Plenty of things separate Kansas and Texas Tech, but there are a couple of things these two teams have in common. First, they are both squads that have shown improvement from last year. Secondly, they are both searching for their first Big 12 conference win of 2017. The good news is that one of these teams will be .500 in conference by the end of the day Saturday.
The Jayhawks and the Red Raiders have met on the gridiron a grand total of 18 times, and history does not favor the Jayhawks. Kansas has only won one of those contests, a tight 34-31 affair in 2001. Since that game Texas Tech has been a perfect 10-0 against the Jayhawks with two out of the last four contests being complete blowouts. In 2016, the Red Raiders dropped 55 points on Kansas in Lubbock. That was also the game that gave us the glimpse of what was to come as Nic Shimonek had to finish the game after Mahomes was injured in the third quarter.
So will recent history repeat itself, or is the streak bound to come to an end? This year presents an interesting match-up.
DATE & TIME: SAT, OCT 7 at 11:00 PM CT
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (Lawrence, KS)
FORECAST: Sunny, 67 degrees
STREAM: Fox Sports Go
BETTING LINE: Texas Tech -17, O/U 80
Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-1, 01)
Very few outside of Lubbock thought that Texas Tech would be improved this season, including some of my comrades in arms here at the LGG. You simply do not lose the best pure player in college football and get better. However, that is just what Tech has done.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One, Nic Shimonek does a better job of taking what is given to him. Two, turns out that having a defense can make an impact.
Patrick Mahomes II was an amazing talent. No one disputes that. However, he had a tendency to go for the home run play even if was not there. Nic Shimonek does a better job of taking the check down reads to grab seven yards instead of 70.
Shimonek is doing a good job of managing the game, but this team is truly better because of the defensive side of the ball.
In 2016, Texas Tech was last in the FBS in total defense (554.3 ypg) and scoring defense (43.5 ppg) and 120th out of 128 in total defensive efficiency. What all that means is that Texas Tech was really, really bad on defense. Through four games in 2017 David Gibbs has his defense posting a 53.6 defensive efficiency rating. That is average. But average is a lot better than last. They are also only allowing 30 points a game and 455 yards per game. Again, not going to confuse this defense with Alabama anytime soon. But, so far they are giving up two less touchdowns and a hundred less yards a game. That is pretty massive improvement.
On the offensive side things just keep humming smoothly. Shimonek is only behind Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts for Total QBR. More impressively, Shimonek has thrown for 12 touchdown and only two interceptions. The Red Raiders score points and get yards under Kingsbury. They will not run over teams (125 rushing yards per game), but they will pass over them (411 yards per game) on their way to the end zone (42.3 points for per game). Teams know they will have to defend against an exceptionally executed Air Raid and it does not matter, the Red Raiders will light up the scoreboard no matter what.
Kansas Jayhawks (1-3, 0-1)
I am going to skip over all the talk about how much of a hole Kansas was in when David Beaty took over and how bad they have been in recent years, because nobody was expecting the Jayhawks football team to suddenly be as dominate as the basketball team is.
The hope was that this team would be taking the next step, especially after last year’s upset over Texas that effectively ended Charlie Strong’s run on the 40 acres. After week one, that improvement was there and after other conference opponents face planted that week, it suddenly looked like Kansas might just flirt with bowl eligibility. However, a run against two MAC schools brought those dreams to a crashing halt.
Once again we’re looking for Kansas to show us something.
Against West Virginia, Kansas found an offensive weapon. Khalil Herbert dropped 291 yards, doubling his season’s production entering the game, as the Jayhawks unexpectedly discovered a running game. That rushing attack spurred Kansas to score 34 points. The last time Kansas scored 34 points was against Iowa State in 2014, which was also their last conference win until the stunner against Texas last year. The last time that Kansas score more than 34 points against a FBS team was against Northern Illinois in 2011. Until West Virginia pulled away in the fourth Kansas was still very much in the game. Two steps forward, one step back. Every week feels like the corner is that much closer for this team as they prepare to turn it. We are just waiting until it all seems to click.
