Jayhawk football fans haven’t had much to celebrate in a long time. The 2015 season was painful as there wasn’t a single win. There hasn’t been a reason to celebrate since November 8, 2014. All of that leads to the first game of the 2016 season against the Rhode Island Rams. Their results over the past few years are as bad as the Jayhawks and they play in the lower FCS subdivision.
What does that mean for the outcome against the Rams? According to the betting line, Kansas is favored by 29 points. Barring something crazy happening, Jayhawk fans should have reason to celebrate when the final whistle blows. In fact, they should have reasons to celebrate throughout the game.
I have six things I’ll be watching:
ONE: Quarterbacks. We still don’t know who will be starting the game. If I had to guess, it will be Ryan Willis. No matter how he plays, I fully expect to see Montell Cozart take snaps before halftime. Should Cozart start, then Willis will also receive first half snaps. The coaches want to see how each of them perform in a real game so they can determine the best option for the rest of the games on the schedule. I also expect Carter Stanley to lead a drive or two so that he can get a taste of college football in case he is needed later in the season.
I hope they are decisive, their throws are accurate, they mix in some runs and they don’t turn it over. If the Air Raid offense is going to succeed, the offense has to move fast and drives must be sustained. Against an overmatched opponent, they need to put up a lot of points to build confidence.
TWO: Offensive Line. If they can’t keep the quarterback protected in this game, it’s gonna be another really long season. Ideally, I don’t want to see a KU quarterback sacked. I want to see the offensive line get a push with holes opened up for the running backs. Not only does each lineman need to do his own job, they need to work together.
THREE: Receivers. I’m confident the running backs will have some run success. It seems more important that they are able to catch the ball in open space. That includes catching balls that aren’t thrown perfectly. Make those tough catches to keep the quarterback confident.
In the Air Raid offense, a number of receivers will be used in the slot and on the edges. The ball needs to be thrown to all areas of the field, inside and out, long and short. It would be great to see a receiver like LaQuvionte Gonzalez have a breakout game. But I’d love to see the catches spread among a number of receivers so the defense can’t be focused on just one weapon.
FOUR: Defensive Line. If the line can’t pressure the offense, it makes a tough day for the entire defense. That is especially true with all of the high powered offenses in the Big 12. We’ve heard about the increased size in the middle and the speed on the edge. Now we need to see the Rams quarterback on the ground a few times and the running game stuffed. If they can’t overpower the Rams, this maybe the only win of the season as the opponents will only get tougher.
FIVE: Edge Defense. Just like with the running backs, I feel comfortable with the defense in the middle of the field if the line is doing their job. I’m most concerned with the corners shutting down the receivers. As Jayhawk fans we are all too familiar with watching the opponent’s receivers dominating the corners. Lock down the receivers in this game and build confidence for the conference games.
SIX: Special Teams. There has been nothing more frustrating than watching the kicking game the past few seasons. The “gimme” extra points weren’t a given. Going for it on fourth down often seemed the better option than trying most any field goal. And given the inept offense in past seasons, the punter became one of the most important players on the team.
Ideally there will be no field goal attempts because the offense gets touchdowns. Yet it might not be the end of the world if there are at least a couple of field goal opportunities that get converted. Kickers need to see the ball go through the uprights! Yes, so do fans!!!
Prediction: The guys in Las Vegas are pretty smart and their predictions are right more often than not. I think the built-up frustration of last season will help the entire team to come out firing in this game. So I’m predicting the Jayhawks will not only win, but cover the 29 point spread. I’ll say Kansas 52 – Rhode Island 13.