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Game Week #6: Kansas Preview

The Kansas Jayhawks are an improved team from last year, but then again they'd almost have to be. We break down the offense and the defense so you know what to expect from Kansas on Saturday.

Waymon James faces the team that crushed his dreams last year.  I predict vengeance.
Waymon James faces the team that crushed his dreams last year. I predict vengeance.

TCU finally gets its first Big 12 home game of the year as the Kansas Jayhawks head down to Fort Worth.  The Jayhawks are improved in the win/loss column from last year, but still don't look like a good team.  We breakdown what the Jayhawks will try to do on offense and defense, and how the frogs should respond.  If you're interested in watching last years statistically dominant (but fumble filled) win over the Jayhawks you can watch the whole thing here on Frogs O' War.

Kansas Offense

Kansas runs a pro-style offense, which is about what you would expect from Charlie Weis.  The Jayhawks will line up in primarily ace sets under center and shotgun sets with a tight end.  That's more or less what we saw from the Jayhawks last year, but this year the faces doing much of it will be quite different.  Gone is under-performing-highly-rated-out-of-high-school-transfer-from-a-religious-school quarterback Dayne Crist, in comes under-performing-highly-rated-out-of-high-school-transfer-from-a-religious-school Jake Heaps who you may remember from the 2010 TCU-BYU game where he completed less than 50% of his passes for 91 yards and 2 interceptions in a 31-3 TCU victory.  Heaps has been an upgrade from Crist so far this year, but he's still not the dependable 65% completion rate pro-style quarterback that Charlie Weis has been hoping would transfer into Kansas from a religious school (his pipe dream of a Casey Pachall transfer went out the window).  Heaps has been completing just about 50% of his passes a game, with two games perfectly at 50% one game slightly beneath and one game slightly above the magic 50% baseline.  Sadly for Kansas, he also has been mixing in the odd interception that has been his hallmark since the BYU days- Heaps has thrown five interceptions so far compared with four touchdown passes spread evenly through each of the Jayhawks first four games.  Given what we've seen from Heaps so far this season it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect him to have a similar performance to his previous efforts against the Frogs- about 50% completion and a couple of interceptions to go along with exactly one touchdown pass.

Kansas' OL has been bolstered by junior college transfers, giving the Jayhawks some experience at all five positions despite returning just two starters from last year.  The Jayhawks experience on the line hasn't resulted in a lot of clean pockets for Heaps though, as Kansas quarterbacks have been sacked 9 times this year, which is a concern when you're playing Louisiana Tech, Rice and company but elevates to a whole new level of issue when you're dealing with pressure up the middle from Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter.  Kansas' line struggles has resulted in a lot of shuffling on the line and the Jayhawks will be debuting another lineup this week with Gavin Howard taking over center duties.  Any time you get a new center there can be significant issues with communication on the line, snap count and fumbled snaps, so in TCU can get pressure up the middle there may be a number of issues to exploit.

At the skill player positions the biggest issue for Kansas this week will be the loss of all purpose threat Tony Pierson for this week due to a concussion suffered against Texas Tech.  Pierson was Kansas' best offensive weapon, leading Kansas in receiving yards in each of the Jayhawks' first four games and has led the Jayhawks in ypc average as well.  With his loss there will be a definite lack of playmakers for the Jayhawks, leading to an increased reliance on running backs Darrian Miller and James Sims (Sims had some success on the ground against us last year) to make plays.  Kansas' offense without Pierson is the conference's closest approximation to TCU's first half offense against Oklahoma- sad and confused.  If you enjoy Patterson's defenses clobbering people, limit your bathroom breaks to when TCU's offense is on the field.

Kansas Defense

Kansas' base defense is a 4-3 coordinated by a familiar face in the metroplex, former Cowboy head coach Dave Campo.  Kansas is a bit slow to move out of the 4-3 to nickel sets against the spread, but given the returning talent that the Jayhawks have at linebacker and the question marks in the secondary it's understandable that Campo would want to keep experience on the field as much as possible.  Kansas returns three starters on the defensive line to go along with all three linebackers from a unit that had issues getting to the passer last year, averaging less than one sack per game.  The Jayhawks have been improved in that area this year, almost matching last years sack total through just four games, which is a definite area of concern given TCU's struggle in pass blocking this year.  The Jayhawks improvement in pass rush has coincided with a regression in run defense though, as the Jayhawks were fairly stout against the run last year, while this year KU has managed to keep exactly one opponent under 4.5 yards per carry- Texas Tech's dreadful ground game, compounded by the Raiders running out the clock in the second half.  Against heavyweight running teams like Louisiana Tech- a team coming off of an air raid offense last year, Rice- not the triple option heavy owls that we're familiar with but another passing spread and FCS school South Dakota the Jayhawks were ripped for 4.8 ypc, 4.7 ypc and 5.1 ypc- which includes those yards lost to KU's increased sack total.  Yet again this should be a week where TCU should test the opposition on the ground early and often and let the size of the OL grind on the Jayhawks a bit, particularly our big tackles working against the smaller KU defensive ends.

The real experience issues for the Jayhawks is in the secondary, where KU graduated its top 5 defensive backs last year.  Again, Kansas has mined the junior college ranks for players that can play right away with mixed results, as the Jayhawks did fairly well containing Rice and South Dakota State through the air, keeping both teams under 50% completion rates.  Against more talented passing teams with "Tech" in their names however, the Jayhawks struggled as the Bulldogs and Red Raiders bombed away at 64% completion rates, with the Raiders going over 400 yards through the air.  I (sadly) expect TCU to challenge the Jayhawks through the air early, as TCU does have superior athletes at the wide receiver positions, but this time it's possible that the Frogs could have success.  Boykin is going to have to be careful not to turn the ball over though, as the Jayhawks have been ballhawks so far, collecting five interceptions in four games.  It's a risk to throw when the KU rushing defense is likely to give you the opportunities that you need to set up the pass later in the game, but from everything we've seen so far indicates that TCU will take that risk early and often.

For more Kansas preview information, feel free to drop by KU blog Rock Chalk Talk and keep checking in at Frogs O' War where we should have a Q&A with the Jayhawk bloggers up tomorrow.