Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kansas - Kansas State preview

When the season started, this game loomed as a “gotcha” game for Kansas—a rivalry game sandwiched between a big road contest in Lubbock and a home game against the betting favorite in the Big 12 North—Nebraska. Instead, this game will pit the unexpected Big 12 North leader, Kansas State, versus a Kansas team which is dealing with a 1-3 league mark, a benched quarterback and a coach who suddenly is defending personnel decisions.

The betting line is Kansas +2.5 points. Let’s break down the matchup.

Overall Series Record: KU-65, KSU-35, 5 ties.

Offense: Advantage – Kansas.

I'm giving the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt on this one. Through the first five games of the season, KU was a national leader in points scored and passing offense, and their rushing attack wasn’t too shabby either, even without Jake Sharp. Since then, the offense has sputtered—too many turnovers, dropped passes and an offensive line which, even in the head coach’s words, has “regressed.” Kansas State, on the other hand, has found a rhythm on offense, featuring the conference’s leading rushing attack with Daniel Thomas (902 yards and 10 TDs this season), and came back last week against a stout Oklahoma defense. (The Wildcats were within five points at one point in the fourth quarter.)

It would be easy to say KSU has the advantage here. But, I like the set jaw I’ve seen on Todd Reesing this week. After witnessing what he’s done the past three seasons, it’s hard to suggest he won’t come back and lead a potent attack this week.

Defense: Advantage – Push.

I’m tempted to go with KU given the improved performances of the past three weeks. The most disturbing thing, though, is how Texas Tech gashed Kansas’ D last week in the 4th quarter behind Baron Batch’s three TDs. So, who will we see on Saturday—the Kansas defense which was a league leader against the run earlier in the season or the one from the final 15 minutes last week?

The Wildcats gave up 458 yards last week at OU and didn’t have a sack or a turnover—something which will be crucial for this unit on Saturday. Oklahoma also had its way on third downs, converting 10 of 13. KSU, on the season, is allowing a 40% conversion rate on third downs.

Special Teams: Advantage – Kansas State.

Can you say “Brandon Banks?” Where does Bill Snyder find these kids on an all-too-regular basis? I will be amazed if Banks does not run one back against a Kansas kick coverage team which has too often relied upon kicker Jacob Branstetter to make a tackle at midfield on a return.

On the Kansas side, punter Alonso Rojas is having a good year and Branstetter showed he had big range with his 57 yard FG against Oklahoma. The kick return team rarely gets the ball past the 20—which has been part of Kansas’ offensive problems—and the punt return team has yet to break a big return.

Coaching: Advantage – Kansas State.

My observation is that Bill Snyder is doing his best coaching job in years—it’s almost as if part of what motivated him to come back was to make up for the final two years on his previous Kansas State career when his teams went 4-7 and 5-6. Mangino, on the other hand, is suffering through three straight losses with a team which had high expectations.

Intangibles: Advantage – Kansas State.

KSU has lost three straight to Kansas including an embarrassing loss last year in Lawrence. The year before, Kansas came to Manhattan and beat the #24 ‘Cats. The two teams’ seasons went in opposite directions after that--KU ascended to a BCS bowl victory and KSU ended the season 5-7 and fourth in the Big 12 North.

Kansas State has momentum, a legendary coach on the sideline (again), a home crowd who will be fired up (although I was surprised that 4,000 tickets were announced as still available on Wednesday of this week) and are 4-0 in Bill Snyder Family Stadium this season. A win here would make the ‘Cats 4-2 in the league and firmly positioned as the likely North winner.

Prediction: Kansas State 33, Kansas 27…in overtime.

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