1. Establish Passing Threat
Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist struggled last Saturday to gel with his receivers and consistently overthrew passes. When Crist was on target his receivers often didn’t keep up their end of the bargain either. The good news is that regardless of what the stat line looked like any naked eye from the bleachers could see that the talent in the passing game was on the roster, they just didn’t follow through.
I still think Coach Charlie Weis will lean heavy on the run (as they should) but don’t be surprised to see Crist go deep early like he did on the first play from scrimmage against SDSU. Weis knows this season’s success will ultimately be determined by how well Crist performs and will want to settle any doubts still lingering inside Crist. But from what I’ve learned about Crist since meeting him back in January, he’ll be ready to go out and show Jayhawk Nation what he can really do.
Player to watch: Rice defensive end Jared Williams is a savvy pass rusher.
2. Run Defense
Despite an obvious improvement in overall defense (71st ypg in 2012; dead last in 2011) this Kansas defense still has a long way to go if they are going to compete with the Big Boyz of the Big 12. As any defensive coach will tell you, a good defense starts up front with the line stopping the run. For the most part Kansas did a good job containing SDSU running back Zach Zenner who finished with 186 yards on 23 carries. If you take out that one run (I know you can’t but indulge me) Zenner finishes with 22 carries for 87 yards. Now that’s a run defense you can live with!
Rice went ultra heavy on the run in an opening day loss to UCLA (48 rush plays; 30 pass) and will likely try the same method against the Jayhawks. Making matters more difficult will be Owls quarterback Taylor McHargue who pestered the Bruins for 95 yards on 22 carries. If the Jayhawks maintain gap discipline their defensive front will keep the Rice offense in check. If not, the Kansas defense will get on their heels early and struggle to get back to form.
Player to Watch: Kansas defensive lineman Jordan Tavai looks to build on an impressive debut.
3. Offensive Line’s Intestinal Fortitude
The Kansas offensive line’s toughness will be tested Saturday as the Rice defensive front is very different than the one they saw last week. The Owls run what is a called a 4-2-5, or nickel, defense which essentially means 4 down lineman, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs (usually 3 safeties). Though the SDSU front-7 was quick and feisty this Owl defense isn’t going to get fancy. As Coach Tim Grunhard said earlier this week, “they are going to line up and play smash-mouth football”.
The Owls defensive line is led by senior defensive end Jared Williams who is coming off a 5 tackle, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery game against the Bruins. Williams will be lining up against Kansas left tackle Tanner Hawkinson on most snaps. Tanner was very good for the most part last Saturday though he did give up the Jayhawks only sack of the game. In talking to Tanner earlier this week he seemed to have an idea of what went wrong on that snap and seemed to be anxious to put that play behind him.
Player to Watch: Any Kansas lineman playing the right side; 4 different players against SDSU.
4. Special Teams
The Kansas Jayhawks got a great football mind when Special Teams Coordinator Clint Bowen returned to his alma mater. Bowen’s special teams unit pestered SDSU’s punter throughout the contest with players like Josh Ford (also had some nasty blocks) and Chris Omigie leading the charge. But Rice brings their own special team prowess to the table and if Kansas isn’t on their A-game it will bite them in the butt.
Rice Linebacker Cameron Nwosu had a record setting day against UCLA blocking not one, not two, but three extra point attempts. But the Owls’ talents in the kicking game don’t end there. Sam McGuffie is a speedy return man that is undersized but can shake and bake all day long. Considering how close SDSU was to Kansas in the 4th quarter last week, a big play by McGuffie might be enough to swing the game into Rice’s favor.
Player to Watch: Rice’s 3rd tight end/punter Taylor Cook who is 6’7” 255-pounds and also very good at punting the ball.
5. Just Win Baby!
We talked a lot in the week leading up to the South Dakota State game about the Jayhawks needing to squash the crap out of the Jackrabbits because, obviously, they were an inferior opponent. Though this logic could certainly be debated the outcome is the same. The Kansas boosters didn’t fork over $2.5 million to Coach Weis to “hang” with SDSU—or Rice for that matter.
Charlie Weis was brought here to win championships; plain and simple. The Jayhawks went through some growing pains last Saturday and though most in Jayhawk Nation expected more, it’s understandable that it will take some time for things to gel. I expect to see more growing pains Saturday but the mistakes must be reduced because this Rice team is much more physically talented than SDSU and could spoil a week-3 Big 12 opener against TCU that would be the biggest game in Lawrence since, well, Mangino. Interest in Kansas Football is on the rise but will diminish quickly if the Jawhawks let the Owls come into their house and punch them in the mouth. This Kansas team has a ton of talent and will improve with every week. I just don’t know if they are as far along as they need to be yet. The Jayhawks don’t need to make a statement against Rice, they just need to win.
Player to Watch: Taylor Cox and Tony Pierson.
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