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SW&PTW: Kansas State offense dynamic, but is defense susceptible?

Team: Kansas State

In this Sept. 1, 2012, file photo, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, center, talks to his team during a timeout in a game against Missouri State in Manhattan.

In this Sept. 1, 2012, file photo, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, center, talks to his team during a timeout in a game against Missouri State in Manhattan.

Strengths

Kansas State's greatest strength lies with its offense and quarterback Collin Klein.

The biggest key for KSU is to stay in manageable downs and distances. The Wildcats are fifth nationally in FootballOutsiders.com's statistic for "standard downs," which consists of all first downs, second and eight or shorter, third and five or shorter and fourth and five or shorter. Basically, if teams haven't been able to key in on the pass against KSU, they've had a hard time stopping the 'Cats. That's illustrated in KSU's third-down percentage, as the Wildcats have converted 10 of 12 third downs this season (83 percent) when the distance to go is between one and three yards.

Though KSU is known for its running game, its passing game (in limited attempts) has been extremely successful this season. The Wildcats rank third in FootballOutsiders.com's Passing S&P+ statistic (think of it as football's version of OPS), and the standard numbers back that high ranking up.

Consider this: KSU has 15 20-yard passes this year, compared to just nine for KU. The Wildcats have done that despite attempting 50 fewer passes than KU this year (130-80).

Anyone that says the Wildcats can't throw probably hasn't seen them play this season (KSU did only have 26 20-plus-yard pass plays in 12 games last year).

Coach Bill Snyder also, once again, has a team that wins the field position battle. The Wildcats rank sixth in the "field position advantage" category on FootballOutsiders.com (KU is 85th), with the Wildcats also boasting a kickoff return for touchdown and a punt return for touchdown this year.

KSU also plays clean football. The Wildcats have just three giveaways this year (T-ninth nationally) while leading the nation with just 16.5 penalty yards per game.

Weaknesses

Kansas State's defense appears to be its biggest question mark, at least statistically.

The Wildcats don't appear to be a team that gives up many big plays (KSU has allowed just 11 20-plus-yard plays, good enough to be tied for sixth nationally), but they have allowed teams to move the football methodically, especially through the air.

KSU has allowed 49 first downs via the pass this year, which actually is more than KU has given up (47). The Wildcats also have surrendered 12 scoring drives of 50 or more yards, with six of those lasting 10 plays or longer.

In addition, opponents have completed a whopping 66.7 percent of their passes against KSU (100 of 150, T-115th nationally).

Players to Watch

The aforementioned Klein (No. 7) remains as one of the Heisman's frontrunner after leading KSU to an unexpected 4-0 start.

The senior is 11th nationally in rushing yards by a QB (294) while also ranking 45th in total yards per game (264.3).

Senior linebacker Arthur Brown (No. 4) is the clear leader of the defense, as he's third in the conference with 36 tackles to go with three tackles-for-loss, one sack and two pass breakups.

Junior John Hubert (No. 33) has been the Wildcats' primary running back, averaging 107.8 rushing yards per game (16th nationally) while also posting 6.5 yards per carry. He hasn't broken many huge plays, though; he has just two runs of 20-plus yards this season.

Finally, sophomore Tyler Lockett (No. 16) is the one KU should be most worried about on special teams. His 97-yard kickoff return to start the second half broke open last year's 59-21 KSU victory over KU, and his 39-yard average on kickoff returns this year ranks second nationally. With KU's struggles at getting kickoffs to the end zone, Lockett should get the opportunity to make a game-changing play on special teams during Saturday's game.

Bottom Line

To me, this seems like a game that will be closer than most are predicting.

For one, there shouldn't be too many possessions. KU coach Charlie Weis has already discussed "nickle and diming" KSU's defense, and the Jayhawks will have to do that along with milking the play clock under five to have any chance as a huge underdog.

Also, though Snyder is probably once again the lead candidate for national coach of the year, I don't think Weis is as overmatched as his predecessor at KU was (which also was the main reason I predicted a 28-point blowout for KSU last year, though even that wasn't enough). With two weeks to prepare, Weis should pull out some things that he hasn't shown before, which could be a benefit against a KSU defense that doesn't appear to be as strong as it was a year ago.

Though KU's offense has struggled a lot, it still could be due for some better fortune. The Jayhawks have converted just 25 percent of their third downs this year; though KU's offense is bad, no team in the nation was lower than 27 percent a year ago.

If the Jayhawks can keep the 'Cats from scoring off their defense and/or special teams, I see this as a game KU can keep close.

And that would be progress for the Jayhawks after the last two years' beatdowns.

Prediction: Kansas State 30, Kansas 20.

Hawk to Rock: If quarterback Dayne Crist is going to turn his season around, this looks like a good opportunity to do it. As mentioned above, opponents have completed 66.7 percent of their passes against KSU. Also, Crist shouldn't have to worry much about trying to force big plays, as the Wildcats have allowed just nine 20-plus-yard passing plays all season (T-13th nationally).

It'll be a tough environment to play with K-State's crowd, but Crist should be able to have some success if he can stand in against the rush and find open receivers running short-to-intermediate routes.

I think we'll see Crist's best game as a Jayhawk on Saturday. Let's say 250 passing yards with two passing TDs to go with an interception.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 10/2/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Not many changes to this week's depth chart.

Full audio has been posted.

Weis says it's important for the players to know that there's something to play for when you play your in-state rival. The goal is to have the governor come congratulate you in your locker room after the game.

Weis says it's tough for him to say anything negative about KSU coach Bill Snyder. He says he's a great offensive mind and a "helluva" coach. If you're not sound fundamentally on defense, he will expose you.

In a time when most teams either throw it around all the time or run mostly the read-option, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is unique. He is a power runner. If you don't stop him, you don't have much of a chance. He's physical. He's tough. He runs big.

KSU has no glaring weakness. This is a team that plays sound fundamentally on both sides of the football that feeds off your mistakes. The Wildcats are tough up front as well. K-State is going to smash it down your throat, and you'd better be ready for it.

