NORMAN, Okla. — Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) hasn’t beaten a Big 12 team since besting Colorado in a 52-45 shootout in 2010 and hasn’t beaten OU since Bob Stoops took over (8-0); but after last week’s misstep in Dallas, the Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) aren’t overlooking any opponents.
“(Kansas) is a really good team and they’re better than people give them credit for,” junior guard Adam Shead said. “They run to the ball and they play hard.”
One of the things that is giving life back to this Jayhawks team is the defense led by linebacker Ben Heeney. The junior leads the team in several defensive categories, including tackles (43), tackles for loss (seven) and interceptions (two).
But Heeney is still listed as questionable against the Sooners after leaving last week’s game against TCU with a knee injury. If the captain isn’t able to get back on the field, Oklahoma native Jake Love will most likely get the start at middle linebacker even though sophomore Schyler Miles was the one that filled in for Heeney during the second half of last week’s game. Love’s played in every game this season and has 17 tackles.
“They’re very much improved from a year ago,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said about the Kansas defense. “They’re playing physical and they’re loading the box on first and second down and making it tough for you to run the football.”
The Jayhawks are listed as the 29th best in sacks amongst FBS schools and junior Michael Reynolds leads the team with three sacks so far this season. But the ground game is something that OU will want to get established early and often against this Kansas defense that gave up over 200 yards rushing to TCU last week.
“We’re going to need to run the football and we also need to make some plays out on the outside as well,” Heupel said.
On the opposite side, the Sooner defense may have its hands full against running back James Sims, who rushed for 81 yards and also tabbed 40 receiving yards against the Horned Frogs. Sims leads the team with 390 rushing yards this season and has produced more rushing yards than the rest of the team combined (204).
The Jayhawks’ aerial attack isn’t the bread and butter of the offense, so this may be the part of the game that the Sooners will be able to capitalize best on Saturday. Quarterback Jake Heaps connected on just 50 percent of his passes last week, including a touchdown and an interception and has ultimately thrown more picks (six) than touchdowns (five). However, OU’s defense doesn’t think he’s a foregone conclusion.
“I think their quarterback seems to get better every time he steps on the field,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “And Tony Pierson’s electric. They also try to get the ball in the other back’s hands---those are the playmakers and they let them make things happen.”
Although listed as a running back, Pierson emerged as Heaps’ principal receiver target with 21 grabs for 327 yards this year. But like Heeney, Pierson is also listed as day-to-day with a head injury sustained against Texas Tech.
If Pierson doesn’t play, junior Brandon Bourdon--who is averaging 5.7 yards a catch and 6.4 yards a carry--and senior tight end Nick Sizemore are listed to fill his shoes.
With all of the new changes to personnel---including the switch-up of the coaching staff responsibilities---the Sooners will have a lot to scheme against this weekend, but Stoops is confident his team will be prepared for whatever Weis and Co. throws at it.
“It’s a very pro system (Weis) runs,” Stoops said. “They give you a lot of different looks so we’re going to have to make sure we go in with a very complete and thorough plan and be able to execute it.”