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July 31, 2008
KU will give Sooners a tough test in '08
It's been a while since OU fans could get excited about a match up at home versus the Jayhawks. Since 1963 the Sooners are 17-3 against the artificial birds and many of the contests have gotten out of hand to say the least.
But Kansas Head Coach Mark Mangino is proving why he was such a valued member of the Sooners' 2000 National Championship. It's taken a little longer than he'd hoped but Mangino is turning Lawrence into a two-sport town.
And when the Jayhawks head to Norman, fans should expect an entertaining game.
Leading Kansas on the offensive side of the ball will be junior quarterback Todd Reesing. He might not have the build of a Sam Bradford or a Graham Harrell, but the youngster from Austin, Texas, certainly measures up statistically as he threw for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns while directing the nation's No. 2 scoring offense.
For Reesing to be successful, the front line for the Jayhawks is going to have to go up against a defensive line better than any they saw a year ago.
Led by senior center Ryan Cantrell, Kansas' o-line returns three starters but lose probably their two most important players from a year ago. If OU's front four play like they did a year ago, it will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks and, more importantly, Reesing react.
Despite losing their top rusher from a season ago, Sooner linebackers could have their hands full as it seems the Jayhawks won't miss a beat in the backfield.
Junior Jake Sharp had a decent year as a backup last season with 834 yards and will get the starting nod at tailback. However, look for Kansas to be another team who rotates running backs, with National Junior College Offensive Player of the Year, Jocques Crawford, set to accompany Sharp in the Jayhawks backfield.
The most even matchup could come when the Sooners are on defense - when OU's secondary goes up against the Kansas receiving core.
Many of Reesing's targets that helped him accumulate last year's monstrous numbers return and will give OU's green corners a true test.
Senior Dexton Fields leads the receiving corps finishing second on the team a year ago in yards (834) and touchdowns (7).
Fields will be joined by sophomore Dezmon Briscoe who had 496 yards as a No. 3 receiver last season and former quarterback turned wide out Kerry Meier will also bring athleticism to the crew.
As revamped as the offense looks it still doesn't come close to what the defense brings back returning nine starters from a year ago.
Two things will however make a dent in the defense. Kansas loses two huge stars in tackle James McClinton and corner back Aqib Talib and the Jayhawks also lose defensive coordinator Bill Young who left for a job in Miami.
Even with the losses, the Hawks still had the No. 12 total defense in the nation last season and shouldn't fall far.
Leading the Kansas defense will undoubtedly be the Jayhawk linebackers who, according to Phil Steele, have the fifth best line backing core behind Ohio State, USC, South Carolina and Florida State.
The corp returns all three starters from a year ago who accounted for over 300 tackles and 38 tackles for losses.
Senior Joe Mortenson might have the most accolades finishing with 106 tackles last year and is almost a unanimous preseason first team All-Big 12. But Mike Rivera who finished a measly 10 tackles behind Mortenson with 96, is said to have the most NFL potential. Rounding out the trio of seniors will be James Holt who certainly is third only in statistics with 99 tackles last season.
Kansas' strength at the linebackers helps offset the Jayhawks's somewhat weak defensive front. Three-of-four return for to the defensive line but that might not be a good thing since the Jayhawks had one of the worst pass rushes in the league including a total of zero sacks between the four.
Taking into account the strength of the linebackers combined with no pass rush, the main matchup will be the OU wide receivers against the Kansas secondary since it seems as if the Sooners will be passing all night long.
Kansas will offset the Sooners' Juaquin Iglesias and company with a decent group in the secondary hoping to contain Bradford as much as they can.
Starting with the corners, Chris Harris has the lucky task of trying to fill the big shoes of the aforementioned Aqib Talib. Harris only a sophomore had 65 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman and earning him Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Senior Kendrick Harper who split time with Harris a year ago will now move into a starter role manning the other corner.
If the Sooner wide outs get by the young corners, they should have an advantage against another fairly young group at the safety positions.
Junior Darrell Stuckey returns at the strong safety position after a 72 tackle sophomore season and junior Justin Thorton who has six interceptions in eight starts over two seasons, will man the free safety.
Bottom line, the game could be fairly competitive for a half to three quarters but four of Kansas' 12 wins last season were one possession wins and with a record of 21-0 against conference opponents at home since 2002, look for the Sooners offense to wear the Kansas defense down in the fourth quarter and pull away for a comfortable win.