Kansas set to Tangle with No. 5 Baylor, Nation's Top Offense Saturday
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A week after entertaining one of the top defenses in the nation the Kansas Jayhawks will receive a visit from the top offense in the country as the No. 5 Baylor Bears roll into Lawrence for a 6 p.m. contest on ESPNU Saturday.
Baylor, undefeated at 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Big 12 Conference play, boasts the nation’s top scoring offense at 64.7 points per game and leads the nation with 714.3 yards per game. It will be a tall task for a much improved Jayhawk defense that has logged an interception in every game this season while limiting opponents to 215.2 yards per game through the air, a top-40 mark in the country and more than 70 yards better than a year ago.
Baylor has won three straight over Kansas, but needed a fourth quarter rally by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and overtime to best the Jayhawks 31-30 in its last trip to Lawrence. Baylor leads the all-time series, 8-4, with the bulk of those wins coming in Waco. Kansas is 4-2 all-time against Baylor at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
This Day In Kansas Football History
Kansas is 8-7 all-time in games played on Oct. 26. On this date in 1956, Bob Marshall used a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown – the second-longest in school history – to push Kansas ahead of Oklahoma State and help the Jayhawks eventually win a 21-13 decision. Kansas’ last game on Oct. 26 was during the 2002 season, a 36-12 loss to Missouri.
Kansas has 25 players on its roster from the Lone Star State. KU redshirt freshman TE Jordan Shelley-Smith is from Waco, Texas and sophomore QB Michael Cummings hails from Killeen, Texas–which is not too far from the Baylor campus. Baylor does not field any Sunflower State natives on its roster. Baylor’s roster does feature two former high school teammates of current KU players. BU’s Taion Sells and KU HB James Sims both attended MacArthur HS (Irving, Texas), and BU’s Suleiman Masumbuko teamed up with KU’s Prinz Kande at Trinity HS (Euless, Texas). Baylor’s roster also features a pair of former junior college teammates as BU’s Terell Brooks and KU’s Zach Fondal both attended Navarro College (Corsicana, Texas).
Scouting the Baylor Offense
Baylor is truly an offensive juggernaut, rumbling into Lawrence with a nation-leading 64.7 points and 714.3 yards per game. The Bears have hung 70 points on four of their six opponents and have used a balance attack to do so. Baylor ranks seventh nationally with 300.3 rushing yards per game and has the third-best passing attack at 414.0 yards per game. It almost goes without saying that junior QB Bryce Petty leads the Big 12 Conference in most passing categories while piling up 2,023 yards and 15 touchdowns through six games. Petty has completed better than 70 percent of his passes and leads the nation with a staggering 19.83 yards per completion, a testament to the Bears’ big play ability.
Junior RB Lache Seastrunk, the league’s preseason pick for offensive player of the year, leads the Big 12 Conference and is in the top-20 nationally with 126.7 rushing yards per game. He is one of three Bears – Shock Linwood (67.4), Glasco Martin (50.2) – averaging more than 50 yards rushing per game. At receiver, junior Antwan Goodley (third, 141.8) and senior Tevin Reese (eighth, 119.0) both rank in the top-10 nationally in receiving yards per game and are Nos. 1-2 in the conference. Up front, the Baylor line features a pair of the best in the nation in senior G Cyril Richardson, a projected first round selection in the NFL Draft, and sophomore LT Spencer Drango, who has started his entire young career (19 games) at left tackle.
Scouting the Baylor Defense
The Baylor offense may get the bulk of the attention, but the Bears have been nearly as amazing on the opposite side of the ball. Baylor has the 11th-best total defense in the nation while allowing just 317.3 yards per game and has allowed two scores or less in four of six games while ranking seventh in the nation with 16.2 points allowed per game. The Bears rank second nationally with 9.2 tackles-for-loss per game, lead the Big 12 Conference and are fourth nationally with 3.5 sacks per game.
Junior MLB Bryce Hager is the Bears’ defensive leader with 52 total tackles and has shown an ability to disrupt the passing game with three pass breakups. Senior LE Chris McAllister has 4.5 sacks to his credit and 6-foot-9 sophomore RE Shawn Oakman has an impressive 11.0 tackles for loss as the second man in the rotation. Baylor has nine total interceptions with senior CB Joe Williams leading the team with two picks. Baylor has also been ball disruptive when the ball isn’t in the air having forced 10 fumbles.
