Saturday's tilt in College Station is a true gut-check game for Kansas. There is no magic formula to beat the Aggies; stop the run and protect the ball. If Kansas does those two things, they will eclipse the 7-0 mark for the first time since 1909. More importantly, they will be 4-0 in the conference with 3 "home" games remaining. Ok, so they sold their third home game, but the other 2 are legitimate and are against perennial doormats, Iowa State and Nebraska – win those and they can't have any more than 1 loss heading in to Arrowhead with the north division on the line.
**Side note** Maybe I have just gone crazy and am reading WAY too much into nothing, but does anyone else think that if the football team continues to have success, the basketball team will reap the benefits as well. Obviously recruiting would be positively impacted for both by having more good programs and facilities on campus, but I'm talking about this year in particular. Here are my reasons – and if at any time you think I'm a jackass, feel free to skip down to the pregame analysis.
1.Decreased emphasis – Obviously Allen Fieldhouse is the best place to play basketball in the world, with some great fans, but it can definitely be argued that it's not the best home court advantage. We're educated, loud, loyal and supportive – and because of that (along with a 19 year drought) we can be demanding. Despite the lack of ultimate success, it is obvious that Self coaches for March and not December. However, we are still going to games and analyzing play from the tip-off of the first exhibition game. Now, imagine if we actually had a football team to think about, watch and cheer for during December and possibly even January. (And yes, I know had a bowl game 2 years ago Dec. 23, but I'm talking about 1 that the majority might actually care about.) I think if we did, maybe we wouldn't be living and dying with every Chalmers theft, Kaun shotput or Sherron drive. (i.e. If nothing else, an early season loss to Oral Roberts might not be such national news/complete panic if the football team were playing OU in the Big 12 Championship that week. I'm not saying I want a decreased emphasis on basketball – if anything I wanted it amped up as well – but I really think a prolonged football season will take some pressure of the basketball team.
2.Friendly competition – The basketball players have been saying all the right things, like "we all wear Kansas on our chest," etc. However, with any good athlete, especially ones that are recruited to a place like Kansas is a sense of pride in how they are perceived. Think about how many people on campus didn't know who Todd Reesing, James McClinton or even Aqib Talib was last year. Now, those guys can't get near Wescoe Beach without expecting to be harassed by students. It's probably really annoying at the time, but you know they all love it and as recently as this summer, the basketball players were the only ones getting that treatment.
3.National recognition – Obviously Kansas basketball is highly regarded throughout the nation. Even so, they rarely get the kind of press the football team is garnishing right now until at least late March. They get more games on national TV, but football is America's sport (apparently) and as analysis and print media go, the football team is really raking in the pub lately. **Note within a note** Since writing this, this article appeared on ESPN.com and the LJWorld ran this as their main sports article. However, I still want to think my theory has some validity. I've was wrong once before though.**End note within a note**
That's probably enough of my theory for now – if you don't agree with it now, you will when they are cutting down the nets in San Antonio and we're all happy as pigs in shit. In order for any of it to have any validity however, the Kansas football team must nut-up and stop the best rushing attack in the conference (statistically anyway). If you just look at the stats, this shouldn't be a problem. Kansas is 7th in the nation, allowing a mere 78 yards per game. Ya, but they built up those stats against a creampuff non-conference slate! But to that I would say, "No Corso, dig a little deeper and you'll find that Kansas has actually tightened up since conference play started, allowing 53, 48, and 66 yards to KSU, Baylor, and CU, respectively." Not bad for a team that wasn't ready for conference play. Amazingly, Kansas rush defense statistics have greatly improved since getting by the likes of CMU, Toledo and FIU. Imagine what the stats would be like if those teams had not run on almost every play trying to end the game as quickly as possible.
Special Teams: Let's switch things up a bit and lead with the special teams analysis. First off, as much as anything, special teams won that game last week – Scott Webb's continued success, Kyle Tucker's punting, especially late from the end zone and of course the coverage. Aside from a mysterious defensive delay of game on Pat Resby, these units were flawless. A&M is much like Colorado in this area as they do nothing spectacular, but they don't get burned either, ranking 8th and 9th, in punt and kickoff coverage, respectively. In looking at these units, the only real difference between the two teams is Marcus Herford – aside from that, both cover well and neither needs points from these units, a la the Power Towels.
