"We still have to earn the right to get to Houston," head coach Mack Brown said, "and by winning this weekend, we will have earned the right to take on our next goal of playing in the (Big 12) championship game"
Kansas was picked to finish in the Big 12 North basement but is now one win from bowl eligibility. Jayhawk fans were so stoked by their team's 40-15 drubbing of Nebraska last Saturday, ending a 36-year draught against the Cornhuskers, that they crashed a goal post on top of Kansas' best all-around player.
WR/DB Charles Gordon got his bell rung more by celebrating students than by the once-celebrated Blackshirt defense and is the closest thing Kansas has to Deion Sanders. He is third on the team with 160 yards on 20 receptions, he ranks second with two INTs and is the program's career punt return leader with 971 yards on 90 returns. He is part of the reason why Kansas could hang around with Texas for a couple of quarters at DKR.
The other reason is that Kansas' run-stoppers rank No. 1 nationally, allowing just 64.1 ypg. All week, Brown has billed Saturday's matchup as a showcase of two defenses that are mirror images of each other.
For example, Kansas ranks No. 5 nationally in total D, surrendering 273 ypg while Texas is right behind them at No. 6, yielding 279 ypg. Texas is currently No. 7 in scoring defense (14.3 ppg) while the Jayhawks are No. 16 (18.3 ppg). Both teams have posted 24 sacks on the season, resulting in losses of 190 yards for Texas and 189 for KU.
The Jayhawks have allowed just two rushing TDs all season while Texas has given up six (two of those came in garbage time against Rice and Missouri). Kansas held Nebraska to seven first downs, marking the first time a KU opponent failed to collect 10 first downs in a contest in five seasons.
Granted, wins over Nebraska ain't what they used to be. But Texas Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik believes the biggest difference in Lawrence last Saturday may have been KU's 40-point offensive explosion, given the fact that the program had been averaging just 9.8 ppg in Big 12 play.
"Number one, they didn't turn the ball over a bunch," he said. "That's where you start. Their running game really got going and they took high-percentage passes. If they weren't there, (the QB) just threw it away and didn't do anything to hurt the team. They established their ground game against Nebraska and hit some big high-percentage plays that looked like long balls, but they were intermediate balls. They broke some big runs. They gashed them."
In other words, Kansas is simply the latest lower-tier team that is suddenly clicking on all cylinders just in time for Texas. All Texas has done this season is post an average margin of victory of 30.6 points, and that includes the three-point win at Ohio State.
Just before the OU game, Brown told a small group of reporters that there will be more pressure for his squad to win in November than there would be on October 8. Despite his sunshine-pumping props about Oklahoma being baaaaack, he privately predicted that the Sooners would be 2-3 when they left Dallas because "we have the better team this year." Everyone knew that; just like everyone knows what is now at stake for the 2005 Longhorns. They have a chance to accomplish for the storied program something that has not happened since, well, the last time Kansas beat Nebraska in football.
At the same time, Brown wants his team to remain loose, focused, confident and able to enjoy the ride.
"There are only three undefeated teams left and that's special," Brown said. "I told the players that when they're my age and looking back, the next four weeks of their lives are going to be really important. They're going to remember these days for the rest of their lives. They need to enjoy it and play as hard as they can."
Coach Mark Mangino pulled Luke during the second quarter of Kansas' 44-13 loss to Colorado on October 22 as Jason Swanson made his first appearance of the season behind center. At the end of the day, the Jayhawks stood at 0-4 in Big 12 action but Mangino saw something promising in Swanson's nine-play, 83-yard drive just before halftime. Swanson has been barking signals ever since. The result: a 13-3 win over arch-rival Missouri and the program's first victory over Nebraska since Woodstock.
Swanson has been the difference in revitalizing a once-stagnant offense, Chizik believes.
"They found a different guy to lead them into battle," Chizik said. "Swanson has been very productive for them. The wins speak for themselves. They've got a very confident team right now. Their offense has done some good things and they don't turn the ball over. That's what Swanson has added to the mix. He's very conscious about not losing the game. He's very conscious about ball control."
