TCU (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) at Kansas (1-3 overall, 0-1 Big 12) 11 a.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium • Game-time forecast: 58 degrees, sunny, 0% chance of rain • TV: ESPNU
Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog and follow our coverage team on Twitter: @KUSports, @BentonASmith, @TomKeeganLJW, @mctait and @nightengalejr
1. Avoid yet another slow start
In three consecutive losses, Kansas has fallen behind early. It all began four weeks ago in the Jayhawks’ most recent home game. Ohio beat up KU early, led 15-0 in the first quarter and put Kansas in a 25-0 hole by the second quarter. The following week, in their road opener, the Jayhawks trailed 13-0 entering the second quarter and were behind by 19 before putting a score on the board. Last week at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders built a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the first quarter.
KUsports.com's Matt Tait and Benton Smith discuss the Kansas football team's most recent struggles and how the Jayhawks need to adapt to give TCU a fight this week.
It’s time for the KU offense to give the team some sort of a boost early. Perhaps that’s one reason head coach David Beaty named sophomore quarterback Ryan Willis his new starter ahead of the TCU game. The offense repeatedly fell behind when QB Montell Cozart played the first few possessions during the three-game skid.
2. Get those running backs involved
Ke’aun Kinner, Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin each have a rushing touchdown out of the KU backfield this season, but that’s about all that can be said of the team’s production running the ball. Every other team in the Big 12 has at least doubled the Jayhawks’ rushing TD total of three, and six of the conference’s 10 programs have reached double digits in that category, with TCU leading the way at 15. Even pass-happy Texas Tech, an offense Beaty and company aspire to resemble, has rushed for 10 touchdowns in four games. In rushing, Kansas ranks last in the league in yards per carry (3.3), yards per game (91.0) and attempts (109). KU has to find more ways to keep Kinner, Herbert and Martin involved, so at the very least opposing defenses can’t just sit back knowing a pass play is coming their direction.
3. Prove defense is team’s strength
The Kansas defense, of course, hasn’t played perfectly. But four games into the year Clint Bowen’s crew has given KU fans more to cheer about than the offense. With defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (6.0 tackles for loss), linebacker Marcquis Roberts (5.5) and defensive tackle Daniel Wise (4.0) leading the charge, KU leads the Big 12 in tackles for loss per game (9.8). The front seven at times looks up to the challenge of battling a high-scoring offense and when the defense gets to third down it has the man power to make something happen. KU foes have converted just 20 of 61 third downs (32.8 percent), giving the unit the second-best mark in the Big 12, behind Kansas State’s 29.2 percent. TCU once again will be without dynamic receiver KaVontae Turpin (knee injury). KU’s defense needs to take the next step, and play to its potential for four quarters for the Jayhawks to have a shot at an upset victory.
TCU QB Kenny Hill vs. All 11 KU defenders
It will take every defensive lineman, linebacker and defensive back carrying out his individual assignment and executing Saturday for the Kansas defense to corral do-it-all TCU quarterback Kenny Hill. Sure, Hill averages 387.2 passing yards a game and threw five touchdown passes last week against Oklahoma in a shootout loss, but the junior also has rushed for six scores — putting him in a five-way tie for the Big 12 lead in that category with a group of running backs, including teammate Kyle Hicks.
Beaty, who successfully recruited Hill to Texas A & M when the KU coach worked there as an assistant, knows the QB, who played two seasons for the Aggies, well.
“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Beaty said of Hill, who has completed 64.7 percent of his passes and thrown for 11 scores. “He's doing some really nice things in particular areas of the field and he can run. The dude can run with the ball. He can extend plays with his feet, and he's got enough flexibility in his body that he can do a lot of what (Texas Tech QB Patrick) Mahomes did. He reminds me a lot of Pat.”
Last week versus Kansas, Mahomes accounted for 304 yards of total offense and four passing touchdowns before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.
1. What do you feel like is the next step for you and the running back group to make this offense more productive?
“We can make the most out of our opportunities. I feel like if we make the most out of our opportunities when our number’s called, things will go better for us.”
2. Four games into your second season at Kansas, do you feel significantly more productive as an individual than you were ago?
“It’s too early to tell. You’ve gotta be ready at all times. I’m waiting. That one big run is gonna be the game-changer. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
3. When you recall all of your runs as a KU running back, do you have a favorite at this point?
“The run against Memphis (last season) when I broke a couple tackles on the sideline and then scored, stayed on my feet and scored. That’s probably one of the ones that really stands out to me.”
4. How capable are you and the other running backs of making an impact in the passing game within this Air Raid offense?
“We all can catch the ball and we all can do things with it when we get the ball in our hands. We’re really talented.”
5. With Ryan Willis being named the starting quarterback, is that a difficult process for everybody, because Montell Cozart is a captain and a popular leader on the team?
“Ryan has always been a ‘captain’ on the team, too. Even though he’s not named captain, he’s always had words to say. He’s always had an impact on the team. … Montell’s always gonna be a captain, and we all look up to Montell, but Ryan has that name, too. So there’s really not anything to adjust.”
Since Beaty’s arrival, the Jayhawks have done an incredible job of remaining positive despite all the losses — 0-12 last season, 1-3 start to 2016. Give the head coach credit for creating and maintaining that type of culture, because it can’t be easy. As KU continues its uphill climb toward respectability in the Big 12, the program at some point figures to get some stimulus in the form of an unexpected upset. It might not come this week, this month or even this season, but the players keep plugging away. If turning the offense over to Willis can invigorate Beaty’s Air Raid that would make the journey more bearable.
Kansas ….. TCU
KU run D vs. TCU run game √
KU pass D vs. TCU pass game √
KU run game vs. TCU run D √
KU pass game vs. TCU pass D √
Special teams √