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Scouting the Kansas Jayhawks

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Are the Jayhawks still a pile of crap?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns will travel to Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday for the yearly conference battle with the Kansas Jayhawks to kick off the Big 12 schedule.

For the first time in the history of meetings between the two schools, the Jayhawks will enter this game with a winning record and the Longhorns with a losing record, though that hasn't translated to a favorable line for head coach Charlie Weis and his squad.

Breaking down the Jayhawks position by position.

Quarterback

An attack that was heavy on screens and short passes against Central Michigan last week helped sophomore Montell Cozart turn in his most efficient collegiate game passing the ball, going 22-of-33 for 229 yards. However, in the previous game against Duke, his accuracy was a major problem on anything down the field. He also threw two interceptions and nearly had another pass picked off early in the game.

At his most dangerous on the perimeter, Cozart doesn't look to run as quickly as one might think for a quarterback who often struggles to make the ball go where he wants it to go. He is a good athlete with some elusiveness and Texas defenders will have to be wary of quarterback draws when the Jayhawks go empty, a formation where defensive coordinator Vance Bedford should be careful about dialing up blitzes every time.

However, Cozart hasn't been an especially effective runner on the year. Taking out sack yardage, he's still gained only 60 yards or so on the ground. Exchanges were also an issue against Duke, as the Kansas quarterback put the ball on the ground once on a zone read. It's been an issue all year, actually, perhaps in part because Cozart didn't run the option in high school.

Bedford compared Cozart to Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard to mark the first time since the opener that he hasn't compared the opposing starting quarterback to a former Heisman Trophy winner, but based on what Heard did in high school, he's a much more accurate passer than Cozart.

The six sacks on the year suggest that teams have been getting pressure on the sophomore, but the Jayhawks may continue to employ the short passing game in an effort to give Cozart easy passes to complete.

Running back

Freshman running back Corey Avery has taken the majority of the carries for the Jayhawks this season. Out of Dallas Carter, he was a mid three-star prospect out of high school, committing to Kansas just before Signing Day after receiving some late interest from the Horns.

At 5'10 and 180 pounds, he's a smaller back with good agility who has yet to show much explosiveness on the season -- despite carrying the ball 46 times, he has yet to break a run for more than 20 yards.

The other back heavily in the rotation is junior De'Andre Mann and the story is much the same for him. On the short side at 5'9, he's heavier than Avery at nearly 200 pounds, but hasn't shown much more big-play ability, as his long run has gone for only 21 yards.

The position was supposed to be a team strength for Kansas this year, but injuries and attrition eliminated four potential contributors before the season even started. For perspective, similar losses at Texas would have wiped out all of the scholarship running backs.

Wide receiver

Senior Tony Pierson is the most dangerous player on the Jayhawks roster. A hybrid athlete who has bounced back and forth between wide receiver and running back, he may be the most dangerous out of the backfield because of Cozart's accuracy issues.

The Jayhawks also have several big threats on the outside in Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay and Nick Harwell.

The 6'2, 210-pound McCay has been something of a disappointment -- a five-star prospect out of high school by Scout, McCay had only nine receptions during his first season in Lawrence. With five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, he is on his way to a more productive season.

Harwell sat out 2013 after transferring from MIami (Ohio), where he was the leading receiver in 2012 with 68 catches for 870 yards and eight touchdowns. On the season, he's been efficient, turning nine catches into two touchdowns.

Of course, the biggest problem for the receivers this year has been Cozart's ability to get them the football -- with some solid play from the cornerbacks, McCay and Harwell can be neutralized. The bigger threat will be Pierson taking a short pass and turning it into a big gain.

Tight end

Other than the explosive Pierson, the best offensive player for Kansas might be senior tight end Jimmay Mundine. A bit undersized at 6'2 and 240 pounds, he was honorable mention Big 12 last season for the second straight year and has to be accounted for in the red zone, as his five touchdown receptions led the Jayhawks last season.

Offensive line

The Kansas offensive line boasts two senior starters and three junior starters, but doesn't feature much experience overall -- coming into the season, the offensive line boasted only 36 starts, which ranked No. 110 in the country.

Senior left tackle Pat Lewandowski is the only starter with more than one letter and the center is a junior college transfer.

