Matchup: Week 4 vs Kansas

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By Ian Boyd, Inside Texas Special Contributor
Posted Jul 14, 2014
Copyright © 2017 InsideTexas.com


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Kansas in Austin in 2013. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Kansas presents a perfect example of how much tougher the Big 12 is likely to be in 2014 than in 2013.

Last year, nearly every team was graduating their starting QB and scrambling to build offensive identities that would challenge Big 12 defenses.

In that environment, teams with defensive talent and experience like OSU, OU, and Baylor dominated. Of course, Mack Brown squandered a loaded team and managed to injure his only good QB before conference play even began while failing to fix a horrendous run defense, which were both well known barriers to Longhorn success all offseasonthus negating Texas’ chances at glory, but I digress. Anyways, he wasn’t the only coach to waste a good opportunity.

 

Kansas was terrible. Playing in one of the weakest Big 12's we’ve ever seen they managed to win only a single conference game, a home date against a West Virginia team that had probably already given up on their own season.

 

This season Kansas has some pieces that could make for an intriguing team that might have been strong in 2013 but may only tread water in 2014. Charlie Weiss went all in on JUCO transfers with his 2013 recruiting class and then redshirted some of the most talented players, setting up the Jayhawks to lose big in 2013 and likely requiring a bowl berth in 2014 to save his job.

 

Weiss also hired Mangino/Bailiff disciple John Reagan away from Rice to bring more spread option elements to the Jayhawk attack. The Jayhawks are missing the Owls’ stunning preponderance of great tight ends, but they do have some weapons that could make things interesting.

 

Defensively this is a veteran group that’s slowly finding average or better players at every spot and has adjusted their DL for 2014 to try and cause problems for Big 12 teams. There very well might be bowl game potential for this group, but it’s hard to believe that Weiss will manage much more than elevating his team to the level necessary to win 3-5 games.


Jayhawk offense: Match-up challenges for Texas

 

If Texas hasn’t figured out how to stop a QB run game or the modern spread option, and we’ll know by this point if they have after facing Taysom Hill and Brett Hundley, than Montell Cozart could present a few problems.

 

JUCO WR Nick Harwell and RB/WR hybrid Tony Pierson make Kansas a little frisky on the perimeter due to their great speed and ability to make something happen after the catch while Cozart is a very solid runner with an underrated arm.

 

If Reagan can get Cozart fluent in the modern tactics of 2ndlevel reads that combine running plays with quick hitting passes to the perimeter, then it will become a challenge to keep the Jayhawks under wraps and they may score some points.

 

Another OL comprised of reasonably sized upperclassmen and a decent blocking TE in Jimmay Mundine will likely result in another Kansas run game that’s reasonably solid. The last few years they’ve made a living out of avoiding negative plays and thundering ahead with power and outside zone plays that get their OL on the move and at angles rather than trying to drive back superior athletes.

 

Assuming that they can account for opposing blockers by attacking the perimeter with option tosses to Pierson and Harwell as effectively as they did by bringing using bigger formations in 2013, Kansas will probably be solid running team with some home-run hitting potential.

 

Best 5-man skill player lineup:

 

21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE)

 

The best Jayhawk formations will be spread personnel but with RB/WR Pierson lined up out wide or otherwise motioning out of the backfield. They’ll also need to keep a TE on the field rather than another receiver in order to have more diversity in how they block and to protect their OL from Shiro and Reed.

 

Texas’ response would almost certainly be the base 4-3 defense with Peter Jinkens alternating between attacking the running game off the edge or unexpectedly dropping wide to contest the perimeter passing game.

 

The scary scenario would be Pierson or Harwell findingopen space and Texas lacking a deep safety who can be trusted to make score-stopping tackles.

 

Jayhawk offense: Match-up advantages for Texas

 

So long as Texas gets good team pursuit and strong tackling from the deep safety position, they should be able to squeeze the life out of the Kansas offense.

 

As Oklahoma discovered in 2013, if you can’t beat teams with the deep ball, they’ll eventually load up the box and pressure your wide receivers so that you can’t create space for your athletes to operate in.

 

Kansas has finally acquired some athletes, but they don’t have the fundamental skills in the passing game to punish a defense that can attack those athletes with press coverage and a loaded box by throwing over the top.

 

Texas’ ability to drop a safety over a slot, trust their cornersvs the Jayhawk receivers, and then attack the Kansasrunning game with Jinkens and blitzes removes most of the Jayhawk strategy from the table.

