2007 Football Game Preview: The FedEx Orange Bowl

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Thursday, January 3rd, 2008, 8:00

TV: FOX

Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):
Click the “Miami Weather” link to the right.
Game day forecast, as of 3:00 pm Monday: Windy, partly sunny, high in the
mid-60s.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Kansas roster card


Game Preview: #3 Virginia Tech (11-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. #8 Kansas (11-1, 7-1)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech will look to pick up their first BCS bowl win
since 1995 when they take on the Kansas Jayhawks in the Orange Bowl this
Thursday. The Hokies have a chance to win 12 games for the first time in school
history, and they can also finish very high in the final polls. But to do that,
they have to knock off Kansas, who has been beaten just once this year.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about Kansas. The only
exposure I have of them is what I’ve seen on ESPN highlights, and watching about
half of their game against Missouri. But I do know that to win 11 games these
days in college football, you have to be good.

Their offense is a spread offense that is very balanced between the run and
pass. Their defense features two All-Americans, including a Unanimous
All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year. They have guys who
can make plays all over the field.

I know some people are expecting the Hokies to get by Kansas with relative
ease, but I’m expecting a 12-round fight.

The Kansas Offense

The Kansas offense put up big numbers this year. They are a very balanced
offense, with two running backs who are very effective, as well as a number of
very good targets in the passing game. Here is a look at their season stats.


The Kansas Offense

Category

Stat

National Rank

Rushing Offense

196.6 ypg

27

Passing Offense

294.5 ypg

15

Total Offense

491.1 ypg

6

Scoring Offense

44.3 ppg

2

Pass Efficiency

155.6

6

Sacks Allowed

1.83 spg

47

The Kansas offense runs through quarterback Todd Reesing (5-10, 200, So.).
Reesing doesn’t have ideal height for a quarterback, but there’s no arguing with
his production this year. He has completed 62.6% of his passes for 3,259 yards,
with 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Reesing is accurate, and Kansas will roll him out quite a bit to get him a
better passing window. He is a very good thrower from outside the pocket. Expect
Virginia Tech’s defensive ends to take outside rushing lanes and play contain
against Reesing, similar to what they did in the ACC Championship Game against
Matt Ryan.

Reesing has a number of very good targets, and as a group they have excellent
size. Dexton Fields (5-11, 205, r-Junior) is the shortest of the group, but he
is the leading receiver. He caught 56 passes for 733 yards on the season,
including six touchdown grabs.

Fields is joined on the outside by Marcus Henry (6-4, 210, Sr.). Henry is a
big target, and he’s also been the best big-play threat for Kansas this year. He
has 52 catches for 994 yards, a whopping 19.1 yards per catch. He also caught
nine touchdown passes on his way to earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors.

True freshman Dezmon Briscoe (6-3, 200, Fr.) was also a big part of the
Kansas offense this year. He caught 41 passes for 471 yards and seven
touchdowns. Kansas also uses Kerry Meier (6-2, 220, r-So.) at wide receiver.
Meier is Todd Reesing’s backup at quarterback, so the Tech defense needs to be
on the lookout for trick plays.

Reesing also uses the tight end a lot. Derek Fine (6-3, 250, r-Sr.) is the
team’s third leading receiver. He caught 44 passes for 380 yards and four
touchdowns on the season.

Kansas also fields an impressive group of running backs. Brandon McAnderson
(5-10, 235, r-Sr.) is a bruiser. In fact, he’s a former Second Team All-Big 12
fullback. As the starting tailback for the Jayhawks this year, McAnderson ran
1,050 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averaged a very impressive six yards per
carry.

McAnderson shares time in the backfield with Jake Sharp (5-10, 190, So.).
Sharp is the smaller, quicker back who should thrive in the spread offense as
the primary back next season. In 2007, he ran for 788 yards on 138 carries, an
average of 5.7 yards per carry. He scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
McAnderson and Sharp are good receivers as well, combining for 37 catches on the
season.

The success of Kansas on offense would not be possible without the play of an
outstanding offensive line. Their line is led by First Team All-Big 12 tackle
Anthony Collins (6-5, 310, r-Jr.). He is a dominant player. Collins was one of
three finalists for the Outland Trophy and a First Team All-American.

