Thursday, January 3

The Orange Bowl: ... Really?

Knock Knock?
Who’s there?
Egg Who?
Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Egg Who?
Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Orange Who?
The Orange you glad we skipped over the #6 team in the country with a Heisman finalist QB and RB who holds the 2nd highest bowl rushing total ever and might just lay an Egg with this matchup… Bowl.

The question to be answered is which will be more lame – that joke or the joke of a matchup of an epic BCS choke artist coach vs a completely unproven team who has no history and lost to the only good team they faced all season. Let’s just say that the Rose Bowl is hoping that this game continues the blowout streak so that their selection gaffe is matched by this one.

A lot of conference respect is at stake here as well. The ACC is 2-5 in bowl games this year and their conference champion is 1-8 in BCS bowls all-time. (!) The Big 12 is a little better off than that, turning in a respectable 4-3 bowl record thus far including 2-1 in January, but in the last five seasons the conference has now gone 2-5 in BCS bowls. (both wins by Texas, thankyouverymuch)

Kansas (by Coach Lawrence)

Kansas found their 2006 season dashed on the rocks with a 3-5 record (0-4 in conference) before making the bold decision to incorporate freshman QB Todd Reesing into the rotation (I should note, he played alongside Kerry Meier in those final games as a 2-QB system). Three wins later, the Jayhawks were looking at a second straight bowl invitation and finally shedding their status as a Big 12 doormat. They were crushed by Missouri, but a 6-6 record was still respectable for their standards and meant back-to-back non-losing seasons.

Of course, when a “non-losing” season is considered an achievement, you’re probably not thinking of the million dollar bowls, not even when you breeze through your absurdly soft nonconference schedule by a combined 214-23. After squeezing out a road victory over “ranked at the time” (ie overrated) Kansas State, Kansas entered the polls at #20. Talking about respect here, Boston College was #4 with a similar joke of a schedule, but hey. Indeed, Kansas had to reach 8-0 before they were finally moved into the top ten. People seemed to think scoring 76 against Nebraska was impressive (really, it’s not – see Colorado) but that moved the Jayhawks up another 3 spots. Finally, going into their final game against Missouri, a 11-0 record and as the nation’s only power conference unbeaten earned the Jayhawks the #2 spot. They were promptly beaten by Missouri and fell to #7, 5th In the BCS standings. When Missouri lost to Oklahoma, Kansas fell to 8’s across the board.

Disrespected? Sure. Wrong choice for the Orange Bowl over Missouri? Yeah, that too. But I think Kansas is deserving of their BCS bid – it’s not like Hawaii would have beaten Mizzou either – and honestly the 2 teams/conference max rule is lame. (hurt Wisconsin and Auburn last season as well – oh yeah, those two teams and Missouri this season all won their non-BCS bowl games. Go figure.) Kansas will get to prove their worthiness, and let’s be honest, with the first 3 BCS bowl games decided by an average of 27.7 points, really they just have to make it competitive to do that. Not that their goal will be anything less than victory.

Kansas finished the season with the nation’s #2 scoring offense and #5 scoring defense. I wouldn’t translate that to “Kansas has the second-best offense in the country” (nor defensively), but that does mean that they’ve executed well against the teams they’ve faced. For those who watched Illinois, Hawaii, and Oklahoma do little but help the opposition, you saw why mere execution is so critical in these bowl games played a month after the regular season ended.

How do they get it done? Offensively, Kansas runs a spread offense that centers around Reesing’s decision-making ability. He’s put together a 152.3 efficiency-rated season (11th in the nation) with a 32/6 ratio. Four of those interceptions came in the first five games of the season. The spacing set up by the spread passing game allows gaping holes for a pair of average backs. Brandon McAnderson averages 88 ypg and 6.1 ypc, but I’ve seen little from him to really impress me as he’s basically getting isolated as defenses scramble to defend all the receivers. Still, a great back for this system. Jake Sharp provides support as the #2 back, and frankly I think this kid has a future at Kansas though he doesn’t have the experience of McAnderson which has made him slightly less productive this season (65 ypg, 5.6 ypc). Marcus Henry and Dexter Field are the main go-to guys at receiver, averaging 82 and 61 ypg respectively. Watch out when Kerry Meier comes in… he catches 2 passes a game for 20 yards but also has completed 25/29 passes on the year for a 200 rating and 3/0 ratio. Most of that has been trick plays where he and Reesing are both in the game.

Overall, Kansas is good both rushing (197 ypg, 27th) and passing (293 ypg, 14th) to combine for an excellent total offense (492.7 ypg, 6th) whose ball control (13 turnovers, 3rd-fewest) has allowed them to be even better at putting points on the board.

