Texas Tech at Kansas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence
TV: Fox Sports 1
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Radio: WHB (810 AM)
Line: Texas Tech by 17
The Lowdown: Before the season, this appeared to be one of Kansas’ best chances to win a Big 12 game. The Jayhawks have a home game coming off a bye, while Texas Tech was expected to be down a bit after getting picked eighth in the conference preseason poll. Instead, KU remains as a three-possession underdog, partly because of the team’s poor defensive start and partly because the Red Raiders have exceeded expectations while starting 3-1.
KU key to success: Keep the offense rolling. KU’s improvement under new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham has been dramatic, as the team is averaging 32 points per game after not getting above 23 in any of the past seven seasons. The Jayhawks, who are coming off a 367-yard rushing game against West Virginia, should be able to move the ball against a Texas Tech defense that has done better forcing turnovers (10 in four games) than limiting opponents’ yardage (5.7 yards per play).
Texas Tech key to success: Pick apart the secondary. It’s no secret that the Jayhawks have been unable to fix their back-end issues over the season’s first four games, as opponents are averaging 8.8 yards per pass play — the second-worst mark of any Power Five defense. That matches up perfectly with Texas Tech’s strength, as the Red Raiders rank third nationally with 411 passing yards per game.
Texas Tech player to watch: Quarterback Nic Shimonek should be familiar to KU fans from last season. After the Jayhawks knocked Patrick Mahomes out of the game with a right shoulder injury, Shimonek completed 15 of 21 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s 55-19 win. All that production came in the second half.
Key matchup: Texas Tech’s offensive line vs. KU’s defensive line. The Jayhawks had some success last year blitzing Mahomes while making him uncomfortable in the pocket. So far in 2017, though, KU’s defensive front has been a disappointment with only three sacks through four games. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen hinted that Daniel Wise will be moved back to his more natural spot at defensive tackle this week (he’d been primarily playing D-end this season), and perhaps that will help jumpstart a unit that hasn’t had the production it expected.
Jesse Newell’s Prediction: Texas Tech 49, Kansas 37. This has a similar feel to KU’s 56-34 loss to West Virginia two weeks ago. In that game, the Jayhawks’ offense was good enough to keep them competitive before costly turnovers turned the game into a late blowout. One could see KU’s offense having success again this week against a shaky Texas Tech defense. The difference, then, will be whether KU can get enough stops (or turnovers) to win a shootout. That’s probably not likely given the team’s defensive performance so far.