The Texas Longhorns are carrying some baggage into Lawrence when they take on the Kansas Jayhawks Friday. It’s common knowledge that the last time Texas went on the road to play Kansas, the Longhorns lost in spectacular fashion, costing Charlie Strong his job.
Neither team is the same as they were two seasons ago, with the Longhorns surging under head coach Tom Herman and David Beatty on the way out, to be replaced by Les MIles.
The Jayhawks are a bit of an enigma, with their record not accurately reflecting the level of talent on the field. To try and get a read on the Jayhawks, we caught up with Andy Mitts of Rock Chalk Talk to break down what Kansas brings to the table. For more on the Jayhawks, you can head to Twitter to follow Andy (@mister__brain) or Rock Chalk Talk (@RockChalkTalk).
Burnt Orange Nation: He won’t be coaching Friday, but the biggest thing everyone wants to talk about is Kansas’s new head coach Les Miles. What are the expectations for the new head coach and how quickly do you think he can turn things around for the Jayhawks?
Rock Chalk Talk: The expectations aren’t anything too crazy, just that he has this team competing for bowl games starting by year 3. Obviously this team has a lot of scholarship deficits to overcome, and while he has said that this team is only a recruiting class or two away, it’s hard to imagine that he has enough talent currently to be consistently competitive.
Obviously, this is all being said before we know who is on the coaching staff for next year, so if they can get some guys that are good at developing the talent already here, maybe that can be accelerated. A really good recruiting class, even if it is small, can plug enough holes that maybe they can win 3 or 4 games next season, but I think many expect that next year will only have a couple wins, and that will be just fine.
BON: Against Oklahoma, the Jayhawks managed to score 40 points and really give the Sooners a run for their money. How did they find success on offense and what do you expect to carry over to this weekend’s game against Texas?
RCT: I think Breckyn Hager summed it up perfectly: OU’s defense sucks. We all know that Pooka is a special back, and I expect him to have a good game. It’s also unrealistic to think that a performance like that is anything other than an elite back finding a perfect match in a horrid defense. The KU offensive line is not as good as OU made them look, and while I fully expect Pooka to have more games like that next year, it’s asking too much for him to get another one this week against Texas.
That being said, Pooka is very talented, and if KU can get enough momentum with their defense, they can force the Texas defense to press too much, giving both Pooka and Khalil Herbert the openings they need to get their game going.
BON: Freshman Pooka Williams came into this season as one of the highest-ranked signees in school history and has turned into not just one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of the best running backs overall. Is this level of production what was expected in his first year with the Jayhawks?
RCT: Absolutely not. There was a lot of hope that he could carve out a role, but Khalil Herbert was expected to be the lead back this year. Also, Pooka’s size led many to think that he might have problems with his durability, especially since the offensive line was expected to be pretty bad this year. His unique skills have allowed him to find holes that really aren’t there, and he has been able to make guys miss at a surprising pace. I definitely won’t underestimate him going forward, but it was a surprise to see this, at least until week 5 or so.
BON: One of the brightest spots in the conference is the performance of senior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. He leads the country in solo tackles and ranks No. 7 in total tackles. What has been the secret to his success and what can fans expect from the Jayhawks’ leader on defense?
RCT: His football IQ is off the charts. He seems to know what angle he needs to take on basically every play to get in on the tackle, and it’s very unusual for a guy to go through him once he gets close enough to make the play. He doesn’t make a lot of flashy plays (he finally got his first INT this year), but he is always in on the play. I think that’s why he will probably be a solid special teams player at the next level that sees the field in a backup situation. I expect his name to be called many times on Saturday, and I expect him to keep the lead for TFL over Daniel Wise for the team when it is all said and done.
BON: What’s the matchup or area of the game you’re watching or you think is the most-crucial for Kansas?
RCT: It’s going to be the Kansas secondary against the Texas WRs. Kansas has a bad habit of getting beat deep, and the pass rush is a bit inconsistent, so it’s really going to come down to how well they can chip their guys at the line of scrimmage. The defense is going to have to set the tone for this game, and if the DBs keep getting beat deep, it’s going to be hard to keep the score close enough for the running game of Kansas to make a difference in this game.
BON: What’s your prediction for Friday?
RCT: I keep going back and forth on this game, partly because this will be an emotional Senior Day game and the final game for a coach that the players really love playing for, but also because I just don’t actually think this Texas team is as good as most people seem to think they are. I definitely won’t be surprised by any outcome here, but I do think that Sam Ehlinger has a tendency to push things a little too much. He’ll be amped up for this game, throw two picks (one to Mike Lee, and the other to Shakial Taylor or Coe Harris) and Pooka will have 100 rushing yards and 70 receiving yards and 3 TDs to lead the Jayhawks to another upset win. Give me Kansas 34, Texas 31.