The conference contest between Kansas and Texas on Saturday holds a different significance than it has in years past.
Last year, the Jayhawks beat Texas for the first time since 1938. The win gave Kansas a sense of confidence in David Beaty, while it made the eventual hire of Tom Herman at Texas inevitable.
We’ve heard little talk about how this week’s game might constitute “revenge” for the Longhorns. There’s definitely a context here, though, that makes a game with a 34 point spread more interesting than normal.
On top of that, both squads in this one are in a position where wins are valuable. Kansas has only one of those on the season, while Texas needs two out of its next three to make a bowl game.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 11 at 5:00 PM CT
WHERE: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (Austin, TX)
FORECAST: Lows 70s, Partly Cloudy
BETTING LINE: UT -34.0
KANSAS (1-8, 0-6)
The Jayhawks struggled in last week’s home game against Baylor, failing to score a touchdown against the then-winless Bears. A game in which Baylor was a touchdown favorite turned into a 38-9 drubbing.
David Beaty’s squad has thus far not managed to get a conference win, a feat they’ve accomplished only once in his tenure. Despite their record, however, there is some upside on this team.
Defensively, there have been some standouts this season. Linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. has been a tackling machine this season, leading the Big 12 with 110 in 2017.
Defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise have also been disruptive all season. Wise’s 5.5 sacks this season ranks third in the Big 12.
Offensively, the Jayhawks have implemented new schemes with Doug Meacham as offensive coordinator, but they haven’t translated into point production.
Meacham was brought to Lawrence to install the kind of Air Raid offense he coordinated at TCU. Key to that system is the guy behind center, but the Kansas has shuffled quarterbacks this season to find a consistent starter.
The Jayhawks have played both Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender throughout the year. Stanley is questionable for the game Saturday, however, so Bender is the likely starter. Bender is averaging 30 passes per every game he’s played, so the junior quarterback has seen plenty of action.
If Kansas has trouble moving the ball through the air, they’ve managed to find some things on the ground at times this season. Sophomore Khalil Herbert has flashed some good speed at running back, so much so that he’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry while getting 12 carries a game.
TEXAS (4-5, 3-3)
As the end of the season begins to near for Tom Herman’s team, the need to get to six wins for bowl eligibility comes to the forefront.
The story of the Longhorns throughout the first nine games of the season has been the top-shelf play of their defense contrasted with mediocre play from their offense.
The Texas offense is reeling after last week, when the Longhorns managed a mere 9 yards rushing. The game was indicative of how Texas has struggled to get yards on the ground throughout the season.
The Longhorns are averaging 137.8 yards per game on the ground and have yet to find a consistent running threat out of the backfield. Junior Chris Warren III leads the team, but last week true freshman Daniel Young got the vast majority of snaps.
Of course, those backs are running behind a banged up offensive line, which has struggled to effectively run block from week to week.
They’ve also struggled to protect the quarterback this season, a weakness that resulted in seven sacks on passer Shane Buechele last week.
When he can stay upright, Buechele has proven to be accurate. He’s amassed a 65.2 percent completion percentage this season throwing to tall wideouts like 6’6” Collin Johnson and 6’5” Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Of course, the offense doesn’t necessarily have to be stellar with the kind performances Texas gets out of their defense. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s group is giving up 21.3 points per game, enough to put them in the top three of the conference.
Orlando will be without top cornerback Holton Hill, who is suspended for the rest of the season for a violation of team rules. Junior DeShon Elliot, who leads the Big 12 with nine interceptions, will still be roaming the field from his safety position on Saturday.
Also having a great 2017 season is linebacker Malik Jefferson, who is likely leaving Texas early to go to the NFL in 2018.
Look for Texas to go for it on fourth down whenever they get past midfield, as kicker Joshua Rowland has struggled throughout this season.
KEYS FOR KU
Run The Ball Early – With cornerback Holton Hill out for the season, it might be tempting for Meachem to try to throw into the Texas secondary. Kansas’s best bet, however, might be to try to run the ball in order to turn this game into one that’s more about time of possession. Tom Herman has shown in the past that he’s fine with playing possession football and handing the ball off to Herbert might yield big results late in the game.
Avoid Turnovers – The Longhorns have proven that they can get points on defense as well as offense this season. If Kansas wants to keep this game close, they would best be able to do that by not giving Texas easy field position or non-offensive points. Making Buechele and the offense march down the field is the best bet the Jayhawks have for keeping this game a low scoring affair.
Get Pressure On The Quarterback – Kansas has defensive lineman who are talented enough to get past a struggling Texas offensive line. If they can get to Shane Buechele on passing downs, that will no doubt lead to stops and maybe even a turnover or two.
KEYS FOR UT
Find Some Bread And Butter – All season long Texas has shifted offensive personnel and run a variety of plays to generate some offense. The thing Texas hasn’t done is consistently shape an offensive game plan to highlight their strengths. With the defensive line the Jayhawks have, Texas will need to find ways to put their offensive line in the best position to have success on and down-in and down-out basis.
Develop Some Depth On Defense– Todd Orlando has shown a preference this season for keeping his starting eleven guys on the field for a long time. Over the course of the season, that can start to wear a defense down. As the Longhorns enter this final stretch of their 2017 campaign, they need to see some of the backups step up.
Find A Field Goal Kicker – Texas is next to last in the Big 12 in field goal kicking, with kicker Joshua Rowland having missed half those he’s tried this season. It might be time try to trot the backup out there to see what he can do. He might not only be needed for this game, but for those down the stretch as well.
It’s hard to know exactly where this Kansas program is headed this season. There is some talent on the roster, but the record seems to speak for itself. When you’re a 1-8 football team, being a five touchdown underdog wouldn’t seem to be too big of a shocker. At times, Kansas has had their moments where it seemed as if they could upset a team or two this season and improve in the win/loss column a smidge.
Right now, however, it seems like there’s a lot going against Kansas being able to win this game. Texas could make the argument to having the best – if not second best – defense in the Big 12 and it would seem like Kansas would need to hold the Texas offense to under around 20 points to pull the upset off twice in a row.
With the game from last year being the elephant in the room in this one, I’ll take Texas to cover at home. This one most likely will be uneventful early, but the Longhorns find a way to pull away in the second half with some third quarter scoring.