The Les Miles era of Kansas Jayhawks (1-0) football started off with a rocky yet overall successful debut last week against Indiana State. The issues still facing KU going forward this season were readily apparent, but when wins are as rare as they’ve been lately in Lawrence they’re worth celebrating. Now, Miles’ bunch has a chance to do something the program hasn’t done since 2011: start a season 2-0.
Their opponent, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (0-1), have been through a tumultuous start to the year to say the least. After losing to Eastern Michigan at home to open their season, the team had to leave their campus in Conway, South Carolina due to Hurricane Dorian. Unfortunately for Coastal Carolina, this is a problem the Chanticleers have grown accustomed to after having to leave home due to Hurricane Florence last year.
Regardless of what CCU is dealing with, KU is a rightful favorite in this weekend’s game. If the Jayhawks can work out a few of their kinks from Week 1 and are able to reintegrate their best player into the lineup seamlessly, they might be too much to handle for one of the weaker teams in the Sun Belt.
Wins aren’t going to come easily for the Jayhawks this season, regardless of how well their offense performs. That said, discovering a couple of new playmakers in Week 1 is a huge boon for the offense and the team overall. Sophomore running back Pooka Williams Jr. is the most important player for KU, and he’ll make his return this week, but the emergence of senior wide receiver Daylon Charlot and junior wide receiver Andrew Parchment could add a new element for offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s unit going forward. This a run-first team, which will be on display more obviously this week, which will depend on a veteran offensive line to open up holes, but has the ability to stretch the defense through the air in a pinch.
Week 1 did nothing to change the perception of KU’s defense. The secondary is still the best group, and that unit will be fresher this year as defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and defensive backs coach Chevis Jackson continue to take advantage of their depth and rotate their key pieces in and out. The questions all lie with the front seven. A few players stood out in the opener, notably junior linebacker Dru Prox and senior defensive end Darrius Morange, but the front seven’s general lack of experience is going to be a challenge to manage all year, especially against teams that run the ball effectively.
The Chanticleers were picked to finish fourth out of five teams in their division in the Sun Belt, although they were competitive against Eastern Michigan in their opener. Coastal Carolina has a strong offensive line group, which will be relied on to ease the load on sophomore running back C.J. Marable’s shoulders. The tailback was CCU’s offensive player of the year in 2018, selected third-team preseason All-Sun Belt and put up huge numbers against EMU, with 133 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 25 total touches. This is an offense that struggled to break off big plays last year, and containing Marable will be important for any defense that faces the Chants.
Defensively, Coastal Carolina had a solid performance in terms of total yards in Week 1, giving up fewer than 300 to Eastern Michigan. However, they also allowed 23 unanswered points after taking an early 10-0 lead and forced just two incompletions over the course of the game. The Chanticleers’ run defense was miserable a year ago, but they do return several players from last year’s starting front seven. If nothing else, experience often leads to improved results.
Can the front seven hold up? As explained above, Coastal Carolina’s best player is its starting running back while Kansas’ most concerning defensive group is the front seven. The Jayhawks should win the battle in terms of talent, but defensive line coach Kwahn Drake had an important job this week in getting the front line prepared for a better ground game than they faced last week. It should be a fun matchup to watch, and one that Kansas needs to win.
Will they be able to limit big plays? With Williams back in the fold, and both Charlot and Parchment able to make big plays when senior quarterback Carter Stanley airs it out, the Chanticleers desperately need to limit explosive plays for the Jayhawks. Otherwise KU will be running up and down the field all day. The secondary talent is decent, but the talent pool is shallow, and if they allow Stanley to complete 91% of his passes they won’t be able to keep up.
Pooka Williams. It’s the easy answer, it’s the obvious answer, it’s the right answer. More specifically, the key is seeing how the offense changes when he’s in the game. Against Indiana State we saw what the offense looked like without him, but this week we’ll see how the play calls, personnel groupings and aggressiveness changes when he’s on the field. And, simply enough, he’s an electrifying player with the ball in his hands. Kansas is going to rely on him the rest of the season, and it would be a good start to have a big game in his season debut.
Sophomore quarterback Fred Payton. Before the season Athlon Sports ranked Payton 124th out of 130 starting FBS quarterbacks, and while his yardage total looked nice in Week 1, he threw four interceptions. If Coastal Carolina wants to compete on Saturday it can’t afford four turnovers (that was a deciding factor for the Chanticleers last week, who were -4 in the turnover battle with no takeaways). He’ll need to make plays against a good KU secondary, which is a tall order.
Brendan joined Andy Mitts on the Rock Chalk Podcast this week to break down this weekend’s matchup. Click here to listen.