Jayhawks, Sooners Meet Saturday in Big 12 Play at Memorial Stadium
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A Kansas team looking to improve on offense will have to do so against the toughest defensive unit it may see all season when the Jayhawks continue Big 12 Conference play against No. 18 Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence Saturday. The contest will kickoff at 2:35 p.m. and be televised nationally on ESPN.
Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) forced five turnovers in a loss at TCU a week ago, but will need to find a way to score against the Big 12’s toughest defense in terms of both total yards and total points allowed.
The Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) will be looking to rebound from their first loss of the 2013 season in the Red River Shootout rivalry game to Texas at the Cotton Bowl. Ranked as high as No. 12 before losing to the Longhorns, Oklahoma has wins over TCU and West Virginia in Big 12 play, and defeated then-No. 22 Notre Dame, 35-21, in non-conference action. The Sooners have won eight straight over Kansas, including last year’s 52-7 game in Norman.
This Day In Kansas Football History Kansas is 4-9-1 all-time in games played on Oct. 19, including three contests against Oklahoma. The Sooners hold a 2-1 advantage over the Jayhawks on this date, winning in 1957 and 1963. Kansas defeated the Sooners, 15-0, on Oct. 19, 1907. All three meetings were in Norman, Okla. KU’s first game on Oct. 19 resulted in a scoreless tie with Washburn in 1901.
Kansas-OU Connections Notable Kansas-Oklahoma connections include Jayhawk junior WR Justin McCay, who signed with Oklahoma out of high school and spent two seasons in Norman before transferring to KU. Oklahoma redshirt junior DE Geneo Grissom is a Hutchinson, Kan., native and played on two state championship teams (2008, ’09) with Kansas junior LB Ben Heeney. Oklahoma starting quarterback Blake Bell is cousins with Kansas junior LB Beau Bell and both played at Wichita’s Bishop Carroll High School.
Scouting the OU Offense On offense, Oklahoma has controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock with an effective rushing attack that is second in the Big 12 at 226.7 yards per game. Oklahoma uses multiple backs to get the job done on the ground and isn’t afraid to run with the quarterback. Five players have at least 20 carries. Senior RB Brennan Clay is the Sooners’ leading rusher at 79.3 yards per game, followed by senior RB Damien Williams (51.8), redshirt freshman QB Trevor Knight (56.3) and junior QB Blake Bell (24.7).
Knight started the first two games of the season under center for Oklahoma but was replaced by Bell for the last four games. Bell, a Wichita, Kan., native, has proved he’s more than just a short-yardage runner with a 64.6 percent completion percentage (84-of-130) and 968 yards with six touchdowns and just two interceptions. Senior WR Jalen Saunders (25 catches) and sophomore WR Sterling Shepard (21 catches) have been the most frequent targets in the passing game and each are tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches. OU redshirt junior K Michael Hunnicutt is nearly automatic, knocking down 14-of-15 attempts this year, icnluding a season-long of 44 yards.
Scouting the OU Defense Oklahoma may provide the toughest overall challenge to the Kansas offense this season, entering Saturday’s contest with the Big 12’s stingiest defense in both total yards allowed per game (308.0) and points allowed per game (16.8). Both marks are top-15 nationally, similar to OU’s position in the polls before being upset by Texas at the Cotton Bowl last week. Still, the Sooners are ranked in the top-20 nationally and can thank the young defensive unit for much of that.
OU didn’t get to the quarterback against Texas but has eight sacks on the year, led by sophomore DE Charles Tapper’s 2.5 sacks. Redshirt sophomore LB Frank Shannon is the leading tackler for the Sooners with 50 stops, including 2.5 for-a-loss, and has an interception to his credit. Redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez has batted down nine passes at corner playing on the opposite side of the field from senior DB Aaron Colvin, who garnered preseason All-Big 12 honors, and has 24 tackles and two break-ups. Among OU’s regular starters this season, just three are seniors and were made even younger after the TCU game when senior LB Corey Nelson underwent season-ending surgery.
OU Head Coach Bob Stoops Stoops is four wins from becoming the all-time leader in Oklahoma history, one of the most storied programs in college football. He has led the Sooners to 14 consecutive bowl berths and eight Big 12 titles, and in the past five seasons only Alabama (61) and Oregon (56) have more victories than Oklahoma (52). Stoops’ Oklahoma teams have played in four national title games with a BCS National Championship in 2000. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops played football at Iowa, where he also started his coaching career before a quick stop at Kent State and a seven-year stint at Kansas State. Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida for three years before starting his historic run as OU’s head coach in 1999.
Shepherd Earns Recognition for Keeping Opponents Corralled What does the fox say? It’s likely an expletive (Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho!) if opposed by Kansas junior CB JaCorey Shepherd, who has lived up to his last name while protecting the defensive backfield. Shepherd earned honorable mention by the College Football Performance Awards after he herded in his first career interception when he picked off TCU’s Trevone Boykin and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. Shepherd followed that up with a forced fumble on the very next TCU offensive play. He finished the game with seven tackles, including five solo stops, one sack and 1.5 TFLs for a loss of one yard—in addition to his interception and forced fumble.
