Willis Looking to Turn Jayhawks Around in First Start vs. TCU

On the surface, Saturday’s Big 12 matchup between Kansas and TCU has “easy win” written all over it for the Horned Frogs. At 1-3, the Jayhawks haven’t won in over a month, and that was also the last time they topped 21 points. TCU, on the other hand, is averaging over 560 yards of offense and 43 points per game.  But, as they say, that’s why they play the games. This game will be played, and the Jayhawks just might surprise some people.

If Kansas is to get back on track towards becoming bowl eligible, it will be Ryan Willis leading the way at quarterback after David Beaty named him the starter over Montell Cozart. With Willis under center, expect an offensive attack based more on pocket passing and timing since he doesn’t possess Cozart’s athleticism and scrambling ability. But it’s hard to say what impact this will have on the game. In the Jayhawks’ 55-19 loss to Texas Tech, Willis threw for 142 yards and a touchdown, but Cozart, after starting 4-13 for 36 yards, hit five of his last seven for 61 yards and a score.  In other words, neither of them really distinguished themselves from the other.

And no matter how you look at it, the QB situation in Lawrence clearly isn’t settled because Beaty has yet to say if Willis will play the entire game or if he will still be in a rotation with Cozart. While many Jayhawks fans understandably remain frustrated over the QB carousel and the lack of a quality starter since the days of Todd Reesing and Michael Cummings, Beaty’s unwillingness to let opponents know if they can prepare solely for the pocket passing Willis or the athletic scrambling Cozart probably does give Kansas their best chance to win each week.

TCU, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back after a tough 52-46 loss to Oklahoma that left Head coach Gary Patterson calling out the officiating during the game, including an intentional grounding call on the Horned Frogs final drive. Bad officiating or not, the loss shows that TCU is vulnerable on defense. After jumping out to a 21-7 lead, they watched, almost helplessly, as the Sooners outscored them 42-3, before TCU scored 22 fourth quarter points and fell just short in their comeback bid.

Clearly, the TCU offense, led by Junior QB Kenny Hill, is potent, but the defense appears to be ripe for the picking after allowing more than 40 points for the third time this season. The big question is whether or not Willis will be able to take advantage in a way that neither he nor Cozart were able to do last week against the Red Raiders, who came into the gamed ranked 123rd in passing yards allowed and 124th in points allowed per game.

TCU is favored by 29 points going into the game. While Kansas could certainly cover the spread, whether or not they will be able to do more than that and actually come away with the victory will largely fall on Willis’ ability to take advantage of a pass defense ranked 91st in the country. The other important factor? Whether or not the Jayhawks’ 75th ranked pass defense can find a way to slow the third best passing offense (393 yards per game) in the nation.

Steven Callahan is a contributor for Rock Chalk Blog every Friday. View his archive here.