Baylor Head Coach Art Briles
Briles has led Baylor to three straight bowl games while turning a previously middling program into a national contender in his sixth season as its leader. Briles and the Bears have taken advantage of the momentum of back-to-back bowl wins (Alamo in 2011, Holiday in 2012) to roll to a perfect 6-0 mark in 2013 and improve Briles’ overall coaching record to 73-58. Briles has specialized in adaptation while achieving offensive success, using three different quarterbacks over the last three seasons while winning a Heisman Trophy (Robert Griffin III, 2011), posting the second-best total offense (Nick Florence, 2012), and currently leading the nation in scoring and total offense (Bryce Petty, 2013). A native Texan who has exclusively coached teams from the Lone Star State, Briles entered the collegiate ranks as an assistant at Texas Tech before becoming a head coach at Houston in 2003. In 10 seasons, his teams have played in seven bowl games.
Mundine Anything but Mundane
Junior TE Jimmay Mundine has certainly made things interesting on offense for Kansas this season and for the last four 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 four games after being held out of the end zone in the first two contests. Mundine’s four-game TD streak tied for KU’s longest since Kerry Meier caught six TDs over four games in 2009. The last Jayhawk to catch a TD pass in five straight was Dezmon Briscoe in 2008.
A Touchdown for Every Start
Junior QB Jake Heaps hasn’t produced the number of touchdowns he may have envisioned at this point of his KU career but he’s shown a scoring consistency that is unmatched in the last three years. Heaps has thrown a touchdown in all six games this season, the longest single-season streak by a KU quarterback since Todd Reesing threw a TD in six straight games to start 2009. Heaps has a way to go to catch Reesing in the consecutive touchdowns category, as the 2009 scores capped a three-year, 24-game TD streak.
Sims Continues Climb up Several KU Charts
Senior RB James Sims became the fourth player in KU history to rush for 3,000 yards with his 129-yard effort against Oklahoma last week. The 100+ performance was the 13th of his career, moving Sims past Jon Cornish (12) into a tie with June Henley and Laverne Smith for second on the KU career charts. With six games left, Sims could still catch Tony Sands who rushed for 100 or more 17 times.
Sophomore RB Darrian Miller has added good depth to the Jayhawk rushing attack over the past two games, contributing 67 yards on the ground versus both Oklahoma and TCU. Miller, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the season, has amassed 217 yards on 44 carries in 2013 and turned in a career-best rush of 38 yards in the game against the Sooners. This week Miller will be facing Baylor, the team he put up his career-best numbers against during his true freshman season in 2011. A Blue Springs, Mo., native, Miller exploded for 148 yards and a touchdown on the ground against the Bears on a career-high 24 carries. Miller is one of five current Jayhawks to have rushed for 100 yards in a game.
Ford Lending a Hand on Special Teams
Senior WR Josh Ford is tied for the team lead with four tackles on the punt team and has shown an ability to get a hand on the football. Ford blocked his second punt of the season against Oklahoma after also blocking a kick in the season opener against South Dakota. Ford’s two blocks are the most by a Jayhawk since Ronnie Amadi blocked two punts during the 2005 campaign. The last Jayhawk to block three kicks in a season was Brandon Rideau during the 2004 season. Ford, a second year player after transferring in from Arizona Western Community College, has made a significant impact on special teams with three career blocked kicks.
Tackling Bingo for Simmons
Junior NB Victor Simmons has been all over the field and the stat sheet for Kansas in his first year as a starter, but he’s not letting his new status affect his auxiliary duties. If there was a version of football tackling bingo, Simmons’ board would be full. Including the free space, Simmons has recorded solo (27) and assisted tackles (14), tackles against the run (23), tackles against the pass (14), tackles for loss (5.5), sacks (1.5), tackles on kickoff coverage (1) and tackles on punt coverage (4).
