Explosive OU offense will challenge both sides of ball for Kansas

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates a touchdown against Oklahoma State with teammate CeeDee Lamb (9) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates a touchdown against Oklahoma State with teammate CeeDee Lamb (9) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Friday, November 17, 2017

For all the challenges the staggering Kansas football team has endured at various points throughout what stands as a nine-game losing streak, the Jayhawks just might be in for their most formidable trial yet.

No. 3 Oklahoma, averaging 44.3 points a game and a nation-leading 600.7 yards, hasn’t scored fewer than 29 points in a game this season. Its opponent Saturday at Memorial Stadium, KU, hasn’t scored 30 points in a game since September and has averaged 12.5 points in the six defeats since.

As much as the KU defense will have to outperform its best showings to date, the offensive players realize the onus is on them to do their best to keep pace with the Sooners (9-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12).

“They score a lot of points. We know that,” junior KU receiver Steven Sims Jr. said. “(OU quarterback) Baker Mayfield, he’s in the Heisman race, as well. Offensively, we do have to have a good game if we want to even compete in this game.”

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Between Mayfield (213-for-299 passing, for 3,559 yards and 31 touchdowns, with five interceptions), running back Rodney Anderson (6.2 yards per carry, seven TDs) and five skill players with at least 20 catches and three receiving scores apiece this year — Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb, Jeff Badet and Dimitri Flowers — OU possesses one of the most dynamic offenses around. Consequently, the Jayhawks (1-9, 0-7) have no choice but to strive for offensive perfection.

“No matter how good your defense is, that team’s going to score a lot of points,” KU redshirt sophomore center Mesa Ribordy said. “As an offense, we know that we have to score … There’s definitely added pressure, but we just have to treat it like any other opponent.”

Of course, there’s even more to KU’s offensive strategy when it comes to attempting to counter the Sooners’ explosiveness, coordinator Doug Meacham explained.

“You can’t go three-and-out a whole lot,” Meacham said. “And you’ve got to burn some time, keep the (KU) defense off the field the best you can, maybe slow it down a little bit.”

The Kansas offense at least is coming off a loss at Texas in which it scored 27 points, its most since a 56-34 home setback against West Virginia on Sept. 23.

“We missed out on a lot of opportunities,” Sims said of a four-turnover first half at UT that included a muffed punt return by the junior, “shot ourselves in the foot. Hopefully this week we do a better job with that.”

The Kansas defense, meanwhile, held an FBS opponent under 400 yards for just the third time this season at Texas (371). However, Oklahoma isn’t Texas. The Sooners have produced more than 500 yards in nine of their 10 games (490 in a victory at Ohio State) and topped 600 yards six times.

KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said Lincoln Riley’s Sooners benefit from a deception-based offense and play-action calls that feed off their successful rushing attack (211.9 yards a game). What’s more, Bowen said OU’s offensive linemen are athletic enough to pull and not miss blocks.

“They’ve got guys who can make plays at all spots,” Bowen added.

Redshirt junior defensive tackle and captain Daniel Wise said the Jayhawks shouldn’t feel any extra pressure because of OU’s prolific success.

“I think we’ve rolled with the best of them so far, and it’s just going to be another week to test what we have,” Wise said.

Junior linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. assumes the Sooners will enter the game (2:30 p.m. kickoff, ESPN) inspired to put on a show.

“They’re in a spot where they have a good chance of maybe going to the College Football Playoff,” Loneker explained, referencing OU’s current No. 4 standing. “When you’re in that spot and you’ve got a couple more games to go, you’re definitely going to try to put your best game on film to prove your case. So, yeah, I expect their best, and that’s exactly what we want, so I’m glad.”

Third-year head coach David Beaty will need everyone in a KU uniform at their best to compete with the Sooners, but Beaty said his Jayhawks can’t worry about what’s in play for Oklahoma’s postseason and what that might mean for the matchup.

“But the way we look at it, we have a lot at stake,” said Beaty, whose KU teams are 3-31 since he took over, with just one Big 12 or FBS victory. “We don't worry about what other teams have; we worry about what we have to do to win the game. At the end of the day, it's going to be about us. It's going to be about how we execute and how much we improve from last week to this week. If we can take care of the controllables, you know, then that gives you a chance to win in just about any game you're in.”