The potential of a berth in the Big 12 championship game is hanging on by a thread following a 17-10 loss to TCU. The Longhorns no longer control their own destiny as they head up to Lawrence this weekend to take on Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have spent the last decade as the worst P5 team in the country, have turned a corner this year and find themselves with an identical record to Texas (6-4). Let's take a look at what to expect from a scrappy Kansas team.
Texas fans remember what Jalon Daniels did to the Longhorns last year in Austin. Daniels carried the momentum from the end of last year into the beginning of this year and helped Kansas jump out to a 5-0 start. He suffered an injury against TCU and has not played since. In his place, Jason Bean has thrown for over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Bean, a transfer from North Texas, opened last year as the starter and is a very solid passer. The issue Kansas has for this week is Bean went out late last week against Texas Tech with an injury. Lance Leipold said on Monday that Daniels is getting "close", but that Bean did not do much in practice. It remains to be seen who will take the first snap on Saturday, but the chance of Daniels making his return seem to be a real possibility.
Sophomore Devin Neal is one of the more underrated running backs in the Big 12. The Lawrence native has 951 rushing yards on the season to go along with 7 touchdowns and is averaging 6.7 yards a carry. He is the primary ballcarrier and will carry a heavy load on Saturday with the QB uncertainty.
The Jayhawks have 5 primary pass catchers: 3 receivers and 2 tight ends. Slot receiver Luke Grimm leads the team with 36 receptions, but outside receiver Lawrence Arnold is the player to watch. Arnold is averaging over 17 yards a catch and is someone the Texas defense will need to gameplan for. Mason Fairchild and Jared Casey are the tight ends. Fairchild has 20 catches and 5 touchdowns on the season. People will remember Casey as the guy who got the game-winning two point conversion in last year's game. Casey only has 11 receptions on the season but 3 of them have gone for touchdowns. They will leak him out if the defense isn't paying attention.
The Kansas coaching staff does an excellent job of protecting their offensive line. You will not see many situations where they ask their QB to drop back to pass and go through progressions while the offensive line is asked to hold up 1 v 1. They have only allowed 8 sacks on the season and are playing a good enough level considering the talent at the skill positions. LT Earl Bostick Jr. is someone will get a shot in a NFL training camp in 8 months. Good player.
The defense is still a work in progress for Kansas. The Jayhawks have been shredded at times this year on the ground while also being vulnerable in the passing game. Miami-Ohio transfer Lonnie Phelps leads the team with 6 sacks, but 3 of those came in the season opener against Tennessee Tech. The interior of the Kansas defensive line is experienced, but they can be pushed around. Another thing working is Texas' favor is the Jayhawks run a traditional 4-3 defense, which will be a welcome sight for Texas after 4 straight games of facing the 3 high safety defense.
Ohio State transfer Craig Young is an active player and holds down one of the starting LB spots. Middle linebacker Rich Miller is second on the team with 75 tackles.
In the backend, safety Kenny Logan might be the best player on the defense. Logan leads the team with 80 tackles and has also pulled down 2 interceptions. Corner Cobee Bryant had a pick 6 against Texas last year and is a promising young corner. Fellow corner Ra'Mello Dotson leads the team with 5 pass breakups.
Who knows where the Texas team is mentally after last Saturday. Lawrence has not been kind to Texas over the years, and the weather calls for a cold and windy day on Saturday. Conventional wisdom has Texas should be able to establish the running game and ride their two running backs to victory, but after last week it's tough to speak in absolutes. The only absolute right now is Texas is an inconsistent football team.