Friday, November 16, 2007

KU/ISU Preview

I started this last night and had to scrap a lot of it after Oregon politely recused themselves from the discussion. [*Side note* Assuming Dixon returns, that Rose Bowl against the Big 10 should be hilarious. We got a glimpse in Ann Arbor earlier this year. *End side note*] Personally, I'm not ecstatic about this. That #2 spot is jinxed (hopefully only when playing an unranked opponent). Kansas would have already jumped Oregon anyway. Who this helps is Oklahoma and Missouri. Whereas Kansas may have been the only team that truly controlled their own destiny, I now believe that all three hold that "distinction." But first things first, if you don't think Iowa State can come to Lawrence and end all of this, you're fucking nuts. This Adonis is looking past it, but the Jayhawks should not. Here is a slightly more modest title.

Well there's no hiding from it now. In addition to being one of the interviewees for the Pop Culture Grid in the new SI, Hot Toddy has also prepared a skit with Desmond Howard that will air tomorrow on GameDay. Oh yeah, and he got a letter from the Heisman Trophy Trust. As for the coach, the Big Man has been a guest on the Mike Tirico Show and ESPN First Take. Something tells me there were a few more appearances as well. As a team, during the week Kansas has graced the front of the web pages of ESPN, SportsIllustrated, CollegeFootballNews, FoxSports, Yahoo!Sports, CBSSportsline, and many others. And I'm neglecting to mention the countless national radio shows that have centered discussion on the Jayhawks. Needless to say, the spotlight has never been on quite like this. If Kansas were not playing at home, on Senior Day, against Iowa State, I would be extremely nervous. As it is, I am just comfortably numb. And that will last until about kickoff when I will begin nervously shaking until Kansas puts its first points on the board. Let's all hope the Hawks can handle this "pressure" a bit better. After last week, I am confident they can.

Kansas Offense v. Iowa State Defense:
In every game this year, this has been a favorable match-up for the Jayhawks. And that should not change this week. Iowa State doesn't have a terrible defense, but it's nothing special either. Their best player, Alvin Bowen (led nation in tackles last year) has not been nearly as good this year, but has come on strong lately. As a unit, they allow roughly 375 yards as a means for scoring slightly over 30 points a game. This number jumps to about 34 in Big 12 play, but has been much better in the last month. Since being destroyed by Texas 56-3, they have played OU, MU, KSU, and CU compiling a collective score of 107 (Opp) – 97 (ISU). That's not too shabby for a team that couldn't beat Kent St., Northern Iowa or Toledo in September.

With that said, there is no reason Kansas shouldn't score 35+ this week. Though they have been much better as of late, they are still Iowa State and have not shut anyone down. BY FAR, their best defensive performance of year was against OU – who you have to imagine, forgot they had a game. Even in their 2 conference wins, against KSU and CU, they have allowed 20 and 28 points, respectively. Neither of those 2 teams have the offensive ability of KU. Long story short- if Kansas takes care of the ball, they will not have any trouble duplicating the 41 they scored on Cy last year. Fortunately, Iowa State doesn't force many turnovers and Kansas leads the nation in margin. Edge: Kansas

Kansas Defense v. Iowa State Offense:
In their last 3 games they have averaged 30 points a game. In the 8 preceding, they averaged roughly 15. It's hard for me to believe they have really become twice as good, so I'm inclined to believe that opponents started taking a week off and in 2 of those 3 weeks, Cy has made them pay. For the season, they are racking up 335 yards (last in conference) on the way to scoring 19 points a game (11th in Big 12). After fearing him so much, it is amazing to me that Todd Blythe only has 5 touchdowns – though he had 2 last week, so it looks like he is waking up as well. And it should be mentioned that he does have 50 catches for 759 yards, so it's not like he has been non-existent, just not very productive. Since he is by far their biggest receiving threat, I like to think we'll only see him covered by Aqib or zoned with help for Harper/Harris. R.J. Sumrall should not be ignored either, but Blythe is the main concern here.

An interesting twist they have added in lately is the 2 QB system, now rotating in freshman Austen Arnaud with the face of the program Bret Meyer. Speaking of which, has a player regressed more than Bret Meyer. He came into last year with as much hype as any QB in the conference after two successful seasons and nearly winning the Big 12 north as a sophomore. Since then, they have won 3 out of 15 Big 12 games. I don't know enough about Arnaud to know if this will have much of an impact, but it's probably not a coincidence that they have won the only 2 games in which he has played a real role.

The real catalyst behind their offensive "surge" of late has been the running game. They have several capable backs, but after not getting many carries early on, Alexander Robinson has emerged as the best of them. He ran for 149 against Methzouri and 127 against Colorado. I followed up last week's games, explaining that the rushing yards allowed had caused an unwanted tickle in my anus. And it's still there. But I do not think Kansas will have any trouble shutting down the run this week and even if they do, the tickle will linger. With that said, I still think this is a huge key to the game. As mentioned, Iowa State finding the endzone has coincided with their finding a running game. It's no coincidence and if Kansas can make them one-dimensional, they are not nearly good enough of a passing team to hang with the Hawks. Edge: Kansas

Special Teams:
Whereas Kansas leads the nation in kick returns, Iowa State ranks a cool 115th. And though Kansas has not exhibited a stellar punt return unit, they are quite a bit better than Iowa State, who ranks dead last, with an average return of 3 yards. They both have senior place kickers. On the year, Culbertson is 10/18 with a long of 42 (second longest is 30) and had one game in which he went 5/6. After last week, it looks like Webb has exited his slump and for the season is 16/21 with a long of 48. Before the year, one would have thought Kansas would have the better punter in Kyle Tucker. As it stands, they are pretty similar, both averaging in the mid to high 30's. Edge: Kansas

I feel like I have written the same thing for every game in this paragraph. And fortunately, it has pretty much fallen into place that way. Kansas is the superior team in every phase of the game. One thing can lose this game for them and that's focus. After what KU did to ISU in 2005, ruining their opportunity to win the north, it's hard to imagine Iowa State and especially its seniors not being ready to play tomorrow. Kansas, on the other hand, is being bombarded with media attention and praise – all the while being reminded about some game next week. If they can truly place all of that aside and dial in for this game; take care of the ball and play assignment football, they will emerge 11-0. If not, Iowa State will put up a much bigger fight than anyone in blue wants to see. I'm hoping for and counting on the former, primarily because of one thing: it's Senior Day. Do you think for one second that Brandon McAnderson, James McClinton, Derek Fine and Brian Seymour are going to work this hard to let it all slip away in their last game in Lawrence? Against Iowa State? Me neither. Kansas 41 Iowa State 13

**Basketball Note** Congratulations to Kansas and Brandon Rush on the victory last night. Even watching on TV I got chills when I saw him run to the scorer's table and after his first shot, he did not disappoint. And kudos to Rodrick Stewart for playing a good game and especially for the dunk and block – incredible. There is A LOT of work to do to get this team ready for a run – primarily in the paint - but with the guard play they are getting, there is no team they can't beat.

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