Column: Stingy OSU will test Kansas

Offensive coordinator Rob Likens, true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, the freshman-heavy receiving corps and Kansas University football’s flawed yet improving offensive line face the sort of heat Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, that they haven’t seen yet and won’t see again.

The Cowboys (6-0) rank first in the nation with 4.17 sacks per game and second to Arizona State with 9.83 tackles for loss.

The problems for KU’s offense start with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, fifth in the nation with 1.25 sacks per game, but they don’t end there. Ogbah, a 6-foot-4, 275 pound native of Houston, leads the Cowboys with 7.5 sacks, and opposite end Jimmy Bean has 5.5 sacks.

“They’re really good,” Likens said. “They cause a lot of problems. Baylor had more of an inside-push defense, where they had that big, strong 75 (Shawn Oakman), who could push your center and guard back into your lap. These guys are a little bit different. They’ve got the edge guys. So that’s going to present a really big challenge for us.”

Not that the Cowboys don’t have massive bodies in the middle. Their D-tackles combine for 605 pounds of trouble.

“They’re just big all around, good all around,” Likens said. “It’s not fun watching them on film, I’ll say that.”

Statistically, Oklahoma in many ways has a defense as good as OSU’s, but Kansas will face the Sooners at home. Baylor defeated Kansas, 66-7, in Willis’ first start.

“Yes, I would say so,” Likens said when asked if Saturday will be the toughest challenge of all for the Jayhawks’ offense. “Baylor, they’re really good, but at least you were behind your home crowd. You didn’t have the distractions of traveling. It’s going to be hostile. It’s going to be loud. All of that good stuff is going to add an extra element to the whole deal. It will be the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far with playing on the road with it. I think they’re every bit as good as Baylor on defense.”

Facing such long odds every week could break a lesser man, but Likens finds ways to enjoy his difficult job.

“I love these kids,” Likens said. “They know we’re in a tough spot. We’re trying to mature a true freshman quarterback, but we have to be good, too. And we can’t just throw the whole game plan at him either. It’s a pretty tough deal, and they always take on the challenge.”

The experience, regardless of how it turns out, will toughen the young Jayhawks in the years to come.

–Tom Keegan appears Sunday nights on “The Drive” on WIBW-TV.