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What To Watch For: Previewing the Kansas Jayhawks

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The Horns could see a shift in scheme this Saturday from the new offensive coordinator for the Jayhawks.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Oklahoma at Kansas Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Beat Kansas!”

That was the exclamation from Texas Longhorns head football coach Tom Herman before he walked off the set of Monday’s post-Oklahoma press conference.

Beat Kansas, indeed. As the Longhorns move on from the disappointing loss in Dallas this past weekend against the rivals Sooners, Herman and company set their sites on a Kansas Jayhawks team adjusting to a new offense coming out of its bye week.

Following a 2-1 start to his inaugural season as the head ball coach at Kansas University, Les Miles watched his Jayhawks lose three in a row and then decided it was already time to make a significant change to his coaching staff.

Thanks to a 45-20 shellacking against Oklahoma two weeks ago, Miles wasted little time in firing then-offensive coordinator Les Koenning to promote offensive consultant Brent Dearmon to the role.

Failing to score more than 24 points in five of six games, Miles jumped on the decision a day after the loss as Kansas entered into a bye week that led up to this week’s game in Austin.

Now, it’s Dearmon’s turn to circle the wagons and attempt to provide the Jayhawks faithful with hope that Miles still has some magic under his hat and that Kansas can actually grow into a competitive football program in the Big 12 Conference.

What will the Texas defense see from a Dearmon-led Kansas offense this Saturday?

New Jayhawks offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon is an intriguing hire and promotion for Les Miles and Kansas.

Before joining Miles’ staff as a senior offensive consultant back in January of this year, Dearmon’s past included stints in the Alabama high school ranks, two seasons at Auburn with Gus Malzhan as an offensive analyst in 2013 and 2014, an offensive coordinator role at Arkansas Tech for three years, and one successful season as the head coach of Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee.

An alumnus and former decorated quarterback of Bethel University, an NAIA football program, Dearmon led the 2018 Wildcats team to a 10-0 record in his only season as head coach. Notably, his offense last season averaged over 540 yards per game as well as 55 points per game.

Dearmon is known as one of the up-and-coming offensive minds in football — his schemes tend to be RPO-heavy with interesting run concepts, and he literally wrote a book on RPO offense called The Evolution of the RPO.

It remains to be seen if Dearmon’s offense can translate to FBS football, and it will take more than just a bye week to fully install Dearmon’s vision for what the Kansas offense could become. But since he’s been on staff since January and has had extra time to prepare for a Texas defense looking to overcome more injuries and regroup, it could get a bit interesting in Austin on Saturday should Kansas find some success running some RPO offense with speedy running back Pooka Williams looming in the backfield.

Though Koenning ran a somewhat hodgepodge offense mixing in a few different concepts, including putting his quarterback under center in the I formation at times, some of the RPO offense sporadically used still shined through the muck during the team’s first six games.

Above we see sophomore running back Pooka Williams take a handoff on an RPO play and turn it into about a 20-yard first down. A 5’10, 170-pound speedster, Williams has the ability to break open a big run at any time.

Below, we see a similar formation run by Dearmon’s Bethel offense. Though a few things are flipped, the formation is relatively the same and this time the quarterback takes advantage of a coverage breakdown for an easy toss and score.

The Texas offense has mixed in more RPO this season, and it took the offseason to get to this point, so the Kansas offense likely won’t be able to run a significant amount of new RPO looks given that it’s been just two weeks since Dearmon has taken the reigns and been able to start coaching. However, it will be interesting to see how many RPOs they can lean on come Saturday.

When Kansas does run RPOs this weekend, the goal will be to provide quarterback Carter Stanley opportunities to make the right read and right decision based on the conflict the scheme could put Texas defenders in.

Above we see Bethel run another RPO play that goes for a score. The tight end on the play, a 6’5 277-pound H-back, runs a route upfield that takes a defender with him. By the time the defender reads the quarterback’s decision to hand the ball off rather than pass, it’s too late and the running back flips into the end zone for six.

Ironically, Kansas does have a 6’7, 260-pound tight end in James Sosinski. A dual-sport athlete who’s spent brief time with the Jayhawks basketball team, Sosinski has notched six receptions for 67 yards and a score this season.

The leading receiver for the Jayhawks is Andrew Parchment. The 6’2, 180-pound junior leads the team with 32 receptions for 432 yards and four scores.

Behind Pooka Williams is running back Khalil Herbert, who popped open this big run out of the I formation against Boston College earlier this season. We’ll find out if the I formation survives another week in the Big 12.

Stanley will handle the duties behind center. The senior has completed 65% of his passes for 1,175 yards, 12 touchdowns, and four interceptions. To this point, he hasn’t been much of a running threat and has made most of his plays on short and intermediate throws.

In all, the Texas defense should still be able to handle this evolving Kansas offense in its first game under Dearmon. At the very least, the Longhorns defense should be able to keep the opposing offense in front of them this weekend.

What type of defense will the Texas offense go up against Saturday?

Coming in at 9th in the conference in both total defense and points allowed, this match up should be a good opportunity for Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns offense to get back on track.

Kansas bases out of a 3-4 defense designed and led by first-year Jayhawks defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. Given Miles is familiar with the 3-4, it’s no surprise he went this route with his first defensive coordinator hire at Kansas.

Eliot made his way to Kansas after spending two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Colorado and four seasons in the same role at Kentucky.

Leaders on the Jayhawks defense include safeties Bryce Torendon, who leads the team in tackles with 43 total, and Jeremiah McCullough, who’s totaled four passes deflected and an interception. At 6’4 and 230 pounds, “Jack” outside linebacker Azur Kamara leads the team in sacks with 3.5.

It also looks like Kansas will still be without key inside linebacker Dru Prox, who had racked up 30 solo tackles in four games this season.

Texas needs a strong bounce back game this Saturday all around, and a home game against Kansas should provide just that. Even if the Kansas offense finds some sort of success with more emphasis on RPO plays, it likely won’t have enough gas to sustain itself through four quarters in Austin.

Offensively, this should absolutely be a game where the Longhorns correct back to the mean and score points throughout the day. In the end, the goal of making it back to the Big 12 Champion game is still alive, and as Herman alluded to on Monday, the focus is now on the next opponent.

“Beat Kansas!”