The Longhorns are allowing more than 260 rushing yards per game in conference play, at six yards per pop. Both rank as the worst figures in the Big 12. And the one thing that Kansas has done consistently well is run the ball. Getting back a totally healthy Pierson helps. He averaged nearly 100 rushing and receiving yards per game before getting hurt. He's also a big play guy, producing 14 rushes of 10-or-more yards and nine receptions of 10-or-more yards despite only playing in five full games. He rushed for 100-or-more yards in Kansas's first two games, then emerged as a receiver in the next three, averaging 66 yards per game (he actually had 63 in a little more than a quarter against Kansas State before getting hurt). James Sims, meanwhile, is second in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game, including 100-plus in his last three. He's exceptional at squeezing the most out of every run, often getting three or four yards when he should get none. Look for Kansas to pair the two and get Sims the ball as a runner inside, then throwing the ball quickly to the outside to get Pierson touches in space.
Of course, if Kansas is going to keep Texas from stacking the box, the Jayhawks will have to take, and hit on, some vertical shots. Pick is the most polished receiver of the bunch, a savvy route-runner. Chris Omigie is a big target at 6-4 200 who has made a play for more playing time and is expected to start. And the guy with the most potential might be Turzilli, a 6-4 wideout who was a state champ in the 200-meter dash. Turzilli (3-100) and Omigie (3-51) had their best games in combining for 151 receiving yards against TCU, while Pick has 81- and 74-yard receiving games to his credit this fall. Still, they struggled as a group against Oklahoma, and should find themselves out-athleted against Texas.
Texas safeties versus Michael Cummings, Kansas quarterback
Last week against Oklahoma, Cummings earned his first career start. And this week, he'll enter a game for the first time as The Man. It's unclear what exactly that means. Kansas coach Charlie Weis said this week that Cummings won the job because the Oklahoma game wasn't too big for him, but does that mean that the Jayhawks will scrap their previous approach, spread people out and play to his strengths? That's unclear. Cummings has quick feet and a powerful arm, but he's 5-10, and better suited to that kind of an offense. So how Texas elects to defend him, and how the Longhorns choose to use their safeties, will depend on some unknowns there.
Texas running backs versus the Kansas linebackers
At times this year, Kansas has had some of the same issues Texas has had, with young linebackers losing gap integrity and getting gashed. But since the Jayhawks discovered Jake Love as a partner next to emerging middle linebacker Ben Heeney, Kansas's run defense has been much more solid. The Jayhawks held Oklahoma State to just 2.6 yards per carry, and Oklahoma ran for 93 yards on 18 carries, with 41 of that coming on one run. On the Sooners' other 17 rushes, they averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Love and Heeney combined to make 30 stops over those two games. Meanwhile, Texas is going to try and tap into its Baylor success and physically run the ball over the Jayhawks.
And the Longhorns will try to hit on some deep plays through play action. One of the strong parts of offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's offense has been his ability to get one-on-one shots down the field. Brown is an above-average Big 12 cornerback who might be OK running with Davis down the field. But who handles Shipley or Goodwin down the other side? Hit on a few of those shots early, and Texas could be able to break Kansas's will. But if Texas can't connect on those plays, Kansas might be able to keep the box stacked and get some defensive stops.
X-Factor: Whether Texas Shows Up
That sounds blunt, but it's to the point. It's an 11 a.m. game, against a 1-6 team in a less-than-ideal atmosphere and in a really cold place. All are factors that could lead to a sleep-walking performance. The Jayhawks play much better at home, but part of that is that other teams just don't seem to play well in Lawrence. Last year's game with Oklahoma was a two-score game in the fourth quarter, and the Jayhawks actually led 10-win Baylor 24-3 in the final stanza. This year, both TCU and Oklahoma State won in Lawrence, but both were sloppy, close contests.
Barring the above scenario, Texas should win on Saturday. The Longhorns are significantly more talented at most positions on the football field. But if Texas doesn't come to play, the Jayhawks have the strength in their running game to test the Longhorns' biggest weakness, their run defense. Kansas is better than its 1-6 record … without much imagination, the Jayhawks could be 5-2. But I like Texas here for a couple reasons. First, there's the talent part. And second, the Longhorns have mostly struggled stopping the run against spread teams whose passing games they had to respect. Kansas hasn't shown that as a throwing team, and unless Weis tweaked the offense to show more spread looks for Cummings, it's not entirely likely that the Jayhawks will present that kind of challenge. Then there's this: Kansas has only scored 30 or more points in one game this season, and that effort (31 points) came against South Dakota State. While I can see the Jayhawk running game presenting issues, I don't see Kansas holding Texas under 30.
TEXAS — 35
Kansas — 17