Before we get started…good riddance, Mr. Prince. Ye shall be missed. With that, let's move on to the five reasons Kansas could end win in Lincoln for the first time in four decades.
1. Playing defense is soooooo 90's. Truthfully, this could probably include the whole league, but to go from a dynasty predicated on a swarming blackshirt defense to the last several units we've seen merits mentioning. Many say that Nebraska's defense is much better than a year ago. I'm not one of those people. I simply think that their offense is enough better and plays enough keep away that their defense isn't able to be quite so humiliated.
Will it help us? Absolutely. But in order to take full advantage of this porous unit, the Kansas defense will need to help out in the TOP category. If they're able to, the yards and points will come. In actuality, they are ranked ahead of Kansas in terms of total defense: NU is 76th (376/game) and KU is 82nd (381). But as much as that matters, the more telling stat is that the Huskers allow 6 yards/play while Kansas gives up 5.35. While that number is nothing enormous, it's nothing to sneeze at either and it's a big part of the reason Bo went to a ball control offense. Truthfully, the NU defense has played well (= less than 300 yards) exactly once and that was in Ames. If the Jayhawks go in with their heads on straight, they won't have much resistance trying to move the ball.
2. Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. Both of their numbers took a hit last week as the Hawks barely had to throw the ball. But on the year, they've been pretty tough to corral. Meier currently has 66 grabs for 742 yards (11.2) while Dezmon has 54 for 800 (14.8). There are plenty of other places the ball can go as 5 others have double figure catches as well (though 1 of them now starts at corner), but these are Todd's primary targets and rarely does a ball go in their area that they don't come up with.
Will it help us? Of course. Improved or not, Nebraska still gives up yards in big chunks. While the game total is not staggeringly bad at 232 passing yards/game (82nd), it gets much worse broken down. Specifically, they're giving up nearly 13 yards/completion and nearly 8/attempt. With a defense like that, expect both Dez and Kerry to have chances to make some plays. And when they have chances, they rarely disappoint.
3. Cheaters never prosper. That's not entirely true at all (just look at Dalonte Hill) and even in the case of college football, many highly penalized teams are extremely successful. But in the case of a 5-4 Nebraska team that can't really stop anyone and counts on their offense to sustain drives, penalties can be a pretty big issue. This is not nearly the strength it was a year ago for KU, but it's still a noticeable advantage this week.
Will it help us? Most likely. If the stats held up perfectly, we would net +23 yards on penalties alone as Nebraska averages 8/game (109th) for 69 yards to Kansas' 4.89/game (26th) for 46 yards. Not exactly something worth banking on, but a sizable advantage no less. And in a game with a one point spread and forty years of history not on your side, any little bit helps.
4. Todd Reesing & Jake Sharp. I'm adding Jake to this spot because of the balance and ball control he can help give this offense. It would obviously be a little much to expect the same type of production from Todd as last year (30/41 for 354 and 6 TDs), but something better than what we've seen lately will be necessary. Something along the season average (25/36 for 293) would be fine, especially if there aren't any turnovers sprinkled in. As for Jake, I don't think we're asking too much for him to replicate B-Mac's showing from a year ago (25 for 119), though the 4 TDs may be a bit optimistic.
Will it help us? You'd have to think so. Good as he is on the run, Todd – like any QB – is even better when he has time to operate. And time should not be at a premium against a Nebraska team that's only sacked the QB 5 times through 5 conference games. Combine that with their inability to force turnovers and it's not surprising why their defense has struggled, especially against the pass. Likewise, we have no reason not to expect Jake to have some room to run. On the year, they're allowing 143/game (4.32/carry). Jake is at 5.3/carry and since most of his carries have come during league play, it's presumable that he will be able to match that number. Now we just have to make sure to get him plenty of carries.
5. Turnovers. Taking the exact quote from last week, "This hasn't been a strong suit for the Hawks this year (-3). In fact, you could probably point to it as the single biggest difference between the last two years. There have been plenty of other ones, but we lost the TO battle exactly once last year (Arrowhead). This year, we've been on the wrong end four times and lost three of those games, with the only win in Ames. KU might be good enough to win this week without winning the turnover stat, but I don't want to find out."
Will it help us? This time paraphrasing from last week, I'd like to think so. As bad as KU has been taking care of the ball this year, it's usually been in bunches with 9 of their 16 coming in two games. More concerning has been Todd forcing throws lately that he never used to. Fortunately, Nebraska has forced only 9 TOs on the year and only 3 during league play (2 v. ISU), so a ball hawking defense they are not. Even more fortunate, they aren't incredibly careful with it either, having lost 18 on the season and 11 during conference play. And while Kansas hasn't forced a ton and I'm still not sure I've yet seen a corner break on a ball, they have come up with 17 for the year (10 in Big XII), so stealing one or two this week wouldn't be a surprise.
In finishing, congrats to Jake Sharp for taking home KJ-IBT player of the game honors this week in runaway fashion. For those curious, we have actually been keeping a running tally – though nothing was recorded for Tech- and for the year the top five look like this: 1. Todd (32), 2(t). Kerry & Jake (15), 4. Dezmon (13), & 5. Stuckey (10).
Also, I decided to check and see if the line had moved much yet as I was a little surprised to see the Hawks open as a 3 point favorite. However, I was shocked to see that it has moved all the way to having them as a 1 point dog. Doesn't that seem like a pretty huge swing, considering we know nothing now that we didn't know when it opened?