Baylor welcomes Kansas to Waco at 2:30 on Saturday for Homecoming. The Bears should win this game.
But KU had an excellent game against TCU. I was at that game, and if a few things broke Kansas’ way, the Jayhawks would have had David Beaty’s first win against a power five opponent. I also got a sunburn at that game. Yes, I wore a Baylor ugly Christmas sweater and got a sunburn in Kansas in October. 2016 has truly been the worst year imaginable. But back to the game. The Jayhawks missed three field goals and lost by one. They had the ball inside the TCU one on another occasion (and it seems the replay booth should have ruled the previous play a Kansas touchdown), but the running back ran away from the hole and was stuffed in the backfield.
I’ve told this story on the podcast, but I always like retelling it. Before close at a Chipotle in Lawrence last year, I stood behind Coach Beaty in line. I did not feel like bothering the man. We were all just looking to grab some fast casual Mexican food and deal with the tough winters of Kansas. But Coach Beaty had an order I’ve never seen. He skipped both the rice and the beans. He got chicken, steak, and salsa. Make whatever metaphor you want out of that story. Coach Beaty is certainly making whatever burrito bowl he’d like.
How did they almost beat TCU?
The Jayhawks did a few things well. First, Ryan Willis took over as quarterback and put together some nice drives. Willis is a sophomore and began the season sharing duties with Montell Cozart.
Despite his stat line, Willis played well. He finished with zero touchdowns and three interceptions, but that is misleading. Willis did not make many bad throws on the day, and one of those interceptions was not his fault.
The Jayhawks took advantage of options underneath against TCU’s defense. LaQuvionte Gonzalez finished with eight receptions for 131 yards. Gonzalez often made something happen after the catch:
The Jayhawks also made Kenny Hill look terrible. Hill missed some throws he made in earlier games against South Dakota State and Arkansas, though I do not believe he is as good as Mahommes, Mayfield, Russell, and Rudolph. But he’s still a good quarterback, and the Jayhawks secondary made a nice play on this ball:
But KU is still pretty bad, right?
Yes. They are improving, and you can understand how this team could be a lot better before too long.
Willis has two big problems. First, his passes often get deflected at the line, which can lead to problems:
Second, Willis struggles with holding onto the ball for too long, which in turn is amplified by Willis not being a good quarterback when he faces pressure. Against Texas Tech, Willis missed a wide open receiver and touchdown opportunity after he avoided some pressure:
On other occasions, Willis lacks pocket awareness and takes too many sacks. The Jayhawks had to use a couple timeouts on their final drive against TCU because Willis took sacks KU could not afford.
The Jayhawks defense did much better facing the run against Texas Tech and TCU. Against Ohio, KU gave up 329 rushing yards. It’s easy to imagine Shock Linwood running like this against KU:
You have a degree from Kansas and have to deal with winter, what do you expect KU might do against Baylor?
If I were KU, I’d consider using Cozart in the red zone. Cozart does far better under pressure, and he gives the Jayhawks more options near the end zone. Willis played the entire TCU game, and he played pretty well. Still, don’t be shocked if Cozart gets some plays in the red zone.
I would not expect KU to adopt the Iowa State or Kansas State formula of playing slower and limiting the total number of possessions. Normally, that’s an effective strategy because if a team is an underdog, limiting the number of possessions means a higher variance and better chance to win. But KU does not want to play that slowly. KU could try this, but the Jayhawks still played a pretty fast game against TCU. Beaty, who also serves as KU’s offensive play caller, wants the Hawks to play with some tempo, and I expect he will against the Bears.
KU may also try and load the box and play some cover zero or cover one. Russell has missed some throws early in the season. He’s still the ninth best quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus,and capable of making this throw:
KU may shy away from playing such an aggressive defense because of a fear of having to leave K.D. Cannon or Ish Zamora one-on-one. Iowa State often left Zamora one-on-one and he had a less effective day. But Cannon and Zamora have not played a full game together, and Oklahoma State found out what Zamora can do when he gets single coverage:
All right, who wins?
Baylor has a much better team and is playing at home. KU showed they are getting better and capable of upsetting someone when they play their best. But Baylor should be able to force the Jayhawks into some tough decision on defense. If the Bears get good pressure, this should be a blowout. If they don’t, the game may be close for a while.
I think the Bears force a few turnovers, move the ball well and win 52-21.