To take on one of the top teams in the country one week after being battered by another can be a daunting, if not humiliating, task.
But that’s not the way the Kansas University football team is approaching tonight’s match-up with No. 3 Oklahoma, which is ranked No. 1 in this week’s coaches poll.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” KU senior co-captain Steven Johnson said. “What’s happened in the past couple of weeks hasn’t been so great, but we still have a great opportunity playing the No. 1 team in the nation. If we can go out there and get a win, it could really turn everything around. It could give us our momentum back and give us our confidence back. It’s all about this week and what we have to do this week to get a win.”
Johnson’s not the only Jayhawk who believes this team has a chance to right the ship. At the urging of their head coach, these guys have forgotten the past and focused only on what’s ahead.
“We view it as an opportunity to play the best team in the nation,” senior tight end Tim Biere said. “And it’s an opportunity to compete against them. We expect to win and playing a team like Oklahoma will be great. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Added junior safety Lubbock Smith: “I feel like the circumstances that we’re being put in are opportunities to show if you really want to play. Do you want to be a great competitor? Or do you just want to go through the motions? We feel like we’re losing time to make something happen, so we want to go out and perform not only this Saturday, but every Saturday from here on.”
OU’s roster features six players from Kansas, four of whom show up on the Sooners’ two-deep depth chart.
Junior Patrick O’Hara (Topeka) is OU’s first-string kickoff specialist. Linebacker Jaydan Bird (Wichita), quarterback Blake Bell (Wichita) and fullback Marshall Musil (La Crosse) are listed as second-stringers. The Sooners also have defensive linemen Geneo Grissom (Hutchinson) and Jordan Phillips (Towanda). Grissom will be facing off against a couple of former high school teammates tonight in KU red-shirt freshman fullback Josh Smith and freshman linebacker Ben Heeney.
“I talked to (Grissom) on Facebook the other day, but I haven’t really talked to him about this game or anything like that,” Heeney said. “It’s going to be weird to see him on the other sideline, but it’ll be a lot of fun, too.”
Oklahoma by the numbers
The Sooners (5-0 overall, 2-0 in the Big 12) enter tonight’s game ranked third in the Associated Press poll and No. 1 in the coaches poll.
Led by junior quarterback Landry Jones, who recently moved into the top spot on OU’s all-time passing yards list (9,730 and counting), OU ranks sixth in the country in total offense, including fifth in passing offense (376 yards per game), ninth in scoring offense (45 points per game) and sixth in first downs (27 per game).
Defensively, the Sooners appear to be just as formidable, ranking 28th in total defense, including third in sacks (4 per game), 12th in scoring defense (16 points per game), eighth in turnover margin (+1.4) and eighth in interceptions (9). The Sooners also rank No. 1 in the nation in red zone defense, allowing a score just 50 percent of the time opponents crack the 20-yard line.
An unranked KU team has knocked off a ranked Oklahoma squad three times, the most recent of which came in 1984 when Kansas topped No. 2 Oklahoma, 28-11, in Norman, Okla. KU also posted a 23-3 victory against No. 2 Oklahoma in 1975 in Norman, and a 16-13 victory against No. 16 OU in 1946 in Norman. Ranked Sooners teams are 30-3-1 all-time against unranked Kansas teams.