The Jayhawks are off to a 2-0 start after last week's wild game, in which Kansas put up huge offensive numbers and came up with an overtime pick six to seal a road upset over West Virginia. This somewhat unexpected early success has Jayhawk fans wondering just how high the limit might be for this team in Lance Leipold’s second year at the helm.
This week will offer a pretty good test of how Kansas stacks up to a slightly higher level of competition than what they faced in either of the last two weeks. Houston was ranked in the preseason Top 25, but they were barely hanging on to that spot after week 1, when UTSA (who is coming off a surprise 12-2 season following an 11-0 start in 2021), took them them to triple overtime. Houston squeaked out a 37-35 victory, but were down to 25th for their week two matchup with fellow Big 12 opponent Texas Tech. Once again the Cougars would find themselves in multiple overtimes, overcoming a 17-3 halftime deficit to tie it at 20 apiece after regulation. However, this time they couldn’t find the OT mojo and lost 33-30 in two overtime periods.
Needless to say, they’re no longer ranked in the top 25, sitting at 1-1 with two overtime performances against unranked opponents. The analytic rankings wouldn’t put them that high, either. Bill Connelly and ESPN’s sp+ rates them 48th, with a 36th ranked offense and 58th ranked defense. While that’s not indicative of a dominant team, the West Virginia team Kansas beat last week is sitting 24 spots lower at 72nd, so this should be the toughest team the Jayhawks have faced to date, and is almost certainly the toughest test of their non-conference slate.
It’s comforting to see Houston with a lower ranked defense at 58th, because the clear strength of this Jayhawk team is its offense, who marched up and down the field against West Virginia to a greater extent than #23 Pittsburgh was able to in the previous week. The Jayhawks may be able to once again rack up some points and hope for a shootout, which is likely their best path to a win. Kansas’ defense is ranked 103rd in FBS by the same rating system, and aside from a couple of miscues and turnovers, West Virginia pretty much got anything they wanted when they had the ball last week.
Houston’s offense will be led by senior quarterback Clayton Tune. Tune has 36 career appearances under his belt, and started every game for Houston last year, when he threw for over 3,500 yards with 30 TDs to 10 interceptions. He’s not necessarily a dual-threat QB, but he can run when he needs to, amassing more than 704 rushing yards in his career. For the most part, running will be left to freshman back Brandon Campbell. Campbell spent his true freshman year rushing just 12 times for USC before ultimately redshirting. The former 4 star recruit had an offer from Alabama coming out of high school, and he’s won the starting job early at Houston, though he’s put up a pedestrian 129 yards on 31 carries (4.16 ypc) so far. The primary target for Tune will no doubt be speedster Nathaniel Dell, who stands just 5’10, 160 lbs, but already has 12 catches for 170 yards and two TDs through two weeks. No other receiver has more than six catches for the Cougars so far. On the other side of the ball, the Kansas o-line will want to pay attention to where DE Derek Parish is lined up, as he’s been a menace for opposing offenses so far this year. The senior, through just two games, has racked up 6.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks, and will have his sights set on slowing down the offensive attack that put up 419 yards last week.
Jalon Daniels showed out against West Virginia last Saturday, and players like Devin Neal, Daniel Hishaw, and most of KU’s receiving corps are demonstrating that they can play. With Houston not having a whole lot to lean on when Parish isn’t wreaking havoc, I believe the Jayhawks will move the ball and score points in Houston. The real issue is on the other side of the ball. Kansas gave up 500 yards to West Virginia, and made wideout Bryce Ford-Wheaton look like Randy Moss, putting up 152 yards and 2 TDs on 11 catches. Kansas held up reasonably well against the run, but West Virginia doesn’t have the rushing attack (or a former Alabama recruit) that Houston does. If Kansas wins this game or comes close, it will be because the turnover gods smile upon them once again, or because they come up with multiple timely stops. There’s nothing to indicate this KU defense is going to slow Houston down, which means the offense will likely be forced to put up points nearly every time they touch the ball. They nearly did that against West Virginia, but overall, this is just a slightly tougher game against a slightly tougher team. Given that it took a couple of lucky breaks, in the form of a muffed punt and weakly thrown deep out that led to a pick six, for Kansas to pull off last week’s road win, it may take even more this time around. I’m confident in Kansas scoring some touchdowns, but I need to see more out of the defense before I’ll believe they can hold up their end.
Houston 42, Kansas 27 (never take gambling advice from internet strangers, but I really like the over in this one)