It’s Homecoming at KU, and that’s even more motivation for the 'Hawks (1-6, 0-4 Big 12) to give fans and alumni something to celebrate this weekend.
But Texas (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) certainly isn’t going to roll over, not with such a proud football tradition and what’s at stake for the Longhorns. A win would make them bowl eligible and give them momentum heading into November. UT is looking for its second straight win after outlasting Baylor, 56-50, last Saturday, the highest scoring game in school history. Texas, which had previously lost two straight to Oklahoma and West Virginia, was paced by Joe Bergeron’s five rushing touchdowns, while quarterback David Ash also had a big day with 274 passing yards.
KU will be facing the nation’s sixth-best scoring offense (44.4 ppg), while Texas also ranks No. 31 in total offense (457.3 ypg) and No. 43 in rushing offense (186.8 ypg). The Longhorns, meanwhile, are fourth nationally in offensive third-down efficiency, converting 55.3 percent (57 of 103) of their attempts.
Defensively, Mack Brown’s team ranks 10th in the FBS in tackles for loss (7.8 per game) while ranking No. 26 in interceptions. UT has picked off nine passes this season and returned two for scores. Texas is the only team in the Big 12 with more than one interception return for a TD.
Offensively, Ash leads the passing attack. He’s completed an impressive 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,663 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
“I think he’s grossly underrated,” KU coach Charlie Weis said.
Ash’s go-to receiver is Mike Davis, who’s caught 30 passes for 500 yards and two touchdowns. Bergeron paces the ground game with 418 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for third in the FBS in scoring at 12.0 ppg), while UT also features Johnathan Gray (316 yards) and Malcolm Brown (245 yards; 6.1 yards per carry) in the backfield.
Linebacker Steve Edmond guides the defense with 55 tackles, including five TFLs. Up front, strong end Alex Okafor is tied for first in the Big 12 in sacks and tied for seventh in the FBS with 1.1 per game.
“On defense, they're extremely skilled,” Weis said. “They create matchup problems for you (with different formations). They blitz a lot, they stunt a lot. They have 17 sacks and 70 tackles for losses.”
It will be a huge challenge for KU and Weis. The KU coach is hoping redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings can give KU a lift in this game after announcing him as the starter on Tuesday. Cummings started his first collegiate game against Oklahoma, completing 10 of 21 passes for 111 yards with two interceptions. The man he’s replacing is senior Dayne Crist, who continued to struggle against the Sooners, completing 3 of 6 passes for 13 yards.
While Crist came to KU with such high expectations, Weis felt he needed to make a change at quarterback to benefit the program.
“I’m the head coach of Kansas and my job is to make sure that I put our football team in an upward spiral, not a downward spiral and if the status quo doesn’t show any improvement, then you have to find some way to make improvements and this is one of the ways,” Weis said. KU’s offense is in need of great improvement after averaging just 12.3 points the last three games. One Jayhawks who has continued to shine offensively is running back James Sims, who has now rushed for over 100 yards the last three games. He had 102 rushing yards versus OU, while also catching two passes for 56 yards, including a career-best 51-yard reception in the third quarter.
Of course, the special teams and defense must also boost their games if KU is to upset the Longhorns. Oklahoma scored on a 90-yard punt return and a 100-yard punt return last Saturday, adding to the Jayhawks’ misery.
“On special teams, very often it comes down to just a guy making a play,” Weis said. “You’re covering the whole field and you have to make one, whether it’s a kickoff return or a punt return or whatever it ends up being. Sometimes it’s one-on-one and you beat a block and now you have to go make the play.”
Texas has definitely made a lot more plays in its series history with KU. The Longhorns are 9-2 all time against Kansas with their only losses dating back to 1901 and 1938 in Lawrence. The Horns have won all nine matchups in Big 12 play.
Despite its 1-6 record and going winless in the Big 12, the KU coaches and players continue to battle (OU only outscored KU 14-7 after halftime after leading 38-0 the first two quarters) while trying to find some answers and salvage its season.
Weis is clear what he wants to see the rest of the year.
“We still have to win a conference game. That would lift my spirits,” Weis said. “The other thing I really think would be important for us is to beat somebody on the road. I don’t know if we’re going to do either one of those things the way we played last week. But I know one thing. We’re going to play hard for 60 minutes for five games, even if things go bad. They’re going to play hard, we just have to play better and we have to coach better. We have to develop our players. At the end of the year, they have to be better than they are right now.”
As for Saturday’s showdown with Texas, don’t expect KU to have the upper hand. The Longhorns win, 42-20.