November 21, 2009
7:00 p.m. Central
It has been a week of distractions for both these teams heading in to their late-season match-up, although the situation for Kansas coach Mark Mangino is much more dire. This week, several players – both current and former – have come forward and said Mangino is verbally abusive and had inappropriate physical contact during practices. To that end, Kansas’ athletic director has launched an investigation in to the accusations, and it remains to be seen whether Mangino will remain the Jayhawks coach after the season, only two years removed from being named the AP’s coach of the year.
For Texas, the distraction was different, as kick returner D.J. Monroe – only 20 years old – was arrested for a DWI last Saturday night after the Baylor game. Monroe has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Mack Brown, and might not play again until the bowl game, assuming his legal issues are resolved by that time.
For both teams, the key this week will be focus and preparation, and Texas seems to have the clear advantage in those two categories, if you disregard pure talent and this season’s success – which you can’t. Texas is three games away from playing for the national title, and they need to maintain their composure, play to their level, and help QB Colt McCoy get his 43rd win as the starter – an NCAA record for the winningest QB in history.
Let’s take a look at the details.
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 55, Kansas 17
Kansas Jayhawks (5-5)
Kansas had big expectations this year, despite the loss of two offensive lineman and their stout linebacker core to graduation. With the return of QB Todd Reesing, as well as WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, they had the offensive firepower to compete in the Big 12’s North division. Unfortunately, after a 5-0 start taking them as high as #15 in the rankings, they fell apart, and have lost five straight games in conference play. Now, they’re scratching to simply become bowl eligible.
This will be a homecoming game for senior QB Todd Reesing, who played his high school football right down the road at Lake Travis High School outside Austin. That high school coach should be proud, as he’s produced some big name QB recruits in recent years with Reesing, Gilbert (Texas), and potential Texas recruit Michael Brewer. Reesing has been the heart and soul of the Jayhawks during his tenure as a starter, but this year he has been nagged by injuries and tension with Mangino, who has pulled him during games in favor of his back-up. Reesing’s numbers are still stellar – 2,862 yards passing, 18 TDs, and only eight INTs with a 62 percent completion rate – but he hasn’t looked as comfortable or efficient as year’s past. There are rumors Reesing is still recovering from a nagging injury, and his lack of mobility is a liability, so a trip back home could prove disappointing in his last year in Lawrence.
The wide receiving corps for Kansas is as good as Texas will see all year. Starters Briscoe and Meier (the former QB turned WR) are both legit NFL draftees come April, and they are Reesing’s top targets in the passing game. Briscoe leads the team in receiving, with 994 yards, and TDs with seven. His 6’3” 202-pound frame makes him a big target downfield, and he is Kansas’ deep threat. Meier, on the other hand, is the big possession receiver at 6’3” 221-pounds, and has accounted for 885 yards and six TDs on a team-leading 83 catches. Both players have big play ability, will be the focal point of the KU passing game on Saturday, and will challenge the young but stout Texas defensive backs.
The Jayhawks running game is similar to Texas’ in that they have two backs who are complete opposites. The starter, Jake Sharp, is 5’10” 195-pounds and quick, with good hands out of the backfield (185 yards receiving and three TDs), accounting for 398 yards and three TDs on the ground this season. His complement is freshman Toben Opurum, a 6’2” 235-pound beast who moves the pile similar to Texas’ RB Cody Johnson. Opurum leads the running attack with 543 yards rushing on the season. Both backs offer different looks for opposing defenses, and given field to work with, they can be dangerous weapons to complement the KU passing game.
The Jayhawks’ offensive woes live in the line, where they start two freshman. Potentially the reason for Reesing’s on-going injuries is the inability to keep him upright, as the o-line has given up 24 sacks on the year. But, if the offensive line can open some holes for the running game, and give Reesing time to throw in the pocket – particularly if Kansas picks up on the weakness they saw in Texas’ defense of the bubble screen last week in Waco – then they have a chance to be very productive on the day. Against Texas’ front seven, though, it seems like a long-shot on Senior Day in Austin.
The defense is solid, but not outstanding, and their defensive line headlines that side of the ball. Overall, the defense gives up 351 yards of offense, 241 yards through the air, and an average of 24.9 points per game. They’ve also given up 32 opposing TDs this season, good for ninth-best in the Big 12. The defensive line’s success comes from the ends, namely Jake Laptad and Maxwell Onyegbule. While the defense s a whole has combined for a respectable 26 sacks on the season, Laptad and Onyegbule have accounted for 11.5 of them – so, that is where McCoy will see pressure on Saturday. As noted above, the weakness in the KU defense is the secondary – despite future NFL safety Darrell Stuckey – and they have only hawked seven INTs on the year. While the secondary steps up in the red zone, the defensive line has given up 18 rushing TDs on the season. Expect the secondary to get torched by McCoy and his receiving core on Saturday.
Finally, the special teams for the Jayhawks are mediocre at best. Their kicker, Jacob Brandstetter has a big leg, but has only made 10-of-15 field goals on the year. Their return game is horrid (6.1 yards per punt, and 20 yards per kickoff), and they give up big chunks of yards to opposing kick returners (11.4 yards per punt, and 22 yards per kickoff). Expect some big plays from the Texas return game, even without Monroe.
#3 Texas Longhorns (10-0)
The game plan for Texas needs to be balanced, both offensively and defensively this week. On defense, the ‘Horns need to put pressure on Reesing and make him scramble or make quick decisions. The secondary will have to keep both Briscoe and Meier in front of them and hold their coverage as long as possible to give the defensive line time to get to Reesing. By the same token, the safeties – Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas – will have to keep an eye on the backfield, as Sharp and Opurum both have the potential to make some big plays running or catching screen passes. If the defense plays up to their potential, they could tack up another non-offensive TD – something the Texas fans have come to expect this season. Another solid game from LB/DE Sergio Kindle also wouldn’t hurt his chances to win this year’s Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, as he was named one of five finalists for the award on Friday (along with the Big 12’s Sean Weatherspoon).
On offense, the ‘Horns should continue to hone their running game as they wind down the season, and last week’s production from Johnson and the return of RB Tre Newton, produced a balanced attack in Waco. Expect Johnson to get the start again, and to once again try to lead a balanced Longhorns attack. Of course, McCoy and Shipley will be keys to the offensive game plan, and both will want to go out on a high note in their last game in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Expect to see John Chiles or Malcolm Williams join Shipley on kickoff returns this week, with the suspension of Monroe. With the Jayhawks porous kick coverage, anything is possible, including some quick fireworks to change the atmosphere inside the stadium.
Something to keep an eye out for: could this be the week the ‘Horns don the new Nike Pro Combat uniforms? If not, fans will seem them at least once before season’s end. While they sound cool in theory, there are some things in college football you just don’t mess with – one of those is the Longhorns’ classic uniforms. Let’s leave the weekly uni-watch to the folks in Oregon.
Another big win and another step closer to Pasadena are easily possible if the ‘Horns stay focused and keep taking one game at a time. This is the time in the season when any team can lose its edge by looking too far ahead, but this team and the senior leadership seem to have the ‘Horns headed in the right direction. Besides, who doesn’t love Pasadena in January?