College football analysts around the country will tell you that it’s not necessarily the top teams that shows how good a conference is, but the teams at the bottom. If that’s the measure of a conference’s success as a whole, then the Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) and the Rutgers Scarlett Knights (1-1) matchup this Saturday might indicate which conference is deeper between the Big 12 and the Big Ten.
Both programs have been historically bottom dwellers in their respective conferences, and it looks like they will be fighting to stay out of last place in 2018 as well.
Rutgers opened the season with a win over the Texas State Bobcats in their home opener 35-7. In week two, they traveled to Columbus, OH, and were beat down by the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 52-3 loss.
Freshman Quarterback Artur Sitkowski didn’t have a great start to the season. He was 20-30 for 205 yards a touchdown, but had three interceptions. Sitkowski was sacked on the final play of the first half, and subsequently injured on the play. Tough way overall to start a game.
Rutgers head coach Chris Ash went with redshirt senior Giovanni Rescigno in the second half. He showed promise on their first drive of the second half; leading a 11-play drive that led to a field goal. Giovanni finished the game throwing for just 27 yards.
Ash said earlier in the week that Sitkowski is day-to-day, but is expected to start against the Jayhawks.
No Rutgers Running back has reached the 100-yard mark this season, but they do rotate three running backs during the game. Isaih Pacheco, Raheem Blackshear and Jonathan Hilliman all are near the century mark. Blackshear is also the team’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 68 yards.
They haven’t found much consistency in their receivers. Bo Melton is the Scarlett Knights deep threat downfield, and they use tight end Jerome Washington as a passing game weapon as well.
Defensively, they will throw multiple looks at the Jayhawks. They will most likely go with a 4-3 base defense while mixing in the 3-4 along with some nickel packages.
The biggest weakness to the Scarlet Nights defense is their secondary. They have been decimated with injuries, and the lack of depth reared its ugly head against the Buckeyes last week.
Kansas started the season with an overtime loss to Nichols State 26-23 on their home field. It’s not the start head coach David Beatty was hoping for, but they bounced back last week with a big road win over Central Michigan, 31-7. It marked the first road win for the Jayhawks since September 12, 2009.
The Jayhawks may have found their spark on offense with freshman running back Pooka Williams. He did not play in the first game versus Nichols State, but ran for 125 yards on 14 carries last week, including a 41-yard touchdown run. Not to mention, they still have Khalil Herbert. Believe it or not, Kansas may have a strong running game this season.
Quarterback Peyton Bender has managed the offense, but he needs to find his accuracy only completing 59 percent of his passes. He has a dynamic receiver on the outside in Kerr Johnson Jr. He is averaging 17.4 yards a reception. Steve Sims Jr is also a sure-handed, dynamic receiver that will move the chains.
Defensively, Kansas runs a lot of a base nickel package, and in the middle, they have arguably the best linebacker in the Big 12 in Joe Dineen. He leads the conference with 30 total tackles. The defense has played tough through the first two games, and surprisingly, they lead the conference with four interceptions on the year.
Keys To The Game For Kansas
Establish A Passing Attack – A balanced offense is what most offensive coordinators strive for. The Jayhawks will need to establish the running game as that’s their strength, but they must develop the passing game to exploit the vulnerable Rutgers secondary. I expect the Scarlett Knights to load up the box and pressure Bender to help out their corners. Bender needs to read through his progressions and take what the defense is giving them.
Stop The Run – Kansas needs to force Rutgers to throw the ball. The Scarlett Knights will give the Jayhawks a big dose of their running game to take the pressure off their quarterback. They need to stop the run on early downs, and force them into passing situations. Kansas may play a lot of zone on passing situations to force the Rutgers quarterbacks to throw in tight windows.
Turnovers – Its cliche, but win the turnover battle. Don’t give Rutgers any short fields to work with and no freebies. If Kansas can force turnovers, which they have so far this season, this might be a blowout.
Kansas has the upper hand by playing on their home field, and adding former players to their ring of honor during the game might give them an extra boost. Rutgers is struggling on defense while Kansas showed toughness last week on defense. The decimated secondary for the Scarlett Knights might be the confidence builder Bender needs going forward. Although Vegas see’s this game being close, I think Kansas pulls away in the second half.