Kicking the Tires: That School Down the River

It hasn't been pretty thus far for KU. After opening with wins over McNeese State and Northern Illinois, the bottom fell out with a 66-24 loss in Atlanta, when Georgia Tech ran for 600 yards on the KU defense. The Jayhawks rebounded with a solid showing against Texas Tech in Lawrence before putting up a historically embarrassing effort against Oklahoma State, in which the Cowboys led at 56-7 at halftime. After that performance, all bets were off for what Oklahoma would do to KU in Lawrence last weekend. To the surprise of some, the Sooners sleepwalked through the game and "only" won 47-17.

That improved showing by KU has given some hope that it can keep pace with K-State this weekend, even possibly pull off the upset. And I'm on record as warning K-State fans not to be overconfident. As bad as things have been for KU, and as bad as the game last year went for KU, I really do think that this game will be close through the first half. It would not surprise me at all to see our game thread in near-meltdown mode at about 1:00 p.m. on Saturday after a less-than-inspiring, or at least anything short of a blowout, first half.

Players to Watch

K-State

Rushing: John Hubert, 105 carries, 545 yards, 4.2 yards/carry, 1 TD, 90.8 yards/game

Passing: Collin Klein, 70-119-3, 739 yards, 7 TD, 123.2 yards/game

Receiving: Chris Harper, 21 receptions, 251 yards, 12.0 yards/reception, 3 TD, 41.8 yards

Defensive Line: Jordan Voelker, 18 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks

Linebacker: Arthur Brown, 45 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT

Secondary: David Garrett, 33 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 fumble recovered

KU

Rushing: James Sims, 102 carries, 455 yards, 4.5 yards/carry, 6 TD, 75.8 yards/game

Passing: Jordan Webb, 93-142-5, 1,238 yards, 11 TD, 206.3 yards/game

Receiving: Tim Biere, 21 receptions, 246 yards, 11.7 yards/reception, 1 TD, 41.0 yards/game

Defensive Line: Keba Agostinho, 16 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks

Linebacker: Steven Johnson, 63 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1 INT

Secondary: Bradley McDougald, 36 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks

KU's top tackler among its defensive line is 11th on the team in total tackles. Granted, they've played in a 3-4 defense most of the season, but it's clear the defensive line isn't doing much, and the stats bear that out. KU is last in the conference and 106th nationally in sacks, and 106th nationally in tackles for loss. Collin Klein should have plenty of time to throw on the relatively rare occasion that he does drop back to pass in this game, which is a luxury he hasn't had a ton of thus far.

Jordan Webb is averaging a respectable 8.7 yards per attempt this season. Of course, he's averaging almost an interception per game, too. Overall, the KU offense really isn't bad (see stats below), and it's kind of surprising to me that some of you can't admit that KU has been better on offense this year than K-State by any reasonable measure. Granted, KU hasn't faced the greatest defenses (average rank 68th), but neither has K-State (average rank: 63.6). If you want to say that K-State has been more effective, then sure, anyone could probably agree with that considering K-State is 6-0. But let's not kid ourselves. K-State isn't 6-0 because its offense has been especially potent this season.

Team Statistics (from CFBStats.com)

Rushing Offense:

K-State: 25th nationally, 206.00 yards/game

KU: 23rd nationally, 206.83 yards/game

Passing Offense:

K-State: 114th, 130.2 yards/game

KU: 73rd, 218.3 yards/game

Total Offense:

K-State: 94th, 336.2 yards/game

KU: 40th, 425.2 yards/game

Rushing Defense:

K-State: 16th, 96.83 yards/game

KU: 116th, 227.17 yards/game

Pass Efficiency Defense

K-State: 49th

KU: 119th

Total Defense

K-State: 37th, 345.7 yards/game

KU: 120th (dead last), 565.0 yards/game

No, that's not a reprint of K-State's defensive statistics from last year, although you could be forgiven for thinking that may be the case. KU ranks among the worst five defensive units in the country in all three major statistical categories. Not that any competition justifies being that bad, but KU has played a lot of really good offenses thus far. In fact, the average ranking in total offense for KU's opponents is sixth (NIU 17th, GT 9th, Texas Tech 6th, Oklahoma State 2nd, Oklahoma 4th). I'm telling you, don't be surprised if K-State doesn't put up incredible numbers on this KU defense. First of all, K-State is more opportunistic than "good" on offense, and KU's defensive numbers are skewed downward based on the high-flying offenses it's faced thus far. I mean, they'd only be something like 98th if they'd played an average schedule.

On offense, KU is slightly above average and you would expect that K-State's defense should limit the Jayhawks fairly significantly. The strengths match up there, as K-State is solid at stopping the run, while KU is much better running than throwing. If K-State can stop KU's running game without committing a safety to the box, then KU is going to have a lot of trouble moving the ball. Jordan Webb hasn't been terrible, but he's probably not going to carry this KU offense on his own.

Here is the matchup in the "hidden yardage" stats that K-State tends to do so well in.

Turnover Margin

K-State: 11th nationally, +6

KU: 100th, -5

Penalties

K-State: 49th, 48.7 yards/game

KU: 22nd, 40.8 yards/game

Third-Down Conversions

K-State: 26th, 47.9 percent

KU: 44th, 44.6 percent

Red-Zone Conversions

K-State: 53rd, 83.33 percent

KU: 45th, 87.5 percent

Time of Possession

K-State: 2nd, 35.32

KU: 27th, 31:45

The hidden-yards stats are generally in K-State's favor, but not overwhelmingly so. K-State needs to be sure to hold on to the ball, as it's been awfully close to several fumbles in the last few weeks. In a cleanly played game, KU doesn't have much of a chance against K-State. But give them a few turnovers and a chance to put cheap points on the board, and the underdog has life.

Ordinarily, I'd be concerned about this team going on the road, but in this situation that's probably not much of an issue. The road trip is only 80 miles, so there's not a lot of time for things to go wrong. Once inside the stadium, K-State will likely see about 40 percent of the stadium clad in purple, so there shouldn't be an issue with noise.

Even given the favorable road conditions, however, don't be surprised at all if this game is not in hand at halftime. I'd love nothing more than for this team to get off to a fast start, demoralize KU early, and coast to another 59-7 type of win. But I think this game will be in doubt through the first 30 minutes. In the second half, K-State's rushing attack will wear down the Jayhawks, and K-State will finish off its third-straight win over that school down the river, 38-21.

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