A huge determinant of Texas Tech's success against Kansas will be the Red Raiders' proficiency in the red zone. And on paper, this aspect of the game looks like a definite advantage for the homestanding Jayhawks.
The Red Raiders are No. 98 nationally in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and this is a problem that clearly has the attention of Kliff Kingsbury.
"We haven't been as good in the red zone as I'd like," says Kingsbury. "We've kicked a bunch of field goals."
Compounding matters is the fact that Kansas has been a very good red zone defensive football team. The Jayhawks are allowing red zone touchdowns only 50 percent of the time, which is 22nd best in the nation.
Kingsbury chalks up Kansas' red zone defensive success to a propensity for larceny, and a penchant for mixing things up.
"They've been opportunistic, gotten some takeaways down there," Kingsbury affirms. And he adds, "They've improved a lot on defense and bring a lot of different looks this year. So we've got to be ready for anything down there."
The player who will most have to be prepared for the unexpected is freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield, who draws the start for his fifth straight game. It will be tough. Mayfield will have to do a good job of recognizing defenses, and he will have to exercise superior judgment.
Regarding the latter, Mayfield has done a decent job of not making ill-advised throws--his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is a solid 2/1. But he has tucked and run too often and fumbled the ball on more than a few occasions. Kansas is aware of those tendencies, and will try to force him to run the football. What's more, Kansas has the athletes in the secondary to plaster Tech's receivers, which will make life difficult for Mayfield, particularly in the compressed atmosphere of the red zone.
But all is not lost for Mayfield! One can infer from Kingsbury's statements that the freshman from Lake Travis could be due for a major rebound after two subpar outings.
Says the coach, "I think he's healthy for the first time in about three weeks, completely healthy, and has looked really sharp in practice. So we're excited to see him play."
Mayfield's return to health, combined with two more weeks of reps in Kingsbury's system, could produce a rejuvenated and much improved Baker Mayfield. And if that's the case, the red zone clashes could be a bit more challenging for the Jayhawks then they expect.
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