Two narratives are coming head on for Kansas’ meeting at Texas Tech on Thursday. One tells of Jayhawks coach David Beaty’s familiarity with a Tech offense that’s averaging 61 points per game. The other is of Kansas’ recent struggles to take advantage of its bye weeks.
The latter finds itself in a particularly difficult position — Tech is also coming off a bye, making Beaty’s knowledge of the Red Raider Air Raid system the true x-factor.
“We’re all different in what we do, but I do know this: the very bare bones of it are the same concepts. So they’ve gotten to play against it a lot,” Beaty said via KUSports.com. “We’d like to hope that gives us a little bit of an advantage going into the game, knowing that they’ve seen these concepts before.”
Before either Beaty or Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury were leading Big 12 schools, they were both on the Texas A&M staff. Kingsbury was the Aggies’ offensive coordinator in 2012 while Beaty served as the receivers coach. Now both use an offense that is principally the same, though the execution is at opposite ends of the spectrum, with Tech leading the conference in scoring while Kansas only clocks in at under 30 points a game.
That familiarity with Tech’s scheme helped the Jayhawks strike fear in the Red Raiders last October in a 20-30 when Kansas scored all its points in the second half. Tech wasn’t quite as powerful last season, but it was held to two touchdowns less than average. Limiting Pat Mahomes under center played a great role in that.
Mahomes is on pace for over 6,000 yards passing and 60 touchdowns this year. It’s of utmost importance that Kansas spent its extended break tracking his tendencies.
“He’s a special player. He understands that offense so well,” Beaty said Monday. “You gotta get pressure on him, there’s no doubt about it. The problem with that is he is hard to get down […] You can get your hands on him, but man, he’s not as easy to bring down as some of the guys you play against.”
If there’s one player Kansas will turn to in order to bring down Mahomes quickly, it’s sophomore defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr. In three games he has two sacks and four tackles for loss, both among the top five in the conference. Beaty also noted how it takes more than just one person grabbing Mahomes. Players like junior defensive tackle Daniel Wise looking for his first sack after having four last year will be a vital component.
The other vital component addressed over the extended break was the turnover margin. The Jayhawks currently lead the Big 12 with a minus-seven margin, turning the ball over 11 times. Giving the ball to Tech makes Mahomes and company more dangerous — they’re scoring on 73 percent of their possessions.
Looking at Kansas’ recent history of bye weeks in conference play, things haven’t gone to plan. In 2013 and 2014 facing Baylor’s similarly dangerous offense after an extra week’s rest, Kansas lost by over 40 points each occasion.
On Monday, Beaty discussed how great an opportunity playing on Thursday night on an empty TV slate is to show recruits what you’re about. One game doesn’t buy or lose a recruit, but Thursday is a prime time to start a discussion with those on the fence about joining the blue and red.
If Beaty’s familiarity with Kingsbury keeps the Jayhawks within striking distance much like last year, those recruits — maybe even those feeling lost at LSU — could be reeled in.
Kansas football can’t expect a transformation to occur, but it will continue to gain opportunities to create a turnaround. Thursday night in Lubbock is one such moment rich with promise. We’ll see if the Jayhawks can change the way they’re perceived.