When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. South Dakota rush defense
What was already a strength of the Kansas offense got even better in the offseason when the Jayhawks welcomed junior-college transfer Darrian Miller back to the team to go along with seniors James Sims and Taylor Cox. All three backs are capable of carrying the load at any given time, and the fact they’re all out there together for the opener likely means KU will have fresh legs at that position at all times. The Coyotes are not particularly tough against the run, having given up an average of 157 yards per game in 2012 and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average to opponents. In last week’s season-opening win against UC-Davis, USD nearly hit those numbers on the head, giving up 167 yards and a 4.6 ypc average. Facing a smaller defensive line and average linebackers, the KU offensive line should be able to pave plenty of paths for whichever running back is in the game. Edge: Kansas.
Kansas pass offense vs. South Dakota pass defense
South Dakota features a solid batch of experience in the secondary, with four seniors listed at the starting spots at each position. Last week, UC-Davis managed just 110 yards through the air on 13-of-24 passing. The Coyotes did not come up with any interceptions but did keep the passing game from being much of a factor at all as Davis’ lone touchdown came on a one-yard run. USD figures to see a completely different attack this week, with junior quarterback Jake Heaps leading a new-look KU passing attack that features wideouts Justin McCay and Christian Matthews, tight end Jimmay Mundine and speed back Tony Pierson capable of making plays all over the field. With Heaps’ greatest strength being his accuracy, even if USD uses its experience to hang with the unproven KU wideouts, it may not be enough to slow the Jayhawks down. Edge: Kansas.
When South Dakota has the ball
South Dakota rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
KU coach Charlie Weis called USD’s top two running backs “clones,” and during last week’s victory over USD, Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts showed why. The two red-shirt freshmen who both stand 5-foot-11 and weigh nearly the same weight — 210 and 215, respectively — combined for 162 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. That was good enough for a six-yards-per-carry clip, but this week, against a bigger front four and a much more physical and speedy group of Kansas linebackers, the Coyotes might not find the yards as easy to come by. USD’s offensive line is one of its biggest strengths, as four of the five starting lineman stand 6-5 or taller and weigh 295 or more, and the Coyotes likely will look to control the pace of the game by grinding out first downs on the ground. But KU’s front seven appears to be much faster and much more active this season, and that could cause problems and force USD into more passing than it would like. Edge: Kansas.
South Dakota pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
Junior quarterback Josh Vander Maten has good size, good mobility and, perhaps most importantly, enough experience to make coming into Memorial Stadium a little more comfortable for the entire team.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, however, he does not appear to have the best accuracy. During USD’s 1-10 season a year ago, Vander Maten completed 56 percent of his passes. He followed that up by going 9-of-17 through the air for 91 yards in the season-opener last week. KU’s secondary might feature four new starters, but all four are athletic, physical guys with good speed, and they should be able to match up with the Coyotes’ wide receivers. The big question everyone will want to see answered here is how good will the Kansas pass rush be. Edge: Kansas.
The Jayhawks feature new players at all but two of the seven special-teams spots on the depth chart, with place kicker Matthew Wyman and punter Trevor Pardula slated to handle the all-important kicking duties in this year’s opener. Both had great fall camps and appear to be huge upgrades over KU’s woeful kicking game from a season ago, but until they go out there and deliver in a game setting, it remains to be seen if Kansas’ special teams are significantly better. The Coyotes, meanwhile, feature the reigning Missouri Valley Conference special-teams player of the week in punter/place kicker Miles Bergner. He might be just a freshman, but he was good enough in all three facets of the game a week ago to help push USD to victory, and it seems logical that, at least heading into the game, special teams would be a position of confidence for the Coyotes. Edge: Push.