NOTE: Before you read this preview, go read S11's work on BearsTruth if you have a subscription. He does a great job.
Kicking things off tonight, if you want a look at the Kansas depth chart for the game tomorrow afternoon, you need look no further than pages 3 and 4 of the game notes. Page 3 has the offense and page 4 the defense that Baylor will see tomorrow, complete with somewhat hilarious pictures of each player. I don't think I've ever seen a depth chart with pictures actually on it before.
Last night, in the first part of this preview, I posted both absolute and advanced statistics (FEI and S&P+) for both major matchups-- the Baylor offense against the Kansas defense and vice versa. When I reference them today, check back on that thread to know what I'm talking about.
Before I get started, take note of the fact that there are no major changes in Baylor's depth chart for this game. Everything is the same, meaning there were no serious injuries from Iowa State, as last week. Mike Hicks and Sam Holl are still starting at safety with Chance Casey and Joe Williams at the corners. Rodney Chadwick is somehow still over Bryce Hager at MLB. I can't explain these things, I'm just reporting that they are supposedly true.
That said, let's start with the Baylor O vs. the Kansas D.
Baylor Offense vs. Kansas Defense
- Kansas' defense is better than you thought, right? Very Iowa State-esque in how they play, both in terms of results and scheme. Dave Campo (of Dallas Cowboys fame) is the DC in Lawrence and runs what is basically a traditional 4-3. Sophomore Ben Heeney (6-0, 225) leads the defense in tackles from the MLB position, flanked by redshirt freshman Jake Love (6-0, 220) and junior Huldon Thorp (6-0, 227). They are an undersized unit predicated on speed. The entire defense, actually, relies on speed rather than size, to keep defenses in check.
- According to S&P+ "passing downs" metric, Kansas is one of the best teams in the country at stopping opposing offenses when they get into passing downs situations. They rank 2nd. The problem is that they are one of the worst teams according to FEI at getting to that point. They give up too many yards on first and second down to get to the passing downs where they have so far excelled. It will be incredibly important for us to run the ball well on first down and keep out of bad situations.
- Looking to stop our running game will be a defensive line anchored by juniors Jordan Tavai (6-3, 290) and Kevin Young (6-3, 285) in the middle, both of whom will cede significant weight to our interior offensive line. Remember that JR Cyril Richardson will sit out the first half of this game due to a suspension for his bone-headed ejection last week, so that's an issue.
- In the pass rush, Kansas will throw two seniors, Toben Opurum (6-1.5, 250) and Josh Williams (6-4, 255) at our young tackles. Opurum is clearly the better of the two and leads the team in sacks with 5. Kansas doesn't sack the QB all that much as a team-- they average only 1 per game-- but if someone does, it will be him. Opurum lines up in a two-point stance on the strong side most of the time as a pure pass rusher.
- Kansas' secondary is manned by 3 seniors and 1 junior, with Greg Brown (5-10.5, 185) and Tyler Patmon (JR, 5-11, 180) as the starting corners. Brown is probably the better of the two, so we should look for him to draw the impossible task of limiting Terrance Williams (Terrence Williams), who racked up another 190+ yard receiving game last week against Iowa State. The safeties are Lubbock Smith (5-10, 200), who has missed two games this season to injury and is not from Lubbock, Texas, and Bradley McDougald (6-1, 209), both of whom are seniors. McDougald is the second-leading tackler on the team behind Heeney.
- According to the stats, Baylor's offense is as good right now in comparison to the rest of the league as it has ever been. Unfortunately, one of the things I don't think these stats track well is turnovers, where we have not played well. Too often we've done enough to score points and keep drives alive only to turn the ball over at the absolute least opportune time. Nick Florence has been far better than we could have ever expected at running the offense, but arguably worse at keeping the ball once we've gotten it. With our defense, we can't afford to give away possessions because it basically breaks our serve. We're not stopping anyone else, so we can't stop ourselves.
- Kansas' defense is decent, particularly for the Big 12, but not great. It certainly deserves more credit than I've given it. I think, given the home environment and the need for a strong showing, that the offense will score enough points to win. The only question is how many we give up.
Kansas Offense vs. Baylor Defense
- Here's my problem: I've used the word "awful" to describe our defense so many times that it's basically lost all meaning. But I can't say it any better than that. FEI, S&P+, absolute stats, you name it and our defense falls short. There is no good reason this should be the case, but it is. I'm not going to dwell on it because it drives me so crazy.
- On offense, Kansas has been at best inconsistent and at worst terrible this season. Weis runs a multi-set pro-style offense that wants to be balanced, but runs the ball much better than they pass, leading to a situation where they're decent enough in standard downs but horrible on passing downs. If you can get them to a situation where they have to throw the ball, things are probably going to go pretty well for you. They are one of the worst teams in the country in terms of explosive plays because of the total lack of a downfield passing game, but one of the best at methodical drives because they can run the ball. Repeat that, Kansas runs the ball A LOT. They have three running backs with more than 350 yards rushing on the season in James Sims (JR, 6-0, 200), Tony Pierson (SO, 5-10.5, 170), and Taylor Cox (JR, 5-11, 210). All of them average about 5 yards per carry, and all of them see significant time.
- Starting at QB for the Jayhawks tomorrow will not be Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist (SR, 6-4, 235), but redshirt freshman Michael Cummings (5-10, 201) who is built more like a running back than a QB. The Charlie Weis offense is much more limited with Cummings, who they absolutely do not trust to do much of anything with the ball. They will try to run, run, and run some more against our defensive front and limit possessions for our offense. There is nothing more important in this game than stopping the run on first and second down.
- Up front, the Kansas offensive line resembles most in the Big 12 in terms of size, but they've been extremely poor in pass protection this season giving up 2.63 sacks per game. Part of that is the lead-footed Crist, and part is the fact that they're just not very good in pass protection. That's another reason they'll try to run so much. Cummings is much better at escaping the pocket, though, so we have to make sure to keep contain with the DEs and stop him from beating us with his legs.
- One player to know on the outside of the formation is Chris Omigle (JR, 6-4, 200), who was at one point committed to the Baylor Bears. He's a big, physical receiver with excellent speed that the Jayhawk offense just hasn't been able to get the ball. I don't say you should know him because of his results but because of his connection to Baylor. Kale Pick (SR, 6-1.5, 205) leads the team in receiving yards, but if you added up their top 6, you still wouldn't have Terrance Williams' season total. Of course, now that I say that, Cummings will throw for 400 and 4 TDs on us tomorrow.
- If there is a bright side of this game, it is that Baylor's defense, as horrible as we have been, is best against the run. Kansas is best running the ball. In a manner of speaking, it is strength on strength, though that is probably stretching the definition of the word "strength" to absurdity. Baylor's best chance to truly limit the Kansas offense will be to either force them to throw the ball early or actually stop the run. If we can do that, we should be able to outscore them handily. We're 17-point favorites for a reason, after all.
This is a game Baylor has to and absolutely should win. We are a huge favorite, it's a Homecoming game that should draw a huge crowd, and everything I can find pushes in that direction. Of course, we've seen that situation happen before only to fall short, and anything is possible. That's why they play the games. The key for our offense will be limiting turnovers. The key for our defense, stopping the run. It's that simple.