A decade and a half ago, Mark Mangino and Todd Reesing helped elevate the Kansas Jayhawks to the national conversation. They became Big 12 title contenders behind an offense that was able to keep pace with just about everyone.
But that was a long time ago. In the aftermath, Kansas became one of the worst programs in the country, cycling through Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, David Beaty, and Les Miles. They couldn’t replicate the success of the Mangino-Weiss era, failing to reach bowl eligibility for 13 consecutive seasons.
Then the Miles era abruptly ended and the Jayhawks went all the way up to Buffalo to bring Lance Leipold to the Power Five and to a program in desperate need of resuscitation. Coming in late in the spring, Leipold didn’t have much of a chance to find success that first year, but they were a team that was far more competitive than they had been in a long time despite the two-win season. One of those two wins came on the road against Texas.
Then last year, the Jayhawks started strong, earning their first bowl bid since 2008, and in 2023, they are 5-2 and on the verge of reaching a bowl game for the second straight season.
And while they head into their matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners as a double-digit home underdog, there’s a sense this Jayhawks team could cause some problems for the Sooners.
To get ready for the 114th meeting between the Oklahoma Sooners and Kansas Jayhawks, Sooners Wire had the pleasure of discussing the matchup with Jordan Guskey, a Sports Reporter covering the Kansas Jayhawks for The Topeka Capital-Journal.
What makes Kansas' offense so good despite who's in at Quarterback?
It all comes down to how versatile it can be at the various positions outside of quarterback, such as wide receiver, tight end, running back and even offensive line. The system is incredibly effective, or at least can be incredibly effective, and either Jalon Daniels or Jason Bean can come in and add their own talent to take it to another level. Just look at how it ran the ball on UCF one week and threw it against Oklahoma State the next. It’s not an offense that can only have success one way. – Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal
What's the biggest area of concern for the Jayhawks defense?
I would say the health of its pass rushers, such as Hayden Hatcher, Jereme Robinson and Austin Booker. Defensive coordinator Brian Borland spoke positively about their statuses when he met with the media Wednesday, but we’ll have to see how they look on game day. If they aren’t able to be at their best, causing havoc in the backfield, then that’s going to put a lot more stress on Kansas’ defenders who are dropping back in coverage. The Jayhawks need to be the ones causing the stress, not feeling it, on this side of the ball. – Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Why is the Kansas running game so successful?
A major reason is they have an offensive line that’s experienced and talented. There are future NFL players in that group, and that does a lot for putting Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw Jr. in advantageous situations. And it shouldn’t be lost either that Daniels and Bean know what they’re doing, and their tight ends and wide receivers are willing blockers as well.
Another key reason is that they are very complementary players, and their talent together just makes them formidable. Given the right situation, they can handle a drive all by themselves. Don’t let them garner momentum. – Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal
How will the Jayhawks look to slow down the Sooners offense?
Get after the quarterback and force turnovers. It’s easier said than done, but significant plays like that are going to allow Kansas to deal with whatever storm Oklahoma is going to try to unleash. That, and bending but not breaking — meaning holding drives to field goals that could potentially end up in the end zone. – Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Which Kansas defender can make the biggest impact?
A healthy Austin Booker. Booker, a defensive lineman who transferred in ahead of the season, has been one of Kansas’ most prolific talents when it has come to tackles for loss and sacks. He’s someone with length who could have a NFL future if he continues to develop. He’s someone with a tenacity when he’s rushing the passer who could be a problem for Oklahoma. Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal
What's been the biggest effect of the Lance Leipold era?
The physical makeup of the team, both in how the players look and how they play. They don’t look outmatched, person-to-person, as they did at times during the 2021 season — Leipold’s first in Lawrence. They’re playing with a level of physicality during the 2023 season that’s allowed them to build off of what they accomplished in 2022 — a bowl game appearance. Both things, together as one if I may, will be critical to the Jayhawks’ chances of pulling off another upset this weekend. – Guskey, The Topeka Capital-Journal