Week 6 preview: Kansas, TCU under national spotlight in battle of unbeatens
photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World
As Kansas was scuffling through the season a year ago and enduring one lopsided beating after another, coach Lance Leipold never stopped to consider what things would be like in 52 weeks’ time.
If he did, what he would have projected likely would not have resembled reality: The Jayhawks, undefeated through five weeks, No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, with the national spotlight illuminating the university.
“I knew a year ago we were a ways away, so to say I could imagine that at this time, no,” Leipold said. “But I wouldn’t have viewed it as a failure if we weren’t (successful), either. … There’s probably a moment you’ve got to pinch yourself a little bit.”
Kansas wants to delay that moment for as long as possible and has found a way each week to do so. Yet on Saturday morning, it will encounter another plucky upstart in TCU, a team that has undergone less of a rebuild but still figured to face a long road back to excellence as recently as this summer.
What will transpire at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium is a clash of two of the 16 remaining undefeated teams in the FBS and their high-powered offenses. Should the Jayhawks emerge as the survivor, they’ll start a season with six consecutive victories for the first time since 2007.
“They’ve earned the respect that they have,” first-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes said.
Kansas will ride the energy from a third consecutive sellout crowd and the on-site broadcast of “College GameDay,” ESPN’s flagship preview show, into the meeting with the No. 17-ranked Horned Frogs, who have started 4-0 behind Dykes and quarterback Max Duggan.
A senior set to make his fourth appearance against Kansas, Duggan leads the FBS with a passing efficiency rating of 202.2, is third with a 74.5 completion percentage and has thrown for 11 touchdowns without an interception. His performance has only been surprising because Dykes benched him before the season for redshirt sophomore Chandler Morris, only for Morris to leave the opener with a left knee injury.
All told, the Horned Frogs, who surprisingly dismantled then-No. 18 Oklahoma 55-24 last week, enter Saturday ranked second in the FBS with 48.5 points and 549.5 yards per game. They’re also averaging 8.33 yards per play, tops among the 131 teams.
That means it’s fortuitous timing for the Jayhawks to have had their best game of the season defensively last week in a 14-11 win over Iowa State.
“It would be a shame this week to go out and fall on your face and you’re left wondering again, ‘Well, what was that last week?'” defensive coordinator Brian Borland said.
Not only would a victory move Kansas to 3-0 in the Big 12, giving it as many conference victories as it had in all of the previous five seasons combined, it would be among the first teams in the nation to reach one elusive milestone.
It’d be eligible to play in a bowl game, which it has not done in 14 years.
“We haven’t kind of hit what we can be,” Leipold said. “But as we know, this is the biggest challenge so far in many different ways, so it will be another good measuring stick, that’s for sure.”
Kansas Jayhawks (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) vs. TCU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12)
• David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, 11 a.m.
• Broadcast: FS1
• Radio: KLZR 105.9 FM / KLWN 1320 AM
• Opening line: Kansas +5.5; over/under 67.5
• Series history: TCU leads, 25-9-4
Points per game: Kansas 41.6; TCU 48.5
Points allowed per game: Kansas 24; TCU 22
Yards per game: Kansas 421.8 (220.4 rushing, 201.4 passing); TCU 549.5 (251.8 rushing, 297.8 passing)
Leading passer: Kansas’ Jalon Daniels (68.2%, 196.6 yards per game, 11 TDs, 1 interception); TCU’s Max Duggan (74.5%, 249.3 yards per game, 11 TDs, 0 interceptions)
Leading rusher: Kansas’ Jalon Daniels (67 yards per game, 7.3 yards per carry, 5 TDs); TCU’s Kendre Miller (96.5 yards per game, 7.6 yards per carry, 5 TDs)
Leading receiver: Kansas’ Luke Grimm (41.6 yards per game, 11 yards per catch, 2 TDs); TCU’s Derius Davis (39.5 yards per game, 11.3 yards per catch, 2 TDs)
Leading tackler: Kansas’ Rich Miller (38); TCU’s Johnny Hodges (25)
What to watch for
1. Offensive cohesion: Kansas was stilted offensively last week as it gained just 213 yards against Iowa State. Junior quarterback Jalon Daniels, who entered averaging 222.5 passing yards and 80 rushing yards per game, was held to 93 and 9, respectively. TCU’s base defense is similar to Iowa State’s in that it uses three linemen and five defensive backs, two of whom are NFL prospects in cornerbacks Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Noah Daniels, though it plays more man-to-man coverage than the Cyclones.
2. Defensive pressure: A large part of the Jayhawks’ strong defensive performance against the Cyclones was the pressure generated by its front seven. Kansas had five sacks and eight tackles for loss against redshirt sophomore quarterback Hunter Dekkers, who, unlike Duggan, was making just his fourth start. TCU has a quality offensive line that has combined for 132 starts, and the Horned Frogs have allowed six sacks this season.
3. Big-play potential: TCU has had 75 plays go for 10 or more yards, including 31 for 20 or more and six for 60 or more. Kansas, which has been susceptible to big plays, has allowed 61 for 10 or more yards. “We put on the big-play tape and it’s through whatever, four games they’ve played, they’ve got about 80 big plays in four games,” Borland said. “That’s impressive to me.”
Spotlight on …
Devin Neal: The loss of redshirt sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. to a leg injury in the win against Iowa State further scars the depth the Jayhawks had assembled at running back. With Hishaw out and redshirt sophomore Ky Thomas still battling a leg injury, it will be up to Neal, redshirt sophomore Sevion Morrison (who did not play a snap on offense against the Cyclones) and redshirt junior Torry Locklin to anchor a rushing attack that didn’t gain more than 200 yards in a game for the first time a week ago.
Inside the numbers
43: Percent of the time an opponent scores a touchdown against Kansas after entering the red zone. That ranks 20th in the FBS.
62: Years since two undefeated teams faced off at Memorial Stadium in October. Syracuse, then 1-0, beat Kansas, then 2-0, 14-7 on Oct. 1, 1960.
479: Yards in the first half by TCU against Oklahoma, the most by an FBS team against an FBS opponent in a half this season.