It's good for KU to have two weeks to prepare for a team like this. All offseason, KU prepares for spread-like offenses. This is like playing one of the academy schools because it's an offense unlike what KU normally sees.

KU's players hit each other in practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. Weis did that because he believes his team has to play more physical football. It also needs to play tougher late. Weis also took the red jerseys off the quarterbacks in practice, meaning they were full contact as well.

During the extra time last week, Weis evaluated each player on Kansas State to help with the scouting report for his players. Usually, he doesn't have the extra time to do that for each player.

Weis said "absolutely" when asked if his team had a chance to win Saturday. You can't go to a game, saying, "We're 1-3, and they're 4-0. Let's try to keep it close. The fanbase will be happy." Weis said he'd rather lose 100-0.

Weis says Kansas State is a good role model. KSU is doing a lot of things right. That would be a good place to get to.

• Weis said his team is going to continue to take a bunch of junior-college players. Juco players is one reason KSU's recruiting classes sometimes appear to be ranked lower. Those ratings are high-school ratings. The guys in juco want to go somewhere where they can play against good competition and can play now. KU plays against good competition. There's a great opportunity there for juco players at KU.

Weis said KU quarterback Dayne Crist's head is a lot better now than it was at 8:15 p.m. last night when he chatted with Weis. Crist wasn't down, but part of Weis' job is to let him know where the team is. All he has to worry about is putting KU in the best position to beat K-State. He can't think about the past. He has to think about the present.

• Weis said it's important for his players to know that the coaches aren't blaming the players for early losses. The players are not going to get over the hump if they think the coaches aren't in their corner. As long as everyone keeps battling together, the switch will flip at some point.

KU's assistants were on the road Thursday through Saturday of last week recruiting. The assistants then had Sunday off.

Scrimmaging in practice last week gave guys the chance to be "the guy." For example, it gave Mike Cummings a chance to be the starting quarterback in a practice, even though he's the backup behind Crist. It gave guys the opportunity to have the feel like it's next year when some other players will be graduated.

Against K-State's defense, the most critical factor is taking care of the football. The second-most important factor is being prepared to nickel-and-dime K-State's defense all game, because it doesn't usually give up big plays.

Weis says he also used the bye week to self-scout. For example, KU has been poor offensively on third downs this year. Weis thinks he has a better understanding of why now after film study.

Quarterback Turner Baty will get more time as scout team QB this week, as he's more of a dual-threat quarterback like Klein than KU quarterback Jake Heaps is.

Weis says he shouldn't have to be Ronald Reagan and give a "Win one for the Gipper" speech this week for the KSU game. The motivation for winning should be obvious.

Every once in a while in sports there's an opportunity for both the coach and university to win. To Weis, that's what Bill Self's contact extension was. Self is one of the best coaches in America in any sport. To set up a situation where everyone is content ... Weis thinks that's a great thing.

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Northern Illinois’ strengths, weaknesses and players to watch

Team: Northern Illinois

Strengths

Offensively, Northern Illinois' greatest strength so far this season has been its passing game.

Though quarterback Jordan Lynch is quickly gaining the reputation of a dual-threat player (he's averaged 101 rushing yards per game), he's been most impressive hitting deep plays in the air. NIU has 10, 30-plus-yard passing plays already this season (T-10th nationally) and also is averaging 8.8 yards per pass (24th nationally).

NIU also has performed extremely well on third downs, converting 22 of 37 (59 percent, fifth nationally).

Defensively, NIU's strengths are up front and in the secondary. The defensive line has racked up nine sacks in three games, which is even more impressive considering that Army had only four official pass attempts in last week's contest.

The Huskies also bring back five experienced players in their secondary and have broken up or intercepted 14 of 73 passes against them this season ... a strong ratio considering the low number of passes they've had against them.

Weaknesses

The Huskies offensive line is about as inexperienced as you can get. In NIU's first game against Iowa, it went out with five brand-new starters on the O-line. Since then, Jared Volk has returned from injury, but even he only had two starts a year ago.

That inexperience hasn't hurt the Huskies too much in the passing game yet (five sacks compared to 72 passing attempts), but it does appear to be affecting NIU's ability to run the ball with its backs. Take away Lynch's rushing numbers, and the rest of the team has 69 carries for 269 yards (3.9 yards/carry). NIU had 28 non-Lynch rushing yards in the opener against Iowa and 48 non-Lynch rushing yards against Army last week, with the Huskies' lead back Leighton Settle rushing just five times for 19 yards last Saturday.

Defensively, NIU has struggled to stop the run against triple-option (Army) and non-triple-option teams.

The Huskies actually have been solid at limiting big plays (they haven't allowed a 30-plus-yard rush all year), but teams have had success grinding it out against them. NIU's opponents have 22, 10-yard rushes against it (T-115th nationally) while averaging 4.1 yards per attempt.

This also shows up in time of possession, as opponents have racked up an average of 37 minutes and 9 seconds of possession time against NIU this season.

Players to Watch

NIU coach Dave Doeren has described quarterback Jordan Lynch (No. 6) as "a linebacker playing quarterback." Lynch will be the main one to watch, as NIU is reliant upon him for almost all the offense. The 6-foot, 216-pound junior has completed 63 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's also shown the ability to make the big play with his feet, as he posted an 88-yard touchdown run against Army last week.

Senior receiver Martel Moore (No. 1) is the one Lynch will look to for almost all of his deep throws. The 6-foot, 183-pounder already has six, 20-plus-yard receptions, which ties him for sixth in the nation. So far, Moore has more than double the receptions (15) of any other NIU receiver while contributing 229 receiving yards and three TDs.

Senior defensive end Alan Baxter (No. 90) has been the most productive player on the defensive line. The 6-foot, 240-pounder has five tackles for loss — including three sacks — while playing against run-heavy opponents so far this year.

Finally, KU quarterback Dayne Crist will have to look out for junior safety Jimmie Ward (No. 15). The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder — in addition to leading the team with 33 tackles — also has broken up five passes (T-sixth nationally) and has intercepted another. That's about as active as a safety can be through three games.