Kansas has recorded an interception in each of the first six games this season, including two against Rice and TCU, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the Jayhawks logged an interception in six consecutive games near the end of the 2002 season. Including the interception in last season’s finale, the Jayhawks have interceptions in seven consecutive games, the team’s longest streak since picking off a pass in eight straight games during the 1995 season. Junior CB JaCorey Shepherd, sophomore S Isaiah Johnson and junior MLB Ben Heeney lead this year’s team with two interceptions each.
First Time Charmers
The Jayhawks rank 37th nationally and fourth in the Big 12 Conference with eight 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.
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 has earned honorable mention from the College Football Performance Awards in each of the last two weeks, recording the first two interceptions of his career, forcing a fumble and recovering another. Shepherd 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. Against Oklahoma, Shepherd snagged an errant pass and recovered a fumble.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Kansas junior DBs Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd have made breaking up look easy – passes anyway. Through six games each player has eight break-ups and has logged their first career interceptions. Shepherd added another interception against Oklahoma and is second in the Big 12 and sixth nationally with 1.67 passes defended per game. McDonald is tied for third in the conference and 12th nationally with 1.50 passes defended per game. All together, Kansas has four players among the Big 12’s top 20 in passes defended with Ben Heeney tied for ninth (1.0) and Dexter Linton tied for 16th (0.83).
What Learning Curve?
Sophomore FS Isaiah Johnson has played an instrumental role in the improvement of the Jayhawk defense. Johnson, a Cary, N.C., native, ranks fourth in the Big 12 in tackling in conference games with 9.7 stops per contest. He turned in a season-high 12 tackles in KU’s game versus Texas Tech and has followed that up with nine- and eight-tackle performances against TCU and Oklahoma, respectively. On the season, Johnson ranks sixth in the Big 12 in tackles per game with 8.0 per outing. A transfer from Iowa Western CC, Johnson is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two to his credit. Johnson and his secondary mates CBs JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald have combined for five picks on the season.
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). With another sack against Oklahoma, this year’s Jayhawks have 14 total sacks, two more than last season’s total (12) and the most since the 2010 squad logged 14 sacks. For perspective purposes, the 2009 team had 30 sacks. The Kansas defense is on pace to more than double its previous three-year average of 12.0 sacks (2010-12), and could be close to matching the three-year average of 28.33 (2007-09) from the prior three years.
Through six games, including three 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 215.2 yards per game, 74.0 less than it did when it surrendered a program-worst 289.2 passing yards per contest in 2012. The margin currently ranks as the second-best, single-season turnaround for the KU defense, behind the 1974 (-85.4) season and in front of the 1998 (-68.2) season. The Jayhawks rank 22nd nationally in team passing efficiency defense, a number that takes into account interceptions, yardage allowed and touchdowns allowed, among others. A lot of the help has come from fresh faces, as six Kansas regulars on defense have made their first start as Jayhawks.
Little Margin for Error
Kansas is +3 in turnover margin for the season, having turned the ball over 11 times and forced 14 turnovers through six games. The Jayhawks have finished even or better in five games and have played close in those contests, losing by nine points to Rice (E, 2/2), 10 to TCU (+3, 2/5) and 15 to Oklahoma (+2, 0/2). 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.
Heeney Brings the Hammer
Kansas junior LB Ben Heeney missed the Oklahoma game and saw limited action at TCU before leaving the game with an injury. Heeney had been the Big 12’s leader in tackles per game and ranked among the top-10 in the Big 12 in four different categories prior to playing TCU. The 2013 Lombardi Award watch list member is now fifth in the league and 55th nationally with 8.6 tackles per game. His 1.4 tackles for loss are third in the Big 12 and rank 21st in the country. The Hutchinson, Kan., native, has also secured his first two career interceptions and is tied for the team-lead. Heeney burst onto the scene in 2012 with 112 tackles in his first season as a starter for the Jayhawks. His tally included 66 solo stops and he led KU with 12.0 tackles-for-loss with one sack. Heeney earned second team All-Big 12 honors following the 2012 season from the conference coaches, the Associated Press and Phil Steele Magazine. He was listed as a preseason first team All-Big 12 member entering the 2013 season by Athlon, Lindy’s and The Sporting News. Additionally, Heeney was named to the College Football Performance Awards watch list for the top linebacker in the NCAA.
