Are you ready for Kansas After Dark? How about Late Night Les? With the Pac-12 and Mountain West opting out of the 2020 college football season, there are limited options available for post-primetime matchups. However, all eyes will be on the Kansas Jayhawks late Saturday night because Les Miles' squad is out for revenge against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the season opener for both teams.
The Chants upset Kansas 12-7 in Lawrence last year and will be making the trip again following the Big 12's decision to only allow its members to play one home non-conference game this fall. After finishing 5-7 in 2019, reaching the first bowl game in program history is the goal for Coastal Carolina this year, and a second straight victory over Kansas would be a big step in that direction. But Kansas, which showed promise but finished 3-9 following a four-game season-ending losing streak, enters as the favorite.
Coastal Carolina at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12, at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas -6.5
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Both Kansas and Coastal Carolina enter with an ongoing quarterback competition, and both teams are likely to rely heavily on their talented running backs. For the Chanticleers, CJ Marable should be the focal point of the offense for the third consecutive season. Marable ran for 1,085 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the team in 2019 after he paced the unit with 719 yards on the ground added six scores on the ground as a sophomore. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. He contributed 295 yards and three touchdowns on 38 receptions last season.
But who can we expect to throw the ball to Marable (or leading returning receiver Jaivon Heiligh or tight end Isaiah Likely, for that matter)? Both Bryce Carpenter and Fred Payton return after combining for 2,348 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions last season. Carpenter added 390 rushing yards — second only to Marable — and one touchdown on the ground. Payton accounted for 181 rushing yards and scored twice with his feet. The pair has 19 career starts between them, and each took the first snap in six games last year. But don’t count out a third option, redshirt freshman Grayson McCall, who made two appearances in 2019.
Regardless, the young Kansas defense will have its hands full stopping the run. Coastal Carolina averaged 195.5 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked 34th nationally. The Jayhawks surrendered 225.7 yards per game on the ground — 124th overall — and listed just one full-time starter from last year's unit on its official depth chart this week.
When Kansas Has the Ball
Pooka Williams Jr. is also in position to lead his team in rushing for a third consecutive season. Williams has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his first two years with the Jayhawks, including 1,061 rushing yards and a team-high (yet remarkably low) three touchdowns in 2019. With strong-armed Thomas MacVittie and shifty Miles Kendrick battling it out to replace Carter Stanley at quarterback, expect Williams to see a heavy workload in what could be his final collegiate season.
MacVittie, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound former Pitt signee, was the only returning quarterback to see action for the Jayhawks in 2019, though he attempted just one pass — which was intercepted — in the 31-13 loss to Oklahoma State. Kendrick, listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, was 11-for-19 for 100 yards and one touchdown passing in four games in 2018. He added 47 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries. Both may play, and both will have one of the best receiver duos in the Big 12 at their disposal as well. Andrew Parchment led the Jayhawks with 65 receptions and 831 yards last season and caught seven touchdowns — one fewer than Stephon Robinson Jr., who ranked second with 45 catches and 727 yards.
But will Parchment and Robinson have time to get open? Coastal Carolina pass rusher Tarron Jackson, one of four starters returning for the Chanticleers, is arguably the best NFL prospect expected to play. Jackson was credited with 60 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks as a junior last season — though his performance against Kansas was his least productive games of the year (he had one tackle and four QB hurries). The Jayhawks are breaking in three new starters on the offensive line and lost 48-game starting tackle Hakeem Adeniji to the NFL, so Jackson should have a greater impact this time around.
Coastal Carolina knows it can beat Kansas — it did so last season, after all. The Chanticleers had a better overall record as well and proved more competitive from the beginning to the end of the season. But Les Miles and offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon (a member of the Gus Malzahn coaching tree who took over midway through the 2019 campaign) have a larger assortment of playmakers. The team also took a big step forward after Dearmon started calling plays, including a 37-34 win over Texas Tech and close losses to Texas (50-48), and Iowa State (41-31).
The Jayhawks are young, but are the more talented team and won't have to travel nearly 1,200 miles to play the game during a pandemic. On that note, KU is reportedly dealing with a number of active cases of COVID-19 on its roster — but unless there's a major shakeup to the starting lineup, the Jayhawks are rightly favored.