Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Five Reasons Kansas Could Lose

Before we get started, I have a link for you via The Sporting Blog. It seems the guys made their way to Lawrence for the Sunflower Showdown this week. And while they had some very complimentary things to say about Lawrence (obviously), it's safe to say they regretted the game choice for this particular week. Although I obviously had a typically great time, I can't say that I blame them. With that, we'll move on to the task at hand; breaking a streak of futility that's now reached 4 decades.

1. The wrong Memorial Stadium: We Kansans prefer a Memorial Stadium that's occasionally full, very blue and a nice complement to our beautiful campus. In Nebraska they prefer one that's been full for like 30 years, is very red and is the only thing in Lincoln that matters. To each his own.

Will it hurt us? Absolutely. Despite the fact that some of these players have never been to Nebraska and no one has been there more than once, the streak lives. It has now reached a full forty years since the last time Kansas left Lincoln winners. They've been unbearably close the last two times (with MUCH lesser teams), but still come up short in the end. Many will say it will have no bearing, and to an extent they're right (see: MU @ NU on 10/4/08), but I respectfully disagree. A win in Lincoln has been a long time coming and Kansas has all the tools to get the job done, but despite Nebraska's plummet from greatness Memorial Stadium remains a tough place to play.

2. Ball control: After allowing nearly 400 yards and 35 points to the offensively inept Hokies, Bo Pelini and staff decided they needed to keep their defense off the field as much as possible. Every game since then they have won the TOP, often handily. It did them no good against Methzou, brought them within a Ganz INT of upsetting Tech in Lubbock, led them to wins over ISU and Baylor, and well, you know what happened in Norman.

Will it hurt us? If it's accomplished, absolutely. This is and has been my biggest worry about this game for a little while now. Not only has Nebraska proved they can do this consistently, but also, Kansas' defense has proved very susceptible to this type of attack. Since they typically guard against the big play (despite what it looked like against OU & Tech), they leave themselves very vulnerable to short, precision passes that keep the chains and clock moving. If Ganz is on, Swift and Peterson could be in for big days.

Along these same lines, the Nebraska running game has plenty of potential here also. They're averaging about 155/game (4.5/carry), and that number drops just a little (145) when you take out their two outliers (330 v. New Mexico & 55 v. VTech). Combine this with Kansas' defensive performance of 110/game (3.7/carry) which changes little (107) without the outliers (45 v. Sam Houston & 206 v. OU) and it's reasonable to assume that Nebraska will have some success but be held in check. Going on stats alone, somewhere in the 100-120 range seems about right. Much more than that could be bad news for the Hawks as they've only won one game when allowing more than 100 (La Tech had 148), but 78 of those came on 1 run.

3. Turnovers: I mentioned last week that the biggest difference between last year's team and this one was the turnover margin. There are plenty of others, but I believe this one to be the most telling. It's no secret that Kansas doesn't have more (or even as much) talent than most of their opponents. But with their attention to detail, ability to capitalize on mistakes and limit their own, they became a 12-1 Orange Bowl champion. This year has been a different story. It's not like they've been mistake prone, but they've definitely had trouble causing TOs in the big games (0 total in their 3 losses) and in turn, have been caught trying to force some things of their own (8 total in the losses) in some pretty important spots that have ultimately played a huge role in them losing those games.

Will it hurt us? Hard to say. Nebraska has been pretty awful in this category for most of the year (only forced 9, but given up 18). So we've got that going for us - which is nice. But while our margin is still positive (17 to 16), that second number shows me we haven't been taking very good care of the ball either and that's always scary. Factor in the tough environment and the prospect of Nebraska utilizing ball control and KU won't be able to afford any turnovers.

4. Third down: Obviously with a ball control offense, it's no surprise that Nebraska excels on third down. Specifically, they're converting 49% of the time; good for 11th in the nation (KU is 7th at 52%). Unfortunately, Kansas' defense has been struggling to get off the field on third down. For the year, they allow a conversion 40% of the time (74th nationally). It's no secret that a tired defense is a bad defense and if Kansas' can't get off the field on 3rd down they are going to wear down quickly and put a lot of pressure on the offense.

Will it hurt us? Probably. It's no fluke that Nebraska is pretty good in this area, mostly because they put themselves in third a short more often than not. And given Kansas' habit of giving receivers a rather sizable cushion, the chances are going to be there. If Ganz is hitting his targets and KU isn't jumping routes like Dominique Franks (unlikely), this could be a problem. Assuming this is the case, the Jayhawk offense will need to make sure they're doing the same, both to help their defense out and to similarly tire down the "blackshirts."

5. Size: As much as I questioned all of the realignment in the secondary before Tech, the moves did look much more justifiable a week later. Thornton especially looks like a pretty good fit at corner. And while we don't know a lot about Daymond yet, you're usually doing your job as a corner if you're not getting noticed. Experience aside, my biggest worry with him is his lack of size (listed at 5'9", but I have my doubts). Especially when Nebraska's top two receivers stand 6'2" (Swift) and 6'4" (Peterson).

Will it hurt us? Possibly. It's certainly possible that he could cover them perfectly on any number of slants, fades or corner routes and simply get out-jumped for the ball. But it's also possible that if he has them covered perfectly, Ganz won't want to take that chance (see: his 4 picks last year). It's also possible that he has plenty of safety (or nickel back) help to negate this advantage. We haven't seen it hurt him yet, but I don't see how it can't at some point.

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