Red Raiders host winless Jayhawks
The Kansas Jayhawks entered 2020 with one of the most inexperienced rosters in the country and ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 standings in nearly every talent metric, so it shouldn't be a surprise Les Miles' squad has yet to win a game. Now 0-8 overall and 0-7 in conference play following a 59-23 loss to TCU last week, Kansas' best chance to avoid its first winless season since 2015 is this week's trip to Lubbock to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Only a rescheduled game with Texas remains on the schedule afterward.
It's been an up-and-down season for Matt Wells in his second year at Texas Tech, but there is optimism for the future of the program. The Red Raiders enter their regular-season finale 3-6 overall and 2-6 in Big 12 play following last week's 50-44 loss to a ranked Oklahoma State team. Competitive losses, including a 63-56 heartbreaker versus Texas early in the season, and victories over West Virginia and Baylor, point to progress. A win over Kansas, and potentially a bowl bid to follow, could give the Red Raiders real momentum heading into 2021.
Kansas at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5, at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas Tech -27.5
When Kansas Has the Ball
Freshman Jalon Daniels has started four straight games and leads the Jayhawks in passing, but he's still in a fight to remain atop the depth chart. Daniels, who has been banged up at times this year, has completed just 50.0 percent of his passes for 718 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions and has averaged only 4.7 yards per pass attempt — worst among all Big 12 qualifiers and among the lowest in the country. Junior Miles Kendrick relieved Daniels last week and will compete in practice to start Saturday. Kendrick has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 545 yards and six touchdowns and five interceptions while averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.
Both signal-callers can be productive runners when given the opportunity, and Daniels leads the Jayhawks with three rushing touchdowns. However, neither has produced much in terms of yardage on the ground — Daniels has gained 20 yards on 73 attempts and Kendrick's 27 carries have resulted in -38 yards — as a result of an offensive line that has surrendered 42 total sacks and 5.25 per contest, both of which rank last nationally.
The running back position has been in flux as well. Pooka Williams Jr. opted out of the remainder of the season after four games for family reasons, and Velton Gardner, who leads the team with 325 rushing yards and like Williams has scored twice on the ground, hasn't played since Oct. 31 due to injury. Daniel Hishaw Jr. (142 rushing yards, TD) was held out last week and is doubtful to play against the Red Raiders, which should leave the primary ball-carrying duties to freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson for the second straight week. Pesek-Hickson, in a rare bright spot for the KU offense, gained 100 yards on 22 carries last week. He has 143 yards on 33 attempts across three games.
Kwamie Lassiter II leads the Jayhawks with 38 receptions and 440 yards and is tied with Luke Grimm (13 rec., 214 yds.) and Andrew Parchment (24, 197) for the team lead with two touchdowns catches. The receiving corps was expected to be the strength of the offense, especially after Williams' departure, but Kansas has really missed Stephon Robinson Jr., who caught 45 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 but hasn't played since Oct. 17 and has just 35 yards on two receptions this season.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Finding the right quarterback, and keeping him healthy, has also been an issue for Texas Tech. Alan Bowman began the season as the starter, but was sidelined midseason by injury and later lost his job to Utah State transfer Henry Colombi. However, Colombi has also been hurt. Bowman started last week against Oklahoma State and had his best game of the season, completing 31 of 46 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,485 yards and 10 scores and has been picked off six times while averaging 7.2 yards per attempt. Colombi has posted a similar stat line with 1,065 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, completing 65.7 percent of his passes and averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. Colombi is a more productive runner, having gained 103 yards and scoring once on the ground, but a lingering groin injury could limit him again this week.
Erik Ezukanma has set himself apart in a deep receiving corps and has blossomed as one of the best receivers in the Big 12. In fact, Ezukanma ranks a close second to Oklahoma State All-American Tylan Wallace in both receptions (44) and receiving yards (728), and he ranks third behind Oklahoma's Marvin Mims and Texas' Joshua Moore with six touchdowns. Second leading receiver KeSean Carter (30 rec., 290 yds., 4 TDs) was injured against Baylor and will miss the remainder of the season, but Myles Price (27, 262, TD), Ja'Lynn Polk (26, 251, 2), and T.J. Vasher (19, 227, 2) offer Tech plenty of options in the passing game.
The Red Raiders' passing attack has opened running room for SaRodorick Thompson, who ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 593 rushing yards and third with eight touchdowns. Thompson, who ran for a season-high 133 yards and two touchdowns last week, has averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Xavier White (176 yds., 2 TDs) is a valuable second option, and freshman Tahj Brooks (176, 4) has a bright future.
Texas Tech is a heavy favorite and understandably so — though it has more to do with Kansas' struggles than the strength of the Red Raiders. KU ranks 124th out of 127 active FBS teams in scoring offense (16.1 points per game), 125th in total offense (264.9 yards per game), and 126th in yards per play (3.76). Kansas has surrendered 49.8 points per game, 469.6 yards per contest, and 6.72 yards per play on defense, which rank No. 127, No. 111, and No. 116, respectively. The Red Raiders haven't been much better on defense, but there's little evidence to suggest the Jayhawks will be able to stop the Texas Tech offense.
Prediction: Texas Tech 47, Kansas 21
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(SaRodorick Thompson photo courtesy of @TexasTechFB)