Two programs on decidedly opposite trajectories are set to collide this Saturday in Wallace Wade, likely an inflection point for the fall campaign of the winner and the loser.
The Kansas Jayhawks march into town off the back of two straight drubbings at the hands of No. 17 Coastal Carolina and Baylor. The Blue Devils, antithetically, are on the upswing, riding the high of a statement win against Northwestern after taking care of business against North Carolina A&T. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m., and both squads will be looking to close out non-conference play strong, with the Jayhawks desperate to even their record facing two top-15 matchups in the next three weeks.
Looking at Kansas in recent years, it hasn’t put up much of a fight against a respectable slate of opponents. The Jayhawks went winless last year in nine games, with only three victories the year prior—hardly impressive showings for a Power Five university renowned for its performance in other athletics. Kansas only took one contest to within one score when the buzzer sounded in 2020, a 16-13 loss at Texas Tech to close a disappointing year.
The team seems to be heading along a similar trend this fall, though it will be certain to make the trip to Durham hungry for a .500 record under first year head coach Lance Leipold. But in their contests thus far, the Jayhawks have struggled to get anything going on either side of the ball. Jason Bean has started all three games under center for Kansas, but has only thrown for an average of 136.3 yards a game—and the redshirt junior has largely had to supplement the meager aerial offense with his own legs, the lone bright spot for the offense. Bean averages 72 yards per game on the ground, accounting for two of the teams four rushing trips to the endzone through 180 minutes of football this year and 102 yards against Coastal Carolina.
But if there’s trouble in paradise, there must also be trouble in Lawrence, Ks.,—the starting running back for the Jayhawks, Velton Gardner, announced suddenly this week that he is hitting the transfer portal after just two touches for four yards against Baylor. This leaves the majority of the backfield duties to true freshman Devin Neal, who has just a few games under his belt.
Let’s look at the positives, though—Kansas has one or two explosive players that serve as the team's win conditions when it catches the short plane to Durham for the Saturday matinee.
Junior Swiss Army Knife Kenny Logan Jr. is one of the highest ranking tacklers in the Big 12, while simultaneously fulfilling the kick returning duties for a Kansas team desperate for a spark. From the safety position, Logan has already recorded 25 tackles, four pass breakups and a forced fumble through three games—impressive numbers for a nimble-footed, quicker player usually locked up in pass coverage. He showcases his speed in the return game as well, earning an All-Big-12 Honorable Mention last year as a returner after averaging 26.5 yards per return and even ripping open the coverage team of Iowa State for a 100-yard house call. The Jayhawks leading tackler from 2020 will surely be called on plenty of times come Saturday, looking to halt the likes of Mataeo Durant and Jake Bobo in their respective tracks.
Aside from individual play, Kansas seems a remarkably disciplined team this season despite its relative lack of success thus far. Leiopold’s men have only turned the ball over once so far, with just a single pigskin hitting the turf from the hands of a Jayhawk. Against a Blue Devil team that relied largely on turnovers to build an impressive first half lead against Northwestern, this will be an aspect of the game to keep a close eye on.
Headed into midweek practices, Duke is favored by over roughly two scores against the struggling Kansas unit, and will look to ride impressive play from the 4 p.m. kickoff last week directly into its contest this weekend, exactly a week apart to the second. Look for the Blue Devils to put their foot on the gas in an effort to move to 3-1 on the year against an admittedly struggling program.
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