While the offense has improved the defense has taken a step back in 2017. Currently, Kansas ranks 128th out of 130 in defensive efficiency. The only salve for Jayhawk fans is that Missouri checks in at 129th. Kansas’ struggles are a mirror of Dorance Armstrong, Jr.’s struggles, too. Armstrong was expected to compete for defensive player of the year awards after being a sack and tackle for loss machine in 2016. Instead, he is yet to register a sack and Kansas has a total of only three as a team so far. The Jayhawks need him to get back to last years production if this defense has a prayer of improving.
Keys to the Game: Texas Tech
PROTECT SHIMONEK – If there is a game that will get Dorance Armstrong, Jr. back on track it would be this one. Armstrong is especially talented in pass rushing. Texas Tech runs the Air Raid which is a pass heavy offensive scheme. That means lots of opportunities to rush the passer. So far, Texas Tech has done a pretty good job protecting Shimonek. Against Kansas, the Red Raiders will want to give special attention to Armstrong, potentially moving plays away from his side.
CREATE TURNOVERS – One thing this Red Raider defense has been good at is creating turnovers. Peyton Bender is a turnover machine so far in 2017 throwing seven interceptions in only four games. Texas Tech needs to snag to errant balls as they come their way to either house them themselves or give the ball back to their potent offense.
DON’T LET OSU BEAT YOU TWICE – Texas Tech dropped a heart breaker against Oklahoma State in the final minutes last week. It would be easy for players to sulk and be distracted by all the “what if’s” that invariably play through the mind. If the Red Raiders come out unfocused and lackadaisical this Saturday they could easily let Kansas steal a win. Kliff Kingsbury needs to make sure his players do not let last week’s loss create another “L” this Saturday. Texas Tech would solidify their dark horse/spoiler status if they prove that they will get up, dust themselves off, and focus on the business at hand instead of dwelling on the past.
Keys to the Game: Kansas
RUN THE BALL – Peyton Bender has not shown to be a guy that KU can lean on. He has thrown at least one interception each game of the season so far. Instead, the Jayhawk offense needs to ride Khalil Herbert. He is not going to get 291 yards, but he is the best offensive weapon Kansas has. Use him to take the pressure off Bender and then capitalize with play-action or RPO’s over the top as the Red Raiders focus on the run.
FIX DORANCE ARMSTRONG, JR. – Okay, so it is not like he is broken. But, the Kansas defensive staff needs to figure out if there are some scheme changes that can be put in that might spring Armstrong loose. Having the bye-week to plan and analyze film help. But, if Armstrong cannot get pressure on Shimonek then the Red Raiders will be able to move the ball at will all day.
EAT THE CLOCK – This goes with key number one, but the Jayhawks need to limit the time their defense is on the field. To do that Kansas needs to slow down the game and win the time of possession battle. This can be done two ways effectively. One is the way made famous by Peyton Manning. Run the offense to the line and then spend the next 20 seconds calling checks and false calls to confuse the defense and then snap the ball with three seconds or less on the play clock. It does not allow the defense to sub and eats clock. Basically, a defensive coordinators worst nightmare. The other is to focus more on the run. Keep the ball in the field of play and limit clock stopping plays. Kansas needs to keep Tech out of rhythm by keeping them off the field.
Kansas pulls off the upset with ease!
Kansas keeps it interesting by slowing the game down, but they just do not have the talent and depth to compete with Texas Tech. The Red Raider defense with Dakota Allen will feast on Peyton Bender if the Jayhawk coaching staff tries to force the passing game. Either way, Kansas loses. Expect a slight let down by Texas Tech because of the Oklahoma State game but this game will never really be in doubt. Texas Tech drops over 40 points but Kansas keeps its spark and scores over 30.