The Kansas Jayhawks come off the bye week ready to face the offensively-gifted Texas Tech Red Raiders. To help preview the matchup, I reached out to our friends over at Viva The Matadors, and Jay Burrous was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
RCT: Every year, it seems like the season preview for Texas Tech is "offense will still be phenomenal, defense couldn't be any worse, but will there be enough improvement to make the Red Raiders relevant." Is that a pretty fair assessment of the expectations for this year, and how has the team performed against them?
VTM: The offense is solid-to-great, and I think we've all liked what we've seen from Nik Shimonek thus far. The running game has been up/down, but the hope is we'll improve there moving forward. On defense, we're four games in, and I can confidently say we're improved. I was hesitant to call us better following the Arizona State game, but the group performed fantastically against Houston, and admirably against Oklahoma State. We're finally capable of getting a few stops per game, and we have the talent to force turnovers. I'd say the fanbase expected to see improvement, and that's manifested so far.
RCT: The big story to come out of last week's game against Oklahoma State has to be the injury to Keke Coutee. How do you think that affects the TTU offense going forward, and will it matter this week against Kansas?
VTM: He's the most dynamic player we have on offense, and we'll miss his big play ability if he can't go. His ability to get open is rare, and he's played his way into NFL Draft circles. I'd say he's a bigger, smoother Jakeem Grant and has notably more upside. We'll see what happens, but I don't think they'll play him. There's too much at stake the rest of the season to force him back too early. Then again, he's a gamer, so we'll see what happens.
RCT: The defense is definitely improved from last year so far, although I think there might be some debate as to whether that improvement is sustainable. Who have been the key guys that have led to that improvement, and who will drive any further improvement you are expecting this year?
VTM: Eli Howard, a North Texas transfer, has been a huge player on the defensive line. He's had a few notable sacks, and pressures that we simply didn't get last year. Also, Demarcus Fields, a redshirt Freshman, has delivered two signature plays to start the season. If he doesn't take that interception to the house, we likely get blown out against OSU.
Given those two headliners (at least in my opinion) it's hard to spotlight only a handful of players. This is because the coaching staff did an incredible job going after Junior College transfers this past year. Specifically, Tony Jones, Jaylon Lane, Octavious Morgan, Vaughnte Dorsey, and Mych Thomas (JUCO from last year) are all starters and/or major contributors.
In regards to sustaining the success: expecting turnovers isn't a predictable stat, but I do think the coaches have done as much as they can from an emphasis standpoint to create that culture in the locker room. We'll see how the team reacts after the brutal loss last week, and I think that'll be indicator enough to what this team is all about.
RCT: What are the key matchups that you are expecting to see on Saturday?
VTM: Can we run the ball against a solid front seven? Thus far, we've been inconsistent at best in this department. The other key matchup is containing your running back. He ran all over WVU, and that makes me nervous, we'll need to be ready for Kansas to also pull out all the stops to win this game.
RCT: Prediction Time! How long does it take TTU to put this game out of reach? Which scrub looks like a first team all American? Final score?
VTM: I'm calling for 48-17 TTU, I think it'll be a reasonable game until the middle of the 3rd quarter, and I think you'll see a great performance from Antoine Cox-Wesley. He's a true-soph WR that stepped in for Coutee and played well, I have a feeling he'll get his first TD and 80+ yards receiving.
RCT: BONUS - Megaman or Pac-Man?
VTM: I suppose Pac-Man, but when it comes to the "big" video games - I was always a big Time Crisis guy.
A big thanks to Jay for helping us out today. For more pregame coverage, head on over to Viva The Matadors. I’m expecting my side of the Q&A to get posted this morning.