Players to Watch: Kansas

Blanche Schaefer

Safety Fish Smithson

Junior safety Fish Smithson is a bright light in Kansas’ 0-8 season. He leads the Jayhawk defense with 75 total tackles, which is No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 27 in the nation out of FBS defenders. He recorded a personal-best 13 tackles against Iowa State despite a 38-13 Jayhawks loss. Smithson turned in one of his best performances in a 30-20 Kansas loss to Texas Tech three weeks ago. The Jayhawk defense held Texas Tech’s high-scoring offense to 30 points, and Smithson recorded 10 tackles. He also snagged his first career interception and picked up a 66-yard fumble return. After Iowa State’s defense smothered Texas 24-0 last week, Smithson and the Kansas defense shouldn’t be underestimated either.

Quarterback Ryan Willis

Freshman quarterback Ryan Willis was thrown to the wolves for his first career start against Baylor in Week 5. A slew of early-season injuries to then-starter Montell Cozart and backup Deondre Ford placed Willis in the starting position. He’s fared well despite the circumstances, completing 95-of-169 passes and throwing four interceptions through five starts. He passed for 158 yards and one touchdown in his first start against Baylor and continues to improve each week. Willis put up career numbers against Texas Tech, completing 35-of-50 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Willis is not a dual threat — he’s totaled -87 rushing yards and averages -3.1 yards per carry. Texas’ defense should have the upper hand if it can limit Willis’ passing options and force him to use his feet and get out of his comfort zone.

Running back Ke’aun Kinner

Junior Ke’aun Kinner has been the Jayhawks’ primary rusher this season. Kinner transferred to Kansas after playing two seasons at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas, where he ranks third all-time in rushing yards. He made a strong statement in his first game as a Jayhawk, rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns against South Dakota State. However, Kinner’s recent issues with a hamstring injury limited him against Baylor in Week 5, and he’s struggled since. Texas’ defense has a potentially explosive running back on its hands if Kinner comes back healthy Saturday.

Wide receiver Tre’ Parmalee

Senior Tre’ Parmalee is one of Kansas’ most consistent receivers. He has 464 yards on 29 catches with two touchdowns. His average of 16 yards per reception is the best of the Jayhawks. Parmalee sat out against Baylor with a concussion, but came back the next week against Texas Tech and caught five passes for 84 yards and one touchdown. He then posted a career-best 115-yard game against Oklahoma State. Kansas has relied mostly on its passing game this season, and after Iowa State manhandled the Texas defense last week, Parmalee could add some yards to his stat column Saturday.