Often teams with a schedule like Kansas’ put up great defensive stats without any really good players, and it shows. We’ll know in another 24 hours whether the defense is overrated or not, but on thing’s for sure – Aqib Talib is for real. He’ll probably be the #1 corner taken if he goes pro after this game, and he’s produced 4 interceptions and a defensive score despite teams generally throwing the ball to the other side. The other corner Justin Thornton has 4 picks of his own.. guess what, this defense has a 16/20 ratio which, while not Va Tech’s gaudy nation-leading number here, sure ain’t bad and it’s contributed to a 106.7 opposing QB rating which in 10th nationally. This secondary allows just 226 yards per game despite generally being ahead in their games – facing 41+ attempts per game but giving up just 5.5 yards per attempt (3rd) and are 4th in the nation in passes defended. They’ve stymied teams with a 3.1 rushing ypc average and give up just 91.4 total ypg there, 7th in the nation. Kansas is an old-school defense whose starting linebackers are their three leading tacklers, which is another good sign because it means people aren’t getting into their secondary.

Owing mostly to their almost mistake-free offense, Kansas is tops in the nation with +19 turnovers this season, though they rank 7th in takeaways as well. At just 4/game, they are the least-often penalized team in the country. Really, these two alone would win about 9 games without the offensive and defensive totals. That’s right, it’s all about the discipline.

Now, how to take on one of the two most difficult opponents they’ve faced all season?


Since their massacre at the hands of LSU, Virginia Tech has given up over 20 points just three times in their final eleven games (23 to Clemson, 21 to Florida State, 21 to Virginia… all wins). I think it’s safe to say that Kansas is better than any offense they’ve faced since LSU; they’re certainly the most rounded and have the best QB (yes better than Matt Ryan the interception factory). Kansas cannot give up more than 24 points… the goal should be 10 if they want a little margin for error. Yes, VT’s defense is that stingy. Fortunately, Brandon Ore is really the only good offensive player they have. Opposing defenses have stacked the line on him to limit his productivity to 3.6 ypc and 67 ypg, so let’s do that. Talib and Thompson can cover their men, and we’ll figure out something to do if all three Tech receivers are in the game. Having a safety yell “Sean, I’m open!” might work if you remember VT’s loss in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl last year.

What’s going to be critical are the drives where Tyrod Taylor is in the game. He’s a real change of pace averaging 4.4 ypc running the option. Despite a good ratio (5/2), he completes just over half of his passes and in these situations both safeties can play up and dare him to throw against a very strong pair of corners. But while pressuring the QB and RB with the front seven and keeping safeties close to the line, I would not bring corner blitzes and anything that risky. Talib and Thompson effectively shut down Tech’s mediocre receivers – why risk a trick pass going the distance when your offense probably cannot break 28 points (20 may even be pushing it) against this defensive unit?

Offensively, it begins with smart passing. That has been a strength of Kansas’ as Reesing makes incredibly good decisions. They cannot dig a hole by giving up touchdowns to the Hokie defense. The positioning of VT’s excellent corners is going to be key for the passing game – if they’re pressing, do not throw those bubble passes because that’s going the other way. Be aware that VT’s linebackers are also great in coverage. Should VT go into their soft cushiony defense that cost them the BC game, Reesing needs to be immediately aware of that as well. ;-) But seriously, reading the coverage is going to be extremely important in this game.

As it’s going to be tough to score against this defense, the Jayhawks may need some trickeration to move the ball in a few big chunks. Reesing and Meier should have a dozen or so plays together, including some decoys if the defense overreacts pre-snap. Don’t force it though, if VT reads your double pass, chuck it 20 yards over everybody’s heads. No turnovers (see below) is the #1 priority of this gameplan.

Boston College also beat VT by just being opportunistic. The longer Kansas can hang in the game, the better the chance of a signature Hokie turnover or brain-fart in the defensive calls. As good as VT has been in the last 10 years – and they’ve been very good – they’ve blown almost every really big game they’ve played in. This is probably the second-biggest game for VT in the BCS era, so you can guess Beamer will start off with one hand already uncomfortably close to that collar. Usually a team can stay in the game with good execution and a positive turnover margin. Let’s aim for no more than one stupid penalty per quarter (defensive PI when you’ve been burned is smart, but there’s no reason to get burned by these receivers) and no giveaways offensively (realistically, one isn’t a terrible thing, but the gameplan says 0). Do that and, worst-case, they’ll be close in the 4th quarter when Reesing can have all day to throw against a soft prevent.

