LAWRENCE, Kansas — Brent Venables seemed exasperated about a lot of things last Saturday after OU’s closer-than-expected call against UCF.
Like the Golden Knight’s 54-yard sprint draw that set up a touchdown early in the second quarter.
“We worked on that play a lot,” Venables said, “and it didn’t show.”
UCF uses a ton of deception and motion, misdirection and flat out trickery. Even though you have to believe Venables, a defensive guru of the highest order, had the Sooners prepared for it, the Golden Knights still had their share of success.
Which should be cause for concern this Saturday.
OU heads to Kansas, and while Lawrence has long been a place that gifted visitors with easy wins, those days are over. Lance Leipold has turned around the program, mostly with offense. The Kansas defense leaves a lot to be desired, but the Jayhawk offense is legit.
The folks up in Stillwater can attest; Kansas had scoring plays of 47, 30, 44, 49 and 42 yards against Oklahoma State.
Here’s how the Jayhawks do it: deception.
Now, Kansas does deception a bit differently than UCF. The Jayhawks are masters in pre-snap alignment.
Here’s an example: they’ll split out multiple receivers, and of course, defenses will dedicate defenders to each of them. But one of those receivers will be an ineligible receiver. He won’t run down field once the ball is snapped, but before the snap? Most defenses don’t realize he doesn’t really need to be covered.
Kansas will then put a tight end at one of the tackle positions as an eligible receiver, but just as the defensive backs don’t notice one of the split-out receivers is ineligible, the defensive front doesn’t notice the guy playing tackle is really a pass-eligible tight end.
That set up is why OSU gave up a couple of nearly unguarded touchdowns right down the middle of the field to Kansas tight end Mason Fairchild a couple weeks ago in Stillwater.
Venables knows Kansas will be a challenge for his defense, especially after OU’s struggles against UCF.
“They’re all looking at explosive plays that you give up, and they’re gonna put it in their Rolodex,” he said. “It’s just what teams do, and justifiably so. So our job is to fix some of those mistakes and the issues that we had and make sure our guys are comfortable with what we need and want them to do to execute at a high level.”
Still, Venables believes the Sooners’ issues last week could actually help them as they prepare for the Jayhawks. Failure and disappointment can create more focus in practice and meetings.
“Humility,” he said, “can be a great asset.”
Here are some other tasty nuggets for you to chew on before OU at Kansas kicks off at 11 a.m.:
Sooner to watch: The Kansas defense isn’t great, so OU might not need to kick a bunch of field goals, but the ongoing issues with Zach Schmit put him in the crosshairs. The Sooner kicker has missed four field goals in the past three games, including two a week ago that came close to costing the Sooners. Venables has said Schmit is his guy, but any misses this week may change the coach’s confidence.
Sooner newcomer to watch: Dasan McCullough has been playing great. According to analysis by Pro Football Focus, the linebacker graded out as the highest Sooner defender against UCF (80.6), posting his highest marks in tackling (83.5) and run defense (81.4). (Anything above 80 is considered outstanding.) His tackling and run defense will again be critical against the Kansas offense.
Jayhawk to watch: Preseason Big 12 player of the year Jalon Daniels has missed the past few games with an injury, but Jason Bean has been a more-than-adequate fill in. The dual-threat quarterback is a better passer than he was a year ago, completing 65% of his attempts and throwing just two interceptions. But the thing that makes him most dangerous is his speed. The Sooners haven’t faced a run threat at quarterback as good as Bean this season.
A familiar face in Lawrence: Kansas receiver Quentin Skinner is one of six Oklahoma high school products. He played at Claremore and this season has 14 catches and two touchdowns. But OU fans may better remember his dad, Reggie, a running back who played for the Sooners in the late 1990s. He named his son after his Sooner teammate, Quentin Griffin.
Cool stat going into OU-Kansas: The Sooners have won their last 18 games against the Jayhawks, OU’s longest active winning streak against an opponent. What’s more, the Sooners have won all 18 of those games by double digits, outscoring the Jayhawks by an average of 28 points.
Something to watch in Lawrence: OU has allowed only two rushing touchdowns this season, but Kansas ranks second in the Big 12 and top 20 in the nation with 16 rushing TDs. The Jayhawks want to score on the ground, but the Sooners have been extremely stingy that way.
Did you know?: If the Sooners win, it would be only the second 8-0 start for an OU team over the past 18 seasons. (The 2021 team started 9-0.)
If you go to Lawrence …: Tickets won’t be easy to come by. Kansas announced Thursday that the game was a sellout, its fifth home sellout over the past two seasons. The previous 12 seasons, the Jayhawks had only one sellout. The sellout for Saturday is notable, too, because the weather isn’t expected to be great. The National Weather Service says showers possible after 1 p.m. with a high of 44.
If you don’t go …: You can feel a little like you’re there by watching Big Noon Kickoff. Fox’s Saturday morning show will originate from Lawrence for the first time. Big Noon’s appearance makes Kansas one of only five programs to host both Big Noon and ESPN’s College GameDay over the past two seasons. The others: Colorado, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas.
If I could be in two places: Southern Cal has become something of a trainwreck, and you know how hard it is to look away from one of those. Back-to-back losses. Reporters being denied interviews with players. Lincoln Riley absent because of an illness. Southern Cal’s game at Cal doesn’t look like an upset in the making, but with everything going on around the Trojans? Who knows.
Playing favorites: Kansas is one of my favorite college football settings in October. The stadium sits at the foot of Mount Oread and below the campus and is surrounded by lots of trees. This time of year, the foliage is pretty spectacular.