Collins ended the regular season while playing through a very bad ankle
injury. He was nowhere near 100%, and his injury is a key reason why the
Jayhawks had trouble with Missouri’s front four in their regular season finale.
Kansas was not healthy for that game, especially with arguably their best player
severely limited.

Right tackle Cesar Rodriguez (6-7, 290, Sr.) is also a good player. The
tackles are the strength of the Jayhawks’s offensive line. Guards Adrian Mayes
(6-3, 305, Jr.) and Chet Hartley (6-4, 310, Jr.) and center Ryan Cantrell (6-3,
290, Jr.) are less experienced players. They are solid as a group, but they will
probably struggle some against Virginia Tech’s defensive tackles.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that Kansas didn’t face much
defensive competition this year.


Opposing Defenses
Faced by Kansas

Team

National Rank

Central Michigan

106

Toledo

101

FIU

105

Kansas State

70

Baylor

109

Colorado

64

Texas A&M

83

Nebraska

112

Oklahoma State

103

Iowa State

66

Missouri

14

Average Rank

84.82

The Kansas offense is very good, but they were helped by the fact that they
played some awful defenses this year. Six opposing defenses ranked 101 or worse
in total defense? Only one opposing defense in the top 60 nationally? Ouch.
Virginia Tech’s defense is going to be — by far — the fastest and most
physical the Jayhawks have faced this season.

Two of the better defenses Kansas played this year came against Colorado and
Texas A&M. The Jayhawks managed just 19 points against each of those two
teams.

The Kansas Defense

That brings us to the Kansas defense. The Jayhawks beat Colorado and Texas
A&M because of good defensive play, holding Colorado to 14 points and
A&M to 11 points. I can make a legit argument that the Kansas defense is
better than the Kansas offense.

The
Kansas Defense
Category Stat National
Rank

Rushing Defense
91.4 ypg 6

Passing Defense
226.8 ypg 57

Total Defense
318.3 ypg 14

Scoring Defense
16.0 ppg 4

Pass Efficiency Defense
106.7 8

Sacks
1.75 spg 80

Tackles for Loss
7.9 per game 10

Statistically, the defense isn’t quite as good as its offensive counterpart.
However, they faced much better competition throughout the season.


Opposing Offenses
Faced by Kansas

Team

National Rank

Central Michigan

22

Toledo

20

FIU

118

Kansas State

42

Baylor

86

Colorado

72

Texas A&M

54

Nebraska

11

Oklahoma State

9

Iowa State

102

Mizzouri

6

Average Rank

49.3

Considering whom they’ve played, Kansas has held up pretty well statistically.
Also, ignore their rank of #57 in pass defense. A lot of teams have fallen
behind the Jayhawks and were forced to throw the ball a lot. Kansas gave up a
good chunk of yards through the air, but their pass efficiency defense is very
high at #8 nationally. That’s the best indicator of how good a pass defense
really is.

You’ve probably heard a lot about a great cornerback who plays for Kansas,
but let’s start up front on the defensive line. The Jayhawks feature defensive
tackle James McClinton (6-1, 285, Sr.), who is a Second Team AP All-American. He
was also named the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.

McClinton is a short, stocky player with a low center of gravity. Very quick,
he makes a lot of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. He has 10.5 tackles
for loss on the year. The other defensive tackle is Caleb Blakesley (6-5, 290,
So.). He doesn’t stand out statistically, finishing the season with just two
tackles for loss and one sack, but he does start on a defensive line that
finished sixth nationally against the run.

John Larson (6-3, 250, Jr.) is the top playmaker at defensive end. He
finished the season with 11 tackles for loss. However, Kansas has no great pass
rushers. They had just 21 sacks this year as a team. Backup defensive end Jake
Laptad (6-4, 223, Fr.) is probably the best pass rusher, but he is small and
only a true freshman. From a pass protection standpoint, this is the best
matchup the Tech offensive line has had in quite sometime.

Kansas has three good junior linebackers, anchored by middle linebacker Joe
Mortensen (6-1, 235, Jr.). Mortensen is a First Team All-Big 12 defender. He led
the Jayhawks with 98 tackles on the season, including 14 tackles for loss. He is
a tough, hard-nosed player. He combines with defensive tackle James McClinton to
make a very good inside duo against the run.

Outside linebacker James Holt (6-3, 220, Jr.) also had a good season. He
finished with 91 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. The other linebacker is
Mike Rivera (6-3, 255, Jr.). Rivera had 84 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss.
Collectively, the linebacker trio of Mortensen, Holt and Rivera play in the
backfield more than any other group of linebackers Virginia Tech has seen this
season.

