Kansas has been consistently bad for awhile now, but last season it took its badness to a whole new level with one of the only winless seasons in FBS. New coach David Beaty always had his work cut out, but that was rough.
The 1-6 record might not suggest such, but Kansas is a lot better this season. Probably not good enough to win a conference game, but still improved. TCU found out several weeks ago that inconsistent teams will overlook the Jayhawks at their own peril.
Here’s what KU looks like on film:
Beaty took over the playcalling duties from offensive coordinator Rob Likens in the offseason, but KU’s 21.7 points per game still makes it a bottom-20 scoring offense.
Kansas basically runs an Air Raid without the tempo, which renders it much less effective but still occasionally explosive. In fact, the Jayhawks would probably score a lot more if they didn’t have the nation’s second-worst turnover margin, a robust -13. (That’s eight worse than OU, which ranks 14 spots ahead of them. Kansas is truly elite at coughing up the football). Most of that margin is due to the 13 interceptions thrown between Ryan Willis and Montell Cozart. Cozart got the last start against Oklahoma State and threw two picks, but my guess is he’ll start again this week.
The two quarterbacks have good arms, but a certain unhealthy fearlessness leads to a lot of questionable decisions from both of them. The talent is there, but they need to get rid of the ball faster and stop staring down their targets so hard.
Kansas runs a surprising number of plays from empty backfield sets, spreading the field four- and five-wide. They also, though, have a talented running back duo that can cause problems. Sophomore Taylor Martin is quick and dangerous in open space, but he needs blocks because he hasn’t really learned how to break a tackle yet. Senior Ke’aun Kinner, meanwhile, averages nearly 6 yards a carry and easily paces the Jayhawks with 409 rushing yards.
The Kansas passing game is pretty dink-and-dunk—lots of bubble screens, quick slants and curls. It’s actually the sort of offense that could cause problems against big cushions—maybe Mike will realize this and focus more on route disruption this week. Maybe.
When the Jayhawks do take a downfield shot, it’s usually to either LaQuvionte Gonzalez or Steven Sims. Both Cozart and Willis are capable of hitting them in stride, and they’re taught to take the shot in one-on-one coverage. Jordan Parker better be prepared.
The Kansas offensive line is probably the main reason KU tries to get the ball out fast. For this group, a sack is really just a matter of time—they’ve given up a not-ideal 17 so far this year.
Truth is, I expect the OU defense to give up at least two or three touchdowns to this unit. It’s not exactly a well-oiled machine, but the running backs and Gonzalez are legit playmakers. It was those three that gave TCU all it could handle a few weeks ago. If TCU can play with Oklahoma, then maybe Kansas can as well.
The Jayhawks can run with either three or four down linemen, usually reserving odd fronts for obvious passing downs. They spread their linemen thin sometimes, which puts a lot of pressure on linebackers to maintain gaps and would certainly give opportunities for talented running backs and mobile QBs—like, y’know, Joe Mixon and Baker Mayfield—to get to the second level.
D-linemen Cameron Rosser and Dorance Armstrong Jr. are truly talented pass rushers, racking up 11 sacks between them so far this year. The Jayhawks got to Mason Rudolph five times last weekend, with the sacks coming from five different players. Basically, if you hold it long enough (and you can’t scramble), you’re going down.
Kansas uses its linebacker more in pass protection than in blitzes. Senior Courtney Arnick may be the most talented of the bunch, as he leads the unit with 33 tackles this year. Marcquis Roberts has 27 tackles and four pass breakups.
The team’s overall leading tackler is the talented Fish Smithson, a nominal safety who often walks up into the box and flies around the field, converging quickly on runners. He’s a sure tackler who will be the biggest obstacle between Joe Mixon and the end zone in this one—I don’t think OU will be setting any single-game rushing records like 2014.
KU’s coverage is, statistically, a lot better than Oklahoma’s so far this year, but something tells me they’ll have trouble with speedy guys like Dede Westbrook and big receivers like Mark Andrews. They’re usually playing man coverage with a 6-ish yard cushion off the line, so fast guys can get past them, especially if Smithson is out of position and won’t be able to help out over the top.
This Kansas team is more talented than a casual glance might suggest, but shouldn’t push the Sooners. Still, OU fans shouldn’t overreact if this game is tight after a quarter or even a half—the Jayhawks have shown themselves capable of hanging in for long stretches against good Big 12 teams.
This game is a nice opportunity for the defense to see an Air Raid offense at a reasonable tempo, and hopefully will provide lots of film for OU’s tough late-season matchups. This game will give the team a chance to improve its dismal turnover margin and turn the page from an uninspiring Texas Tech performance.
And the best part? It’s not even an 11 a.m. kick. Thanks for the marginal improvement, Kansas.