Simply put: each of those two players are the key cog on their respective units. The Texas offense needs Malcolm Brown to pound away to take pressure off the quarterbacks and also to tire out the defense for players like Fozzy Whittaker and D.J. Monroe to run wild. Johnson has a whopping 76 tackles so far this season, and it seems like he's in on every run play. One thing about this matchup: if the two meet in the hole, Brown will likely win some extra yardage. So it would behoove Johnson to — to paraphrase a Diazism — take a friend to the ball-carrier.
The Jayhawks do a nice job of isolating Pick and Biere on safeties on second and third downs. That's typically a mismatch with each players' route-running ability and hands. And Scott and Gideon have often struggled in coverage. This is where the absence of Adrian Phillips could hurt a little bit. He was a three-down defensive back who could line up at any position in the secondary and cover anybody from speedy slot receivers to bigger tight ends. If they're man-up on Pick and Biere, the Kansas players could work themselves open. And both are special against zone coverage. Keep an eye on Biere running out and flag routes, when he can use his length and hands to snare passes near the boundaries. At the same time, neither player is really a field-stretcher, so Gideon and Scott might have the chance to jump a route or two and make a big play.
Both Sims and Miller have great feet and vision that allows them to pick and choose the correct holes. The Longhorn linebackers are talented enough to shut down every gap the running backs pursue, but they have also been prone to the occasional lapse. If they do that, the Jayhawk running backs could hurt them. The linebackers will also have to be quick to get into their drops on passing downs so that they don't give the Jayhawks easy throws. Texas should be able to hold down the Kansas offense, but if the Longhorns aren't where they're supposed to be, Sims and Miller can take advantage of those mistakes.
This might be one of the most intriguing interior line matchup of the Big 12 season. On one hand, you have Randall, who Texas coaches feel is playing at an All-America level. He's quick off the ball, strong and could be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. On the other hand, that sounds a lot like the description of Ndamukong Suh, who Hatch helped to bottle up when the Jayhawks played Nebraska in 2009. Hatch is actually in better shape than he was at that time, and he'll be called on to try and get push against the Longhorns' man-in-the-middle. Considering how Hatch has played against top competition — including Oklahoma earlier this year — he's capable of getting the job done.
Fozzy Whittaker, Texas kickoff returner, versus D.J. Beshears, Kansas kickoff returner
With both offenses potentially bogging down at some point, it creates an added emphasis on special teams. And Whittaker and Beshears are as good as you'll find in the league. Whittaker has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the last two contests. And Kansas allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown against Kansas State. On the flip side of that coin, Beshears had a 76-yard return called back last week for a foul away from the play. And Texas also had a kickoff returned for a touchdown in tis last game. Both coverage units should beware, because this matchup could be fun to watch.
X-Factor: Winning First Downs
Sure, we could go ahead and put turnovers here, as that's important every week. But in a game with two teams that want to establish the run so heavily, this seems just as prudent. Kansas wants to put quarterback Jordan Webb in third-and-makable situations. Texas wants to do the same for its young quarterbacks. Both want to use play-action to attack down the field a bit. And Texas uses its run game to set up its bevy of trick plays. That's why first down will be so important. With these two teams, a negative play on first down could kill a drive. That's how important it is.
Kansas has struggled defensively all season, even at times in the opener against McNeese State. That's the perfect tonic for the Longhorns' offensive issues. Expect them to build some confidence in this one. When Texas is on defense, it will face a team that will likely game-plan somewhat similarly to Rice: running the ball, getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly and trying to limit mistakes. The good news for Kansas is that the Jayhawks have superior personnel to the Owls. The bad news is that the strategy didn't work all that well for the Owls in the first place.
TEXAS — 48
Kansas — 24