Swanson is 54-of-96 passing for 596 yards (198.7 ypg) in little more than 10 quarters of work while Luke was 76-of-156 for 852 yards (121.7 ypg) during the first seven contests of 2005. However, Swanson has tossed six INTs against just three TDs despite Kansas' reliance on a high-percentage passing game.
"Theoretically, what they're trying to accomplish in the passing game is really smart," said Chizik. "It's not a bunch of downfield throws. It's all short stuff and quick stuff with one read by the quarterback. He's not necessarily looking at two or three different things. You could tell there is a definitive means behind the madness in everything they're doing."
KU's backs will also have a hand in the passing game
"They have a shovel pass game where they'll get you rushing the passer and getting everybody up the field," Chizik said, "and they do a nice job of dumping it underneath to their backs. It's a real nice complement to their whole scheme."
Longhorn fans should have fond memories of Gordon. He was the receiver that was whistled for offensive pass interference late in the game against LCB Tarell Brown.
"He makes phenomenal catches and he's a tremendous athlete," Chizik said. "He's in the red zone quite a bit. When he's in there, you have to know where he is. They've found ways to get him the ball and he's an exciting athlete."
Senior WR Mark Simmons is Kansas' all-time reception leader with 145 grabs during his career. He also leads the Jayhawks this year in catches (34), receiving yards (501), yards-per-catch (14.7) and receiving ypg (55.7).
The KU running game has gotten untracked with Swanson at the switch, Chizik believes. Jon Cornish leads the Jayhawks with his 61.3 ypg average but is listed behind Clark Green (60.0 ypg) on this week's depth chart. Green had the hot hand against Missouri two weeks ago, as his 125 yards on 22 carries was the best outing by a Jayhawk RB this year. His 100 yards against Nebraska marked the first time in a year that a Kansas RB posted consecutive 100-yard outings.
"They run some schemes that you don't see a lot of," Chizik said. "They have a really good trap game. They're really busting some holes up in there on the trap game and with the inside game. They do a good job with their big offensive linemen in blowing people out and cutting people.
OLB Nick Reid admitted this week that he still has nightmares about Vince Young's 4th-and-18 scramble on Texas' game-winning drive last season. Mack Brown offered these words of consolation.
"It wasn't his fault. There was a whole game of plays and it never comes down to one play. That one gets all of the exposure but he was one of the reasons we were in trouble because he made so many plays throughout the ball game. The game wouldn't have been that close if it hadn't been for him. And he's going to make a whole lot of money (in the NFL) so he'll be able to sleep better."
Reid stated this week that he has waited 12 months for redemption, even though he was named the Outstanding Defensive Player of last year's game. He leads the Big 12 with 9.6 tackles per game and anchors a group of senior linebackers that are the strength of the Jayhawk defense. ILB Kevin Kane is second on the team with 63 tackles while OLB Banks Floodman is third with 58 total stops. Senior linebacker Brandon Perkins leads the team with nine QB sacks, but five of those came against Louisiana Tech on September 17.
Kansas bases out of what is often referred to as a "college 4-3," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis.
"It's what we would call a stacked defense," Davis said. "They'll bring their safeties up. They're going to outnumber the run most of the time, either by alignment or by spinning the coverage down."
DE Charlton Keith is "a great pass rusher," Davis said. The senior has notched 18 TFLs this season, including eight QB sacks. The KU defense has recorded 82 TFL and 24 QB sacks in 2005.
Kansas is holding opponents to 26.6 percent of all third-down conversions while Texas is on school-record pace by moving the chains on 50.4 of all third-down attempts.
In 2004, KU allowed 345.5 total offensive yards -- the school's lowest average in a decade. The current Jayhawks are allowing just 273.9 ypg.
Part of the reason for KU's defensive upgrade is that the unit starts seven seniors. The new kid on the block is RS-freshman CB Aqib Talib.
Gordon is still listed as a starting CB, although he has not played defense in two weeks.
TEXAS INJURY UPDATE
FL Brian Carter (left knee) is out.