Kansas is a program that has produced the likes of Gale Sayers, Dana Stubblefield and John Riggins. But that type of talent has been few and far between in beautiful, downtown Lawrence as of late.
So, how are Texas coaches keeping the Horns focused on the matters at hand rather than toward the traditional, season-ending rivalry against Texas A&M, or even to their first weekend off since September 18.
"I showed them tapes of the Kansas State game," Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson said.
A notable blip on what would otherwise have been a seven-game losing streak, the Jayhawks beat their instate rival and defending Big 12 champ, 31-28, for the first time since 1992. Players are also mindful of what happened to the Aggies when they ventured into Waco just two weekends ago. What's more, Kansas jumped to a surprising 14-0 lead that last time Texas came calling (thanks, in so small part, to KU returning not only a QB Chris Simms INT for TD but also a two-point conversion pass attempt the other direction for the score).
Coaches are reminding players that the Jayhawks are improved on defense (No. 19 nationally against the run) and have played quality opponents close for nearly three quarters (the Jayhawks trailed OU by just 14-10 at halftime in Norman).
But that was two quarterbacks ago. Starting QB Adam Barmann was lost for the season when he injured his shoulder against Iowa State on October 30. Then, it was reported Sunday that backup QB Jason Swanson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Colorado the day before. Senior walk-on John Nielsen came off the bench in the 30-21 loss at Boulder.
"The young man completed 21-of-31 Saturday (for 183 yards)," head coach Mack Brown said. "He did a good job."
Despite reports, Kansas athletic officials still listed Swanson at the top of the depth chart in their pre-game press packet released Monday.
"We don't know (Swanson's) status," Brown said, "so we're really concerned about what we're going to see offensively."
What you'll see is the league's worst offense (NCAA No. 107, 304.1 ypg) regardless of who's behind center. And you'll see a Texas team pressured more by the weight of preserving its lofty BCS standing than by an improving Jayhawk defense. This time of year, there about a dozen weekly contests that function as elimination games in what amounts to an unofficial playoff system for BCS glory.
Come sundown Saturday, the Horns should still be following that Yellowbrick Road -- even when we're not in Kansas any more.
We'll start with KU's defense, since this is where Brown is hanging his coach-speak this week.
"They've really improved on rush defense," said Brown. "That's where they're much better. They're giving up 112 yards rushing per game which is really different from the Kansas team we played four years ago."
The Jayhawk run defense, ranked No. 3 in Big 12 play, prides itself on being the league's best unit during the first quarter. The KU defense has not allowed a TD all season during the opening frame and the Jayhawks have outscored opponents during that span, 65-15.
OLB Nick Reid leads the team with 89 tackles (plus a team leading 11 TFL). His 9.9 tackles per game is second only to Nebraska LB Barrett Rudd in the league. Reid came to Kansas as a QB but switched to defense during his freshman campaign. In 2003, he led the team with 121 stops and was named honorable mention All-Big 12. MLB Gabriel Toomey originally signed with OU but left Norman after a redshirt season. He was a second-team all-Big 12 selection (AP) last season and has 45 stops in 2004.
"All three linebackers are older and are good players," Brown said.
Senior DE David McMillan is the KU sack-leader, with four.
"McMillan their best pass rusher," Brown noted. "We know, based on what they've done to stop the run, we're going to have to throw the ball."
But, wait! There's more! Sophomore CB Charles Gordon leads the Big 12 with six INT. He added a pair of picks in last week's game at Colorado to record the best single-season total at KU since 1951. Gordon actually earned first-team freshman All-American honors as both a WR and KR last season before switching to DB.
Eight different KU defenders have intercepted a pass this season.
"Their secondary's been really good," Brown said.
A KU defense that ranked No. 85 last season checks in at No. 33 this week in total defense (329.9 ypg). The Jayhawks are allowing an average of 21.6 ppg, but gave up 30+ ppg during coach Mark Mangino's first season in 2002.
Robinson said Nielsen does not look like a third-string walk-on quarterback and then issued forth with the requisite coach-speak. Here is what Robinson said, with my interpretation in parentheses.
"He's schooled." (He's learned a lot by holding the clipboard on the sideline all these years.) "He's a guy that's gonna get it and spread it around." (KU coaches want to get the ball out of this guy's hands as quickly as possible.)
Again, this is an anemic Kansas offense that is averaging a little more than half the rushing yards per game (95.9) of Cedric Benson (159.8). The Jayhawks are averaging 208.7 ypg through the air but, again, most of those numbers came courtesy of fallen QB Barmann.
Sophomore RB John Randle is KU's leading rusher with 536 yards on 149 carries (59.5 ypg). That doesn't even crack the Top 12 rushers in league play. By comparison, Vince Young is averaging 85.2 ypg. Randle's career high is 105 yards against Nebraska. Senior FB Austine Nwabuisi (6-0, 235) "is a horse," according to Robinson.
Senior WR Brandon Rideau is the Jayhawks' leading receiver with 39 receptions for 439 yards, including six TDs. With 119 career catches, Rideau is just 14 grabs behind the program's all-time pass catcher (Willie Vaughn, 1985-88).
"He's a really good receiver from Beaumont," Brown said. "He's one of their leaders."
Senior C Joe Vaughn anchors a young O-line that starts two sophomores and a freshman.