Will aggressive Texas A&M defense present problems for KU football?
Jesse Newell: Welcome back to the GameDay Cram Session, as Kansas is taking on Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on Saturday.
With Tom Keegan on vacation, Lawrence Journal-World beat writer Matt Tait will pinch-hit this week. Matt, what challenges will Texas A&M's defense present for KU's offense?
Matt Tait: Like Texas a few weeks ago, the Aggies like to bring pressure as often as possible. We all know how that worked out for the Kansas offense.
Offensive coordinator Chuck Long said A&M likes to blitz about 50 percent of the time and KU coach Turner Gill said if you can think of a blitz package, the Aggies probably run it. That could make for a long day for KU quarterback Jordan Webb, especially if the Jayhawks can't get the running game going against A&M's stout front seven. Gill expressed some concern over the fact that A&M's base look is a 3-4 set, which is different than what KU has seen during the past couple of weeks.
JN: The Aggies are allowing 308.2 yards per game passing (second-worst nationally), but the Jayhawks have passed for more than 130 yards just once in their last five games. The best bet might be for KU to test A&M's pass defense, and if the Jayhawks are going to do that, Webb will have to play much better than he has the last few weeks.
It'll also be a test for KU's offensive line, as A&M is second in the nation with 3.5 sacks per game. To put that in perspective, KU only has three sacks in its last five games combined.
Switching back to KU's offense, Matt, what impresses you about running back Darrian Miller?
MT: A few things, really. First, his will. The guy is not scared of anything and will run at anybody.
Although KU sophomore James Sims continues to be a key part of the KU running game, Miller clearly is the most important part. During the last two weeks, the freshman from Blue Springs, Mo., has set career bests for carries and yards. Against ISU he had 17 carries for 70 yards. And last week, versus Baylor, he ran 24 times for 147 yards. The KU coaches said they've given Miller more touches in recent weeks because he's produced. I think we'll see some more of that against A&M, so long as the Jayhawks don't fall behind by too much too fast.
JN: KU's offense only seems to have success when its running game is effective, and frankly, teams just haven't run that well this season against the Aggies. In fact, only one A&M opponent in 10 games this year has averaged more than 4 yards per rush.
Overall, the Aggies are second in the conference in rush defense, allowing just 112.2 rushing yards per game.
KU has been stubborn all year running the football, so I'd still expect plenty of Wildcat formations and runs with Miller and Sims.
KU believes its strength is running the football, so Gill and Long will try to beat A&M with what it does best.
All right, Matt, what's your prediction for this game?
MT: I'll go with Texas A&M by a bunch ... 44-20.
This prediction really isn't as much about the Jayhawks as it is about A&M. The Aggies are desperate — and due — for a feel-good, dominant performance, and I think this is the week they get it. Four of their five losses are by a combined 14 points, including a three-point heart-breaker in quadruple-overtime at K-State last week. With bowl eligibility on the line, this has the feel for that game where A&M's talented offense finally puts it all together.
JN: My score is pretty similar: Texas A&M 38, KU 14.
Really, I'm giving KU's defense a lot of credit here. The Aggies are tied for the fastest-paced team in Div. I (along with Texas Tech), and we've seen how poorly the Jayhawks defense has played this season against the hurry-up (see fourth quarter vs. Baylor).
Texas A&M has gone over 500 yards of offense in six of its 10 games this year, and I think the Aggies will get to that mark on Saturday as well.
Still, I'll say KU's defense continues its recent strong play and forces a couple three-and-outs to go with a couple turnovers. That would keep A&M under 40, but still won't be enough to rescue the Jayhawks' offense in a tough environment. Remember, KU has scored just 10 points in its last two road games.
OK, Matt, who's your Hawk to Rock?
MT: I'll take Bradley McDougald.
The junior safety is coming off of the three best games of his career and, although I think the KU defense might struggle in this one, I think McDougald's play will continue to impress. He's led or tied for the team lead in tackles during the past three weeks and I think this week's game will make it four. Although the season has been disappointing on a lot of levels for Kansas fans, McDougald's rise has been one of the silver linings and he should continue to shine against A&M.
JN: I'll go with Kale Pick.
After watching two well-placed passes get dropped in the fourth quarter, I won't be surprised if Webb tries to find the sure-handed Pick more often this game.
Pick's season-high is 55 receiving yards, and I think he'll easily surpass that against a soft Texas A&M pass defense.
Predictions tally (through 10 games)
Tom: 9-1 record.
Jesse: 9-1 record.
Hawk to Rock
McNeese State: Toben Opurum (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Northern Illinois: Darrian Miller (7th in Keegan ratings)
Georgia Tech: Bradley McDougald (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: Tony Pierson (7th in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Tim Biere (1st in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Tyler Patmon (9th in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Darrian Miller (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Tony Pierson (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Iowa State: Tim Biere (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Baylor Darrian Miller (1st in Keegan ratings)
McNeese State: Brandon Bourbon (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Northern Illinois: Darius Willis (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Georgia Tech: Kale Pick (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Texas Tech: James Sims (3rd in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma State: Brandon Bourbon (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Oklahoma: Steven Johnson (1st in Keegan ratings)
Kansas State: Toben Opurum (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Texas: Greg Brown (2nd in Keegan ratings)
Iowa State: JaCorey Shepherd (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)
Baylor: Tim Biere (Not ranked in Keegan ratings)