Where Kansas has the advantage is with the place kicker. Whereas both teams have made 11 field goals, A&M has made them on 19 attempts while Kansas has needed only 12. Scott Webb looks better than ever (except for maybe when he beat Cy in 2005) and could prove to be the difference in this one if it stays close. Edge: Kansas
Kansas Offense v. Texas A&M Defense: To say the A&M secondary has been suspect this year would be like saying Mark Zuckerberg is going to be financially stable. So maybe that one is a bit more of an understatement, but their secondary really has been terrible – not too mention injury riddled. They are even worse than Baylor, surrendering 266 yards a game via the pass. They have only been torched once (Tech for 425), but when taking out their best and worst (133 – LA Monroe), they have given up at least 194 in every other game and are remarkably consistent allowing between 259 and 304 in the other 5. Suffice it to say, if the Kansas receivers hold onto the ball, Hot Toddy could have himself quite a day throwing the ball. Despite the publicity of Tom Keegan and GingerBalls, he probably won't get into the Heisman mix, but he could lead KU to 8-0. Especially if the game is close and Kansas needs a quick drive, this should prove to be a large advantage.
A&M is better against the run, but not infinitely. They come in giving up 135 on the ground, 125 in Big 12 play (Baylor, Tech, Neb., and OSU). Kansas comes in averaging 213, 195 in Big 12 play. By those numbers alone, Kansas should not have a whole lot of trouble here either – which is key. Despite A&M's inability to stop the pass, Kansas' ability to run the ball could be a larger factor. I have all the faith in the world in Hot Toddy to take care of the ball and get things done, but there's no better way to win on the road than to run the ball, especially given Kansas makes all their calls at the line. Splitting the difference and getting even 150 would be gravy and probably enough to ensure a W. Edge: Kansas
Kansas Defense v. A&M Offense: All you will hear about is how A&M runs the ball – they are 5th nationally at 260 per game – and rightly so. However, how Fran has managed to not include Martellus Bennett into their offense is absolutely stunning. Once a prized recruit and a still a physical specimen, when asked if he would have to showcase his skills at the combine, Bennett said, "I have to do it somewhere." He leads the Aggies with 24 catches for 276 yards in A&M’s run-oriented offense. I absolutely want the Hawks to concentrate on stopping the run, but if they are, let's hope the Aggies don't remember Bennett is on the roster as I always fear the good tight end against this defense.
Despite how productive Bennett has the capability to be, we all know that this game will come down to how well KU can stop A&M on the ground. They have an extremely capable backfield of McGee, Lane and Goodson and they all do something a little different. It's important to keep them out of 3rd and short situations as stopping 270 pounds of Jorvorskie Lane can be pretty difficult. Hopefully the Kansas defense never resembles this train chasing him. Even more importantly, they need to stop Stephen McGee. As I said earlier in the week, Nebraska/Fran may have done Kansas a favor as McGee carried it 36 times last week. I have to imagine he has been sore all week – it may not help Kansas directly, but it definitely can't hurt them either. From my perspective, stopping him is more important than anyone else. However, Mike Goodson is probably the most dangerous of the three as he has the breakaway speed. However, A&M has been unable to get him around the corner, where is the most explosive – given the speed of the Kansas linebackers I think and hope this problem will persist for another week. This Kansas defense is not as good against the run as the one in 2005, but they are better than last year's team, which only surrendered 157 yards to this same backfield. If they can duplicate that effort, the defense will have done their part in winning this game. Slight Edge: Kansas
Intangibles: A&M is playing at home, a week after pummeling Nebraska in Lincoln and they are underdogs to the Kansas Jayhawks. They also have the added incentive of trying to become to team to end Kansas' joy ride into the BCS picture as one of only 5 remaining unbeaten teams. If that's not enough, they are playing in front of the "12th Man" and Kansas can't win on the road - you know, except of course this year…but who cares about that?! And lastly, they HAVE to win this game as they close @OU, @MU and against UT. Edge: A&M
Aside from intangibles, Kansas has the advantage in every other area. The only thing A&M does better than Kansas is run the ball and Kansas isn't exactly lacking in that department, only averaging 37 yards less per game. Factor that in with Kansas' enormous advantage throwing the ball and on the defensive side of the ball and Kansas should win this game. Hot Toddy and the Jayhawks seem to have exercised their road demons and I just think they are too balanced for A&M to be able to keep up for 60 minutes. Kansas 31 Texas A&M 21