Bottom Line

If Weis' gameplan last week was to try to pick on TCU's pass defense (not a bad strategy considering the numbers), then the gameplan should be the exact opposite this week.

KU's best chance to win against Northern Illinois will be to run, run, then run some more against a Huskies rush defense that has shown some flaws.

Not only that, NIU can play to its strengths defensively when it knows a pass is coming. With good pass-rushing ends and a talented secondary, KU will want to avoid third-and-longs as much as possible.

Though a few KUsports.com staff members are picking KU for the upset, I'm not brave enough to predict it. The biggest reason is simply recent history.

You might have already heard this, but the last time KU won a road game, Kale Pick was a quarterback, Toben Opurum was a running back, Bradley McDougald was a receiver and Daymond Patterson was a cornerback. That was a long time ago.

The Jayhawks have played so poorly on the road for so many games, I've been trained to believe that when they go outside Memorial, they're probably just not going to play well.

Also, to me, NIU looks like a better overall team than KU that gets the benefit of being on its home field. That adds up to a 10-point win.

Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Kansas 28

Hawk to Rock: This seems like a game set up for Taylor Cox's skills. KU will need to set up manageable second- and third-down situations, and Cox has been KU's best back at getting positive gains out of small openings. Based on the matchup, don't be surprised if James Sims jumps right into the mix as well, as he's the same kind of runner. As for Cox, I'll go with 110 yards rushing and a TD against NIU.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/18/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Also, here's the updated depth chart (quite a few changes, including lots of shuffling on the defensive line and in special teams).

Audio has been posted.

KU offensive lineman Riley Spencer will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Once Gavin Howard settled into right tackle, the KU coaches decided it would be best for Spencer to get his knee fixed through surgery. Spencer should be ready to go for spring ball next year.

KU running back James Sims has seen the other two running backs play well. He knows he'll have to play well to get snaps. A lot of times when guys get suspended, they come back thinking, "They need me." Sims sat in the stands watching KU's three games wondering if the Jayhawks do need him. He's hungry to show what he can do, and that excites Weis.

Weis expects Sims to be ready to go this week. He doesn't expect to see any rust.

Weis said that out of his backs, the most polished receiver is Tony Pierson. That gives you an opportunity to do some things that he's better than the other backs at doing. Weis wasn't going to give away his game-plan for the NIU game, but Pierson's versatility gives KU options.

The fact that Randall Dent has moved ahead of guys that have played that offensive guard a long time says a lot about him. His progression has been impressive to Weis. The coach kept seeing Dent drive people off the ball when he was on defense. When KU defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt would talk about Dent and some of his limitations, Weis would say, "Don't worry, he's going to be an offensive guard eventually." KU will use a three-man rotation on the right side of the line and get Aslam Sterling more snaps along with the starters Dent and Howard.

The KU coaches have seen flashes in practice of what receiver Andrew Turzilli could do before Saturday's performance. You have to be willing to take an older player's job. He's started to challenge more as opposed to being settled in at the No. 2 spot. He's easier to find for a QB because he's a big target.

Weis says you have to go by performance when it comes to the depth chart. You can't go by seniority. You have to go by who you think gives you the best chance to win. Someone like D.J. Beshears, who was moved down the depth chart, will still get opportunities to show what he can do. Turzilli is just playing better. That's why he's playing.

• When Weis was told that it didn't look like he was happy with kickoff return last Saturday, he told the reporter that would be an understatement. Weis said if you have other guys you think can do better, you have to give them a chance. It's a coach's job to find answers. You can scheme as part of the answer, and you can also change personnel as the other part of the answer.

The players will hear several times this week about KU's 13-game road-game losing streak. That will be one of Weis' main messages. Weis said he will use his vintage New Jersey sarcasm when discussing it with the players.

Weis said long snapper Reilly Jeffers went above and beyond the call of duty. He had never snapped in a high school game before coming to KU. His snaps weren't perfect, but they got the job done. Justin Carnes isn't getting the job handed to him, though Weis thinks Carnes is probably better than Jeffers at long snapper. Carnes is going to have to show that in practice. Weis thinks KU will see the bigger improvement in its short snaps, where Carnes will take over for fill-in Trevor Marrongelli. It's tough to snap when you're taped up to be on the offensive line like Marrongelli was. Snappers want as little wrapping and tape on as possible.

KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo has been tooting JaCorey Shepherd's horn lately. Earlier, Shepherd was, at best, KU's third-best slot receiver. Campo believed that he could work his way into the two-deep at cornerback, though, and Shepherd has done that. Weis thinks Shepherd would be a fine slot receiver. Shepherd sees himself as having a greater opportunity to move up the ranks on defense, though. He can turn his hips and backpedal well. Not every offensive player can play that position.

Weis said he would be surprised if receiver Kale Pick doesn't play Saturday against NIU. He looked more normal in practice to Weis on Sunday. Safety Lubbock Smith is a little bit behind Pick. KU's coaches will talk through his status again later today.

• Weis said the best offensive linemen are ones that play with a defensive mentality. If you think about the best offensive linemen, they have a nasty mentality.

Weis believes KU quarterback Dayne Crist was more comfortable last week, and he believes he will continue to get more comfortable each week. Crist didn't get hit in practices during the spring or summer, so he's just now adjusting again to getting hit.

Weis said he will use film from last year's Northern Illinois game. He's also already read comments from NIU coach Dave Doeren saying that KU didn't win the game last year, but instead, NIU gave it away. The KU coaches will use that as motivation for the players.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/11/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Also, here's the depth chart (not many changes; Brandon Bourbon is no longer at fullback; Jake Love is back in as a backup at SLB; plus, a few minor changes in the secondary).

Audio has been posted.

Weis confirmed that linebacker Prinz Kande is out for the year with a torn ACL. Weis says Kale Pick, Brandon Bourbon and Lubbock Smith are all day-to-day. If KU was playing today, Weis said those guys probably wouldn't play. Still, KU will put those guys through treatment and see how they feel by the end of the week.

