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Preview: Kansas Begins The Les Miles Era Against Indiana State

The opening game against the Sycamores won’t be an easy one for the Jayhawks.

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Quarterback Peyton Bender of the Kansas Jayhawks passes against the Texas - Getty Images - Ed Zurga
Getty Images - Ed Zurga

It’s been more than 9 months since the Kansas Jayhawks hired Les Miles to be their football coach. It’s finally time to watch the Mad Hatter lead his team onto the field for a real life game.

The Jayhawks are facing Indiana State for the third time in school history. They won both of their prior meetings in 1985 and 1986. 

With the quarterback situation up in the air, and the nightmares of recent season-opening FCS losses fresh in the minds of the fan base, the Jayhawks come into the game looking to exorcise the demons of the David Beaty era with a strong performance Saturday.

Game Details

  • When: SAT, AUG 31 at 11:00 AM CT
  • Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
  • Forecast: AM Thunderstorms, High of 81
  • TV: Fox Sports Network
  • Stream: Fox Sports Go
  • Betting Line: Kansas -4.5, O/U 53.5

Indiana State Sycamores

Last season, the Sycamores made a late push for the FCS playoffs, but came up just short as they failed to secure an at-large berth. Coming off an 0-11 season in 2017, coach Curt Mallory led his squad to a surprising 7-4 record in just his second season at the helm.

They return the bulk of their strong offense from last year, with only one starter missing. Their main strength is the running game which ranks 14th in the FCS with 241.5 yards per game on the ground last season.

The Sycamores defense will have several holes to fill this season, with only five starters returning. With two big holes on the defensive line, they will focus mainly on trying to shore up the run defense, as both the Jayhawks and their conference opponents have strong rushing attacks that will be difficult to stop.

Overall, the Sycamores will be a strong contender for both a conference title and a playoff spot this year. They start the season ranked 16th in the FCS Coaches Poll. They won’t be intimidated in this game, and are looking to start the season off with a huge win over a Power 5 school against the Jayhawks.

Kansas Jayhawks

The Kansas Jayhawks are looking for a fresh start as Les Miles seems to have completely changed the conversation around this team. There are many parallels between this season and the last. A strong FCS team coming to town and KU won’t have Pooka Williams in the game. However, there is hope among the Jayhawk faithful that the new coaching staff will be enough to overcome a significant challenge.

Kansas looks to lean on their rushing attack heavily, with Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams expected to shoulder most of the load offensively.  Even true freshman Velton Gardner is being talked about as a potential weapon in this game. However, the Jayhawks will also need to get the passing game going, as probable starter Thomas MacVittie will need to get multiple receivers involved early and often.

The defense is a big unknown in the front seven. Nearly all of their contributors from last season have graduated. Seniors Mike Lee, Bryce Torneden and Hasan Defense will anchor the defensive secondary. If they have to start helping against the run, it will open up the long ball and will spell trouble for this team.

Keys To The Game

Win The Trenches – This usually goes without saying, but both of these teams are expecting their offensive lines to be one of their strengths.  This is a new development for Kansas, but if they can dominate the line of offense, it should allow them to open things up and score early and often.

Win The Turnover Battle – Another one that seems obvious, but when the Jayhawks were successful last season, they forced the opponent into mistakes, and held on to the ball themselves. Indiana State was really good at taking care of the ball last year, so it will be very important to not give them any extra opportunities.

Pass The Ball – The Jayhawks have a potent running attack, but they will need to create balance, both for this game and for other games down the road. If whoever starts at QB isn’t able to get the passing game going, I expect there to be a real QB controversy come Sunday.

Game Prediction

Kansas will be in a dogfight, as they face a team that won’t be intimidated and isn’t as far behind them in terms of talent as your typical FCS team would be. Each team will be fairly successful in the running game, but the game will ultimately be decided by who is able to get the deep passing game going.  I think Kansas pulls it out late, but Jayhawks everywhere will be nervous all game long.

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