 

Worst 5-man skill player lineup

 

10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs)

 

If Kansas tries to spread things out even further with their mediocre 3rd and 4th receiving options they will create a scenario in which Cozart spends the game running for his life while Shiro, Reed, and the linebackers triangulate his position.

 

They’d be better off bringing more big bodies on the field but then they limit the ways in which they can get the ball to Harwell or Pierson in space. Also, their bigger bodies aren’t great either.

 

Jayhawk defense: Match-up challenges for Texas

 

This is where things could get interesting if Texas doesn’t have a healthy Ash and has to throw Jerrod Heard or Tyrone Swoopes to the wolves, er, hawks.

 

Kansas is attempting to build the ultimate bend don’t break defense and they are actually getting reasonably close to having all the necessary pieces.

 

After having Ben Goodman and Michael Reynolds split time at the productive “Buck” hybrid position in 2013, the Jayhawks have had Goodman beef up to 250 and now play a sort of 2-4-5 front with both players standing up on either edge.

 

Dave Campo actually has their cornerbacks playing good coverage and Jacorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald can mix in both press coverage and off coverage at levels higher than merely “competent.”

 

Isaiah Johnson gave Kansas really strong play at the boundary safety position in 2013 while converted corner Cassius Sendish has some decent potential at the field safety position, which is a more coverage-heavy role in the Jayhawks quarters defense.

 

Another JUCO named Kevin Short gives them a lot of flexibility as a 6-foot-2, 190-pound nickelback who can play the edge some or handle tougher coverage assignments vsthe slot.

 

Middle linebacker Ben Heeney is arguably the best in the Big 12 and uses top shelf quickness to dance into his run fits or fill passing windows (he had three interceptions in 2013). His partner Jake Love is a little less athletic, less instinctive, and not as big. He’s capable of playing well at home if covered up adequately by the DL.



Best configuration:

 

Base 2-4-5 set playing Quarters coverages and occasional four-man zone blitzes

 

A truly versatile nickelback allows a quarters defense to shift around leverage and responsibilities in the secondary to avoid bad match-ups and to get help to the box against the run. If Short is the kind of player to provide these attributes, than Kansas may present a challenge to the Texas passing game.

 

The types of spread sets that flood the field with Texas’ best playmakers like Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders, Jaxon Shipley, and Marcus Johnson could then be matched in such a way that the Longhorns struggle to create big plays and pull away from the decent Kansas offense.

 

Jayhawk defenseMatch-up advantages for Texas

 

Defensive tackle is the tricky spot for Kansas. They have good enough players at the other nine positions to have a solid pass-rush, keep the ball in front, and mix up 2-deep coverages to take away an opponent’s strengths, but if the defensive tackles can’t command double teams to let Heeney and Love read flow and get to ballcarriers, the system falters.

 

The two key players here are returning starter Keon Stowers, who’s on the verge of being good enough to punish a guard or center who blocks him without help, and bulked up JUCO DE Andrew Bolton. More likely than not, they’ll struggle against good interior OLs and the Jayhawk D will become vulnerable.

 

Worst configuration:

 

Nickel defense (2-4-5vs 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs)

 

This is a game in which Texas would benefit from bringing out the big guns and pounding the Kansas front so that they have to sneak up Isaiah Johnson or Short into the box and then get Marcus Johnson or another receiver matched up deep vs Sendish or the Jayhawk corners.

 

If Texas’ guards prove capable enough to blow up the Kansas DTs, then Texas could also just run the ball and hang on for a 28-17 type victory, in which they don’t put Kansas away until late but are never in any serious danger either.

 

If Gray is healthy as an explosive option, then Texas could follow the same strategy to a big victory.

 

The biggest advantage is likely to be found running off tackle with outside zone or power and getting a double team on the Jayhawk DE/LB players with a TE and a big OT like Kennedy Estelle or Dez Harrison. The Jayhawks simply don’t have any great answers on their roster for handling a beating like that. Thenit simply becomes a matter of how many yards Texas’ backs can get in space vs second level Jayhawk tacklers.


Summary:

 

Don’t make the mistake of believing that this is going to be another Kansas team that’s as bad as the last few. It won’t be, but it won’t be very good either. There’s potential for catastrophe here if Texas sees Ash go down before a back-up is ready to handle a conference road game and Texas gifts the Jayhawks opportunities with turnovers.

 

Otherwise, Texas’ ability to pound the edges with the run game, match up with Kansas’ athletes, and blow away it's OL with the front four should add up to allow for a commanding victory.

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