Weis expects KU to be able to run the ball against TCU. He said KU schemed its running game well against a similar defense to TCU's last week (Weis said Rice's defense is similar schematically to TCU's).

Weis said he let the team be in the tank Saturday night because he was in it too. The best medicine in sports is to go out there and play again. Once KU gets out there Saturday afternoon, you've already moved on.

Weis said he is happy with both Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Those guys are doing their jobs and doing what they can do.

Weis would say he isn't happy with the passing game right now. He said that might be an understatement on his part. The passing game has a lot of room for improvement. It had better come on in a hurry, because as opponents improve, you're going to have to score more than 24 points.

• Weis said Aslam Sterling made a lot more mistakes than Randall Dent, so Dent played more at right guard on Saturday against Rice.

KU is going to play a team this week that is going to try to pound it. That's why Weis shifted some bigger guys like Jake Love onto the depth chart.

Weis said linebacker Anthony McDonald is ready to play.

• Dayne Crist is going to tell reporters today that he's disappointed. Everyone expects to be more efficient in the passing game. KU made strides from Week 1 to Week 2, but it's going to have play much better to compete with the big boys.

Weis talked to Crist on Monday night. He told him to just do his job.

Kande was playing well before he was injured, and he was playing two positions. He was providing decent snaps. It hurts. Weis feels bad for Kande, who was taking advantage of a new chance with a new coaching staff.

TCU is saying it wants to make a statement with its first Big 12 conference game. But Weis says we should look at this from a practical perspective. TCU is looking at film of KU after losing to Rice. It might be tough for TCU to get motivation for this game. Weis has been on that end as a coach, too. It's tough to get motivated to play games like that.

Weis says he's laid mousetraps around the locker room when his team has been favored in the past to get the team to focus on a "trap" game. He said if you are the favorite, you use any means necessary to get your team's attention.

TCU is definitely an upper-level team in the Big 12. Weis has looked at tape of all the teams in the conference, and TCU can hang with the best. TCU is well-coached. Weis says his team could win or lose any game it plays in the Big 12 just based on its preparation. Most people don't think that, but Weis believes that.

The way the games have played out, it's presented itself in a way that Tony Pierson has been able to go more than 15 touches. Like last week, Rice had a 17-play drive, and Pierson had about 20 minutes on the sideline. Weis joked that he could have taken a nap. Pierson was well-rested, and the game was tied, so Weis decided to go with his best player.

Weis said he still has confidence in his kicking game. He said he knew he was taking a chance on a 53-yard field-goal attempt. On the 36, a punt might only net 16 yards. He took a chance there. The 40-yarder, though, is one you plan on having. Weis has been known as a guy that goes for it a lot on fourth downs already. If the kicking game does continue to struggle, that might play into his decision-making on fourth down. Weis said he's not at that point yet.

Weis' conversations with defensive coordinator Dave Campo in the last 48 hours have been more about personnel than about scheme. First the discussion was about KU's personnel, then it was about TCU's personnel. A lot of times the average fan doesn't know that much of coaches' preparation is based on a team's personnel. The personnel is who that team is.

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Rice’s strengths, weaknesses and players to watch

Team: Rice
Jeff Sagarin rating: 116
KU's Sagarin rating: 88
Sagarin line: KU favored by 9

Strengths

Rice had some success both running and throwing the football against UCLA last week, led by quarterback Taylor McHargue, who threw for 172 yards and rushed for 95 more with three combined touchdowns.

McHargue is the key offensively, as not only will he run when passing plays break down, but he also will keep it himself for designed read-option plays.

Defensively, Rice's secondary is considered its strength in its 4-2-5 setup. Sophomore cornerback Bryce Callahan was a Sporting News freshman All-America selection last year after leading all FBS freshmen with six interceptions, while Corey Frazier — son of Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier — also starts at free safety as one of only eight seniors on the roster.

If the game is close, Rice has one of the best kickers in the nation in junior Chris Boswell. He had three field goals of 50 yards or more last season — tying him for the lead nationally — and also booted a 53-yarder against UCLA last week.

Weaknesses

Rice's defense has been killed by big plays.

That was the Owls' biggest weakness a year ago, and it showed up again last week. UCLA had three 70-plus-yard runs against Rice. To put that in perspective, no other team in the NCAA gave up more than one last week, and there were only 12 70-plus-yard runs total, meaning the Owls have surrendered 25 percent of the nation's 70-yard runs this year.

Offensively, Rice's inexperienced offensive line struggled to keep McHargue upright. The unit, which returned just 15 combined starts among the five offensive linemen coming into the season, allowed six sacks on 30 total passing attempts against UCLA.

Rice's offense also hasn't shown the ability to be explosive in recent years. In 2011, Rice ranked 89th in 20-plus-yard plays, while last week, the Owls had just one play go for more than 30 yards (a 40-yard run by McHargue).

Rice's special teams have been historically poor at coming up with touchdowns. The Owls have not scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since Nov. 17, 1984, and they also haven't scored a TD on a punt return since Nov. 8, 1997. Both are the longest return streaks without a touchdown in Div. I.

Players to Watch

Senior receiver Sam McGuffie (No. 2) started his career at Michigan and at one time was being recruited by current KU coach Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Though he's only 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, McGuffie's been described by Weis as an athletic player, and he also will be involved in special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.

Senior tight end Luke Willson (No. 82) had a relatively quiet first game with two catches for 18 yards and a touchdown, but his offseason alone should be reason for KU to pay attention to him. Not only was the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder named to four preseason watch lists in the summer, he also was signed as an undrafted free agent for the Toronto Blue Jays before participating in a month's-worth of extended Spring Training drills. While he was with the Blue Jays, he also was selected with the 32nd pick in the Canadian Football League Draft.

