Texas football: 3 Jayhawks who could hurt the Horns defense

Jason Bean, Devin Neal Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Bean, Devin Neal Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kansas Jayhawks have been one of the most surprising teams of the 2022 college football season and are looking to beat a meddling Texas football program for the third time in the last six meetings.

Second-year head coach Lance Leipold has led a culture shift in Lawrence. Known for his lunchpail mentality and attention to detail, the Jayhawks hired Leipold away from Buffalo in the 2020 offseason. The then 56-year-old Leipold had led the Bulls to a 24-10 record over the previous three seasons, including a 2020 season where the program finished ranked inside the final AP Top 25 for the first time in program history.

Leipold seemed like a perfect fit to turn around a Kansas program that amassed just five conference wins in the ten years preceding him, though no one expected it to happen this fast.

The Jayhawks sit at 6-4 (3-4 Big 12) and have qualified for their first bowl appearance since 2008. Kansas has dealt with many injuries and bounced back every step of the way.

Coach Leipold has put together one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The Jayhawks average 7.0 yards per play, good for sixth nationally. Here are the three key cogs in an offense that will have to play well if Kansas wants to beat Texas this Saturday.

Kansas players to watch vs. Texas football in Week 12

Jason Bean, QB

After leading the Jayhawks to their first 5-0 start since 2007, Kansas starting quarterback Jalon Daniels went down with an injury mid-way through Week Six. Many questioned whether Kansas could be competitive without their starting quarterback. In stepped fifth-year senior Jason Bean, who has not missed a beat leading this Jayhawk offense.

In four-and-a-half games, Bean has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 1256 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has added 222 yards and four scores on the ground.

Bean has a feathery touch on the deep ball, something this explosive Kansas offense uses to its advantage. His PFF passing grade on balls thrown over 20 yards is a blistering 94.9, good for second in the Power Five.

It is clear Bean will take his deep shots; the question becomes, can Texas defend it?

The Longhorns have been adept at stopping the deep ball all season, but have had their fair share of breakdowns when playing zone. Last week we saw a miscommunication in the backend that allowed Quentin Johnston to score a wide-open 31-yard touchdown in what proved to be the dagger for the Horned Frogs.

When Texas does play zone against Kansas, the communication must be at an all-time high, or we could see more breakdowns in the backend against this explosive Jayhawk offense.

Devin Neal, RB

After a solid end to the 2021 season, sophomore running back Devin Neal has truly burst onto the scene this year. Neal has been the most steady cog in this Jayhawks offense, carrying the ball 142 times for 951 yards and seven scores. His 6.7 yards per carry is tied for first in the Big 12.

Over the past two weeks, Neal has had 66 touches for 532 yards. Averaging out to over eight yards per touch, Neal has been arguably the best running back in the nation over that span.

The key for the Texas defense will be bringing Neal to the ground on first contact. He is averaging over three yards per carry after contact this season and has an innate ability to fall forward every time he touches the ball.

That said, the Texas defense has been relatively strong regarding open-field tackling this season. It is of the utmost importance that players in the second level hold their gaps so a 75-yard touchdown run, as we saw from Kendre Miller last weekend, does not happen.

Neal is the heart and soul of this Kansas offense. Whenever the Jayhawks get in a pinch, #4 is there to steady the ship. Expect him to touch the ball 20-25 times if the Jayhawks want to win this game.

Lawrence Arnold, WR

Junior wideout Lawrence Arnold has been the most explosive receiver on this roster. Arnold has 31 receptions this season for a team-high 529 yards and four scores.

Standing at 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, the DeSoto (TX) native has an NFL build with the ball skills to go with it. Arnold is an incredible leaper who turns a typical 50/50 ball into an 80/20 ball to his advantage.

In the four games since Jason Bean took over at quarterback, Arnold has 14 receptions for 294 yards and three scores. Four of those 14 receptions went for over 20 yards, including an incredibly acrobatic touchdown grab against Oklahoma.

Arnold has lined up out wide on 84.9 percent of snaps this season. Coach Leipold likes to get his lengthy receiver in one-on-one matchups on the outside, where he can go up and battle for the ball in the air.

Next. 3 key injured Kansas players vs. Texas. dark

Although the health of some Texas defensive backs is up in the air, I would expect lockdown junior Ryan Watts to get the assignment against Arnold. Watts has been more than impressive on the outside this season and has the length to match up with Arnold. The battle between these two will undoubtedly be one to watch throughout the afternoon on Saturday.