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October 2, 2013

Ask the Expert: Kansas

To get the inside scoop on Kansas, we went to an expert on Jayhawk football -- Jon Kirby with JayhawkSlant.com -- with questions about KU and Saturday's game in Lawrence.

Last year, Kansas took Tech to overtime and really had a legitimate shot at winning that game in Lubbock, of course a lot has changed since last year, but does Kansas have a chance at pulling off the upset this week in Lawrence?
JK: "I think last year there were some things that actually played in Kansas' favor. They had switched their whole (offensive) scheme. They were getting their running backs involved. They went to more of a quarterback run game -- a zone read offense -- and it really helped Kansas because it allowed them to keep their offense on the field, keep other teams' offenses off the field.

"They were really able to get past Texas Tech for some big gains and some nice runs and I think they had Texas Tech on their heels. The difference is that this year Kansas has lost three of their top offensive linemen. So this year, that type of running game hasn't been there for Kansas. They've got four new starters on their offensive line. They're all trying to gel, they're all trying to get better and improve every week, but they don't have the three guys that had about 90 starts between them, that were better in the Big 12 to open up those lines.

"So, I think this game, I don't see Kansas doing what they did on the ground against Texas Tech that they did last year. They're going to have to find other ways to move the football."

Jake Heaps was considered a premier prospect coming out of high school, he had some success at BYU, sat out last season and now he's got Kansas sitting at 2-1 heading into conference play. Is Heaps the guy that can turn this thing around for the Jayhawks and can he show why he was a top prospect out of high school against Texas Tech?
JK: "He's got the ability. I think Kansas fans saw some of that last week against Louisiana Tech. He had some nice passes and they changed some things in the passing game that maybe even played more in his favor with doing some five-wide sets and empty backfield and four-wide with one in the backfield. He started to look comfortable last week when they started to spread the field a little bit and they started to go a little bit more hurry-up, and he started to make quick decisions.

"He throws a nice ball and he can definitely make the passes. You don't set all of the BYU freshman passing records in the history of the school there unless you have some ability. And if you go back and look at all the quarterbacks that have gone through BYU, to set all those records, it's not blind luck. So he has the ability to do it.

"In week two against Rice, they had five drops on third down for him that would have been first downs. He needs some help, too. He can't do it all by himself, he's going to have to have some guys that have to step up and help him out."

Who needs to step up and have a big game specifically to help out Heaps?
JK: "I think the offensive line has got to play well against Texas Tech. The offensive line has got to run block and protect because, if Kansas is going to move the ball against Texas Tech, they're going to have to be balanced. This isn't going to be like last year where they can line up and put up all the running yards they did on the ground."

Tech's offense is not what it was last year, but it's been getting the job done. Does the Kansas defense have the capacity to limit Baker Mayfield and the Tech offense enough to grab and maintain a lead?
JK: "One of the things that will help Kansas is playing Rice and Louisiana Tech. I want to say those teams ran between 85 and 90 plays. And I know Texas Tech likes to play fast and they want to snap as many balls as they can. So one thing that will help Kansas is they've worked really hard on trying to mimic that pace that Texas Tech plays with and really be ready for it.

"One thing that's really improved so far with Kansas defensively is their secondary. They've done a nice job with their pass breakups and coverage. They've got athletic safeties that are both junior college guys that are newcomers, but they play the pass well. I think Kansas' defense has better personnel and a better scheme this year than they did last year against Texas Tech."

What is the biggest strength of this Kansas team?
JK: "Texas Tech's going on the road, they'll have to be up super early in the morning for the first time all year. It's their first time really playing away from home. It's Kansas' homecoming, there should be a decent Kansas crowd out there.

"The Kansas kids have an extra bounce in their step. Although the win against Louisiana Tech wasn't pretty, they're 2-1. They've had an extra energy because they know they're 2-1 and they don't care how they got there and how bad it looked. So I think the kids are starting to figure out what it's like to win, and that was a tough win they had against Louisiana Tech, they got to drive 60 yards in the final minute and a half and kicked a 57-yard field goal to win it. So they're starting to build some confidence.

"I think there's some things that help Kansas here and that the kids are starting to believe and see that they can win close games and win games period, and also play in front of their crowd at homecoming. I think those are things that might be in their favor."

Best-case scenario outcome for Kansas?
JK: "Best case scenario would be that Kansas starts quick, starts early and builds a lead, and builds some enthusiasm. I know that Texas Tech has had some deals with their quarterbacks the past couple games that they've had to change out quarterbacks, and they start second-guessing what they're doing at quarterback, and Kansas just builds some momentum early on and start to believe that they can win and it snowballs from there."

Worst-case?
JK: "Worst case would be that we see a repeat of 2008, where Texas Tech just comes flying out of the gate. If Texas Tech just comes out and gets Kansas behind and gets them down, then I think maybe the kids will erase that feel good moment of that field goal going in at the end a couple weeks ago and start hanging their heads and looking back at what has been the last year or so."

What's your actual prediction?
JK: "What I really think is going to happen, I think both teams are going to come out -- I think it's got the ability to be a good football game. As Aaron Dickens and I have joked about, these teams have played some wild games and have some unpredictable outcomes since about 2001. I don't know what it is in the water with these two teams when they play. I think it's going to be a good game, I think it's going to be a fun game, I think you're going to see some things you probably didn't expect to see.

"In the end, though, I think Texas Tech is playing well and they're a little bit of a better team, and I think in the end that's going to end up proving out. So I'm going to go with a good, competitive game, I think Kansas will play well, but in the end I'm going to say Texas Tech 30, Kansas 24."



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