs) (36th nationally). The Jayhawks converted 42.85% (6 of 14) on 3rd downs last week against Kansas State, but were just 1 for 3 in red-zone chances (1 TD). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 32.87% of their 3rd down attempts (18th nationally), and has allowed a solid 79% red-zone scoring percentage (7 TDs, 4 FGs) (39th nationally) this season. Against Oklahoma last week, the Huskers allowed the Sooners to convert on just 27% of their 3rd downs (5 of 18) and score a FG in their only red zone chance (1 for 1).
Up front, Kansas' average offensive lineman is 6'4", 293 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs. On the season, Kansas is averaging 4.8 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). The Jayhawks have allowed 48 tackles for loss and 23 sacks in their nine games, while the Huskers have picked up 76 tackles for loss and 27 sacks in their nine games. Kansas' offensive line has shaken up their lineup over the past few weeks in an attempt to find a better mix that will keep defenders out of the offensive backfield. They looked pretty decent against Kansas State last week, definitely not as bad as they've appeared at other times in the year, but still not great. The pass protection has been fair this year, but did allow 3 sacks and 6 hurries against a similarly skilled Oklahoma defense a few weeks ago. The run blocking needs an overhaul, however, as the running backs have no holes to run through. Nebraska's defensive line is the best group that Kansas has played, other than the Oklahoma game, and aren't likely to get things turned around this week. The key match-up will be RG Trevor Marrongelli against NT Ndamukong Suh. Marrongelli is a redshirt freshman up against Suh, probably the best defensive player in the country. Marrongelli will be double teaming with C Jeremiah Hatch, but neither has shown the ability to slow down a talent like Suh. This will leave DT Jared Crick matched up one-on-one with LG Sal Capra, who has been struggling. This is going to be a troublesome game for the Kansas offensive line.
QBs: Kansas ++
RBs: Nebraska ++
WR/TE's: Kansas ++
OL: Nebraska +
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Nebraska +++
DB: Nebraska ++
Special Teams: Nebraska ++
Coaching: Nebraska +
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
SS - Larry Asante - Shoulder - Probable
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Shoulder - Probable
RB - Rex Burkhead - Foot - Out Indefinitely
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season
LB - Blake Lawrence - Concussions - Ended Career
None to Report
Keys to the Game
1.) Get After Todd Reesing - He's struggling and the offensive line is not good. Pressure him, force him into continuing that 10 turnovers in 10 quarters streak.
2.) Consistent Play from the QB - Whether it is Zac Lee or Cody Green, one of them needs to be stable, make nice throws, run well, and not turn the ball over.
3.) Cut Down on Penalties - Penalties killed multiple drives last week, and throughout the season. This is going to be critical on the road.
1.) Stop Nebraska RB Roy Helu - He's their top playmaker, and given the struggles Nebraska has throwing the ball, if Helu doesn't get room to run, Nebraska won't get many scoring chances.
2.) Todd Reesing Has to Be Better - While he might be struggling with a groin injury, his performances the past month have not been adequate. Nebraska's defense is too good to have a hobbling QB lobbing balls haphazardly into the secondary.
3.) Offensive Line Play Must Be Much Better - Nebraska's front 7 is a nightmare for a good line, and this isn't a good one. The line has had trouble with average d-lines, and can't stop blitzes. If they aren't great on Saturday, it's going to be tough to score.
While both teams' offenses are struggling, there is a major difference in the defense these two teams play. Both offenses produced at a high level against weak non-conference opponents, but have not been very good since entering Big XII play. Kansas has been very pedestrian in defending the rush and pass, while Nebraska has been one of the best defenses in the nation this year.
Unless the Jayhawk offense finds some way to run the football against the Blackshirt defense of Nebraska, QB Todd Reesing is going to face a firestorm of pressure. He hasn't performed well over the past month, and is going to have a lot of weight on his shoulders to lead his team to a sixth victory on the season. This is a game where Nebraska's defense could get a score if Reesing isn't "on".
Nebraska's offense has not been the same since RB Roy Helu Jr. injured his shoulder against Missouri earlier in the year, but now that he is healthier, it will be interesting to see what they can do against a defense that isn't as stout as an Oklahoma. With KSU and Daniel Thomas running all over the Kansas defense last week, you'd have to feel that Nebraska can get it done on the ground with Helu and the power runner Dontrayevous Robinson. If whoever starts at QB plays decently and doesn't turn the ball over, Nebraska should be able to put up more points than they have in weeks. Against a similarly skilled defense in Iowa State, Nebraska had a good amount of offensive success, but turned the ball over 8 times including 4 times inside the ISU 4 yard line. They won't make those same mistakes this week.
Barring Kansas forcing a lot of turnovers and getting some great play out of QB Todd Reesing and the offensive line, it's probably not going to be a game that goes their way. Kansas should score, probably set up by a big play by Briscoe or a Nebraska turnover. But Nebraska's defense will set up short fields for the Husker offense, which will put together a decent enough game to get a few scores and leave Lawrence with a win. Nebraska by 10-14.
Nebraska - 24
Kansas - 10