Many Happy Returns
On the punt return team, Connor Embree continues to be one of the best in the Big 12. The former walk-on, who was awarded a scholarship in fall camp, is third in the Big 12 Conference and 13th in the nation with 14.1 yards per punt return. Embree’s 127 punt return yards through six games are more than KU’s combined total in each of the past three seasons and the most by a KU individual since Daymond Patterson logged 168 return yards in 2009. Junior CB JaCorey Shepherd ranks second in the Big 12 with 23.9 yards per kick return, while sophomore RB Darrian Miller has 24.6 yards per return on five total returns (does not meet minimum for Big 12 rankings).
Step Right Up Folks, See if you can Out-Drive the Amazing (Football) Whacker Guy
Kansas junior punter Trevor Pardula leads the Big 12 Conference and is 10th in the nation in punting with 44.8 yards per punt and has 14 punts of 50 yards or more. Legatron (via @ACole_5) has also been consistenly long with his duties on kickoffs, notching 15 touchbacks on 24 kicks, more than double KU’s season total (7) from a year ago when the line of scrimmage on kickoffs was moved to the 35. Pardula does more than bomb kicks, however, and has placed nine punts inside the 20, with seven total fair catches.
Big Kicks Net Big Awards for Pardula
Kansas kicker/punter Trevor Pardula was rewarded for his game-changing performance in the Jayhawks’ win over Louisiana Tech as he was named the Ray Guy Award Player of the Week, College Football Performance Awards Punter of the Week and the Special Teams Player of the Week by the Big 12 Conference. Pardula, a native of San Jose, Calif., came up huge for the Jayhawks in their win over Louisiana Tech. He set a Kansas record for punting average in a game after averaging 57.6 yards on five punts in the game. He recorded a career-long 78-yard punt in the third quarter, which tied for eighth-longest in school history and was the longest Jayhawk boot since Rich Reith hit a 78-yarder on Oct. 18, 1986. The kick is tied for the fifth longest in the NCAA this season.
Long Range Field Goal Nets Wyman Groza Award Weekly Honor
Kansas redshirt freshman kicker Matthew Wyman was named one of three Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award “Stars of the Week” (Sept. 23) after booting the Jayhawks to a 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech. The Jayhawks never led in the game against the Bulldogs until the only time that matters, as Wyman’s 52-yard field goal attempt sailed through the uprights as time expired for the walk-off win. The 52-yarder was the longest by a Jayhawk since 2009 and marked the first time Kansas has won on the final play of the game since 2005. Wyman’s game-winning field goal is tied for the 12th-longest make in the NCAA this season.
Junior QB Jake Heaps, junior LB Ben Heeney, senior HB James Sims and junior DL Keon Stowers were selected by their peers as the 2013 team captains, while nine other players were appointed as members of the team leadership council. Kansas conducted a players vote on August 18 during fall camp and head coach Charlie Weis announced the results at his weekly press conference on August 19. Members of the newly created leadership council include Jimmay Mundine, Christian Matthews, Tony Pierson, Pat Lewandowski, Keba Agostinho, Cassius Sendish, Dexter Linton, Darius Willis and Blake Jablonski.
The Kansas Jayhawks will again feature one of the most talented scout team offenses in the country with quarterback transfer T.J. Millweard (UCLA) and wide receiver transfer Nick Harwell (Miami (Ohio)) sitting out due to NCAA transfer residency requirements. KU starters Jake Heaps and Justin McCay built repoire and tortured the first team defense while running the scout team last season. Millweard was slated to be the back-up in Westwood after redshirting as a freshman in 2012. The former top-100 Texas recruit from Colleyville, Texas, will be a redshirt sophomore in 2014 and have three seasons of eligibility remaining. Harwell, a 2011 Biletnikoff Award Watch List member and All-MAC First Team selection, brings an impressive resume to Kansas with 229 career receptions, 3,166 yards and 23 receiving touchdowns over three seasons with the Redhawks. The Missouri City, Texas native will have one year of eligibility remaining for next season.
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