Last season, Kansas played just two Big 12 games that finished within two possessions. The first was Texas Tech, losing by 10. Last week the Jayhawks traveled for their rematch with the Red Raiders and lost by 36 points. This week, coach David Beaty and crew are on the road again to avenge their closest loss of 2015, a 17-23 showing against TCU.
So while the Jayhawks have notched a win this season, making for a better overall record already, it’s conference play that needs to be the tentpole for the team. The first benchmark game against Tech doesn’t show much promise, but if Kansas can stay within striking distance against TCU on Saturday, maybe there’s some salvageable hope for the season.
Otherwise, this season might be a bigger failure than the winless 2015 campaign. That’s especially true considering the anticipation this team would be significantly better.
For one, quarterback woes have waned the season’s outlook. But there have been some role players that have even surpassed their preseason billing and will play a vital role against the Horned Frogs.
For a team giving up more than 35 points per game, defensive linemen Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong have been playing like all-conference players. Armstrong has been particularly strong, as he’s tied for the conference lead with four sacks and leads all linemen with six tackles for loss. Wise isn’t far behind with four TFLs, and it’s that type of production that helped Kansas at least hang with Tech until both Wise and Armstrong left the game with injuries from post-play incidents.
“Dorance (Armstrong) looks really well. He looks really good,” Beaty said Tuesday. “And Daniel Wise looks like he’s going to be okay, too. Hopefully, we’ll have both of those guys available. We’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see on Daniel, but he looks like he’s going to be okay. He’s been working hard at getting right.”
Most impressive about Armstrong is that he’s had two sacks in each of the past two games. He wasn’t racking up stats against lower-tier programs, but instead was getting after quarterbacks in Memphis and Lubbock. He’s truly a home run hitting player. He only has nine tackles on the season, but two-thirds of that production has come from stopping players behind the line.
Wise hasn’t added as much production with just four tackles for loss, but as an interior defender he has played well as a plug against the run. For Beaty, that might be the key to the game, after calling TCU running back Kyle Hicks “one of the best players in the conference.”
But one of the reasons for his impression of Hicks is how he can line up wide as a receiver for quarterback Kenny Hill, who Beaty knew as a freshman at Texas A&M.
“He looks very, very similar. He looks like he’s more comfortable with the offense now” Beaty said. “He’s throwing the ball really well […] He can extend plays with his feet, and he’s got enough flexibility in his body that he can do a lot of what Mahomes did. He reminds me a lot of Pat.”
The Jayhawks had quite a few issues stopping Mahomes last week — and backup Nic Shimonek as well. So familiarity is nice, but it will be up to players like Armstrong and Wise to nab a couple of sacks and get a rhythm going to save the season from completely failing.