Plain and simple this one is a tricky matchup. Nebraska has so many pieces in place and so many of those pieces have the potential to give the Jayhawks some serious problems.
Nebraska will be the toughest opponent the Jayhawks have faced. This will most likely be the toughest defensive opponent that the Jayhawks will see the rest of the year.
Finding a way to take some small victories in the varying matchups and turn those into momentum builders will prove critical yet difficult, but never say never.
Turner Gill returns to Lincoln for what should be his one and only trip as long as he's on the Kansas sideline. Maybe he finds a little extra inspiration and a little extra competitive fire and pushes his team to surprise a few folks with their performance.
Kansas Offense vs. Nebraska Defense
In any game the Jayhawks have won, in any game the Jayhawks have scored more than two touchdowns, James Sims and the running game have gotten going. James Sims specifically has eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark. I'd say that's a pretty clear indication of what Kansas needs to be able to do to be successful.
Throw in the fact that Taylor Martinez can score from anywhere on the field in under 11 seconds and you certainly have the makings of a game where ball control would be a big plus for the Jayhawks. The good news is that if there is an area that Nebraska is vulnerable it's in their run defense.
For Kansas to get an edge on offense they'll need the offensive line to control the line of scrimmage the way they did the first half against Iowa State and in the second half against Colorado. It will need to be for four quarters this time and there can't be any excuses. If Kansas can accomplish that, Quinn Mecham(I think everyone can finally spell his name) has shown that he has the ability to manage a game.
It starts up front, it starts with being able to run and then it becomes a balanced attack. Quite a bit different from the formula we've had over the last three seasons.
Kansas Defense vs. Nebraska Offense
This is a scary matchup plain and simple. Taylor Martinez is expected to play and Kansas has not done well in containing explosive quarterbacks. The good news is he's not a great passer. The bad news is he's good enough. The second concern is the ability for Nebraska's other backfield members to be just as potent.
What Kansas most likely needs to do is spy the quarterback. Hell you might spy him with more than one. Defensive ends will need to be playing extremely assignment sound and then we have to find another to cue on Martinez while not ignoring Helu and Burkhead.
My initial hope would be someone like Lubbock Smith. Bad news, he's out. An even better scenario would have been a healthy Keeston Terry, but again he's been out for weeks. So perhaps Chris Harris or Olaitan Oguntodu become the guy?
I'm not sure, but I hesitate to put any one of the Kansas linebacking corps on that assignment because it's a horrible matchup and it's going to leave open some major opportunities for Helu and Burkhead to break off a big one.
Either way it's about stopping the run. Tough to believe the Jayhawks can truly stop it, but you have to keep the big play potential down and try to force a few turnovers and a few field goals rather than touchdowns. Easier said than done.
Kansas has looked better in recent weeks in this department. Jacob Branstetter was solid last week providing several touchbacks off of long kickoffs and he proved Mark Mangino wrong when he effectively managed an onside kick.
The return game still lacks a little bit of explosion but all in all it's serviceable. I wouldn't be confident enough in saying this is an area Kansas can win, Nebraska has arguably the best kicker in school history with Alex Henery. And quite frankly there have been a few too many hiccups during the year to have much confidence at all in this area.
Right now Coach Aaron Stamn is definitely one of the staff members that I think everyone is going to be paying close attention to going forward. If special teams doesn't improve, Kansas will always face an uphill battle.
Bo Pelini and his staff have resurrected a program in relative short order. They play extremely tough defensively and they seem to know exactly who they are and how they want to beat you.
Right now Kansas and Turner Gill are still on that emotional rollercoaster. Last weeks come from behind "miracle" certainly showed further signs of maybe turning a corner, but that's only on the buy in/"believe" side of things. Gill will still have to show he can get that for four quarters and he'll then have to show that his group can come up with a great gameplan before they'll be viewed as a staff that can win a lot of coaching matchups.
The Big 12 is full of some great coaches. You've got to earn the reputation and no matter how many times you stand up at a press conference and talk about what the staff has done, it's what's done at Kansas that matters. There are definitely some good things that appear to be happening, but it's still "wait and see" mode for Kansas.