After suffering losses to South Dakota State and Memphis, the Jayhawks are off to an 0-2 start in the David Beaty era. At 1-2, and currently on a two game losing streak of their own, Rutgers isn’t doing too well themselves. They would appear to be the perfect opponent for Kansas to rid themselves of their road game albatross. In kind, the Jayhawks appears to be just what the doctor ordered for a Rutgers program reeling from bumps and bruises especially off the field. On its face this game might be dismissed as a battle of ineptitude, but these are two programs hungry to atone for slow starts and eager to silence their naysayers.
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 26th at 11:00 AM CST
WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium (Piscataway, NJ)
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny, Wind 5-10 mph, Game Temp 83°F
TV: Big Ten Network
BETTING LINE: Rutgers -14 (O/U 64.5)
It’s been a rough start, but Kansas is a young team, and there’s optimism for what this program might become in David Beaty’s hands. While the Rob Likens’ offense has shown quick-strike flashes in its first two games, it has been unable to consistently sustain that success throughout an entire game. They remain without a 40-plus-yard passing play this season but they do have the Big 12’s leading rusher in Ke’aun Kinner which is a very promising sign of improvement. Defensively, the Jayhawks rank dead last for all Power Five schools in allowing 557 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is hard pressed to make meaningful adjustments to an inexperienced squad without very much depth. Will Kansas find the formula for a road win in New Jersey? For Beaty and his team the fact remains that the Jayhawks have lost 33 straight games away from Lawrence. The last time they tasted victory on the road was against UTEP in a 34-7 rout of the Miners on September 12th, 2009.
KEY PLAYERS FOR KANSAS
Montell Cozart – Cozart is a mobile quarterback capable of using the running threat in order to set up the passing attack. His current yards-per-attempt of 6.2 is considerably low, but take into consideration that his biggest deficiency is lack of accuracy in throwing the deep ball. While in the pocket, he’s at his best when he maintains his poise and creates efficient pass plays. The Rutgers defense has given up 818 yards through the air which should give Cozart some opportunities to sustain long drives.
Ke’Aun Kinner – The Navarro College transfer has turned out to be quite a gem for the Jayhawks. Kinner is the only running back in the 125-year history of the program to claim back-to-back 100 plus yard performances to start off his career. He’s currently averaging 6.3 yards per carry on 43 carry attempts to go along with 3 touchdowns.
Ben Goodman – The senior defensive end currently ranks second in the Big 12 with 3.5 sacks. His ability to create a pass rush and disrupt the Rutgers passing game will be of paramount importance to improving their chances of winning this game.
KANSAS’ KEYS TO THE GAME
Convert On 3rd Down – Having a weapon like Ke’Aun Kinner not only allows you to convert on critical downs and keep drives alive, it also helps alleviate the pressure on Montell Cozart and his ofttimes nervous feet. The ability to run the ball will be crucial, especially on third down where the Scarlet Knights are only allowing a conversion rate of 29%. Running the ball successfully and keeping the clock moving will be their most effective method of minimizing exposure of their defense as well.
Win The Turnover Battle – Rutgers has turned the ball over six times in the last two games. That makes it near impossible to win. Kansas must make the most of these opportunities when they present themselves and capitalize with points.
WHAT JAYHAWK FANS WANT TO SEE
Consistent improvement. Continued emphasis on the run, improvement from the passing game, and some semblance of a defense are welcome sights to Jayhawk fans. The Jayhawks are young and growing pains are to be expected, however some overall positive growth needs to be seen and should be expected. Expect this young team to provide some fight in this matchup.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
The Scarlet Knights definitely appear to be a program in shambles at the moment. Earlier this month they had five football players arrested in connection with home invasions and assault. Their head coach, Kyle Flood, is currently serving the second of a three-game suspension for violating school policies. Even interim coach Noorie Wilson caught they eye of the media last week with his unconventional post game press conference.
KEY PLAYERS FOR RUTGERS
Chris Laviano – Laviano lacks mobility but he has thrown four touchdowns while completing 72% of his pass attempts. Paxton Lynch of Memphis completed 22-of-25 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns against the Kansas defense. Suffice it to say that the opportunities will be there for Laviano to prove he’s the starter and keep Hayden Rettig on the bench.
Josh Hicks & Robert Martin – Both running backs are currently averaging more than 6 yards per carry while the team is averaging 177.3 rushing yards per game. The Kansas run defense has been porous at best and the Rutgers running attack should be able to find plenty of open spaces in the run gaps. A heavy dose of both Hicks and Martin could make for a very long day for an undermanned Jayhawk defense.
Rutgers’ Keys To The Game
Balancing Act – South Dakota State and Memphis were both able to throw the ball freely on the Kansas defense which is allowing 331.5 passing yards per game. While Rutgers already has a strong running game, a balanced game plan should afford the Rutgers passing game the opportunities to throw for large chunks of yardage against a defense allowing 11.1 yards per attempt.
That’s Mine! – Minimizing turnovers will go a long way to ensure victory and diminishing any hopes Kansas has. The Scarlet Knights have been incredibly efficient when they have held on to the ball, especially in scoring position where they have converted seven of nine trips inside the red zone to touchdowns.
Cozart, Not Mozart – Rutgers ability to slow down, or stop, Ke’Aun Kinner will be key in their ability to dictate terms to the Kansas offense. Forcing Cozart to beat them with his arm instead of his legs is what the defensive scope should be in order to take control of the game.
WHAT SCARLET KNIGHT FANS WANT TO SEE
A complete game. No turnovers, a balanced offensive attack, and a strong defensive effort. Those three things combined should spell victory for an embattled program looking for a glimmer of hope. Despite the aforementioned off-field issues, it’s still too early in the season for this team to hang up its hopes of reaching a bowl game for a fifth consecutive season. This program may be going through tough times but its far from being in its death throes.
Look for the David Beaty’s Jayhawks to continue to cultivate their new identity of starting fast out of the gates. They should be able to move the ball effectively on a Rutgers defense that is allowing over 408 yards per game. The Jayhawks have the ability to make this a competitive game for the most part. However, in the end Kansas will have to wait at least one more away game to raise their helmets in victory. Rutgers doesn’t do anything very pretty but they certainly have the advantage when it comes to talent and experience. Their offense seems to gain momentum as the game goes on and they should be able to wear down the Kansas defense in the second half.