Fittingly, the preview will end today with some bittersweet analysis as my mood is much the same – being at work, but knowing that tomorrow I will be in sunny Miami. It looks like Sean Glennon is already down there. But I digress. As the old adage goes, "Beamer ball" starts with special teams. So maybe that's not an adage at all, but it's definitely true.
Since the Big Man got to campus, I have always viewed special teams as something of an advantage, but nothing magnificent. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, counts on these units as much as they do their offense or defense. Over Frank beamer's 21 seasons there, they have blocked an incredible 171 kicks spanning 253 games. Fortunately, many of those came in the 90's before many times put much of a priority on these units. Still though, they have 4 blocks this year and 3 in the last 2 games. Two of their blocks have come on punts, and two on place kicks (FG and PAT against BC), so they can do it from every angle.
It's an understatement to say that Kyle Tucker has been a disappointment this year. I've made mention of it all year, but after his incredible sophomore season, this guy was a front-runner for the Ray Guy Award going into last year. And though he slumped a bit last year, it was nothing like this year. On the year he has averaged roughly 37 yards per punt, good for 111th in the nation. Fortunately, Kansas has a good coverage unit, ranking 24th and only yielding a little over 6 yards per return and no touchdowns. But with opponents just trying to get the kick off, coverage has often suffered as a consequence and VT ranks 8th nationally at 14.35 per return, with two taken to the house. Suffice it to say, Tucker needs to have a good day. He doesn't need to get away incredible kicks, but the unit as whole needs to make sure there aren't any game-changing plays when they're on the field.
Kansas' punt return unit has been similarly worthless. Fortunately, it's pretty much been all one guy's fault – whoever happens to be returning the kick. Things started off well with Pendleton taking one back for a score in week one and subsequently creating quite a YouTube clip. But since then, he got the dropsies and though sure handed, Webb seemed to have no idea when to call for a fair-catch, thus resulting in minimal return yardage. That could all change this week as Aqib Talib will get his shot at creating a spark. But don’t count on it. VT doesn't punt or cover punts exceptionally well, but they don't get burned either. They are a very good 20th at 42.5 per kick and a respectable 41st in coverage, only allowing 7.38 per return with none taken back. So perhaps Aqib could elude a few defenders, but I don't see him doing anything spectacular as they are sure to key on him as well.
The kickoffs should pretty much be a stalemate. Whereas Kansas ranks 3rd with a 26 yard average (2 TDs), Virginia Tech's coverage is 13th, only allowing 18.8 yards. On the opposite end, Kansas is a below average 75th covering kickoffs, allowing 22 yards but VT has been pretty pedestrian returning them, averaging 17.83 per return, with one TD.
As for the place kickers, the advantage again goes to the Hokies. Jud Dunlevy has been nothing short of great for VT this year. He is 42/44 on PATs and 21/24 on field goals. His long field goal was 52 yards and he has not missed inside 40 yards. Scott Webb, on the other hand has been disgustingly erratic. Like Tucker, he was counted on and provided consistent production if nothing spectacular. Known for not having a strong leg coming into the year, Webb was considered extremely reliable in short range. Then came a trip to College Station, where he missed three kicks, all within 40 yards. He rebounded nicely over the next few games until the biggest one, when he missed both attempts against Methzouri from 33 and 45 yards. He was given proper protection on each and neither were difficult kicks – he just shanked them. On the year, he has been great on PATs, converting 63/64 but less so when going for 3 points, making 17/24 with a long of 48. Needless to say, KU can ill-afford any more of these blunders.
Edge: Virginia Tech
So for those of you wondering, that takes the total up to VT 2: KU 1. The Hokies have the advantage on special teams and when Kansas has the ball, whereas the Jayhawks have the edge when the VT offense takes the field. So Virginia Tech is going to walk away with this win as all the experts are saying, right? Wrong - it all comes down to weaknesses. And Kansas' weaknesses are much stronger than Virginia Tech's because of their balance. On the whole, the VT defense is better than the KU offense, but they aren't enough better to overcome their pedestrian offense. And though VT is better at special teams, I don't see any game changing plays being made there, which is what they're looking for. I said it before and I'll say it again, this one will be decided by what Kansas can get out of its quarterback. I feel like the rest of the game is somewhat predictable, but this could be the wild card. On the one hand, VT's speed and talent could be overwhelming for both Todd and the line. But on the other, the Hawks could spread them out just enough to neutralize this speed. If the latter occurs and he is able to take care of the ball while keeping the Hokies guessing, they will score enough to win the game. If he makes a couple mistakes like he did at Arrowhead, it could be a tough night. He's given me very little reason to doubt him, so I'm going with Hot Toddy.
Kansas 27 Virginia Tech 17
Just for good measure, here are a few links…
- Texas beat UCLA in Pauley and their blowout of Tennessee is starting to look better, but as predicted, their depth is taking a toll and losing to two Big 11 teams in as many tries is not how they wanted to go into the new year. Need to circle the wagons before the Gaels come calling.
- For the second time in a week, Methzou couldn't handle a team that was beaten by Miami (OH). This time they fell to Mississippi State, just a fortnight removed from their loss to South Alabama. And oh by the way, that team Methzou hasn't beaten since 1999 just lost to Tennessee State. Perhaps "40 Minutes of Purgatory" would be more representative?
- How 'bout those Sooners – now taking down Huggy Bear on the road. After a disastrous loss to SF Austin, they have since beaten Arkansas, Gonzaga and WVU. True, that's no murderer's row, but it's three quality wins that will look awfully good come bubble time.
- Not that I see it affecting the outcome too much, but White and Slaton have to be a little bit happy about this genius move.
- Nothing we didn't already know, but entertaining to see Lee Corso admit that he couldn't get any tail on his own.
- And finally, "Kansas has a linebacker who scares me…" says a VT beat writer.