Kansas comes into this weekend’s game ranked 16th with a 7-2 record. That sentence alone tells you how much things have changed under coach Lance Leipold in Lawrence. While the Big 12 may not have a bunch of heavyweights at the top this year, it’s a deep conference with very few “easy games.” Saturday’s matchup is no exception, as Texas Tech comes to town with just a 4-5 record, but well-respected by the analytical models and, at the time of publishing, just a 4 point underdog on the road against the Jayhawks.
If you still think of Texas Tech as the pass-heavy program led by air raid aficionados like Mike Leach (RIP) and Kliff Kingsbury, it’s time to readjust. Tech has run the ball more than they’ve passed this year, and with fair amount of success, racking up 1,554 yards as a team with a running back, senior Tahj Brooks, accounting for over 1,000 of those yards through just nine games. Brooks averages 5.4 yards per carry and has more than half the team’s rushing attempts, so watch for him to get the ball early and often. More of an old school workhorse type of back than an explosive home run threat, Brooks, has run the ball 31 times in each of Tech’s last two games, and has carried the ball 25 times or more in four of their last six. Brooks isn’t a speedster and doesn’t break free for a lot of long gains. What the 5’10, 230 pound bruiser does is run the ball effectively, rarely losing yardage and reliably picking up at least a few even against stacked boxes. Part of the reason for the run-heavy attack this year has been instability at the quarterback position. Sophomore Behren Morton took the starting job from senior Tyler Shough after Shough suffered a broken leg against West Virginia on September 23. Morton has been safe but mediocre as the Red Raiders’ signal caller, with just one game this year where he’s thrown for over 200 yards, which came last week in their 35-28 win over TCU where he was an impressive 28-36 for 282 yards and 2 TDs without any picks. He’s completing nearly 62% of his passes this year, but frequently opts for the safe options near the line of scrimmage, picking up just 6.3 yards per attempt. While he hasn’t shown much ability to lead big drives by slinging the ball all over the yard, he doesn’t make many mistakes, having thrown just two interceptions across 155 passes. His primary targets are seniors Xavier White and Myles Price (27 and 38 catches for 388 and 381 yards, respectively), and sophomore Jerand Bradley (31 catches for 332 yards). Bradley is listed as a receiver but has a borderline tight end’s build, standing 6’5, 220 lbs and causing mismatch potential if lined up across sub-6-foot cornerbacks.
Defensively, Tech has been fairly middle-of-the-road, ranking 53rd in sp+’s defensive efficiency metric. They’ve been very tough against the run, allowing just under 4 yards per carry to opponents, and average against the pass, giving up about 6.6 yards per throw. They don’t get to the quarterback frequently, ranking 101st in FBS with just 16 sacks all year. And for a team that shuts down the run pretty well, they don’t create much havoc up front, ranking 100th with 46 TFLs as a team for the year. This is all indicative of a team that just tries to hold their own in the trenches while the second- and third-level defenders step up to make the plays. Freshman linebacker Ben Roberts is a perfect example of this, leading the team with 72 total tackles, including 4.5 for a loss of yardage. Senior safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson will be all over the field as well, with 53 tackles and tied for a team high three interceptions this year.
ESPN’s sp+ sees Tech and Kansas are near-equals, with Tech 35th overall (28th offense, 53rd defense, 21st special teams) and Kansas coming in at 40th (18th offense, 78th defense, 57th special teams). Morton is a pocket QB, which makes me feel a bit better about the Kansas defense, which struggles against mobile QBs. His safe, short yardage passing game is a bit of a double-edged sword. Starting corner Mello Dotson’s status is up in the air this week, and going up against a team that lets it fly and racks up big passing plays would be scary. At the same time, we’ve seen teams have success against this year’s Kansas defense by working the ball down the field using short and intermediate passes that don’t give the Jayhawks’ front line disruptors time to affect the play. The Jayhawks have been pretty decent against the run, but do have issues tackling at times, and Brooks is a load who thrives on getting that extra yard or two after first contact.
On the other side of the ball, Tech has stopped the run well this year, but Andy Kotelnicki still typically finds ways to get Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw room to move even against teams who play well in the front seven. Until we see Jalon Daniels, we can continue to assume it will be Jason Bean under center, but it’s hard to complain too much given what Bean has been able to accomplish in recent weeks.
This is far from a layup type game, and if Kansas turns the ball over or makes a couple of big mistakes that lead to huge plays, this could easily be a disappointing home loss. Despite being 4-5, Texas Tech is a solid opponent. With that said, Kansas is playing at home, and is really settling in with Bean at quarterback, and is finally starting to see an uptick in defensive performance. I’ll pick Kansas to win, but in a game that’s likely to still be in doubt in the 4th quarter.
Kansas 34, Texas Tech 27