Strength vs. strength in Oklahoma-Kansas match
It’s taken Kansas coach Mark Mangino 17 tries to win five games against ranked opponents. Not impressed?
Consider this: Before he arrived in 2002, the lowly Jayhawks needed 60 games against the nationally ranked to win five.
Slowly but steadily, Mangino has taken the Jayhawks from doormat to respectability to Big 12 North contender, chipping away one milestone after another.
But in spite of a BCS breakthrough when they beat Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl, Mangino’s Jayhawks have never recorded a great signature win in front of those appreciative home crowds that are now swelling Memorial Stadium to overflow status.
Is another threshold about to be crossed?
The No. 24 Jayhawks (5-1, 1-1 Big 12), host No. 25 Oklahoma (3-3, 1-1) on Saturday on regional TV, another rarity at Memorial Stadium.
Yes, the Sooners do have three losses and, no, they do not have injured Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford.
But they’re still Oklahoma. Their losses have been by a combined five points, against nationally ranked opponents away from home. And the Jayhawks, particularly the accomplished senior class, know this could be their last opportunity to capture that era-defining home victory.
“We’re definitely going to have to do some great things. But if we should take care of business against OU, it’s another of those big wins that puts Kansas in the running to get to a top, elite program,” said wide receiver Kerry Meier. “All the big (wins) we’ve had have been on the road. We haven’t really had a big-time win in Memorial Stadium. It would be a great feeling to finish off my career having Oklahoma come here and us coming out on top.”
The game will pit strength against strength and weakness against weakness. Led by senior quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, the Jayhawks rank No. 2 nationally with more than 503 yards per game. Briscoe and Meier lead the NCAA in combined receptions (18.34) and yards (230.87).
Trying to stop them will be an Oklahoma defense coming off a tough three-point loss to Texas in which the Sooners allowed just 16 points to an offense that leads the nation with 42 points a game.
“It’s crazy,” said Meier. “We watched them on film last year and thought they were really good. Then they come out this year and their stats are even better.”
With Bradford sidelined by a shoulder problem, the Oklahoma offense seems less explosive than it was last year while amassing a gargantuan 674 yards in a 45-31 shootout win over the Jayhawks.
But the Kansas defense has been so lacking, coaches have tried a risky midseason overhaul, moving a couple of offensive players to defense and conducting what Mangino termed a “simplifying” of some of their concepts.
“We can’t simplify the whole defense because it’s been good to us and it’s a good system,” Mangino said. “But we can pick and choose where we want to play them, and how we want to do it.”
In last year’s loss at Oklahoma, Reesing had 342 passing yards.
“You look at him on film and he looks like Brett Favre or something,” said Oklahoma defensive back Jonathan Nelson. “He throws off his back foot and left and right. You’re like, ‘Man, this guy’s really good.”‘
Reesing may be as good as any quarterback in the country at scrambling around and extending plays.
“It’s pretty annoying for a defensive back when you’re covering somebody and 8 seconds later, you realize that the quarterback is not down and the play’s still going on,” Nelson said.
Last year against Oklahoma, Briscoe set a team record (since broken by Meier) with 12 catches for a whopping 269 yards and two TDs.
It’s best not to bring that up with Oklahoma cornerback Brian Jackson. He and Briscoe went to rival high schools in Dallas.
“I’ve got to give him his credit. He did his thing last year, but that just gives me a reason to have a chip on my shoulder,” said Jackson.
So are Briscoe-Meier the nation’s best receiving tandem?
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Jackson said. “When we come out on Saturday, they’re going to get our best shot just like we hope we get theirs.”