After a wild week on the Jayhawk campus, I’m sure all players, coaches and fans will be glad to have a game taking place. There is no doubt that Southern Mississippi is the toughest opponent the Jayhawks have faced this season. Various national media have put the Jayhawks on upset alert this week. The fear is that the on campus shenanigans and the tough opponent will combine to catch the Jayhawks off guard.
If Southern Mississippi wins this game, it will be because they play the better game. I have no doubt that the coaching staff will have the players focused on the game and they will be well aware that the Eagles are a very tough opponent. If anything, I think the off field activities will have the team even more fired up to show everyone that they are a top notch team deserving of accolades.
A pleasant surprise for the Jayhawks this season is the potency of their running game. Coach Mangino is pleased, but also attributes this is part to the opposing teams being focused on shutting down the passing game. Southern Mississippi has shown in their first three games that they can shut down an opponent’s running game. Jake Sharp is considered a game time decision for the Jayhawks and he could be a deciding factor in who wins this battle. My guess is that Sharp will get a few carries, but he won’t get a heavy workload so that he doesn’t cause further damage to his calf injury. It is doubtful the Jayhawks will put up the running numbers from the first three games, though I think they will mix in enough runs to keep the Southern Miss defense guessing.
Where I expect the Jayhawks to focus the most is the passing game. They haven’t shown as much as expected in the first three games and this game seems the obvious situation to air the ball out. They have three high-quality receivers in Johnathan Wilson, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. Throw in Bradley McDougald, the true freshman, and there is no way that any defense can stop all four of them. In fact, it is dropsies that has stopped them the most so far. My only question is whether Dezmon Briscoe will be playing. Coach Mangino has not announced any suspensions, but it was reported that Briscoe was involved in some way in the scuffles this week. Regardless, I think the Jayhawks will do a good job moving the ball through the air. The Eagles did record six sacks against Virginia last week so it is imperative the line does a good job blocking and Reesing gets rid of the ball quickly.
Southern Miss is good at moving the ball on the ground. To date, the Jayhawks have done a good job of stopping the run. Again, something has to give. I think the Jayhawks will give up some yards on the ground, though the Eagles will be held below their season average. Last week the Eagles had a couple of big runs and KU has given up some big plays to UTEP and Duke. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles get a long run at some point in the game. That could even come from the Wildcat (or Wild Eagle) formation that has become so popular. UTEP used it on a couple of plays and gained positive yardage. The Jayhawks will be looking for it, though they could get caught off guard since they haven’t seen it much this season.
While I think the Eagles will have some success on the ground, it will be their passing game that will determine if they score enough points to win. Austin Davis has been proven to be a good quarterback. Last week the Jayhawks gave up a big slant pass to Duke on their first offensive play. Just like the run defense, the pass defense needs to focus on not giving up the big play. I think the Jayhawks will at least keep the Eagles in check on their passing game.
I don’t think we’ll see a defensive slugfest this week. The defense that provides the most stops will be the difference. I think the Jayhawks offensive firepower gives them the edge and I’ll predict the Jayhawks win 38-21.