Mark Mangino's Jayhawks have a way of turning things around at the end of the season.
KU vs. KSU: The Matchups
The Jayhawks ran the ball well through their first five games, but have seemed to hit a snag from the Colorado game on. Part of the problem looks to be the offensive line. But part of it too may be that Jake Sharp is still recovering from his injury, as he still appears to be a step or two slower than usual. With Sharp's return though, freshman Toben Opurum was relegated back to spot-duty. Both will need to have strong games against a Kansas State team allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. Look for the Jayhawks to try to use some misdirection to get Sharp the ball in space, where he can take advantage of his speed against a disciplined, but unathletic Kansas State linebacking group. If Sharp doesn't cut the mustard, Opurum is capable of grinding things out, especially on a short yardage basis.
Intriguing Matchup: Sharp against K-State linebackers.
When Kansas passes the ball: Advantage Kansas
Out of all the game's matchups, perhaps none are as lopsided as Kansas's passing game against Kansas State's pass defense. Not only are the Wildcats (with the exception of Jeffrey Fitzgerald) weak at getting to the passer, the defensive backs have shown a tendency to lose receivers over the middle (witness the Texas Tech and Oklahoma games). Again, misdirection on bootlegs and play action could be key in sucking up those linebackers and giving Todd Reesing the middle of the field to work. The receivers, including Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, are going to be better than the guys covering them. Having said that, it's up to Reesing to get the ball in those receivers' hands, an issue he has had the past few weeks. Kansas will need to pass as Kansas State's two top tacklers are safeties Tysyn Hartman and Emmanuel Lamur. If Reesing can force the safeties to drop back in coverage, Kansas State's run defense gets that much worse.
Intriguing Matchup: Dezmon Briscoe against Joshua Moore
When Kansas State rushes the ball: Advantage Kansas State
The Jayhawks have improved a bit at stopping opposing runners since allowing Iowa State to rush for 219 yards on more than five yards per carry. A lot of that has correlated with the development of new defensive tackle John Williams, who clogs up lanes in the middle, and freshman linebacker Huldon Tharp. But the Jayhawks must get more consistent — while they have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry over the last three games, they have also allowed Rodney Stewart and Baron Batch to rush for 108 and 123 yards, respectively. They'll face a Wildcat attack that averages more than 180 yards on the ground per game, thanks to Daniel Thomas, one of the Big 12's top tailbacks. One of the tough things about Thomas is that he'll get the ball in a variety of ways, making it tough to key on any one area of the field. When you add in the play of Kansas State's line against Oklahoma, the blocking of fullback Braden Wilson and the complementary running of Keithen Valentine and quarterback Grant Gregory, you've got a pretty dangerous, and versatile, running game.
Intriguing Matchup: John Williams against the middle of the Kansas State line
When Kansas State throws the ball: Advantage Kansas
Statistically, the Wildcats just aren't very good at winging it, throwing just six touchdowns with six interceptions. But that doesn't mean the Wildcats can't be dangerous with the pass. They love to roll out Gregory and give him multiple levels to throw … if you drop back, he'll hit Thomas or tight end Jeron Mastrud underneath. And if you jump the short stuff, he's lobbing it over your head to Brandon Banks, one of college football's fastest players. Gregory also provides a difficult matchup because of his scrambling ability, which slows down defensive lines. That's an advantage in this game because Kansas's defensive line has been successful all season at getting to the quarterback. One way to be successful is to hem Gregory in by staying in pass rush lanes while trying to slide a linebacker through an interior crack to clean him up. Other than Banks, there isn't really a receiver to scare Kansas's defensive backs. Attrail Snipes has had a nice, if unspectacular season, while Lamark Brown is still waiting to achieve his potential. Gregory typically makes smart decisions with the football, but if the Jayhawks can pressure him and keep him inside the pocket, they can drastically reduce what he can do.
Intriguing Matchup: Max Onyegbule against Clyde Aufner
Special Teams: Advantage Kansas State
One team has shown the ability to score from its special teams, while the other hasn't. The Jayhawks have struggled in coverage … which is a bad sign when you're playing Banks, probably college football's most dangerous return man. He has taken back four for scores already this year, and would love nothing else more than adding to that total. On punts, the issue won't be as important, as Alonso Rojas has shown the ability to slow down an ace return man. Neither of the Jayhawks' return units have been dangerous. Kicker Jacob Branstetter and Josh Cherry have both been playing well. After a rocky start, Cherry has hit his last five field goals, while Branstetter knocked in a career-long 57-yarder against Oklahoma.
Intriguing Matchup: Brandon Banks against the Kansas KO return unit
The Wildcats? Well, they're good at forcing turnovers, coming up with 21 in Kansas State's nine games. The Jayhawks? Well, they've been prone to giving the ball away lately. Out of the 111 points allowed in Kansas's last three games, a whopping 56 were created, either directly or indirectly, by turnovers. The Jayhawk defense actually achieved a shutout situation (the defense allowed 14 points, but created 14) against Texas Tech, only to see Kansas give the ball away on four fumbles (two by Reesing, one apiece for Meier and McDougald), all of which led to touchdowns. The Jayhawks can't afford a similar situation this week. If Kansas can stay even in the turnover battle, or better yet, win it, the Jayhawks will have a great shot to win this game. If not? Well, it could be a little bit of déjà vu for Kansas fans.
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