In the secondary, cornerback Aqib Talib (6-2, 205, Jr.) is one of the top
football players in the nation, regardless of position. He was one of just eight
players to earn Unanimous All-American honors. If he played for a team with a
bigger name than Kansas, there’s no telling how much attention he would be
getting.

Talib has four interceptions on the year, one of which he returned 100 yards
for a touchdown. He’s also broken up 13 passes. He has 12 career interceptions,
and he led the nation in passes defended in 2006.

Talib is such a good athlete that he’s also played some wide receiver this
year, catching eight passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns. He can also be
used as a kick and punt returner, although he hasn’t been used in that capacity
this season.

This could be the last time Talib plays for Kansas. He could elect to enter
the NFL Draft in April. I would expect Kansas to use him to his maximum
potential in what could be his last game. I’ll be looking for him obviously on
defense, but also on offense and special teams.

Kansas rotates a lot at the other secondary positions. At the other
cornerback spot, JUCO transfer Kendrick Harper (5-9, 190, Jr.) and true freshman
Chris Harris (6-0, 180, Fr.) will split time. These are the players the Hokies
should go after with their four senior wide receivers.

At free safety, both Darrell Stuckey (6-1, 205, So.) and Sadiq Muhammed (6-0,
200, Sr.) will play. Patrick Resby (6-0, 200, Jr.) and Justin Thornton (6-1,
195, So.) will split time at strong safety.

Kansas Special Teams

The Jayhawks’ special teams are dangerous in some ways, and weak in other
ways. Let’s take a look at how they rank in the national standings.


Kansas Special Teams

Category

Stat

National Rank

Kick Return

26.0 yards

3

Punt Return

5.7 yards

108

Kick Return Defense

22.0 yards

75

Punt Return Defense

6.2 yards

23

Net Punting

31.7 yards

111

Kicker Scott Webb (5-11, 210, Sr.) has had a solid season, going 17-of-24 with a
long of 48 yards. He struggled the last time out against Missouri, going 0-of-2,
which was a surprise. He has had one kick blocked this year.

Kansas has an excellent kick returner in Marcus Herford (6-1, 205, r-Jr.).
Herford is averaging 30 yards per return this season, with two returns for
touchdowns. He is among the top kick returners in the nation. Virginia Tech
ranks 13th nationally in kickoff coverage defense, so this should be a good
matchup.

The punt return hasn’t been as good, ranking just 108 in the nation. Raimond
Pendleton (5-11, 190, r-So.) has done a solid job. He was 14 returns for 170
yards and one touchdown, but Anthony Webb (6-0, 185, So.) has 19 returns for
just 16 yards, an average of less than one yard per return. This is where we
could see Aqib Talib on special teams.

Punting hasn’t been particularly good for Kansas this year. Kyle Tucker has
averaged just 37.5 yards per punt, and as a team the Jayhawks are 111th
nationally in net punting. Virginia Tech thrives in the field position game, and
this is one part of the game where they have a big edge going in.

Conclusion

Just because you don’t know anything about Kansas doesn’t mean they aren’t a
good team. We don’t get much coverage of teams west of the Mississippi here in
Virginia, so Tech fans haven’t had much exposure to Kansas, with the exception
of their loss to Missouri in the last game of the season. At that point the
Jayhawks were #2 in the nation and in the national title picture.

This game concerns me. I think Virginia Tech is more physical than Kansas,
and I think they have an overall team speed advantage. The reason this game
concerns me is that Kansas has a lot more to gain on a national level than
Virginia Tech by winning this game. If the Hokies win, it won’t make much noise
on the national level. But if Kansas upsets Virginia Tech, people will take
notice.

Kansas will present some matchup problems in this game. They like to spread
out the defense with four wide receivers. Tech’s corners will be in man-to-man
coverage at times in this game, and the Jayhawks will test the Hokie defense
with their slot receivers. It will be interesting to see how Bud Foster plays
this one. I’ve always been a fan of teams who spread the field and still use a
power running game, and that’s what Kansas does with Brandon McAnderson.