The right tackle also goes only 6'3 (listed), meaning that he could have some issues when going against a taller and longer player like Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, who has made good use of those long arms in the past to get to  quarterbacks.

Perhaps this is the week that Reed has his breakout performance for the 2014 season.

And the lack of big plays by the running backs who receive most of the carries and the poor per-carry average by Cozart -- less than one yard per attempt -- means that the offensive line is struggling to consistently create holes and has had some issues in pass protection.

Defensive line

Undersized and lacking in playmakers, the Kansas defensive line isn't exactly a team strength, having contributed only one of the four sacks on the season and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Texas should have success combo blocking the three-technique defensive tackle, junior TJ Semke, who weighs only 265 pounds.

But even the experienced Texas offensive line had problems last season with twists and slants, so that may be the biggest challenge for the inexperience group on Saturday -- since Kansas doesn't have a lot of talent along the line, the defensive coaches for the Jayhawks like to play games in the hopes of causing some havoc.

The key for the Horns will probably be the play of redshirt freshman center Jake Raulerson against Kansas nose tackle Keon Stowers. Fortunately, Stowers isn't that big of a nose tackle at 297 pounds and wasn't a playmaker last season, having made only 1.5 tackles for loss even though he started all 12 games.

Linebacker

Listed at 6'0, Ben Heeney is one of those undersized linebackers Kansas sometimes produces who get by on instincts and toughness rather than physical ability. Last season, he finished fourth in tackles per game in the conference and fifth in tackles for loss per game, but he sometimes struggles when offensive linemen can get to him at the second level -- he just doesn't have enough length.

He is effective defending against the pass, however, as he intercepted three passes last season, so Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes will have to be aware of where he is when he throws the ball over the middle. The good news is that the run action the Horns used to open up slants against the Bruins hold the linebacker inside because of that run threat.

Since the Jayhawks play in a base nickel, there's only one other linebacker on the field most of the time -- junior Jake Love, another undersized player who has actually been the best playmaker for Kansas this season with five tackles for loss and a sack among his 17 tackles.

Secondary

Former Darrell Wyatt recruit JaCorey Shepherd is probably the only player in the secondary who could start for most schools in the conference at cornerback -- he had two interceptions and broke up 13 more passes last season. At 5'11 and 190 pounds, he has to size to jam opposing wide receivers and his work on special teams demonstrates that he has some explosiveness to his game as well.

Swoopes might be well advised to avoid his side of the field.

Overall, though, the secondary hasn't been a strength for the Jayhawks, especially in run support, having given up runs of 68 and 69 yards to Duke true freshman running back Shaun Wilson, all without a lot of resistance. On the first run, the deep safety ran himself out of the play with poor eye discipline and didn't have the recovery speed at 6'1 and 210 pounds to even come close to stopping Wilson.

In fact, the Jayhawks are one of only 10 teams in the country to give up two or more runs of 60 yards or more.

Special teams

Shepherd has been excellent on kickoff returns this season, averaging more than 28 yards on six attempts, so he's a dangerous return man who can change field position -- Texas should probably concede some touchbacks with the strong leg of Nick Rose and the poor efforts covering kicks to far this season.

Against Central Michigan, Kansas gave up a 50-yard kickoff return. Other than that, the Jayhawks have mostly covered well. Could the Horns finally break a long return on kickoffs on Saturday?

Punter Trevor Pardula has probably been one of the team's better players, averaging 46.7 yards per punt -- he's another guy who can flip field position. No doubt the terrible offensive performance against Duke helped his numbers, as he not only attempted eight punts, but had enough room to average over 50 yards per punt.

On punt return, Kansas hasn't had many attempts, but Harwell did have a 30-yard return against Central Michigan. On the flip side, Duke was able to return a punt 45 yards.

Kicking field goals isn't a strength for the Jayhawks. Matt Wyman has handled the eight attempts on the season, but has made only four, hitting at 50% in each game. Of course, Texas hasn't been much better this season in that phase, so there isn't really an advantage there, just probably not a disadvantage.

There are some areas of strength for Kansas on special teams -- kickoff returns and punting, but there are some areas of weakness, like place-kicking.

Texas may actually be able to come out of the game with a win in the third phase.