TCU at Kansas Football: Three Things to Watch

Sep 27, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; An exterior view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; An exterior view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

After two consecutive games on the road, the Kansas football team returns home to play to Big 12 opponent TCU. What should fans watch for, and is an upset possible?

Before we get to the game, we at Through the Phog want to wish KU player Jordan Shelley-Smith the best in his future endeavors. Beaty announced today that Shelley-Smith was retiring from football due to concussions.

With Ryan Willis as the starter, can the Jayhawk offense come to life? Coming off a solid performance against Texas Tech, David Beaty announced at his weekly press conference that Ryan Willis would enter this week as the starter. Against the Red Raiders, Willis completed 14 of 26 passing attempts for 142 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he didn’t commit any turnovers. In his press conference today, Beaty cited several reasons for the change. The first was Willis’s progression in his knowledge of the system, especially how defenses are attacking. Secondly, Beaty brought up Willis’s efficiency in games, which has been better than the previous starter Montell Cozart.

As far as the quarterback carousel, Beaty remarked it would be “nice” to have one quarterback play the entire game, but declined to say if he was done rotating in Cozart and freshman Carter Stanley. Whoever is playing QB is in for a challenge. Year in and year out, Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs defense is among the top in the nation. 2016 is no different, as the Frogs are allowing only 258 yards per game. TCU isn’t an aggressive defense as far as bringing pressure, but their front four are among the best in the conference in getting to the quarterback, and have recorded 14 sacks this season.

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Will KU’s defense hold up? This is the question that has me most worried. From watching TCU a couple times this season, the Horned Frogs play up to ten receivers and three running backs on an offense that scores 43 points per game. Offensively TCU isn’t dissimilar from Texas Tech, as Red Raider head coach Kliff Kingsbury and TCU co-Offensive Coordinator Sonny Cumbie played together under Mike Leach from 2000-2002. TCU’s Air Raid could be the most difficult test the Jayhawks’ defense has all season, especially with how well TCU quarterback Kenny Hill is playing. Hill has completed over 64% of his passes for 1936 yards (almost 400 per game) and 11 touchdowns. The junior QB is a true dual threat as well, as he’s rushed for 170 yards and six touchdowns this year. Running back Kyle Hicks is a threat to score any time he touches the ball as well. During his weekly press conference, Beaty called Hicks “one of the best players in the conference.”

It will be an incredible challenge for the thin and inexperienced Kansas defense on two fronts. The defensive line has to keep Hill in the pocket. The return of linemen Dorrance Armstrong and Daniel Wise should help there. Linebacker Joe Dineen will be a gametime decision in coming off a leg injury, and could end up being Hill’s personal tracker, spying him on pass plays.

TCU has only beat Kansas by a combined ten points the last two meetings. Will the pattern of close games continue? It’s hard to believe, but the last two meetings between these two teams have been very close. In 2014, TCU squeaked out a 34-30 victory against Kansas, in a game that came down to the final series. Last year in Ft. Worth, TCU won an ugly 23-17 contest. The Jayhawks’ only hope for victory this year will be for the Frogs to look past the Jayhawks for the third consecutive year, an unlikely event under head coach Gary Patterson.

In his press conference, Beaty acknowledged the reality that Kansas isn’t good enough to beat TCU unless they play “100% perfect.” Each phase of the game, offense, defense, and special teams need to all be complimentary. Frankly, TCU will likely need to lay a large egg for the Jayhawks to stay in this one.

Bottom Line. The Jayhawks have a couple advantages built into this game. They’re coming off a Thursday game, which has given a few players additional time to recover from injury and prepare. The game kicks off at 11 A.M., and the Frogs could open the game sleepwalking. Before the season, I picked Kansas to win this game, so I might as well stick to it. Kansas somehow puts an entire game together to beat TCU, who barely realizes they landed in Kansas. Final score 31-24.