The Aggies travel to Lawrence, KS to take on BCS foe Kansas. We've enlisted the help of Matt Tait who covers the Jayhawks for the Lawrence Journal-World to give Aggie fans a look at this Saturday's opponent.
The Jayhawks are 1-2 on the season under Turner Gill, they opened up his tenure with a 6-3 loss at home to North Dakota State followed by a 28-25 upset victory over then No. 15 Georgia Tech and followed that up with a 31-16 loss to Southern Miss on the road. Obviously the Jayhawks aren't as bad as their 6-3 loss NDSU, are they as good as their victory over Georgia Tech and how much can you blame their loss to Southern Miss on A) playing on a short week and B) a young team experiencing the hangover of an upset victory and what is your feel for where the Jayhawks are headed this season?
I really don't think the loss to Southern Miss had much to do with the short week. Did it have something to do with playing on the road? Probably. You're talking about a team starting a freshman at tailback and a red-shirt freshman at quarterback. There are plenty of other young guys on the field, too, who surely were in awe of their first road experience. Overall, I think KU has a chance to win six games this season but I have said all along that if they do it has to be considered a wildly successful year. The schedule, while never easy in the Big 12, is not that challenging and some of KU's key games are at home. Until they prove otherwise, it appears that this will be a team that responds well to tough defeats but maybe can't quite keep it rolling after victories. There's a lot of season left to still answer that question, though.
Both the Aggies and Jayhawks have suffered some tough losses. The Aggies are saying all the right things, staying optimistic, positive, Coach Walker had this to say, "These kids have not quit on us. They play for four quarters. One thing I will give the coaches and the players, they come to work everyday they work." Reading Coach Gill's press conference quotes it appears that he has made similar statements about his staff. That being said, what's the general mood been around the team this week after the loss to Southern Miss?
I think the Jayhawks have taken on the attitude and personality of their leaders in a very positive way. Coach Gill is a guy who doesn't get too high after wins and doesn't get too low after losses. And the players react accordingly. I think they were all bummed that they let the opportunity against Southern Miss slip away but I don't think they were discouraged. To them, it's a young team, it's early in the season and they're as excited today as ever about the opportunity to improve, work hard and get better each week.
After listening to the comments from NM State head coach DeWayne Walker as well as a couple of the Aggies' defensive players, I come away with the impression that KU freshman quarterback a fairly mobile quarterback. Is that the case and if so, what's been the reason for the offensive line allowing 10 sacks while he's been the quarterback?
Jordan Webb is fairly mobile in that he can extend plays and escape trouble to make things happen. That said, they still want him to be a pocket passer and to use his strong arm to make plays down the field. If anything, I think Webb has tried too hard to stay in there and make plays happen and that's created problems in pass protection. The guys up front are a work in progress - some are not completely healthy and some are new to this kind of role. Any time you've got a situation like that, you're going to have breakdowns. But I know the coaches are trying to find creative ways to mix the best of both worlds in terms of using Webb's mobility and his arm.
What's going on with KU's backfield? It sounds like head coach Turner Gill is happy with what he's seen out of freshman running back James Sims but it also looks like he's sharing time fairly significant with Deshaun Sands and to a lesser degree Angus Quigley.
James Sims is the team's running back. He's earned it, he's proven he can handle 20-25 carries a game and he's only going to get better. The coaches love him. They like Sands, too, because he's a little shiftier and he can make more things happen in space. Quigley was the top back coming out of camp but was injured in the second week of the season and has struggled to bounce back. I think they'll still use him in some situations, but as long as Sims continues to play the way he has been playing, the coaches will continue to feed him the ball.
What are some of the transformations on offense and defense that the Jayhawks are going through in making the transition from the Mark Mangino era to the Turner Gill era and what can Aggie fans expect to see from the Jayhawk offense when they have the ball and the Jayhawk defense when the Aggies have the ball?
Offensively, KU is more balanced than it has been in quite some time. The Jayhawks stick with the running game, even when it's slow to get going, and are more willing to use the run to set up the pass or use the pass to set up the run than Mangino's teams were. Mangino employed the spread offense and dared opponents to stop it. There are advantages to both but right now, it's been a somewhat slow transition because there are so many new faces on offense and because some of the guys who were around during the Mangino era were so used to running the spread. Defensively, KU has been much more physical and aggressive than in the past and I think they will continue to turn up the pressure as the weeks go on. They've been pretty good against the run and are just looking for a pass rush to go along with that.
Who are a couple of the main playmakers for the Jayhawks on offense and defense?
Offensively, wide receiver Daymond Patterson is one of the more electric guys on the team, the kind of player who can take it the distance any time he gets the ball. KU's coaches know that and they're trying to find ways to get Patterson touches any time they can. Tight end Tim Biere also is a big-time play-maker for the KU offense. He's got great hands, runs good routes and always seems to be there whenever the Jayhawks need someone to make a big catch.
Defensively, Jake Laptad is an all-Big 12 defensive end who has been slow to get going but should be a monster at some point this season. In addition, safety Lubbock Smith and linebackers Justin Springer and Steven Johnson are three of the Jayhawks' biggest hitters.
Who is one player on offense and defense who may not be household names (for Aggie fans or KU fans for that matter) that could have big games against the Aggies?
Offensively, that guy is wide receiver D.J. Beshears. Beshears is used as a runner, a receiver and in the return game and he's capable of scoring a touchdown anytime he touches it. Defensively, I'd say one guy to watch is senior cornerback Chris Harris. Harris started at corner on the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl championship team in 2007 and has started most games since. He's the most experienced player on the team and has shown good coverage skills, physical play in the secondary and also has two sacks this season.
What do the Jayhawks need to do to avoid another loss (particularly one that Jayhawk fans would likely perceive as on-par with the NDSU loss)?
A big reason for both of KU's losses this season was poor communication. The plays were slow to get to the field, the players on the field were confused and unsure of the calls and their responsibilities and communication throughout the team was lacking. Gill said they had addressed those issues and that things should go much smoother from here on out. If they don't, KU may continue to struggle.
What do the Aggies need to do to pull off the upset?
If NMSU can get pressure on KU quarterback Jordan Webb, all bets are off with the KU offense. When Webb has time, he has the head, the arm and the weapons around him to make other teams pay. When he doesn't have time, he takes a lot of sacks, is prone to make mistakes and the entire flow of the offense is disrupted.
For those Aggie fans who are traveling to Lawrence for the game, what are some of the KU pre-game tailgating traditions and what are some of the must-visit places after the game?
The environment around the stadium is great on gameday. Many fans tailgate in the parking lots and on "The Hill" that sits at the south end of the stadium and there are plenty of kid and family-friendly sections for tailgaters. As for after the game, Mass Street is a must for any out-of-tower. There are tons of bars and restaurants on Mass Street, which essentially is Lawrence's downtown area and the fun should be going all night long.
Your prediction (with score)?
I think KU wins this game and finally puts four quarters together. KU 41, NMSU 13.