Scouting the Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks

Texas travels to Lawrence, Kansas to take on Mark Mangino's Jayhawk club on Saturday morning. In anticipation of that match-up, Burnt Orange Beat spoke with Kevin Flaherty of and Jayhawk Illustrated to get his thoughts on the clash, and what he thinks are the pivotal parts of the game.

What is the injury situation for Kansas?

The Jayhawks should be pretty good injury-wise heading into the game. Cornerback Daymond Patterson, who missed much of the Nebraska game, has been practicing and is expected to play. Kansas's best defensive tackle, Richard Johnson Jr., missed the Nebraska game but should also be ready to go on Saturday. Other than that, Kansas has some players who are nicked up, but nothing too serious.

Has there been any talk this week about the last trip the Longhorns made to Lawrence in 2004?

There's some talk about it, for a couple of different reasons. For one, it was obviously a big moment for both programs. Vince Young brings the Longhorns back for a late victory, and Texas uses that game to catapult to the Rose Bowl, and the next year, the National Championship. But the game, and Mangino's outburst afterward, also seemed to be a jumping off point for Kansas. The Jayhawks have been 32-16 since that game, including two bowl victories. Kansas's last bowl victory had been in 1995. Mangino has been pretty careful to point out that this is a game between two different teams though. I don't think there has been as much talk about it as there was before the game in 2005, largely because of the large Texas margin of victory in that game. It was kind of the period and the exclamation point in the series' recent history.

What are the reasons that Reesing dropped twenty pounds in the offseason and do you think it has negatively or positively affected his performance this season?

Reesing dropped the weight to improve his foot quickness and overall speed, and I would have to say it has helped. He's needed it – with two new tackles and an interior offensive line that hasn't played as expected, he's been running for his life. He was sacked five times against Nebraska. Beyond that, it's Reesing's feet that really make him special. He has the ability to keep plays alive until he can find an open man for a big play. Sometimes when quarterbacks drop weight like that, you see them lose some zip on the ball, but Reesing seems to have a stronger arm than he did last year, so it's hard to find any real negatives with it.

How do you think Kansas plans on attacking the Texas secondary?

Kansas's receivers are a tough matchup for anybody because of the way they spread the ball around.

Dezmon Briscoe is one of the conference's top receivers. He already holds the KU mark for the most career receiving touchdowns and he's just a sophomore. Briscoe has outstanding leaping ability and body control, deceptive speed and nice elusiveness after the catch. He's a nightmare against one-on-one coverage along the sideline. He torched Oklahoma for 269 yards and two touchdowns, and had 176 yards and a touchdown last week against Nebraska.

Then there's Kerry Meier, Mr. Dependable out of the slot. At one point he was the nation's leader in receptions per game. He basically plays the part of a flexed-out tight end with his size at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, but not a lot of tight ends bring his 4.5-speed.

John Wilson is a tall player who can stretch the field vertically. He can hurt a team that focuses too much on the Kansas's top two players, as South Florida found out. Wilson put up 10 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls.

All three of those guys have put up at least one 100-yard receiving game this year. That doesn't count Dexton Fields, who led the Jayhawks in receptions last season. He's been banged up this year and has been trying to get back on the same page with Reesing, but he's a good, solid player who does everything you ask of him.

And you can't just guard those four either – running back Jake Sharp offers another dangerous option out of the backfield. That's what makes the Jayhawks so tough to defend in the passing game, the fact that they have so many weapons they can get the ball to.

What do you think caused the resurgence of the Kansas running game over the last month? Is it just Sharp's emergence or a better commitment to the run?

Kansas really struggled to run the ball in non-conference play in part due to the offensive line I mentioned above. But another part of those struggles came from the fact that the Jayhawks couldn't find a good running back to lean on, bouncing between Sharp, Angus Quigley and Jocques Crawford. At one point, Mangino even said that all Sharp would be was a complementary back.

Then came the Iowa State game. Ames can be a trap for a lot of teams – Oklahoma struggled to win there last year – and both teams were coming off a bye week. Kansas came out totally flat and trailed 20-0 at the half. Sharp got just one carry in that half for nine yards. In the second half, Sharp, the fastest guy on the Jayhawk team, put up 177 yards of offense and two touchdowns.

Just like that, the job was his, and he's topped the 100-yard mark three times in the last five games, averaging 114 yards per game.

So part of it was emphasis, but a lot of it was finding some cohesiveness with the offensive line and finding the right running back to go along with that line.

What is the one area of the Kansas team that you think might surprise Texas?

I already mentioned the depth at receiver, which is often the most important part. The other surprise might be if Kansas's cornerbacks are able to put together a solid effort. They did a great job against a pretty good Kansas State passing attack and did a decent job against Nebraska before Patterson went out with an injury.

Kansas has seen its fair share of problems at the position, which was expected to be a team strength before the season started. Chris Harris was tabbed by several publications as the conference's top cover cornerback, while Kendrick Harper was a solid and experienced option opposite him. But Harper suffered an injury and hasn't really been the same since, and Harris has struggled. He's since been moved to safety, where he is a backup. Kansas tried several other young players at the position, and all struggled.

So now, Kansas's two starting cornerbacks are two players who started the season at other positions. Patterson, a 5-9 true freshman out of Mesquite, Tex., was Kansas's top big-play threat at wide receiver. He actually had 130 yards receiving and two touchdowns in his second career game, against Louisiana Tech. But he didn't supply the blocking Kansas demands for the position, so his playing time diminished, and when the Jayhawks struggled at cornerback, he moved over. He's probably the team's top cornerback despite only playing a few games there – he has outstanding speed and quickness.

The other starter is Justin Thornton, the team's former starting free safety. Thornton is a smooth athlete with fluid hips. He doesn't have the best pure speed, but he can get around it because he's so sound fundamentally.

Those two are capable of strong performances, but if either goes down, it could be a long day. The depth is supplied by a hodgepodge of young players who have gotten a baptism by fire.

The Kansas defense has given up 45+ points in three of the last four. What has happened to the defense recently?

A big part of it has been the Jayhawks' inability to pressure the quarterback with the front four. Jake Laptad has had a nice sophomore season with six sacks, but he's about it. Only one other Jayhawk defensive lineman, tackle Jamal Greene, has more than one sack.

That has caused some problems for the secondary, which I touched on earlier. I also think a large part of it has been something that Mangino has been pretty hush-hush about – the health of his linebackers. Both Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen seem to be playing at about half speed from last season, though Mangino hasn't mentioned anything about it. Mortensen injured his knee in the offseason, and appears to have lost a step. So I didn't list it in the injury report because nothing there has been confirmed. But I'm pretty sure the only healthy one has been James Holt, and he's been outstanding. He has five sacks and leads the nation with six forced fumbles.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the teams who put up those numbers. Kansas gave up 45 in Norman to an awfully good Sooner offense. The Jayhawks then were blitzed by Texas Tech 63-21. They rebounded with a nice performance against a decent Kansas State offense, with the first string only allowing a touchdown. But last week, with the Jayhawks missing both Patterson and Johnson, the Jayhawks struggled with things that have typically been Jayhawk staples – tackling and stopping the run.

One thing's for sure – they'll have to tackle a lot better if they want to win on Saturday.

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