OU-Kansas: One player, one problem, one preposterous prediction and one pick

OU-Kansas: One player, one problem, one preposterous prediction and one pick

Guerin Emig: Keep a close eye on Dasan McCullough and Kendel Dolby at Kansas. If they are where they’re supposed to be against Jason Bean, Devin Neal, Mason Fairchild or any other KU back/receiver, OU will have taken a big step toward surviving the Jayhawks.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Oct 27, 2023, 10:00am CDT

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Oct 27, 2023, 10:00am CDT

Kansas has Oklahoma’s full attention for one of the first times, if we’re being honest, in recent memory. Just roll the tape from Brent Venables’ Tuesday press conference.

From his opening statement: “Got a lot of respect for what the Kansas program is today, the transformation that’s taken place under Coach Leipold and his staff.

On KU lead back Devin Neal: “Every once in a while you’ll face one that you can get away with not doing all the little things right. This is a team, and he’s a running back, that if you don’t, he’s going to make you pay.”

On KU’s FBS-leading punt returns: “Kansas is incredibly well coached. I think that’s one of the many examples of that. And they’ve created tremendous buy-in with their players to play with great effort and precision and the toughness to create that.”

On KU quarterbacks Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean: “They’re excellent. They put a lot of stress on you because of their ability. They’re multi-dimensional as throwers and runners. And they’re decision makers. They’re super well-coached.”

Mike Gundy was as effusive in his praise a couple weeks ago before OSU rallied to beat Kansas 39-32. Venables will be as happy as Gundy was to put the Jayhawks in his rearview mirror, weird as that is to say.

Here’s how that might happen…

One position: OU’s cheetah rotation of Dasan McCullough and Kendel Dolby

Let’s make an exception this week — one position instead of one player — and draw on the OSU-KU game a second.

Kendal Daniels, the Cowboys’ defensive rover, was in the middle of all sorts of action both good and bad. He lost sight of Kansas tight end Mason Fairchild on 30- and 44-yard touchdowns in the first half, but then turned the game around with an end zone interception in the third quarter… all while supporting OSU’s run defense against Neal and Daniel Hishaw.

The cheetah is OU’s version of OSU’s rover, a position shared by McCullough (against more traditional offensive sets) and Dolby (in obvious passing situations). That duty-splitting should take some of the load off in Lawrence Saturday, but it’s still going to be a stressful afternoon for both defenders.

Both figure to play big roles in the outcome, same as Daniels Oct. 14 in Stillwater.

“Coach V has a saying that if you think you can make it, take your shot. But if not, that’s you. That’s your ass,” McCullough said this week. “If guys think they can make that play, they’re going to. It’s great if they make it.

“But if they don’t, it goes right back to how you should have been disciplined and following your rules.”

It’s not easy to stay disciplined against an offense that isn’t just complex and well-coached but explosive. Fairchild wasn’t the only Jayhawk to make big plays on OSU.

The Sooners were undisciplined too often against UCF last week. They gave up several big plays and nearly paid a dear price for that.

Keep a close eye on their two cheetahs at Kansas. If they are where they’re supposed to be against Bean, Neal, Fairchild or any other KU back/receiver, OU will have taken a big step toward surviving the Jayhawks.

One problem: Both teams’ last game

UCF victimized the Sooners for 86-, 54- and 39-yard plays last Saturday.

Before their bye week, the Jayhawks struck for 49-, 47-, 44-, 42- and 30-yard pass plays against OSU.

Were these the circumstances a year ago, with OU’s defense in shambles, there’s no telling how many yards and points Kansas might run up on the Sooners. (The Jayhawks gained 430 in a 52-42 loss as it was.)

The Sooners have been much better at self-correction this season, a major explanation for their 7-0 record. We can expect them to learn from their mistakes against UCF and apply those lessons in Lawrence.

The issue is how much crisper Kansas has become another year deeper into Lance Leipold’s offense. Put it this way: If OU was relieved to face Bean instead of the dynamic Daniels in Norman last October, there’s not nearly as much drop-off one year later.

Asked this week about the difference between UCF and Kansas, OU defensive end Ethan Downs said: “More tricks and more big plays, that’s what I see. They’re very explosive. They’re fast. The quarterback is very speedy. Their backs are good. They’re very similar to UCF but their scheme is one of the best in college football right now.”

Brace yourselves if the Sooners aren’t more locked in defensively than they were against the Knights.

One preposterous prediction: OU leans on the run game

The forecast is for a kickoff temperature of 40 degrees, with increasing rain chances by the second half. If that looks like dicey weather for an OU offense dependent on Dillon Gabriel and his receivers, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We’ve spent this space recognizing Leipold’s offense without mentioning a few things: KU’s defense ranks 94th in FBS. KU’s run defense ranks 93rd and 12th in the Big 12. OSU’s Ollie Gordon carried 29 times for 168 yards in the Jayhawks’ last game.

While the Sooners don’t bring a running back of Gordon’s caliber to Lawrence, they do welcome back Tawee Walker from his one-game suspension. They do feature Gavin Sawchuk coming off his fourth-quarter contribution against UCF. They do include Marcus Major, whose 82 yards against UCF marked his highest total since the 2020 Cotton Bowl.

I’ve said all season that OU needs to just do enough running the ball, to help Gabriel and the passing attack in spots. Last week’s fourth quarter is an example of that.

Saturday in chilly, potentially rainy Lawrence, it must be more than a contribution.

It will be.

One pick: OU 31, KU 26

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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