First Time Charmers The Jayhawks rank 35th nationally and fourth in the Big 12 Conference with seven interceptions, well on their way to a double-digit season total for the second-consecutive season after a high of eight in the previous three seasons. Not bad for a bunch of kids who had never intercepted a pass before. All five players responsible for the aerial takeaways intercepted their first pass in a KU uniform, with junior CB JaCorey Shepherd’s interception return for a touchdown against TCU edging senior DT Keon Stowers (return called back due to block in the back) for the most dramatic entry into the takeaway stat column. Junior LB Ben Heeney and sophomore junior college transfer S Isaiah Johnson lead the Jayhawks with two interceptions each.
Serial Larceny It’s hardly ever fashionable* and not among suggested equipment, but opposing QBs might want to consider putting a wallet chain on the football due to a spree of thefts by the KU defense (*note: QBs do wear vests at times for protection). Kansas has recorded an interception in each of the first five games, including two against Rice and TCU, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 2007 season when the Jayhawks intercepted 14 passes over a five-game stretch from week three to week seven. Kansas also intercepted a pass in five-straight games during the 2006 season. The last time KU intercepted a pass in six consecutive games was in 2002.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Kansas junior DBs Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd have made breaking up look easy – passes anyway. Through five games each player has eight break-ups, has logged their first career interceptions to rank second in the Big 12 Conference and is sixth nationally in passes defended with 1.8 per game. All together, Kansas has four players among the Big 12’s top 10 in passes defended with Ben Heeney and Dexter Linton tying for 10th with 1.0 PBUs per game.
Piling up the Sacks Kansas had three sacks in each of the first three games this season. That number tied the team’s single-game high from the last two seasons. The last time Kansas logged three or more sacks in three consecutive games was 2009, during a season-opening stretch against Northern Colorado (3 sacks), UTEP (6 sacks) and Duke (5 sacks). This year’s Jayhawks have 13 total sacks, one more than last season’s total (12) and the most since the 2010 squad logged 14 sacks.
Getting Defensive Through five games, including two in the pass-happy Big 12 Conference, the Kansas defense has seen an overall improvement over the 2012 season in total pass defense. Kansas is allowing 222.2 yards per game, 67.0 less than it did when it surrendered a program-worst 289.2 passing yards per contest in 2012. The margin currently ranks as the third-best, single-season turnaround for the KU defense, behind the 1974 (-85.4) and 1998 (-68.2) seasons. The Jayhawks rank 23rd nationally in team passing efficiency defense, a number that takes into account interceptions, yardage allowed, and touchdowns allowed among others. The Kansas defense is sure to be tested over the last half of the season as the Big 12 ranks second among all conferences with a little more than 263 passing yards per game. A lot of the help has come from fresh faces, as six Kansas regulars on defense have made their first start as Jayhawks.
Making Them Earn It Stopping the high-powered offenses of the Big 12 is a hard enough task without giving the opponent a short field. Despite a loss for the second consecutive week, Kansas rebounded nicely against TCU by making the Horned Frogs drive an average of 55.6 yards per scoring drive after affording Texas Tech a field position advantage at the rate of 39.9 yards per scoring drive. The 55.6 yards per scoring drive is the second-longest, per-drive mark for a Kansas opponent this season (South Dakota, 64.5). Additionally it took TCU the exact same total drive time to score (17:06) half as many (5) times as Texas Tech (10). Two weeks ago, the Red Raiders scored 38 of their 54 total points on drives that started at the 50 or inside KU territory, including four drives of 16 yards or less, but on Saturday all five of TCU’s scoring drives started outside Kansas territory. On the season, Kansas has allowed 24 scoring drives, eight of which have been less than 50 yards and one more score on a interception return for a touchdown. Despite the short field, the KU defense has limited four of those drives to field goals. Kansas’ special teams have provided a needed cushion for the defense on kickoffs and punts, with an average starting field position of 24.8 and 29.1, respectively, but five fumbles have resulted in an average drive start near KU’s 40 and six interceptions have resulted in an average drive start near KU’s 44.
Little Margin for Error Kansas is +1 in turnover margin for the season, having turned the ball over 11 times and forced 12 turnovers through five games. The Jayhawks have finished even or better in four games and have played close in those contests, losing by nine points to Rice (E, 2/2) and 10 to TCU (+3, 2/5). Texas Tech showed how ugly things can get when the margin is not in KU’s favor, turning the Jayhawks over four times while surrendering the ball just once in a 38-point rout.
Slow Starters Kansas’ 10 points in the first quarter against Texas Tech were the Jayhawks’ first points in the game’s first 15 minutes this season. Kansas added three points in the first quarter against TCU, but has tallied 78 of its 91 total points (85.7 percent) in the second quarter or later. As the season enters its midpoint (6th of 12 games) the Jayhawks are looking to become more productive in any quarter, having scored their lowest point total through five games since scoring just 83 points to start the 1997 season.
Mundine Anything but Mundane Junior TE Jimmay Mundine has certainly made things interesting on offense for Kansas this season and for the last three games it’s been for the better. Mundine has a catch in every game for the Jayhawks and has caught a touchdown in each of the last three games after being held out of the end zone in the first two contests. Mundine’s three-game TD streak is KU’s longest since former KU WR Dezmon Briscoe caught a touchdown in three straight during the 2009 season. Briscoe was outdone earlier in that season by Kerry Meier, who caught six TDs over four games.