Junior linebacker Cameron Nwosu (No. 57) was Rice's leading tackler a year ago and also tied for the team lead with nine tackles against UCLA last week. If his name sounds familiar, it's probably because of his special-teams accomplishment a week ago, as he blocked an NCAA-record three extra-point attempts. Weis has said he believed those kicks might have been a bit low, but KU still will need to account for Nwosu in the middle of its line during kicks.

Senior defensive end Jared Williams (No. 97) was singled out by Weis on Tuesday as "clearly the leader of their defensive line. (Kansas offensive lineman) Tanner (Hawkinson) will have his hands full, because that's where the guy lines up most of the time." The 6-5, 250-pound Williams had a sack and five tackles to go along with a fumble recovery against UCLA last week.

Bottom Line

Rice has shown the ability to be competitive ... when it can avoid big plays by the opponent.

Advanced stats suggest that Rice's pass defense in 2011 was much better than the numbers looked, but once again, big gains by opponents skewed the final statistics.

This looks to be a game that could be decided on the lines, and KU should have an advantage up front on both sides. Will the Jayhawks be able to run the ball effectively as others have done in the past against Rice's 4-2-5 setup (UCLA had 37 carrries for 343 yards last week)? Also, will KU be able to get a couple big plays?

If so, the Jayhawks should be able to pull away at home to win this one by a couple possessions.

Prediction: Kansas 34, Rice 21

Hawk to Rock: This week it has to be sophomore running back Tony Pierson, who is clearly KU's home-run threat in the running game. Rice's defenders will need to be especially careful when he's in the game, as they won't be able to catch him from behind if he gets in the open field. I'll go with one long run (40-plus yards) and 140 yards total from Pierson.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/4/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Full audio has been posted.

Also, here's the updated depth chart (Not many changes this week, with Jake Love being taken off the OR line at linebacker and kicker Nick Prolago being added to the OR column on kickoffs).

Most of the rushing yards that Rice allowed last Thursday against UCLA were on big plays. Sometimes, that skews the numbers. You have to look at the whole body of evidence. Rice gave up big plays, but it also made some plays as well.

Weis thinks UCLA's three blocked extra points against Rice last week were all kicked low. Sometimes, the protection gets all the blame, and it's the kicker's responsibility to get the ball up.

Weis grades players with pluses and minuses that add up to a percentage grade. The coaches grade hard, so Weis said there were "probably not" many guys that graded well after the first game. When you have a clicker in your hand, it's easy to nitpick, because you can see every little thing. With the naked eye, it's sometimes harder to see detail.

Coming in, Weis knew that Taylor Cox had some shiftiness and shake-and-bake and also that he had some power. Weis said seeing both the shiftiness and power in the same game was encouraging. Weis also said that, after the fumble, Cox was ready to get back out there, and that was a good sign as well.

No one gets graded harder than the quarterback. Weis joked that Dayne Crist's parents wouldn't have been happy if he'd have brought his grade home.

Weis says if you bring in a junior-college player, they're probably not coming to sit the bench. Cox wasn't picked as an All-American in junior college for no reason. Weed, Calif., is a tough place to find. The coaches definitely thought he could help KU. Tape doesn't lie. Weis didn't have doubts that he could compete at a higher division. All players can do on film is dominate, whatever the competition is, and that's what Cox did on film. He dominated.

Weis said it was good for both Tre' Parmalee and Schyler Miles to get their feet wet. Any time young guys get 10 or 20 plays out there, those players start to get their butterflies out of the way. KU is going to need some of these guys later in the season.

There are so many things you can fix when there is evidence of it on tape. KU is mostly a new team, so game tape is helpful. The more these guys play against opponents, the more significant their improvement should be.

Guys are much more receptive to coaching after a win than a loss. It's not close. Weis said if you win a game and there are a lot of problems, you can't wait for them to come in. They feel good, then you tell them how bad they stink. That knocks them off their pedestal quickly. Weis said he thought his guys were expecting that. Weis makes a cut-up of good plays and bad plays after each game. When Weis' team wins, he shows the bad plays first. After losses, he shows the good plays first to build them back up and show that everything is not all bad.

Charles Brooks is a little behind the other tight ends because right now he came in as more of a pass-catching tight end. Weis has been very happy with Jimmay Mundine, Mike Ragone and Trent Smiley. It all starts at the tight-end position. If tight ends get manhandled by defensive ends, then you're going to have a long day at the office. Brooks is catching up, but blocking isn't something he's had to do all that much before.

Crist gets every play broken down in film. Then he gets it broken down to good plays in the run, good plays in the pass, bad plays in the run, bad plays in the pass. Quarterbacks can get negative plays on runs if they don't carry out fakes. After a day off, Weis looks more big-picture with his QB, like telling him not to press. Weis' biggest concerns with Crist going to be whether he was going to be scared, whether he was going to be looking at the rush and whether if he was composed if things didn't go well. To Weis, Crist hit the trifecta on those three with the first game. Weis says he can help fix the other things. Crist passed those three criteria with flying colors.

When Weis was a younger coach, after a win, he'd feel miserable. He'd think about all the mistakes and feel awful. As he's gotten older, he's learned to at least celebrate the win 24 hours before looking at corrections.

Weis says he doesn't single out offensive linemen. You don't, for example, say Tanner Hawkinson played well and someone else didn't. You talk about them as a group. Some guys grade better than others, but that's not the point. They want to be talked about as a unit.

Weis wants to build some depth on his offensive line. One of the ways you do that is by playing more than five guys. KU would have liked to play nine or 10 on Saturday, but that's not the way the game played out.

KU has a couple walk-on kickers (Austin Barone and Nick Prolago) that have kicked pretty well in camp. This week, KU will give a look to the walk-ons for kickoffs to see if they can take that one duty from Ron Doherty, who already kicks field goals and punts.

Weis was happy with his defensive line. He started by jokingly asking a reporter how he thought the D-line looked. After the reporter said, "Better," Weis said, "Thanks" with a smile.

Quarterback Jake Heaps was the offensive scout team player of the week the first week. Weis said he's not giving him the award any more, telling him that if he's not the best offensive scout team player each week, the two are going to have a problem. On defense, Tyler Holmes was the defensive scout team player of the week.

