Kansas takes to the road this weekend, traveling to Durham, North Carolina in what could have been a matchup between the last two Power 5 teams to have a track around their field. Sadly, Duke is all that remains in those ranks now.
The major side story of this will inevitably be how Duke coach David Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee when one Peyton Manning went through there, and of course Kansas coach Charlie Weis was the Patriots offensive coordinator when Tom Brady began his run. America can't escape that rivalry.
On the field, each team has some positives to take away from their first game (or in Duke's case, first two games) and each has some areas to work on. While Duke is favored by anywhere from 15 to 16.5 depending on where you look, there are a number of key areas that can help Kansas steal an away victory.
1. First Down Success Rate
Success rate on first down is simply attaining 50% of the yardage needed for a first down. In their game against Troy, Duke had a (roughly) 43% success rate on first down. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, gave up just a 23% success rate on first down to SEMO. The level of competition is going to ramp up, but if the Jayhawks can consistently put Duke in tough down and distance situations, that will go a long way to controlling the Duke offense.
2. Limiting Explosiveness
Last Saturday, SEMO had a PPP (points per play) of .42. Obviously raw PPP is not as good as adjusted PPP (because it's easier to score from the 1 than the 50, and raw PPP can be influenced by field position). Adjusted over a full season, .42 would be a pretty damn good PPP. Needless to say, giving up that many points per play against an FCS team probably doesn't bode well for the rest of the season. Kansas also allowed touchdowns of 26, 37, and 68 yards.
3. Third Downs
This one is a bit more generic, but Kansas was just 5-15 on third downs in the SEMO game. Duke was 8-17 against Troy, but also allowed the Trojans to go 8-17 on third down. Obviously this is small sample size at its finest, and over a one or two game sample one can't glean anything about a team's ability to stop (or convert) on third downs. But while this will mostly come down to luck, it will also heavily impact who wins the game.
4. Fourth Downs
Far more important to me is what will happen on the key fourth downs. Weis has shown to be a conservative coach on fourth down (to put it mildly) really only going for it when forced to due to Kansas's abysmal kicking situation. Meanwhile, Duke (2-3) and SEMO (3-3) both enjoyed fourth down success last week.
This is all just an excuse to have a philosophical discussion about fourth down and point out that coaches are way too conservative in opting to punt or kick a field goal when they should go for it, even with an offensive line like KU's. There will be a key fourth down in this game, and Kansas will punt instead of going for it, and I will break my remote control. I'd better go shopping.
5. Tony Pierson
Quite frankly, Pierson is too good to be playing football at Kansas. He had a 67 yard touchdown reception against SEMO, and also rushed 3 times for 44 yards. In all, he averaged 20 yards per touch. The bad news is Kansas only got him the ball 7 times.
With Pierson's injury history and some of the other offensive talent (finally) surrounding him, it makes sense to limit his touches somewhat. But as good as Nick Harwell and the two new running backs have shown to be, Pierson is the guy who wouldn't look out of place on any college football field in America, and it would behoove the Jayhawks to get him the ball in space as often as they can.