Big Test in Stillwater

Turner Gill

Many in the college football nation and even some Jayhawk fans have seemingly given up on Kansas football already after two straight losses and with KU now facing arguably the biggest challenge in the country the next two games playing at No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 3 Oklahoma in Lawrence.

However, the Jayhawks still believe in each other.
   
"We're doing good," redshirt freshman running back Brandon Bourbon said after KU's 45-34 loss to Texas Tech last Saturday. "(We're 2-2), that's better than last year's (start). We just got to stay positive. We had some good things happen in this game, so take the positives and try to improve the negatives and get ready for the next games."
   
The next game is against OSU (4-0) in Stillwater today at 2:30 p.m. (CT) at Boone Pickens Stadium. Kansas has dropped 10 straight road games, while Oklahoma State holds a dominating 6-1 series edge against KU in the Big 12 era with the Jayhawks' last win coming in 2007.
   
But if KU can come out and play OSU strong the the full game like the Jayhawks did in the first quarter against Texas Tech (KU led 20-0 at one point), Kansas could shock the country with an upset.
   
Of course, that's a big IF, especially when considering Oklahoma State boasts the nation's No. 2 passing offense, No. 3 total offense, and the No. 6 scoring offense.
   
On the flip side, KU ranks 119th out of 120 teams in total defense and is last nationally in scoring defense, allowing 44.25 points per game.
   
The task is certainly daunting in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State enters the contest with convincing wins over Louisiana, Arizona, at Tulsa, and a thrilling 30-29 victory at No. 8 Texas A&M on Sept. 24. The Cowboys feature what the program bills as American's best pass-catch combo in quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. Weeden has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 17 straight games, and cracked the 6,000-yard mark in career passing two weeks ago against the Aggies.
   
He ranks second nationally with 398 passing yards per game and is second in the country in total offense. Weeden is the only quarterback in the nation to pass for at least 360 yards every game this season, and set school single-game records for completions (47), attempts (60) and yards (438) against the Aggies, where he earned national player of the week honors (Walter Camp).
   
Blackmon, meanwhile, is a big-play threat with 24 receiving touchdowns over his last 16 games and has a reception of at least 20 yards in 16 straight games. He's tied for fifth in the nation with 9.5 receptions per game, and ranks No. 15 nationally with 112.5 receiving yards per contest.

"They're obviously a very good football team," KU coach Turner Gill said of the Cowboys. "Coach (Mike) Gundy has done a very good job. They are a very good team on offense, defense and special teams. You hear all about their offense. Their quarterback Weeden is extremely talented. He's done a tremendous job understanding that offense. They've got a hot tempo. Their receiver Blackmon is a very talented person. He's done a lot of good things. Those two guys are very good."

Gill also likes OSU's defense.

"Defensively, the thing that jumps out at me are their stats," Gill said. "They have caused 13 turnovers, so we have to make sure that we have extremely good ball security."

Gill and the Jayhawks are optimistic heading into their toughest battle yet this season.

"I think our guys are really upbeat," Gill said. "We still do a very good job of instilling a culture in our football program that everybody believes in. I think we are making some good progress. Obviously it's not going as good (as we'd hoped) as far as wins, but again I feel very good about where we're at and where we're going."

Gill knows his team must come out ready to play after halftime. The Jayhawks have been outscored 49-0 in the third quarter their last two games against Texas Tech and Georgia Tech. Gill said the coaching staff has made some adjustments.

"We are going to do a couple little things that are going to help us improve when we come out after halftime in the third quarter," Gill said. "We haven't responded as well as we've wanted to on all sides of the ball, so we need to get those things worked out."

The Jayhawks are certainly hyped heading into their first Big 12 road game against one of the premier teams in the country. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb hopes KU's halftime adjustments pay major dividends today.

"We have to try something because we haven't come out with that same fire that we did coming out to start the game," Webb said. "We feel like we're going to be consistent and if we play four quarters we're going to be a hard team to beat."

The Jayhawks are a heavy underdog in Stillwater, and few observers are giving the team any chance of pulling off a monumental upset.

But don't count KU out just yet.

"It's going to be a tough challenge," Gill said, "but we're ready to go on the road and make it happen."

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