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Journey of KU safety Brandon Hawks a story worth sharing

Kansas senior safety Brandon Hawks runs through a secondary drill at practice on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the KU practice fields.

Kansas senior safety Brandon Hawks runs through a secondary drill at practice on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the KU practice fields. by Jesse Newell

If you walk by the bronze Jayhawk on the south side of Memorial Stadium this week, think about Kansas safety Brandon Hawks.

It was two weeks ago, by that same statue, that he called his mother during one of the best days of his life.

“That’s the first time I’ve cried,” Hawks said, “in a long time.”

Let’s start with this about Hawks: In his fifth year at KU, he’s never played one down for the Jayhawks.

The Oskaloosa native is on KU’s scout team, meaning he helps prepare the starters for the next week’s opponent.

“Brandon Hawks has been tackled more than any guy in the Big 12,” KU defensive backs coach Clint Bowen said. “The guy gets beat to death every day in tackling drills, and that’s his life. And he shows up every day and runs the ball just as hard the next time.”

A 4.0 student the last three semesters and the valedictorian of his high-school class, Hawks — a three-sport star — knew he was going to KU for a while.

His uncle took him to his first KU football game when was 7, and though the Jayhawks lost to Texas A&M, 24-21, on a cold, rainy day in October 1998, Hawks was awestruck.

He attended every KU home game in high school and wasn’t planning on playing football until he contacted Bowen, who was KU’s defensive coordinator at the time.

Bowen visited Oskaloosa High School to see if Hawks might be a fit.

“When you’re in the school, and they say, ‘Who’re you here to talk about?’ ‘Well, Brandon Hawks.’ Ten people go, ‘Oh, that’s the greatest kid in the world,’” Bowen said. “The guy’s had an effect on a lot of people in his hometown.”

KU offered Hawks a walk-on spot, and he showed up a few days before KU’s camp ended in 2008.

Hawks has been on the team ever since.

“I really wanted to be a part of this, and I didn’t want something like money to hold me back,” Hawks said. “I knew it was going to be rough.”

For the most part, it has been.

Without a scholarship, Hawks has had to work to pay for school and rent.

To help with that, Hawks —an education major with an emphasis in math — tutored for the KU athletic department. Many times, that meant tutoring for the same football players he had just practiced with a few hours earlier.

Hawks handled the situation gracefully. When he saw players messing around in the locker room, Hawks would give them a hard time, telling them to be sure to get to class on time and to not be late to their tutoring session.

The schedule, though, was grueling.

Last year during the fall semester, there were times when Hawks would finish with practice in the afternoon, drive to Subway, bring the sandwich back with him, then tutor a teammate while munching on his dinner.

After finishing up at 10 p.m., he would then work on his own homework to keep up his own A’s.

Offensive lineman Gavin Howard had classes with Hawks, and he jokingly calls him “one of the only dudes I would say might be better than I am at math on the team.”

Most nights, Hawks would get between four to six hours of sleep.

“I’d say the best thing was just great time management,” Hawks said. “Being motivated to get stuff done when I had the time to do it.”

The offseasons were just as demanding.

To make additional money, Hawks would tutor from 7-9 a.m. then from 7-10 p.m.

He also would work 12-15 hours a week at Hy-Vee. The duties there included bagging groceries, collecting carts, loading trucks and stocking shelves.

All this to build up money so he could continue to be on a team for which he never played.

“There were some pretty intense conditioning workouts where I was sitting there thinking, ‘Why in the world am I doing this?’” Hawks said. “At the end of the day —after a couple hours — I was like, ‘Yeah, this is where I need to be. I love it.’”

That brings us to two weeks ago when, during a meeting, KU coach Charlie Weis announced that the team had two additional scholarships to give out following some departures in the offseason.

After a pause, Weis said that Shane Smith and Justin Carnes would receive the scholarships.

“I was really excited for them,” Hawks said. “But all along, I was kind of hoping I would get one.”

A few seconds later, Weis had another announcement. The coach said that the team had reserved two more scholarships for players that had earned 4.0 GPAs the previous semester.

Running back Ryan Burton was the first one.

And Hawks was the second.

“I got a little teary-eyed,” Bowen said, “because I know what that kid’s put into it.”

Immediately, Hawks was tackled from behind by one of his teammates in celebration. The room erupted with screaming, and nearly all of his teammates came over to shake his hand.

“The best part was hearing everybody get so excited about it,” Hawks said.

The senior knew he didn’t have much time.

Just before the team’s afternoon practice that Friday, he dressed quickly and made his way outside the complex next to the bronze Jayhawk.

In full football pads, he called his mother, Kim, to tell her that he was officially a scholarship player for the KU football team.

“That was a pretty emotional moment,” Hawks said. “It was unreal. I didn’t accept it as reality for a couple days. It just seemed like it was a dream.”

Hawks, who hopes to one day become a high-school math teacher and football coach, says life will be a whole lot easier with a scholarship (Howard said he couldn’t remember a time during his years at KU when a football player received a scholarship based only on academics).

Hawks is student-teaching sixth-graders at South Junior High this semester, and now he says he can focus more on his work there, which includes teaching exponents to 12-year-olds.

“There’s not as much stress to make sure I am working all the time,” Hawks said. “I can relax and enjoy the college life a little bit more.”

Hawks knows that may or may not include getting on the field at least one time before his final game at KU.

“Of course, I’d love to get in on a play, but I understand that role is on show team right now, and I need to give the best look I can,” Hawks said.

“I just want the team to do well.”

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KU football season preview with SB Nation writer and advanced stats specialist Bill Connelly

Before the season, I wanted to be sure to touch base with friend-of-the-blog Bill Connelly, who writes for SB Nation, the SB Nation site Football Study Hall and also the Football Outsiders Almanac.

Connelly, as you might remember, studies the advanced statistics in college football. We've had content from him a few times in the past, and his play-by-play-based calculations continue to lead the way into a new era of college football statistics.

