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Kansas vs. Rutgers: Preview and Prediction

NCAA Football: SE Missouri State at Kansas

Here is everything you need to know about the Jayhawks’ upcoming game in our Rutgers (1-1, 0-1 in Big Ten) vs. Kansas (1-1) Preview.

11 a.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas

TV: FSN (Brendan Burke, David Anderson and Christian Steckel)

Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network, Sirius Ch. 137; XM Ch. 199; Internet 953

Key players

Rutgers

QB Artur Sitkowski. Let’s assume the true freshman will start on Saturday, even though he left last week’s game against Ohio State with a right shoulder injury. In the opener against Texas State he put up solid numbers, throwing for 205 yards and a touchdown. Against Ohio State? Well… he threw for 38 yards on 18 attempts before leaving the game. Sitkowski’s bugaboo to this point has been interceptions — four in two games. Can he limit those against a Kansas defense that, to this point, has proven opportunistic in the passing game? For what it’s worth, head coach Chris Ash said earlier this week that there’s no structural damage to Sitkowski’s shoulder and he expects him to play.

RB Raheem Blackshear. Through two games the offense has run through Blackshear, a 5-foot-9 sophomore. Blackshear has 93 yards rushing with a touchdown, and another 68 yards receiving with a touchdown. No Scarlet Knight has more than his 31 touches. Even though he’ll share time with Isiah Pacheco and Jonathan Hillman, Blackshear’s prowess in the passing game makes him worth keeping tabs on.

LB Trevor Morris. He’s the defensive player to watch on Saturday for Rutgers. He leads the Scarlet Knights with 20 tackles. He also has a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 pass-breakups. The veteran has played 38 games at Rutgers.   

Kansas

RB Pooka Williams Jr. There are too many ‘Or’s’ on Kansas’ depth chart, and Williams for some reason is No. 3 (‘Or’ is it No. 2?). Who knows? But after two games Williams is the team’s leading rusher with 125 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 14 carries. All of that came against Central Michigan after not playing in the opener and helped spearhead a 216-yard game for the Jayhawks on the ground. That’s encouraging for a Kansas offense that needs a jolt of energy anywhere it can get it.

WR Steven Sims Jr. He’s been their steadiest receiver through two games, with four receptions in each contest, along with a touchdown against Nicholls State. What else would you expect from a veteran like Sims?

LB Keith Loneker. Senior Joe Dineen Jr. has a nice running buddy in Loneker, who is second on the team in tackles with 18. He’s been consistently productive in both games and steady play by Loneker means Dineen doesn’t have to do everything.

DB Shakial Taylor. One of four Jayhawks with an interception this season, he’s the only one to return it for a touchdown. He did that against Central Michigan and, at the moment, it’s the biggest play of Kansas’ season, a 55-yard return for a score. The Jayhawks need more of that this season.  

 

Key storylines

Kansas and Rutgers met for the first time in 2015 in Piscataway, N.J. Saturday’s game completes the home-and-home series. Rutgers won the first meeting, 27-14. Rutgers is 7-35-2 against teams currently in the Big 12, most of which came against West Virginia. Rutgers has beaten Kansas State and Iowa State in bowl games as recently as 2011.

Rutgers

It’s difficult to get a feel on where Rutgers is as a team right now since their first two games were so disparate — a happy meal win over Texas State and then a thumping at the hands of Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights have gone young at key offensive positions, so much so that just two seniors are at the top of their two-deep roster. The defense sports much more experience, but it was basically at a talent deficit against OSU. Kansas will be a better match. Something to keep in mind — Rutgers is 14-6 in non-conference road games since 2004 (5-3 against Power 5 conference teams).

Kansas

The Jayhawks, perhaps, found some equilibrium against Central Michigan. QB Peyton Bender appears to have a lock on the job after two games, with 317 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. But the Jayhawks have to protect him better (7 sacks allowed in two games, but only one against Central Michigan). The emergence of Pooka Williams last week gives the Jayhawks another solid offensive option. Defensively the Jayhawks held Central Michigan to seven points, which might be the most encouraging part of the result, given the CMU beat Oklahoma State on the road a couple of years ago and is one of the better programs, consistently speaking, in the Mid-American Conference.

Prediction: Kansas 27, Rutgers 24. I’ll take the Jayhawks. I’m not that confident about it. But a two-game winning streak would be a huge step for Kansas, which needs to show it’s building some momentum going into Big 12 action. This is their last chance to do it.

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