Published October 16, 2013
| Sports Network
Lawrence, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - Having recently suffered their first loss of the season, the 18th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners will try to get back on track against the visiting Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday afternoon in a Big 12 Conference affair.
Oklahoma appeared to be one of the nation's elite teams in the early going with wins in each of its first five games, including a signature triumph at Notre Dame on Sept. 28 (35-21). The Sooners most recently dropped to 2-1 in the Big 12 however, with a 36-20 loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry last weekend
"I still believe in our football team," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. "We'll continue to improve as we go through the year. (We) have a long season still in front of us with six games. I still see a lot of potential here with our team. We just have to get some things ironed out and play better in some areas."
The 2013 campaign got off to a stellar start for Kansas, which recorded a pair of non-conference wins over South Dakota (31-14) and Louisiana Tech (13-10), but since entering league play it has dropped two in a row. The Jayhawks traveled to Fort Worth last Saturday and fell on the wrong end of a 27-17 decision against TCU.
Oklahoma has dominated the all-time series with Kansas, 70-27-6. The Sooners are 8-0 versus the Jayhawks under Stoops, including a 52-7 triumph last year.
On the season, Oklahoma's offense has been largely effective, scoring 29.3 ppg on 423.2 ypg, although it was stifled in the loss to Texas by tallying only 263 yards and going a meager 2-of-13 on third down.
Blake Bell is the team's current starter at quarterback and he has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 968 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for another 148 yards, but he had his worst game of the season last week in going just 12-of-26 for 133 yards with his first two interceptions of the season. Although Stoops certainly wasn't pleased with his QB's performance, he knows that he wasn't the only one who struggled.
"It isn't all on Blake," Stoops said. "Blake needs to keep making improvements, but needs, like all quarterbacks do, they need some support around them too."
Freshman quarterback Trevor Knight (211 passing yards, 169 rushing yards, four TDs, three INTs) saw action early in the season, but he is completing less than 45 percent of his passes and hasn't played in either of the last two games.
Brennan Clay is on his way to a career-best season as a senior, as he has racked up 476 yards and three touchdowns thus far. Damien Williams is also heavily utilized with 259 yards and two scores.
Jalen Saunders (25 receptions, 231 yards) and Sterling Shepard (21 receptions, 266 yards) split the duty as Blake's top receiving option, with each hauling in three touchdown passes.
Defensively, the Sooners have played very well, allowing 16.8 ppg and 308.8 ypg while holding teams to just a 36 percent conversion rate on third down. Last week's 36 points allowed was a bit misleading, as Texas scored a touchdown on an interception and another on a punt return.
Frank Shannon is the catalyst with 50 tackles and an interception, while Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson have two picks apiece. The Sooners have difficulty creating a pass-rush, as they have generated just eight sacks through six games.
In stark contrast to Oklahoma, Kansas has the Big 12's worst offense by a wide margin, scoring only 18.2 ppg while racking up a paltry 305.0 ypg. The team has scored 17 points or less in four consecutive games, much to the chagrin of its head coach
"I'm frustrated," Charlie Weis said. "I get frustrated with everybody. Do I get frustrated with us not scoring points? You betcha. That's one of many frustrations."
Jake Heaps has been inconsistent under center, completing less than 53 percent of his passes for 887 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
"There were moments (against TCU) that we brought back the physicality as an offense that we haven't had," Heaps said. "That will definitely help us keep some balance going forward...but I think overall, our offense knows we have to get going."
The unit's top playmaker is tailback James Sims, who has rushed for 390 yards (4.5 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns. Tony Pierson is a dual threat out of the backfield with 80 rushing yards and 327 receiving yards, but he is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
Without Pierson, the Jayhawks' best options in the passing game are Brandon Bourbon (17 receptions, 97 yards) and Jimmay Mundine (10 receptions, 136 yards, three TDs).
All things considered, KU's defense has performed fairly well this season, especially given that the offense doesn't often help with field position. It yields 25.6 ppg and less than 400 ypg while holding teams to 36 percent on third down.
Ben Heeney has made plays all over the field from his linebacker position, logging 43 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two interceptions, although he is listed as questionable for this contest with a knee injury. Isaiah Johnson has also been productive with 40 stops and two picks, while Michael Reynolds has 3.0 sacks.