After a blown opportunity last week, willÂ the Jayhawks continue to lose on the road?
The Jayhawks open Big 12 play on the road in Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones. ISU was the Jayhawksâ€™ only conference win last year, winning 34-14 behind a strong performance by quarterback Michael Cummings. However, the teams this time around look starkly different. The Cyclones return seven offensive and six defensive starters, including senior quarterback Sam Richardson. Head coach Paul Rhodes looks to have Iowa State rebound from a dreadful 2-10 season last year. They are 1-2 so far in 2015, with a win against in-state opponent Northern Iowa and losses against rival Iowa and Toledo. Kansas looks to win its first game of the year, and first conference road game since October 2008, also at Ames. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday. Here are three things to watch in KU’s latest attempt to get on the board.
1. Will the running game rebound?
So far, running backÂ Keâ€™aun Kinner has been by far the best offensive player for the Jayhawks, rushing for 157 and 113 yards in the first two games. However, Kinner struggled to find running room at Rutgers, rushing 16 times for 25 yards. Defenses are starting to key on Kinner, andÂ finding holes to run through is becoming much more difficult. For the running game to rebound and succeed, quarterback Montel Cozart needs to be a more consistent and accurate threat throwing the football. The offensive line also needs to execute. Look for 6â€™7, 290-pound freshman Larry Hughes to get significant playing time at right tackle ahead of senior Larry Mazyck. The good news for KU fans is that ISU hasnâ€™t allowed less than 30 points to a FBS opponent so far this season.
2. Can the defense finally stop someone?
The Jayhawks defense has struggled so far this season, giving up 542 yards and 41 points per game, ranking 121stÂ and 119thÂ in FBS, respectively. The good news is Iowa Stateâ€™s offense may be equally bad, as they rank 97thÂ in America,Â only gaining 367 yards per game on offense and scoring 24 points per game. The main challenge for KU will be slowing down 6â€™5 wide receiver Allen Lazard, who has 15 receptions for 150 yards so far this season. The Jayhawk secondary has struggled against big, physical receivers so far this year, the clear example being South Dakota State receiver Jake Wieneke, who caught 8 passes for 160 yards against KU in week one. ISU quarterback Sam Richardson is solid and unspectacular. Heâ€™s completing 61% of his passes with only one interception so far this season. The Jayhawks will have to get Richardson out of his comfort zone and force turnovers to stayÂ in the game.
3. The constantly evolving depth chart, or lack thereof.
The Jayhawks are fairly unique in that they do not publish an official depth chart every week, in part because playing time is a constantly changing target for David Beaty and his staff, especially at wide receiver and defensive back. With a roster this young and thin, Beaty and his staff have no choice but to throw freshmen into the fire and see how they perform. This week, it appears tackle Larry Hughes will start and get significant playing time in order to shore up the offensive line. At receiver, freshman Tyler Patrick should start, having earned playing time over more experienced players Darious Crawley and Joshua Stanford. Freshman QB Ryan Willis will also see some action, as backup Deondre Ford looks to out for an extended period of time with a sprained thumb ligament. On defense, we will likely see the same unit as against Rutgers start, though do not be surprised to see more players in and out depending on performance.
This looks to be KUâ€™s best remaining chance to win a game this season, and it would be a great start to conference play. The Jayhawks have only started Big 12 play 1-0 six times since the conference was established in 1996. However, there are good reasons why KU hasnâ€™t won a conference game on the road in seven, yes seven, years. As KU is significantly down on talent and depth, it appears unlikely that KU can win this one at Ames, an underrated homefield advantage for the Cyclones. KU fallsÂ to 0-4, 31-21.