Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Must-Win?

First off, congrats to Darrell Stuckey for winning player of the game honors. Well earned.

We are officially two days away from the non-conference game we've all had circled since the Orange Bowl trophy was hoisted. Mangino and others are downplaying the significance of this one, but I've long felt like this was the make or break game for this year. I've started to waver on that somewhat (as it's not even a league game and I think the other "must-win' is Tech), but even if it's not, I don't think you can overstate its importance.

I spent most of last September - and the entire first week of October - talking about the importance of winning the game in Manhattan. Lest we all forget, as dismal as KSU finished last season, at this point they were a J-Free queef away from winning at Auburn and were coming off a blowout of Texas in Austin. Add in Kansas' extensive losing streak in Manhattan and I don't think you can underestimate what that win did for their collective confidence going forward. I look at the South Florida game in that same manner.

The Bulls are coming off a very underwhelming win over UCF, which lightens the hype a bit, but last year is still fresh enough in everyone's mind that a win in Tampa will mean a great deal. Sure, they finished the year in much the same way as those Wildcats, but it was on a weeknight game in Raymond James when they dismantled West Virginia that everyone truly came to believe in South Florida a year ago. If Kansas can go into that same environment (maybe not quite as amped up, but similar) and come out with a win, they'll again have that jolt of confidence.

On the other hand, I don't think you can undervalue what a loss would do to them as well. If it turns out that they again can't run the ball and USF can contain or even disrupt the passing game enough to beat the Jayhawks, you have to think that doubt will set in. Players will always say that they put losses behind them and when they destroy Sam Houston State next week, I'm sure it will look that way. But anyone who has played athletics knows that as much as you may not even want to admit it to yourself, losses stick with you and a bad loss Friday would do a lot of damage to not only their national reputation, but also their confidence to replicate last year's success. As good as last year's team was I think we all know that their success was as much a product of their talent as their mindset. Personally, I think the game in Manhattan did as much for that mindset as anything; I think South Florida is this year's Manhattan. And yes, that is likely the only time you'll ever hear Tampa compared equally to Manhattan.

We'll obviously have more on this later, but for now, onto the links…

The first of which is a day old, but as expected, it seems Strozier is likely to see some time at corner while Harper is out. I think this is pretty necessary, because as much as I like Barfield's potential he found himself out of position on a number of plays the other night. A big part of what makes this defense good is everyone knowing their assignment. If Barfield doesn't know them all yet then Strozier is a better fit, as much as I hate to give him up at the nickel position.

In keeping with position announcements, buried at the bottom of this link is the revelation that Tim Biere has replaced Dedeaux as the first string tight end. We speculated on this Sunday after watching him take a majority of the snaps against La Tech. And though nothing has been said just yet, we're thinking it's mostly because he is the only one of the three capable of both blocking and catching passes. This belief was magnified by seeing Dedeaux play some obvious running downs and having Steward in the five wide set. But whenever the hand isn't automatically tipped anyway, I imagine they want to keep the defense guessing as much as possible.

Again from the KC Star is a pretty decent article on the running game. The coaches have expressed their obvious displeasure with the red zone offense from Saturday and my belief is that it can all be solved with an improved running game. Not to get too long-winded on you here (because I never do that), but I really don't know what to think about this issue. On the one hand, it appears to be a major concern, even more so with the announcement that Mangino has officially ruled out Jake being "the guy" and wants Angus and Jocques to fight it out. Factor in the new tackles and the less than stellar push from the senior-laden interior and you've got some big question marks.

Conversely, have we really seen what the team has to offer here? Consider: 1) They have almost never gone outside, something that was a strength a year ago. I think part of this is not having Dex out there to block. 2) This line has only played together once, and the second half was a whole lot better than the first. Even in practices, it wasn't until late that Hatch won the job at tackle (he was originally competing at guard) and he got injured soon afterward, missing the first game. 3) The passing game has looked fantastic. I'll be the first to say that I don't think they can win important games, especially on the road with this lack of balance. However, we have to consider that teams really have been loading up to stop the run and as long as the offense can still complete passes 77% of the time and cover well over 300 yards, teams will have to adjust. One may say that USF and some Big XII teams will have much better defenses than we've seen so far. And on one hand, that's definitely true. But in looking at the best teams on the schedule (USF, OU, Tech, UT, MU) all would consider their secondary a relative weakness, either because they do in fact suck or they're just inexperienced and mistake prone. Either way, there's no reason to expect that KU won't be able to pass and unless they are completely inept running the ball, it's reasonable to assume that passing so well will force teams to adjust and open up some lanes for the backs.

If I haven't lost you just yet, I have one more very relevant link before we go. It seems that a store owner that is also a fan of Arkansas State offers a 1% discount for every point the team wins by. On Saturday, they won 83-10. Needless to say, there were some lines.

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