Texas Tech braces for tough challenge from No. 16 Kansas

Not long ago, preparing a team to play Kansas carried a different kind of challenge.

The reasoning was opposing coaches had to work to convince their team to take the Jayhawks seriously. That was during a long stretch in which Kansas was one of the worst programs in the country.

Not anymore, and that’s the message Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire wanted to deliver. It turns out that task wasn’t that difficult, however.

The Red Raiders (4-5, 3-3 Big 12) will visit Lawrence to take on 16th-ranked Kansas (7-2, 4-2) on Saturday, and this time, no sales job was required.

“When we talk to our guys about Kansas now, you can see in their faces how much respect they have for that program and the way they’re playing right now,” said McGuire, whose team snapped a two-game skid with a 35-28 win over TCU on Nov. 2.

The way the Jayhawks have played this season already has them bowl eligible and has assured of their first winning campaign since 2008. Because their two losses are against the two remaining teams in the Big 12 with only one league loss, the odds of winning the league are a longshot.

But there is little doubt that Kansas has turned plenty of heads this season — McGuire’s included. He gushed about the Jayhawks’ offense, which has been the team’s calling card since third-year coach Lance Leipold arrived and has lived up to that reputation this season by averaging 434 yards and 35.1 points a game.

“They’re as multiple as anybody in the country,” McGuire said. “There’s never going to be a time where they just line up and snap the ball. … They find ways to create explosive plays.”

That has remained true despite the Jayhawks playing without Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jalon Daniels most of the conference season. The dynamic quarterback has been out with a lingering back issue, thrusting backup Jason Bean into the starter’s role. Bean has responded by guiding the Jayhawks to a 3-1 record, buoyed by a 38-33 triumph against then-No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 28.

Bean has passed for 1,418 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, doubling Daniels’ output in both categories.

“He had to battle to become a starter, then got beat out but has stuck with it and is a big part of their success,” McGuire said of Bean, a player with whom was familiar as a longtime high school coach in Texas then an assistant at Baylor.

The Red Raiders know a little about adjustments at the quarterback position.

Behren Morton returned to the starting role last week against TCU, a position he took over on Sept. 23 when Tyler Shough sustained a season-ending leg injury. Morton was sharp against the Horned Frogs, throwing for 282 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with a rushing score.

The leading man for the Texas Tech offense has been senior running back Tahj Brooks, who has rushed for 100 yards or more in five of the last six games. He also became the program’s first running back to cross the 1,000-yard threshold since 2015 after rushing for 146 yards vs. TCU.

“That’s a team that many picked to be a darkhorse contender in our league, so it’s a very talented team,” Leipold said of the Red Raiders. “They had some injuries early, including at the quarterback spot, and have gotten healthier in a lot of spots. They’re coming in with something to play for since they’re working toward bowl eligibility.

“You might think about them throwing the ball a lot because of their history, but they’re running the ball really well, too. They’re very multiple in what they do, and they can play fast, so we better get lined up, get our feet on the ground and be around the football and be ready to tackle well.”