Published January 08, 2015
Norman, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - Following their return to the Top-25, the 23rd-ranked Oklahoma Sooners begin a season-ending two-game homestand at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Kansas Jayhawks in Big 12 Conference action.
Kansas (3-7) has been an afterthought in the Big 12 this season, winning just one of its seven conference matchups, but that didn't stop it from putting a scare into nationally-ranked TCU last week. The Jayhawks' best efforts were thwarted, however, as they fell on the wrong end of a 34-30 decision.
"It's been a message to our kids for weeks now that they're Big 12 football players, too," interim coach Clint Bowen said, "They belong in this conference. We never put any limitations on ourselves...You go out and you play well and compete every game. That's what our players did."
Oklahoma fell out of contention in the race for the Big 12 title with a trio of losses to TCU (37-33), Kansas State (31-30) and Baylor (48-41) over a six- week span, but it got back in the win column last weekend at Texas Tech, 42-30, to improve to 7-3 (4-3 Big 12) and get reintroduced to the polls.
"Kansas is really playing well, a team that's really playing hard," coach Bob Stoops said. "We've got to keep making improvements and be ready to host them."
Oklahoma has a firm handle on the all-time series with Kansas, 71-27-6, and it has been especially dominant in recent years with nine straight wins.
The Jayhawks' offense is the Big 12's worst, as they rank last in the league in both scoring (19.4 ppg) and yardage (359.0 ypg), but they have shown great improvement with 30 or more points in two straight.
Michael Cummings (.579 completions, 1.492 yards, seven TDs, three INTs) has been an upgrade under center since taking over for Montell Cozart (.500, 701 yards, five TDs, seven INTs). Cummings threw for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win and has thrown for at least 200 yards in five straight.
Jimmay Mundine (40 receptions, 537 yards, three TDs) and Nigel King (28 receptions, 512 yards, TD) both had 100-yard receiving days against TCU. Nick Harwell leads the team in catches (41) for 429 yards and four scores.
An underwhelming rushing attack is mostly consisted of Corey Avery (565 yards, five TDs), De'Andre Mann (380 yards) and Tony Pierson (320 yards, two TDs).
Kansas' defense doesn't do much to make up for a lackluster offense, as it allows 30.4 ppg and 440.1 ypg.
Ben Heeney is one of the nation's top tacklers with 112 stops, nearly double the number as any of his teammates, and he's added 10.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and an interception to boot. Michael Reynolds has been outstanding up front with 13.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks and five forced fumbles, and JaCorey Shepherd has picked off three passes.
The Sooners' offense (38.8 ppg, 479.3 ypg) continued to soar last week even with their backup quarterback in.
With Trevor Knight (2,197 yards, 14 TDs, nine INTs, 340 rushing yards, five TDs) expected to miss another game with a concussion, the team will again turn to Cody Thomas. In his first career start, Thomas was erratic with his passes, going just 10-of-20 for 133 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, but he was a difference-maker with his legs, picking up 103 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Samaje Perine was also invaluable to last week's win with 213 yards and three scores on 25 carries, a performance that pushed him over the 1,000-yard threshold on the season (180 carries, 1,001 yards, 14 TDs).
Sterling Shepard is in the midst of an outstanding season out wide with 50 receptions for 957 yards and five touchdowns, but as a deep threat his value takes a hit with Thomas under center. Durron Neal has also been impressive with 39 receptions, 497 yards and three scores.
Oklahoma's defense has been solid but far from spectacular, allowing 25.2 ppg and 409.9 ypg, while forcing only 16 turnovers.
Zack Sanchez is one of the few playmakers adept at creating turnovers with five interceptions. Dominique Alexander (86 tackles, 5.5 TFL) is the squad's leading tackler and Eric Striker gets pressure in the backfield with 11.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks.