The Kansas Jayhawks travel to Norman, OK to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in their final road game of the season. The expectation is that KU stands no chance in this one, but in the interest of trying to find an interesting reason to watch this game, I spoke with Jack Shields over at Crimson & Cream Machine, the SB Nation site that covers the Oklahoma Sooners. He answered a few questions for me.
RCT: While there are lots of compelling stories with this team, I think the obvious place to start is with the defense. Why have they been so terrible this year, and is there any hope to fix it before the end of the season?
C&CM: Frankly, I’m not sure where to begin, but coaching is at the root of it. This roster isn’t quite where it probably needs to be from a defensive standpoint, but the past few recruiting classes have been strong on that side. Basically, the defense should be much better than it has been.
I’m fine with the move Oklahoma made after the Texas game. However, this was never going to be a quick fix. Tackling has been horrendous, coverage has been shaky, and the pass rush has been largely ineffective even when rushing more than three. The strategic decisions have exacerbated these issues. OU routinely gives 8 or 10-yard cushions and seems okay with conceding yardage on quick passes, but the strategy hasn’t prevented receivers from getting behind the corners. It’s just a mess all around.
- Kyler Murray is an obvious Heisman candidate. How likely do you think he is to win it?
C&CM: It’s going to be tough because some of these voters make up their minds midway through the season, but Thanksgiving weekend could be big for Kyler and Tua if minds are still open. A prime-time win in Morgantown and a sloppy performance on The Plains could potentially swing things in Kyler’s favor. The Vegas odds are hovering at around 5/1, and that sounds about right at the moment.
- Looking at this Kansas team, is there any specific matchup or player that really concerns you?
C&CM: Pooka Williams should probably concern every team Kansas faces, so I’ll start with him. I could see him doing some damage on screen passes if OU decides to give big cushions again. Additionally, Steven Sims is good enough to be an impact player for a lot of top-25 programs. While OU’s struggles have primarily come against bigger receivers, he’s absolutely good enough to make plays against this OU secondary if the throws are on the money.
- Say that Kansas somehow stays within single digits of the Sooners. What would need to happen in the game to allow that to happen, and how much of a long shot is that?
C&CM: It would have to be a shootout (meaning that Peyton Bender would have to have ample time to throw and would have to make said throws), but that applies to pretty much any team OU is going to face — other than Army or perhaps Iowa State. I would certainly say it’s a huge long shot, but I could easily see Kansas beating the spread.
- Prediction Time! I don’t think that anyone really expects Kansas to stay close in this game, so in addition to your score prediction, who scores the longest touchdown and how many turnovers are there total in the game?
C&CM: The turnover question is interesting, because OU has only forced eight turnovers this season. Conversely, Kansas really doesn’t turn the ball over, only losing 10 all season (and sitting at +13 in turnover margin). As rare as a turnover is for OU’s offense (eight in 10 games), we honestly might not see one from either side on Saturday. So… I’ll go with one total turnover.
Longest touchdown? I’ll say Kennedy Brooks breaks a long one — let’s say a 75-yarder. For a final score prediction, I’ll go with 65-17 in favor of Oklahoma.
BONUS – It seems pretty certain that Kansas is going to be looking for a new coach and staff next season. Name one guy on the staff at Oklahoma who you think would excel on the new staff, either in their current role or in a new spot.
C&CM: If Les Miles decides to implement a 21st-century offense, he might do well to offer an increased role to Cale Gundy or Dennis Simmons. Gundy is the Co-OC and doesn’t have play-calling duties, so allowing him to call plays could appeal to him. However, he’s an OU lifer, and I don’t think he’d be down to face OU every year (or likely take a pay cut). Outside WR coach Simmons, on the other hand, is a fantastic recruiter and a product of the Air Raid tree at multiple stops. He might be worth a look – although I’d very much like him to stay in Norman.
Editor’s Note: After the news of Les Miles’ imminent hiring broke, I just had to add this last question.
RCT: Given the news that Les Miles is going to be the new head coach at Kansas, how much time do you expect them to devote to that fact on the broadcast?
C&CM: A lot, and this would be a great subject for a drinking game. Drink every time his name is uttered, and finish your drink if Kansas’ artificial turf (and the fact that he can’t eat it) is mentioned.
A big thanks to Jack to for helping us out with today’s game. Don’t forget to check out the questions that I answered for him over on Crimson & Cream Machine.