KU Football at Oklahoma Preview

Sep 3, 2016; Lawrence, KS, USA; An overall view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Rhode Island Rams. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; Lawrence, KS, USA; An overall view of Memorial Stadium before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Rhode Island Rams. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the next two weeks, the KU football team reaches the toughest part of its schedule: at Oklahoma and at West Virginia. This week, the Jayhawks travel to Norman for a showdown with the Sooners. Here are three things to watch.

With the quarterback position settled for the time being, can Montell Cozart continue his solid play?

Before the season, many fans hoped that the junior quarterback would rarely, if ever see the field. Because of injuries and ineffective play from Ryan Willis, Cozart seized the job at the beginning of the year, and seemingly has become the unquestioned starter, at least for now. When looking at each’s stat line, Cozart is the clear choice. Cozart leads Willis in yards per attempt (6.3 vs. 5.3), touchdown passes (seven vs. three), and has thrown fewer interceptions on more attempts (six vs. seven). Most importantly for the quarterback position, Cozart has been a much better steward of the football. Cozart’s six interceptions are the only turnovers he’s committed this season. Willis’s seven interceptions and two lost fumbles mean he’s turned the ball over 50% more than Cozart, in less playing time.

Cozart could have a good day against the Oklahoma defense. Against the pass, Oklahoma is ranked 127th in the country, next to last. They give up nearly 343 yards per game against the pass. Of course, this is largely a reflection of the 734 yards Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes threw for last Saturday in their 66-59 loss to the Sooners. Mike Stoops’s defense has also allowed passing games of 449 and 321 yards to TCU and Houston. Additionally, defensive backs Jordan Parker, Parrish Cobb, and Michiah Quick are questionable or out due to injury. Kansas receivers should have a field day against the porous defense.

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Clint Bowen’s defense has overachieved. Can they do that against the explosive OU offense?

That seems a bridge too far for the Jayhawks. While they’ve played well against very good offenses, Oklahoma is a different animal. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley guides a very aggressive Air Raid offense, that takes more than its share of deep shots. Quarterback Baker Mayfield averages an astounding 12.1 yards per passing attempt, best in the nation. His passer rating of 194.9 is third in the country, behind Toledo’s Logan Woodside and Washington’s Heisman hopeful Jake Browning. Mayfield also ranks sixth in the country in passing yards per game, at 335.

Pre-Air Raid, the Kansas defense still struggled mightily in Norman. When Bowen was interim head coach in 2014, OU running back Samaje Perine rushed for a NCAA record 427 yards against the hapless Jayhawks defense. The good news for Bowen’s defense is that Perine will not play due to a leg injury. The bad news is that Joe Mixon is still on the roster for the Sooner,s and is a bigger receiving threat than Perine, as he’s caught 22 passes already this year while splitting time. He’s also rushed for 6.7 yards per carry. All told, the Sooner attack ranks third in the country in total offense at 572 yards per game, only behind Texas Tech and Louisville. I don’t expect much deviation from their 572 yards per game.

Can Kansas limit turnovers? I say it every week, but it’s that important. The Jayhawks are still last in turnover margin, at -2.3 per game. It could get better with Cozart at quarterback, but a key fumble by Ke’aun Kinner and two Cozart interceptions led to 17 Cowboy points. There is zero chance of Kansas pulling the road upset if KU loses the turnover battle. Oklahoma also struggles in the turnover battle, with a-.7 average margin, 108th in the country.

To even stay in the game, Kansas has to win the turnover battle, and by a good margin. The defense has to stay off the field, and the best way to do that is to force turnovers. Baker Mayfield has only thrown five interceptions this year, a stat KU has to increase.

Bottom Line

This is a really poor matchup for the Jayhawks, as the Sooners can pile up points in a hurry with an array of stars. Each unit, offense, defense, and special teams, has to play their best game of the road in a hostile environment. As a 40.5 point favorite, Oklahoma might have a hard time covering, but only because of their defense. My prediction? 56-24 Sooners.