Connelly just completed a massive project of his own as well, providing free, detailed previews on each of the 124 Div. I teams. It's definitely worth checking out if you haven't yet.

For this week, though, I wanted to get Connelly's specific thoughts about the Kansas football team from a statistical perspective (especially since optimism sometimes overflows in August when every team is undefeated).

A transcript of our chat is below.

Jesse Newell: What's a reason/statistic that makes you optimistic about KU football in 2012?

Bill Connelly: In 2012? There isn't much. I like Dayne Crist, and I love Tony Pierson, and on defense, Toben Opurum is solid and Bradley McDougald is a lovely play-maker. But that's four guys. There's no doubt that Charlie Weis has pretty quickly upgraded the talent level, but he did so for a team that was truly awful last year. The goal for 2012 should simply be improvement.

Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist pulls back to throw on his first play from scrimmage during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at Kivisto Field. In back, head coach Charlie Weis looks on.

Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist pulls back to throw on his first play from scrimmage during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at Kivisto Field. In back, head coach Charlie Weis looks on. by Nick Krug

JN: What's a reason/statistic that makes you pessimistic about KU football in 2012?

BC: The offense ranked 107th in Off. F/+ last year, below Rice, Troy, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, UAB, New Mexico State and Army (F/+ is Football Outsiders' official team ranking based on play-by-play and drive statistics). The defense ranked 111th in Def. F/+ last year, below Memphis, New Mexico State (again), Duke, Akron, Tulane and Army (again). There's really no reason to go too far beyond that, right? Even if Weis engineers some strong first-year improvement (which is never a given), that still only moves them back toward competent, not good.

JN: I really enjoyed your article about which defensive statistics are more sustainable and which are more based on luck.

Looking at KU, is there any evidence to suggest that KU's defense was lucky or unlucky in 2011?

BC: Not really. It looks like KU was about +1.2 points per game in terms of turnovers luck. They recovered 16 of their own 27 fumbles, and that should have probably been more like 14; meanwhile, they picked off eight passes and broke up 32, which is just about the right ratio.

JN: In your KU football preview, you talk about the evidence indicating that Charlie Weis might struggle again to be a successful college head coach.

What numbers from Weis' Notre Dame tenure make you pessimistic about his ability to rebuild a program?

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis talks with his son Charlie Weis Jr. during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis talks with his son Charlie Weis Jr. during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. by Nick Krug

BC: Primarily, what gives me pause is simply that, once the Notre Dame program became truly his in Year Three, it bottomed out. He pieced together a solid offense again after a brutal 2007 season with Jimmy Clausen as a freshman, but the defense really never came around. That's obviously not a great sign.

That said, the Notre Dame and Kansas jobs are incredibly different. Notre Dame has an odd relationship between expectations and the reality of recent history, and while it hasn't been too long since Kansas played at a really high level, it is probably safe to say that he will get more time to figure things out in Lawrence.

JN: Weis was the offensive coordinator at Florida last year. Is there anything we can take away from those numbers that might indicate Weis' strengths/weaknesses as an offensive coordinator in college?

BC: Last year suggested two things: 1) He didn't deal well with the leftovers of previous coordinator Steve Addazio's "hybrids of hybrids of hybrids" approach. His best tight end was a former quarterback, his two best running backs were two of the better wideouts, etc. Florida's offense didn't regress with him pulling the strings, but it didn't even slightly improve either. 2) He still takes a professional approach to the college game, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

The pro-style offense is great if you have better talent than everybody else, but we don't really have any evidence that he is strong in terms of the underdog tactics requisite to turn a roster like Kansas' into a quick winner.

JN: The latest from KU camp is that receiver JaCorey Shepherd has been practicing at defensive back. Considering his impressive numbers at wideout in 2011 (16.3 Adj. yards/target) and KU's lack of a big-play guy at receiver, would you consider this a mistake? Or is 15 catches too small of a sample size to make any grand conclusions?

Kansas receivers Kale Pick (7) and JaCorey Shepherd bump chests after Shepherd's second touchdown of the game against McNeese State during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field.

Kansas receivers Kale Pick (7) and JaCorey Shepherd bump chests after Shepherd's second touchdown of the game against McNeese State during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 at Kivisto Field. by Nick Krug

BC: It's definitely a small sample size, but he looked good when given the opportunity, that's for sure. I think it probably says more about the secondary than anything else. Outside of McDougald, Opurum and maybe Darius Willis, the defense doesn't really have many play-making options either.

Plus, as always, since Shepherd was only targeted 18 times all season on a bad passing offense, there's a chance that either a) he isn't good in practice, b) his route-running is limited or c) he's not a very good blocker. There's always context behind the numbers.

JN: I enjoyed reading the graphs and statistics from the statistical profile you did on KU.

I just wondered, at a quick glance, which numbers stick out to you most when looking over the 2011 Jayhawks?

BC: Honestly, the biggest thing is the complete lack of disruptive stats on the defensive side of the ball.

Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett escapes a sack by Kansas defensive end Toben Opurum during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett escapes a sack by Kansas defensive end Toben Opurum during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

Just five players had more than two tackles for loss, two players had more than one interception (none more than two), one player defended (interceptions + passes broken up) more than five passes, and nobody forced more than two fumbles.

Obviously going for more big plays leaves you more vulnerable to ALLOWING more big plays, but … Kansas simply has to make more plays on defense. In the Big 12, you're probably going to allow some big plays no matter what; do whatever you can to be more disruptive.

(This should be seen almost as a reason for optimism. Coaching CAN make a different in a defense's level of disruption. It just comes with a trade-off, i.e. the threat of allowing more big gains.)

JN: Looking at the aforementioned statistical profile, I noticed that KU has failed to win a game in the last two years according to your "Adjusted Score" measure. That doesn't seem like a good thing.

BC: No, no it's not.

JN: Since you started tracking play-by-play numbers, has any BCS team had a worse two-year stretch than KU had under Turner Gill in 2010-11?

