Neither history, logic nor reason are on the side of the Kansas Jayhawks (2-3, 0-2) heading into their matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners (4-0, 1-0).
Oklahoma has won the last 14 head-to-head meetings, and the gory details are even more grim. KU did give OU a fight last season, with a career day from then-freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr. helping the Jayhawks to only lose 55-40 on the road. But the Sooners once again have the best offense in the nation averaging a preposterous 10.2 yards per play, which is a full two yards more than second place.
Kansas, meanwhile, was blown out in embarrassing fashion last week by TCU and will play the rest of the season without one of its best players, senior running back Khalil Herbert, who abruptly left the team last weekend.
Expectations are low for the Jayhawks this Saturday against a favorite to reach the College Football Playoff.
Where: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas
When: 11:00 a.m., Oct. 5
Coach Les Miles has been talking about getting Williams the ball more and more, and without Herbert around anymore that’s going to be a necessity. Williams is explosive, which he showed off last season in Norman, but was completely shut down on the ground by TCU last week, rushing for just 12 yards on eight carries. Running the ball effectively is the only was the Jayhawks can be competitive in this game. Some relief in that department could come from either junior Dom Williams or freshman Velton Gardner, the latter of whom had a long touchdown run last week. Senior quarterback Carter Stanley took care of the ball last weekend, which was a positive, but he needs to be far more efficient this week. Short, rhythm passes to the likes of junior wide receiver Andrew Parchment or junior wide receiver Stephon Robinson will be paramount to finding success through the air. Facing a daunting uphill battle, KU may as well dig deep in the playbook on Saturday.
Every defense looks bad against the Oklahoma offense, so it’s fair to not expect much from the Jayhawks in that regard. That said, if they can tackle at even a mediocre level it would be a step up from what Texas Tech did against OU last weekend. The normally good KU secondary struggled against TCU, allowing over 11 yards per pass. That was good enough for three Horned Frogs quarterbacks to combine for a 190.01 passer efficiency rating. The biggest issue for the Jayhawks defense this year has been an inability to take the ball away. Kansas hasn’t forced a turnover since Week 1, a brutal regression to the mean from the program’s positive turnover luck a year ago.
The Sooners lead the country in yards per play, total offense and are second in points per game. Senior quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the top 25 rushers in the country and is the clear Heisman Trophy favorite (for now). Coach Lincoln Riley has helped mold Hurts into a more competent passer, which in turn has taken the OU offensive machine to another level of lethality on the ground and in the air. The Jayhawks will have their hands full with one of the best stables of running backs in the country, because not only will Hurts beat you on the ground, but the running backs trio of juniors Trey Sermon and Rhamondre Stevenson and sophomore Kennedy Brooks are all able to break off huge runs at any time. The Oklahoma passing game can be dangerous, but the running game sets the tone.
What makes this year’s Sooners even scarier than those of recent years is that they finally have a competent defense. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch deserves Broyles Award recognition already for how much he’s been able to improve that side of the ball. OU has a top-30 scoring defense and is in the top 50 in total defense this season. The Sooners are somewhat susceptible to the run, though, allowing 153.3 yards per game on the ground. After getting torched by Pooka Williams last season, Oklahoma knows the run game is where its focus needs to be this week.
Where will the improvement be this week? Nobody sensible person is picking the Jayhawks to win this week, but it would still be a positive sign for the program if there’s a notable improvement from last week in any area. Frankly, multiple improvements would be considered a win to a degree. Finding success on the ground without the Big 12’s leader in yards per carry would be a start. Stanley completing over half of his passes without a turnover would be a low bar to hurdle but still a positive step. If the defense can force a takeaway or force Hurts into less incredible numbers than he normally puts up (reminiscent of that group’s effort against Baker Mayfield in 2017) it would at least leave fans something to feel positively about. There probably won’t be many reasons to feel that way on Saturday.
What’s their final score going to be? It seems dismissive to simply call this game and not give the home team a chance, but there’s a reason why Oklahoma is nearly a five-touchdown favorite. Nobody has come close to stopping OU’s offense yet this season, and the Jayhawks, who just gave up 51 a week ago, are not a particularly good candidate to stop them. Unfortunately for Kansas, the defense is still its better unit. If Hurts is on his game early this one could be over by the half. Don’t be surprised to see backup quarterback Tanner Mordecai playing late.
Key Player to Watch
Pooka Williams. The sophomore stud was ineffective in the run game last week, and while he did catch a late touchdown pass he needs to perform better on the ground. A lot of factors will need to come together for that to happen, including his own effort, offensive line play and smart play calling. This matchup last year was the game that put Williams on the map nationally and there’s no better time than now for him to have his biggest game of 2019. There will be a lot of scoring at The Booth on Saturday, but if Williams doesn’t get going there won’t be many attributed to the Jayhawks. The best case scenario for Kansas, though, is that he does break off a few big runs and can trade fireworks with Oklahoma off and on.
Hurts. This isn’t for any particularly unique reason, he’s just the likely Heisman winner at this point. The numbers he’s putting up are absurd and he’s truly remarkable to watch. If you saw him play at Alabama you already knew he was dynamic if not a somewhat lacking passer. With an offensive line composed entirely of future pros, open receivers everywhere and arguably the best offensive coach in the nation helping him, he’s ascended to a new plane. Oklahoma is going to score a ton of points this weekend and watching Hurts throw and run for plenty of them will be a scintillating viewing experience, even if you’re cheering on KU.
Spread: Kansas +32
Pick: Oklahoma covers
Brendan’s picks ATS to date: 1-4
It just keeps getting worse for our picks against the spread. We’ve officially entered “pick against our pick” territory. That said, while the number this week is gigantic, Oklahoma is several classes above Kansas right now.