Sooner QB Heupel to test Kansas' pass defense

Friday, September 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. – Kansas ranks first in the nation in pass defense.

That's something to hang your hat on, but coach Terry Allen isn't ready to start tooting his secondary's horn yet.

"Their confidence level is good," says Allen. "But they haven't been tested yet."

Indeed, the Jayhawks' 84-yard-a-game pass defense has come against SMU, Alabama-Birmingham and Southern Illinois. Saturday's game at No. 14-ranked Oklahoma promises to show the Jayhawks whether their pass defense is for real.

The Sooners rank No. 6 nationally in passing (318.3 ypg), and quarterback Josh Heupel is No. 7 among individual passers. Heupel has completed 67 percent of his passes for 899 yards and seven touchdowns in three games.

Allen has a healthy respect for OU, even though the two teams haven't played since 1997, Allen's first season at the Kansas helm.

"You can't give Heupel all day or he'll pick you apart," says Allen.

Part of the Jayhawks' pass-defense abilities has been an effective pass rush. Out of 10 sacks, nose tackle Nate Dwyer and linebacker Algie Atkinson have amassed four each.

Key to the success of Kansas' secondary is free safety Carl Nesmith, considered one of the Big 12's most passionate defenders.

"He's an excellent hitter and covers a lot of ground," says OU coach Bob Stoops. "We'll need to be aware of where he's at."

Oklahoma was able to hurt Rice on the ground a week ago when the Owls sold out to prevent the pass. Tailback Quentin Griffin ran for 117 yards and three touchdowns, including back-to-back 21- and 49-yard runs.

Oklahoma enters the Kansas game, the Sooners' fourth straight in Owen Field, as a 231/2-point favorite. OU begins its murderers' row October schedule of Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska next week.

Charlie Smith is a Tulsa-based free-lance writer.

Kansas (2-1) at Oklahoma (3-0)

When: 2:08 p.m. Saturday

Where: Owen Field, Norman, Okla.

Why Oklahoma will win: The Sooners haven't come close to losing at home in the Bob Stoops era, and they should win with this one with ease, particularly if they can create the same kind of havoc in Kansas' punting game as SMU did.

How Kansas can win: Jayhawks' upset hopes revolve around creating turnovers and playing ferocious defense.