Kansas at Ohio
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio
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Radio: WHB (810 AM)
Line: Ohio by 8
The lowdown: There’s no escaping the elephant in the room: Kansas has lost 41 straight road games and is barreling toward the NCAA record of 44 set by Western (Colo.) State from 1926-36. The Jayhawks’ best opportunity to snap that skid will be this week while going against a Mid-American Conference school in a 24,000-seat stadium.
KU key to success: Get tough. KU was overwhelmed up front by Ohio in a 37-21 home loss last season, as the Bobcats outrushed the Jayhawks 329-26. The domination was so impressive that KU coach David Beaty pointed to that effort as one reason the team hired Ohio defensive line coach Jesse Williams in the offseason. In Year 3 under Beaty, KU’s older, more-developed players should be better prepared for physical games like this one, but they still have much to prove after last week’s effort against Central Michigan.
Ohio key to success: Be opportunistic with turnovers. KU leads the nation with 41 giveaways over the past two seasons, and Ohio forced three in last year’s game on its way to the comfortable victory. Those big plays also will be critical at home, as KU hasn’t been a team that has responded well to road-game adversity in recent years.
Ohio player to watch: Quarterback Nathan Rourke — a transfer from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas — played most of the snaps in Ohio’s 44-21 road loss to Purdue last week. Though the Canada-born Rourke hasn’t officially been chosen as the starter by coach Frank Solich, he’s expected to be the guy Saturday after showing an ability to run and also extend passing plays with his elusiveness last week.
Key Matchup: KU’s (healthy) receivers vs. Ohio secondary. The Bobcats’ defense was gashed for seven 20-plus-yard passing plays against Purdue last week, meaning there should be openings for KU’s offense to break off big plays. Will top receiver Steven Sims be fully healed after battling an ankle injury last week? He said Tuesday he expects to be back, and that would potentially be huge for a KU offense that struggled to create explosive plays last week. Otherwise, the Jayhawks will need other players like Jeremiah Booker and Chase Harrell to step up as deep threats.
Prediction: KU 34, Ohio 30. OK, everyone take a deep breath. KU’s 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan was an awful performance, but it still was only one data point in a long season. Even after that result, it’s still best to mostly believe what we thought about these two schools coming into the season: Ohio is a decent-but-not-spectacular MAC school that won’t beat itself with stupid mistakes, while KU is a rebuilding Big 12 team with a solid defense and improving offense. Solich’s run-heavy offense isn’t suited to expose KU’s coverage deficiencies, while the Jayhawks should have a chance to hit a few home runs downfield if Sims is able to return to the lineup. Bill Connelly’s advanced numbers have KU at 37 percent to win — a number that is probably higher than most KU fans would think. The Jayhawks have a lot of recent negative history to overcome on the road, but this seems like the game they can do it.