Plenty of things may scare you this Halloween weekend. Kansas’ defense should not be one of them.
Any way you look at it, the Jayhawks are just plain bad. They’re the only team that gives up more than 50 points per game. Kansas surrenders 550 yards per game, more than anyone in the country, and are next to last in pass defense, pass efficiency and rush defense.
Teams score on 93 percent of the possessions they reach the red zone against Kansas, good for 114th out of 120 FBS schools. The Jayhawks’ opponents convert more than half of their third-down plays 75 percent on fourth down and average 26 first downs per game. But Texas is doing its best not to let those numbers get in their head.
“That can give you a false sense of security,” said sophomore guard Mason Walters. “In the Big 12, someone’s got to be at the bottom of it. You’ve just got to show up and play.”
Part of the reason Kansas has struggled so much is the fact that its opponents tear up every defense they face. Georgia Tech boasts the fifth-best rush offense while Kansas State sits at No. 19. The Jayhawks have also faced three of the top four pass offenses and three of the 10 most prolific scoring offenses in Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Those three teams’ starting quarterbacks — Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Brandon Weeden — have already combined to throw for more than 7,500 yards and more than 60 touchdowns. The trio of juggernauts averaged 54 points per game in their respective contests against Kansas.
“They’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “They’ve played most of the top teams already. They got way behind against Oklahoma State and that skews your stats enough to the point where you might as well throw them out.”
Texas won’t light up the scoreboard the way the Cowboys did when they put up 70 on the Jayhawks. But the Longhorns are capable of having a big game, especially on the ground, where they racked up 231 yards against Oklahoma State. In six short games, freshman Malcolm Brown has proven he can be a legitimate feature back while senior Fozzy Whittaker has been effective on both offense and special teams.
“I thought we run the ball well,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin of his backfield’s performance against the Cowboys. “I think they’re getting better. They’re getting more familiar with each other. The running backs are doing a good job of working off the o-line, the tight ends and the fullbacks. It’s just a matter of repetition.”
Brown, whose teams last home conference win came against these same Jayhawks in 2009, admitted his squad isn’t as prepared to exploit Kansas’ poor pass defense as it is to exploit the run defense. If Texas sticks with David Ash, who averaged fewer than four yards per attempt on 40 throws against Oklahoma State in his first career start, it will need to improve the downfield passing game to keep the Jayhawks’ defense from stacking the box.
“We need to have more explosive plays,” Harsin said. “We need to connect on some of those deep throws. We’ve taken some shots and we’ve been a hair off here and there from hitting some of those. “We need to have more explosive plays,” Harsin said. “We need to connect on some of those deep throws. We’ve taken some shots and we’ve been a hair off here and there from hitting some of those. That’s going to come with the relationship of the quarterbacks and receivers.”
Brown compared this week’s game to last year’s against Iowa State, a 28-21 Longhorns loss. But he’s also insisted that this season’s team has a much different attitude than last season’s. If that’s true, Kansas should give up another big chunk of points and yards while Texas notches a lopsided win.