It's the SUNFLOWER SHOWDOWN!! That doesn't sound dangerous, scary or like anything remotely rivalry like does it? I mean BORDER WAR! That say something. I think with the impending departure of Missouri to the SEC and the likely discontinuation of the Border War that perhaps we should think of a more doomsday like name for this one.
The good news is that we still have the overall series. The bad news is that Kansas State has been on the winning end more often than not since Bill Snyder decided to become the Joe Paterno of the Midwest. This one is a better matchup for Kansas than the past couple weeks, but that isn't saying a whole lot considering the Jayhawks have played the #3 and #4 teams in the BCS standings these past two weeks.
Last year this one ended 59-7. Turner Gill CANNOT have a repeat performance of that and he needs this one to be fairly competitive. Emphasis on NEEDS. The fact is, this might be one of the more important games of the Turner Gill era to date.
Kansas Offense vs. Kansas State Defense
Last week we saw the improved Kansas offense stall out completely in the second half against a very good Oklahoma defensive unit. Kansas State will bring another very solid defensive unit to the Memorial Stadium this Saturday and the matchup presents a bit of a scary proposition for the Jayhawks.
Kansas State allows less than 100 yards per game on the ground on average. A big reason for that is the play of the Wildcat front four. Ray Kibble, Vai Lutui, Adam Davis and Jordan Voelker. Kibble is a second year starter from the junior college ranks. Davis and Lutui are junior starters from the junior college level and Voelker is a walk on from the junior college level playing in his senior season. Bill Snyder has a formula and it sure as hell seems to be working. Coaching? Talent evaluation? Somehow he's getting it done.
But getting back to the matchup, this front four along with linebacker Arthur Brown squaring off against a solid Kansas Jayhawk offensive line is likely going to determine whether or not Kansas can run the football. Most likely Kansas has to run the football or the offense will be in trouble. With Hatch the odds improve, without Hatch we have now seen the limitations. At this moment you have to give the edge to Kansas State based on how they've produced to date. If the Wildcats can force Jordan Webb to win the game by stuffing the run with the players up front, it could be a long day for Kansas fans.
Kansas Defense vs Kansas State Offense
Well the Kansas defense has a pulse. Last week against Oklahoma the defense showed some fire, they flew to the ball, made some hits, forced some turnovers and even had a few redzone stands. BUT...they still gave up 600+ yards and 47 points.
The good news is that Kansas State is not Oklahoma. They aren't Oklahoma State, Texas Tech or Georgia Tech. Hell they aren't even Northern Illinois. What Kansas State does do well is they make plays count. Bill Snyder is very deliberate with his game planning, systematic with his playcalling and he'll work to limit possessions while making them count.
It's a style that can prove demoralizing and that's a bit of a concern for the Kansas defense. So who has the edge in this one? I guess their might be a bit of a homerish temptation in me to look at the Kansas State offense and say, HEY...we can do this! But then I remember that on the season we are about as bad as it gets. No wait, we are as bad as it gets.
Here's the thing. I'm all for believing and we improved in terms of our effort and intensity last week. Steven Johnson, Darius Willis, Toben Opurum, Collin Garrett, Lubbock Smith, Bradley McDougald and Pat Dorsey all stood out as players that were fired up and making plays. I think this game is a better matchup and statistically Kansas SHOULD come out of this one looking improved over previous games. But I can't in good conscience give the edge to anyone but Bill Snyder and Kansas State heading into this one. I just need to see more and I need to see it consistently.
Well we lost our top spot in net punting last week after a bit of a struggle. Kansas still isn't bad on special teams. They aren't making those blaring errors like they did a season ago and they are decent in the kicking game so all those are good things.
On the other side of the field however, Kansas State is pretty darn good. In fact the Wildcats probably lose to Texas Tech if their special teams play isn't absolute nails during the first half. It's the mark of teams like Kansas State and Virginia Tech and they are programs that have used solid coaching, continuity and a blue collar approach to building a successful program. I want that...edge Kansas State.
Rather than tell you why Bill Snyder provides the obvious coaching edge. Let me just focus on the Kansas coaches and what I'd like to see this week.
Vic Shealy had a solid scheme a week ago. We were actually masking coverage, bringing blitzes from different players and shifting positions. It wasn't a vanilla package designed to avoid losing by too much. We took some chances, made some plays and for all the talk of Landry Jones being out of sync there has to be some credit given to Kansas on this. We need that to continue. When you're playing with nothing to lose, don't play NOT to lose. Shealy showed some decent coaching last week, now find way to get it done against what should be a less challenging offense to prepare for.
Chuck Long went the opposite direction. It was Kansas v Nebraska 2010 all over again. 38 yards in the second half and the claim is that we had to limit the playbook due to an injury. Even if that is a valid excuse it was still as stagnant as anything we saw a year ago and this offense is better than that. We're going to have to find a way to get receivers involved and it can't be a bubble screen every 7-8 plays. Kansas State is stout against the run, Kansas is a good running team but it might boil down to how effectively Kansas can mix it up and balance out the offense and keep the Wildcats on their toes. Don't dumb it down Chuck. If you've got a...(insert cliche meaning some big hugely successful double secret offense), use it now.
As for Turner Gill. Please just please have this team ready to go. Understand the urgency, understand the importance and have your team and your staff prepared, organized and fired up to play. We've had different pieces at different times but rarely have we seen all three of these at the same time. This game is a big one in terms of signaling some progress.