Before we get to the task at hand. I have one link to pass along. Weekly conference awards were handed out today. Colt McCoy took offensive (sure), Lendy Holmes defense (no argument) and Brooks Rossman special teams (what?!). He's an OK kicker I guess, but are they aware he went 2-4 on FGs and 1/1 on PATs? As a quick aside, a simple 3/4 would have won them the game. And for reference, throughout the league: Branstetter (KU) and Wolfert (MU) each were 1/1 on FG and 4/4 on PATs. Texas' kickers were a combined 8/8 on PATs (no FG attempts required). Bailey from OSU was 2/2 on FGs and 4/4 on PATS (in a win). And Bullock from A&M was 3/3 on FGs and 2/2 on PATs. Don't all of these sound like better performances than Rossman's? Just wondering.
1. Pass defense: In truth, I could probably just end this entire post right here, because this is what it all comes down to. Tech has shown an ability to run the ball with both Batch and Woods, but it's not what they want to do and it's not how they win games. And outside of the Colorado game (which clearly doesn't count anyway), Kansas has shown almost no ability to stop the pass this year.
Will it hurt us? Without a shadow of a doubt. There is but one way to stop the Tech offense and that consists of getting pressure on Graham Harrell. Which explains why the Pirates are undefeated, as he's only been sacked 1 time all year. Then again, the "best" team they've played was Nebraska, a team not exactly known for sacking the quarterback (1.86 per game, compared to Kansas at 2.14). Be that as it may, KU fans shouldn't count on getting a ton of pressure. That being the case, it will be up to the secondary to disrupt the routes as best they can by bumping off the line, switching up coverage and trying to confuse them as much as possible. It's worth assuming that they were trying to do some of these things in Norman, apparently to no avail.
2. Michael Crabtree: Obviously this fits in with #1, but when you have 12 TDs on the year and you're behind last year's pace you merit mentioning. If you haven't seen him play much, but you're familiar with Kansas, think of an even more athletic Kerry Meier that is also a full time receiver.
Will it hurt us? Yep. He's averaging over 7 catches and 103 yards per game, with 5 & 62 (UMASS) being his lowest output. Even more, he's Kansas' worst nightmare. During last year's Methzou game, the secondary often times covered perfectly, only the pass rush couldn't get to Booger so he bought some time…meanwhile, their receivers broke off their routes just trying to get open and he usually found them. Expect Harrell to do the same with Crabtree on more than one occasion. This may not be an issue as someone is almost always open anyway, but let's hope that between the crowd and the huge splits, some Jayhawk linemen can cause some pressure and help out the secondary.
3. Baron Batch and Shannon Woods: Obviously we could pick out any of Tech's weapons (Lewis and Morris come to mind immediately), but these two especially worry me. Both have shown an ability to run the ball pretty effectively and just as importantly, catch out of the backfield. With the way KU struggled to cover Murray and how any sort of screen produced at least 5 yards, Tech could easily use this as an effective check down or a guarantee in short yardage situations.
Will it hurt us? We'll see. It certainly hurts that they have these capabilities, but sometimes they don't utilize them nearly as much as they could. Also, the Hawks are rarely run on when they aren't physically overmanned (which they shouldn't really be this week), so as long as they're cognizant of the potential here and stay assignment sound, I could see it not playing a huge factor.
4. The offensive lull: Over the last five games, the offense has gone through one prolonged period of ineffectiveness. Dating back all the way to USF (when this first started and as much a reason for that loss as any), this has hurt them in some capacity. Against USF, it was five straight drives from the end of the first half through the fourth quarter (at which time they blew their lead). Even against Sam Houston, they didn't score until their fourth drive, making it competitive much longer than it should have been. Against ISU, they went the entire first half (6.5 drives) without scoring, leading to a 20-0 deficit. Versus Colorado, they went 4 straight drives, allowing CU to stay in it much longer than they should have. And against OU, it was 5 drives spanning from the middle of the third to late in the fourth, during which OU took it from 31-24 to 45-24 before KU closed the gap.
Will it hurt us? If it happens, you bet it will. Tech certainly doesn't have the defense of OU, CU, USF or possibly even ISU. But since we can't count on stopping them too many times in a row, any lulls on our end could lead to a deficit that can't be overcome. Such is life in a conference with 7 of the top 15 rated quarterbacks in the country.
5. Third down defense: Tech is currently third in the nation, converting third downs into first 55.6% of the time. Statistically, this isn't a huge weakness of our defense, allowing them to be converted 35.6% of the time (44th). And last week, we held OU to 7/16 (43.75%). But while they only converted 7 here, they converted another 29 for a total of 36 first downs. If you're allowing teams to pick up yards in chunks like that, you have to get off the field when you get them to third down.
Will it hurt us? Again, if it happens, you bet it will. It was obvious to anyone that knew anything that OU was going to get some points last week. But it became even more obvious the longer the defense had to stay on the field, looking a step slower as the game went on. While plenty capable, Tech won't be looking down the field too much, but rather on shorter routes putting their receivers in position for YAC. It will be imperative to keep them in front and limit their gains. And absolutely to get off the field on third downs.
I remain semi-confident about this game, if for no reason other than the home field advantage. But with as bad as our pass defense has looked and as typically great as their pass offense looks, I'm shocked the Jayhawks open as favorites in this one. What I really want to see, though, is the over/under, because I haven't seen anything from either team to make me think this will be any less offensive than last week.