Kansas university coach Turner Gill watches the jayhawks’ spring game on April 24 at Memorial Stadium. From his previous football experiences, Gill has already developed a sterling reputation in the Big 12 heading into his first year in Lawrence.

Kansas university coach Turner Gill watches the jayhawks’ spring game on April 24 at Memorial Stadium. From his previous football experiences, Gill has already developed a sterling reputation in the Big 12 heading into his first year in Lawrence. by Nick Krug

BC: Washington State actually ranked 120th, dead last, in each of Paul Wulff's first two seasons (2008-09). So there's that.

JN: Finally, my Kansas State buddy thinks I'm way too hard on his Wildcats. But really, going 8-1 in one-possession games shouldn't be repeatable (even with a Hall of Fame coach), should it?

BC: Auburn showed last year that you CAN keep at least some close-game magic going; the Tigers went 7-0 in one-possession games in 2010, then went 3-0 again in 2011. If KSU can keep things close again, they can pull off just enough 3rd-and-3 conversions to win most close games again, especially when you consider that Collin Klein is back.

That said, while Auburn was still pulling out tight wins, they were also losing five games by an average score of 42-14. KSU might still have close-game magic, but they will probably face a few more whippings along the way. Last year was an absolutely incredible run by KSU, but … doing it twice is even more difficult than doing it once.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 8/28/12

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Full audio has been posted, along with the newest depth chart.

KU has to prepare as if South Dakota State's quarterback Austin Sumner is going to play (even though reports are that he might not play). If it ends up being backup QB Eric Kline, KU will still be ready to go.

Weis thinks bringing back moments from the past are good teaching points. Weis says he's always jabbing his players about a lot of things. He talks about both the North Dakota State loss and the Orange Bowl victory.

• Weis doesn't think his team will be overconfident. "We just lost 100 in a row," he said.

Weis does most of his yelling in practice. Most of his yelling on gamedays is for officials — "because they deserve it" he said with a laugh — and for players who get 15-yard penalties.

Jordan Tavai has been one of KU's best defensive linemen since he got here. Rather than playing him as a backup, KU is going to put its best four guys out there first. KU will play two deep on the D-line, but Tavai is the one player inside that can play outside effortlessly. Weis talks about building depth and versatility, and Tavai allows KU to have that.

Aslam Sterling moved to right guard when Riley Spencer wasn't able to get back on the field after getting banged up. Gavin Howard deserves to be in the starting lineup. Sterling has settled in at right guard.

• Weis isn't going to play conservative this game. KU needs to win this game. He'll worry about Game Two when Game One is over with.

KU linebacker Anthony McDonald is a physical player. When Weis doesn't believe McDonald can turn it loose, he's not going to play him. When McDonald can turn it loose, the depth chart will change. His whole game is physicality. Weis doesn't see him being able to turn it loose now. If this were the last game of the year, McDonald would play this week. But it's the first game of the year.

It's easier for Weis when his quarterback (Dayne Crist) knows his language. Weis can't think of any situation that could have presented itself any better for himself than Crist being here at KU during Weis' first year. If a certain team doesn't want to follow its quarterback, that guy has no chance to succeed. Crist was named a captain a few months after arriving at KU, so he definitely has established himself as a leader and should have a chance to succeed at KU.

Weis has put a lot of pressure on long snapper Reilly Jeffers in practice on Saturday. Even with that, Jeffers' snaps couldn't have been any better.

Weis says he likes having "or" on the backup positions on the depth chart, because that means you like both guys that are there. Linebacker Jake Love is an example. He has athleticism, and you want him to be in the mix for playing on the defense. You want Schyler Miles to play because he has great instincts. You want Love to play because he has athleticism and can play on special teams.

KU will probably have a three-back rotation. Brandon Bourbon will get touches, and Marquis Jackson would be the fourth guy to get touches if KU goes that far.

Tony Pierson can catch the football. He has good hands and has breakaway speed. Weis definitely wants him involved in the passing game. Not every running back has good hands and is elusive in the open field.

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger, because he's an old football coach, wants to give Weis space. Weis will invite him over to his office every Monday to talk about what happened the previous week. Zenger appreciates the fact that he has invited him over.

Weis puts boards up with 10 goals for offense, defense and special teams. The No. 1 goal for all those boards is winning. For offense, one of the goals is no turnovers. One turnover means the goal has not been met.

• There have been times when Weis has thought, going into the week, that his team was going to lay a whupping on someone, and instead it laid an egg. Weis also has had times when he thought a team wasn't ready, and instead, everything fell right for that team and it played well. Weis is ready to see how his team performs. He expects his team to not look like the Bad New Bears. He expects his players to line up right. His greatest pet peeve on offense is a delay of game penalty. Weis says he gets the calls in quickly enough to avoid delay of games. If it happens in a game, Weis joked he'll take the fall for it in public, but someone else will be ripped for it in private.

Trevor Marrongelli is a good short snapper. Weis is just forcing him to do one more duty now with Justin Carnes out for the first three games because of suspension.

Weis said that Sterling is in way better condition. He's probably dropped 20 pounds since he got to KU. He's spent extra time with strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple. Sterling probably can't go 70 plays, but KU has depth to fill in if needed.

• Weis tries to get to each one of his players in warmups to wish them good luck. Other than that, he tries to stay out of the way. He also points up to his wife in the box after each game.

Weis says his team has done so many things on offense that if someone spied on it and videotaped every practice, it would take them three years to figure it out. Weis isn't worried about people spying.

Receiver Tre' Parmalee is going to play. How much, Weis can't say. The game will dictate how much he plays. Parmalee's been one of the most pleasant surprises, according to Weis.

If KU plays great, people will say, "Well, it was South Dakota State." If KU wins a close game, people will say, "It was South Dakota State." Weis takes every game seriously.

Assistants Clint Bowen and Rod Jones have taught the team an old dance move from back in the day for KU victories. Weis just stands in the back and laughs. Weis joked that he's big on tradition, so the guys will do that after wins.

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