I love games like the one at Memorial Stadium yesterday.
#19 KU Ready For Next Test
While KU's had some miscues like dropped passes and defensive breakdowns this early season, Mark Mangino is encouraged with his team's progress.
"The key thing is we are better every week," Mangino said.
The Jayhawks will have to play their best game of the year against Southern Mississippi (3-0), which has won eight straight games dating back to last year, tied for the second-longest winning streak in the nation. KU has a five-game winning streak of its own, and wants a big win over the Golden Eagles heading into its bye week before opening Big 12 play versus Iowa State on Oct. 10.
KU is coming off a 44-16 victory against Duke, while Southern Miss beat Virginia, 37-34, at home last Saturday. The Golden Eagles rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit, scoring two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"I think it says a lot about our team," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "I knew that we would not quit. I knew we would play all the way to the end."
KU and Southern Mississippi both boast high-powered offenses and defenses. While KU is averaging 537.7 total offensive yards per game, the Golden Eagles aren't far behind at 453 yards per contest. Southern Miss actually has a slight edge in rushing offense over KU, averaging 247.7 rushing yards per game to KU's 245.
On defense, Southern Miss is holding foes to less yardage (251.7 yards per game) than KU (282.7). The Golden Eagles' rush defense has been especially impressive, limiting opponents to just 51.7 yards per game, compared to 57.7 for Kansas. In fact, Southern Miss has held its foes to under 100 yards rushing the last eight games.
Indeed, this will be no walk in the park for Kansas.
"They are quicker than what we have seen and have more skill than what we have seen," Mangino said. "You bet they are a good challenge for us."
Mangino is impressed with both the Golden Eagles' offense and defense. Southern Miss features a great running back in Damion Fletcher and outstanding receiver named DeAndre Brown. Fletcher, who's averaging 114.7 rushing yards per game, has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons. The 6-5 Brown, who broke his leg in last year's New Orleans Bowl, caught a school record 67 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
And don't forget about running back Tory Harrison, who rushed for 101 yards against Virginia.
"Southern Miss is a good football team," Mangino said. "On offense they give you a lot of looks. They are a wide-open offense. They have a lot of formations. They run the ball very well. (Fletcher) is a very quick guy with good lateral movement and good explosion. Their quarterback (Austin Davis) manages the game very well. They have a couple of big receivers, (including) DeAndre Brown, who has come back and played very well."
Mangino also praised the Golden Eagles' strong defensive line (led by Anthony Gray) and free safety Eddie Hicks.
Of course, KU has some defensive weapons as well with the likes of ends Maxwell Onyegbule and Jake Laptad, and linebacker Huldon Tharp, who had a career-high 10 tackles against Duke. The Jayhawks' run defense must step up again against Southern Mississippi's potent rushing game.
"I think we have played the run very well in the first three games when you look at statistically, but also when you look at it from a fundamental aspect," Mangino said. "I think there is room for improvement in that area, like playing our fits a little better in the run game. I think we have to do a good job of pursuing and not overrunning the ball."
Offensively, senior running back Jake Sharp is likely a game-time decision after playing limited action against Duke with an injury. Freshman Toben Opurum played admirably in Sharp's absence, rushing for a game-high 70 yards.
Fedora knows KU poses a huge challenge with or without Sharp. He has great respect for the Kansas program.
"(Mangino) has done a tremendous job bringing in talent," Fedora said. "They have numerous players on the offensive side. They are going to score points. Defensively, they are always going to be where they are supposed to be. They are very well coached. They play low and hard. They do a great job on the pass rush. They have great players and he's done a great job coaching them."
Fedora said "this is probably their best team over (the past) five years. A lot of it is just because of (senior quarterback Todd Reesing). He's got football savvy. He's got the ‘it' factor that you're looking for in a quarterback. If the play breaks down, he can still make plays and that's how you break a defensive back is when they do good things and they've got you and all of a sudden the quarterback makes a play. That's what he brings to that football team."
Reesing, who passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns versus Duke, is looking for another great outing for himself and the Jayhawks on Saturday against a tough Southern Miss team.
"They are the best team we will play so far," Reesing said. "They have talented, athletic guys. They want to come in here and pull off the upset to make a statement for their season. They are going to bring their ‘A' game and we have to do the same."
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