Virginia Tech (by Coach Pendley)

You probably know Virginia Tech as the team that got the shit embarrassed out of it at LSU in the second game of the season. Or you may know them as the team that decided to play prevent against Matt Ryan and cost themselves a shot at an upset of then-#2 BC. So yes, they went 0-2 against teams ranked 2nd in the country, but they went 11-0 against everyone else. Those included a few good, but not great wins – Clemson by 18, Virginia by 12, BC (again) by 14 – and a 43-14 thrashing of Duke. Also, they beat William and Mary in a closer-than-it-looked 44-3 win. (Way to eke that out, guys.)

Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor form the bad version of a QB platoon – namely, “both these guys suck so bad we need to put someone else in to lessen the damage.” Shockingly, they combined for a 16/5 ratio and about 2,500 yards through the air. Yes, that can be accurately described as less than stellar. Not surprisingly, VT also has a three-WResque setup that functionally results in no feature WRs; Justin Harper, Eddie Royal, and Josh Morgan all average between 40 and 45 yards a game. It’s not a bad setup necessarily – especially if you add about 60 yards a game through the air. It’s just been flagrantly ineffective; for every Duke (70% completion rate, 346 yards, 3 TDs), there’s a Clemson (50% completion rate, 65 yards, 1 TD).

Fortunately, they have Brandon Ore, who counts as their only offense in Blacksburg. Getting 3.59 yards a carry facing eight in the box – if he’s lucky – is no mean feat. Fortunately, Tyrod Taylor is a QB in the Vick mold (not like that we hope), adding another 400+ yards on the ground and getting into the end zone 7 times. In addition, Eddie Royal will occasionally see action via reverse or trick play; he’s averaged 15.9 ypc.

Now, VT’s defense? That’s legitimate; witness the 86 ypg average – and 2.75 (!) ypc – on the ground. Against the pass, they do give up over 200 yards a game, but look closer. That includes 5.6 yards per attempt (6th in the nation), an opposing QB rating of 97.94 (4th in the nation), and a simply obscene 9/21 ratio (best in the nation). A full four teams haven’t even passed at a 50% rate against them this year, and lost in the first game against BC was the 47% completion rate.

Not surprisingly, VT also has a +13 turnover margin on the year. They also average 42.5 yards per punt and have an 88% FG kicker in Jed Dunlevy. And yes, they have blocked 4 kicks and punts this year, so you’ll hear about that later, too. The team also has a great opponent conversion percentage in the red zone at 73.5%, but it’s in third down conversions that the team shines, allowing conversions on only 28.6% of third downs, 4th in the nation.

So what do you do against a team that’s 6th in the country in total offense? The answer is, of course, call bullshit. The best defense they faced all year – Missouri – pretty much stymied them. Kansas only averaged 5.5 yards per play against a Missouri D that allows 5.2 yards per play. So what about VT? They only allow 4.3 yards per play.

They haven’t faced a team that pressures the QB like this (43 sacks) or that gets into the backfield as consistently (93 TFL). So yes, the name of the game on D is pressure. Until Todd Reesing shows that he can escape the pressure or Kansas’s O-line can hold him off, I’m blitzing in passing situations. I’d expect Chris Ellis, Orion Martin, and Barry Booker to generate pressure. They haven’t faced a CB in game situations like Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris (although Aqib Talib will be the best CB on the field). They should be able to make hay against WR Marcus Henry and Dexton Fields. And yes, if anyone’s curious: Flowers and Harris both have a INT return for a TD this year.

I don’t even worry about Brandon McAnderson; Mizzou held him to 41 yards, what’s he going to against Vince Hall – provided he can go - and Xavier Adibi? Even if Hall can’t go, Cam Martin is a tackling machine, too. I trust my defense to do what it’s done all year, and if – and when – Kansas punts, I send pressure. They’ve only punted 46 times on the year, and I’d bet that VT can snag a blocked punt.

On offense, I want to try and keep it on the ground. While I think that the TAMU game was an aberration on the ground, I’m looking at the Missouri game as my blueprint for success. This means I want to get Eddie Royal, Taylor, and anyone with speed involved in the running game until Kansas forces me to do something else. Throw the damn playbook at them, but since VT won’t be able to beat them with the pass, it’ll have to be on the ground (or on defense).

I’m not sure about the pass; the last thing I want to do is give Talib an excuse to make some jaw-dropping play – and as been stated before, VT’s wideouts aren’t the best. Talib will be able to shut down his guy, so spread it to the other wideouts that he’s not handling.

More than anything, the uglier VT makes this, the better. This game should be utterly painful to watch if VT gets their way; think 2000 Orange Bowl x4. They can’t afford to get down big, and their offense isn’t potent enough to put much over 28 on the board even if everything breaks right.