Game 1: Nicholls State at Kansas – Preview and Prediction

With David Beaty officially choosing his starting quarterback in Peyton Bender, it only seems right to preview the Jayhawks opening day matchup against the Nicholls State Colonels.
When Nicholls State has the ball

Nicholls State is returning their starting quarterback for the second straight year. Junior Chase Fourcade threw for 2,316 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2017. While those numbers don’t necessarily look great, they represent an improvement over Fourcade’s sophomore year, and Nicholls State will be looking for him to take a step forward in his junior campaign. The offense starts and ends with Fourcade. The Jayhawks needs to create pressure and force Fourcade into making uncomfortable throws. Last season, Nicholls ran for 2,403 yards and they return their top three rushers (including Fourcade). To bolster their already lethal rushing attack, Nicholls features an experienced offensive line. The star of that line is FCS Preseason All American right tackle Chandler Arceneaux.

The key for Kansas’ defense against Nicholls State is maintaining gap discipline and forcing Nicholls into passing situations. This is easier said than done, as the Colonels averaged nearly five yards per carry in 2017. Players like Isi Holani, JJ Holmes, and of course Daniel Wise will need to generate penetration against Nicholls’ experienced interior offensive line. Allowing Joe Dineen and the linebacking corps’ lanes to come down hill will give KU an opportunity to slow down Nicholls’ formidable ground game.

September 1st will be a great test to see how KU’s edge rushers are progressing since the departure of Dorance Armstrong. The rotation isn’t set in stone yet, but some names have started to emerge from camp. Darrius Moragne, a junior JUCO transfer, is a name to watch from that edge spot. If the Jayhawks are able to generate pressure against the tackles of Nicholls, that will bode well for the future.

In terms of passing attacks the Jayhawks will face in 2018, Nicholls won’t be one of the tougher teams. While they have some talent at receiver and a third year starting QB, Nicholls is primarily a rushing team. Nevertheless, the Jayhawks secondary will be worth watching week 1. Now that the secondary is under Clint Bowen’s umbrella, it will be interesting to note how the Jayhawks will be playing the Colonels’ receivers. At this point we don’t know what KU’s cornerback rotation will look like, but expect to see four-star freshman cornerback Corione Harris get some playing time.

When Kansas has the ball

With David Beaty announcing Peyton Bender as the starter, KU fans know what to expect from the quarterback position against Nicholls State. So, let’s get to the real story of the offense this offseason: the offensive line. Back in April, Kansas cancelled their spring game due to only having seven offensive linemen. Fast forward to August, and the Jayhawks have 20 offensive linemen on their official roster. Will the influx of transfers and freshmen make a difference for an offensive line that struggled all of 2017?  It’s hard to call who the Jayhawks will be starting on offensive line, but expect Hakeem Adiniji to be at one of the tackle spots and Alex Fontana at center.

Nicholls State should give us a good answer to that question. Opposite the Kansas side, the Colonels return one of the top edge rushers in the FCS in Kenny Dotson. Dotson sacked the quarterback 6.5 times last season and looks to take a step up in 2018. Another name to look out for is Ronald Ollie (of Last Chance U fame) who will be returning to the Colonels after taking a year away from football.

Some important players to watch in game 1 are the running backs. What kind of rotation will KU use? How will the coaching staff utilize Pooka Williams? Finally will Daylon Charlot be out on the field making plays? The Alabama transfer could add some assistance in the passing game, if he has truly returned to form.

Final thoughts and prediction

At the end of the day, this is a game that KU should win. They are more talented, deeper, more experienced, and they are playing in Lawrence. According to Jeff Sagarin’s rankings, KU is the 111th best team in all of D-I, while Nicholls is 151st.  Anything short of a blowout will look bad for Kansas football. Yes, there are still doubts. Nicholls played much better teams to much closer games the last two seasons. They won’t come in to Lawrence scared and boast a strength against KU’s biggest weakness.

Kansas 34, Nicholls State 26.

Location: Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas

Game time: Saturday, September 1, 2018 at 7:00 pm

TV channel: Jayhawk Network, ESPN+

Radio: 810 WHB

Odds: Kansas -10