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stormstopper

[2023] Big XII Week 4 Friday Night Preview

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Friday Night

 

:kent: Kent State (1-1) at :kansas: Kansas (0-2) (-18)

 

For the second straight year and only the third time overall, Kansas is off to an 0-2 start to the season. Like the start of last season, the Jayhawks have struggled on the offensive end. They've scored just 33 points in two games so far, and just about everything has come from the arm of Christian Graham (51-of-85 for 569 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT). They don't really have a run game: Andre Black has averaged just 34.9 yards per game in 15 starts. Both teams are reliant on man coverage, so Kansas will look to exploit matchups wherever they can. On the outside, that's going to be the 6-5, 220-pound Cameron Bowers against the 5-10, 163-pound Makai Porter. But so far, the middle of the field has been a hotter zone than the outside. Slot receiver Sebastian Thorpe (8 for 117 yards, 1 TD) and especially tight end Mark Poole (15 for 188 yards, 2 TD) have been the two most effective receivers on this offense so far. There's not much dropoff from #1 corner to nickelback, and not much of a gap in skill between any position on Kent State's defense--they're pretty well-rounded but there aren't any standouts. That means that while matchups will be important, it'll be up to Graham to find the best one on every play rather than keying in on any individual one. Where the Golden Flashes are at their best is at the line of scrimmage. Geno Mason hasn't had his name called often this year, but he makes the pocket smaller and creates opportunities for his teammates to finish plays. Amir Borden finishes plays; the sophomore defensive tackle already has a sack and three tackles for loss this season. Cooper Merritt finishes plays; the sophomore linebacker has a team-high 13 tackles (1 for loss) and a pass breakup. Expect him, Dwayne Felder, and outside linebacker Shiloh Maxwell to find themselves lurking in pass coverage frequently. Maxwell and strong safety Aiden Monroe are the X-factors here; Graham has to know where they are and keep his passes from floating too close to them. On the other end, Kent State's offense varied between nightmarish against Missouri and spooky against Bowling Green. The difference was sophomore runningback C.J. Williams, who tallied just 72 yards in the opener before putting up 129 yards and a 45-yard touchdown run on 21 carries in the sequel. Was that because Missouri's defensive line is a force to be reckoned with? Or did Kent State find something different that worked? (Neither answer is particularly comforting.) They have an offensive line that's solid, but may struggle against a Kansas front that's found some early success. Linebackers Naiquon Crosby and Deon Evans have already combined for 4.5 sacks, and Jamari Callahan and Abdoul Mayo are massive disruptors on the line that should be able to occupy the offensive line's attention. The biggest point of leverage both ways is at quarterback. Cameron Hare is off to a bad start, completing 52% of his passes with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. If that improves even somewhat, then Kent State can be dangerous enough to hit any opponent from any direction. If it doesn't, then Javier Blount and Kansas's freshman safeties can create chaos, force turnovers, and turn Kent State passes into Kansas points. The latter is more likely than the former. Kent State's only glaring weakness is their lack of strengths. Kansas will be able to press the advantage in the passing game on offense and at the line of scrimmage on defense, and they'll at least stave off the disaster-scenario start they experienced in 2016 the last time they missed a bowl.

 

:kansas: Kansas 28, :kent: Kent State 14

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