I think Tyrod Taylor has a chance to be very effective in this game. Down the
stretch, he wasn’t healthy. He obviously wasn’t 100% against Boston College back
on December 1. He should be 100% against Kansas. I’ve got a feeling his legs are
going to play a major role in this one. It will be similar to Michael Vick
against Florida State. Vick spent most of the 1999 season with an ankle that
wasn’t 100%. He recovered in the time off before the Sugar Bowl, and the FSU
defense wasn’t prepared for his type of speed.

I honestly believe this could be the best matchup of any of the BCS bowls
from an X’s and O’s standpoint. It could be the closest BCS bowl as well. I’m
going with the Hokies. Team speed, physical play, and a lot of senior experience
will be the difference in the end.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Kansas 24

That breakdown of the Kansas offense and defense is an interesting and
impressive list of stats and players. The special teams, not so much, but in
reading about Kansas, you can see how they compiled their 11-1 record. Say what
you want about their schedule, but not only did they win, they did it in
impressive fashion. It reminds me of the 1999 Hokies, who didn’t have much in
the way of competition, but what they did face, they demolished. The Jayhawks
outscored the opposition 44-16 this year, compared to the 1999 Hokies advantage
of 41-11.

Did that set your mind right, or are you still pooh-poohing the Jayhawks? You
shouldn’t. The Hokies need to come to play, or they’ll find themselves where the
1995 Texas Longhorns found themselves after the Sugar Bowl: wondering what just
happened.

Admit it. You’re having a hard time being scared of Kansas. What if the
opposition’s team colors, instead of blue and red, were crimson and white, and
what if the school name across the front of their jerseys said
“Oklahoma” instead of “Kansas”? If that were true, wouldn’t
you take that 11-1 record, that list of decorated players, and those sky-high
stats more seriously? Wouldn’t that stir the butterflies in the pit of your
stomach?

What’s in a name? Does it make the football team any better?

As Chris detailed in last
Friday’s TSLMail
, there’s a lot at stake here for the Hokies and the
ACC. I personally have had a hard time getting worked up over the matchup with
the Jayhawks, and based on Virginia Tech’s inability to sell out their Orange
Bowl ticket allotment, Hokie fans feel the same way. (There are other factors,
such as a problematic Jan. 3rd game date, that are limiting ticket sales, but
again, if the opponent was Oklahoma, don’t you think the Tech tickets would be
sold out?)

But after making that Oklahoma comparison, and thinking about what’s at stake
for the Hokies, I’m suddenly starting to get into this game mentally.

The Hokies are 1-3 in BCS Bowls (called Alliance Bowls in 1995 and 1996), and
my personal feeling is that they should be 1-3. The 1995 Texas Longhorns
weren’t that great a team, in my opinion, and the Hokies were better. The 1996
Nebraska Cornhuskers and 2004 Auburn Tigers were clearly better than their Hokie
counterparts, and as much as I think the Hokies should have won the 1999 Sugar
Bowl, FSU was the better, more well-rounded team that year. So the 1-3 record in
BCS Bowls matches the levels of the teams, I think.

But here’s a situation where your gut tells you the Hokies should win, and I
would hate to see Tech flub this chance. I would hate it for the program, I
would hate it for Coach Beamer, and I would hate it for the decorated seniors on
this team.

As good as Kansas is, I think the Hokies should come away with the victory.
If the Tech defense comes to play, if they execute what will no doubt be a great
game plan by Bud Foster, Kansas will be surprised by what they’re facing and,
despite their offensive proficiency, will find the going tough. In order for
that to be true, the Hokie D must be focused, must cover well, and must tackle
well.

On offense, the lack of pressure that the Jayhawk defensive line brings in
the passing game is encouraging, and I think the opportunity for both Sean
Glennon and Tyrod Taylor to make plays will be there. I can’t say the same for
the running game, led by Branden Ore, who continues to disappoint his teammates
and Hokie fans with his lack of focus and intensity.

Lastly, the Hokies have a special teams advantage, particularly a field
position advantage, that can be parlayed into a big plus in this matchup.

But the Hokies have to be ready to play. If they show up flat, they could
find themselves down two score or even three scores early — it has happened in
more than one bowl game, like Cal falling behind Air Force 21-0 in the Armed
Forces Bowl — and then all bets are off.

Not being inside the heads of the Kansas players or the Hokie players, I’m
going to assume that both teams come out ready, and both teams play a good game.
This should be a back and forth contest, and I see the outcome being:

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Kansas 20

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