Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

Woodling: Jayhawks still lack tailback

December 3, 2004


Mark Mangino isn't quite like King Richard III. Mangino would not surrender his entire Kansas University football kingdom for a horse.

Nevertheless, a thoroughbred at running back would go a long way toward prolonging Mangino's reign.

Six running backs wearing the uniforms of Big 12 Conference schools have rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. Half of those half-dozen ran for more yards than any Kansas running back ever has gained in a season.

KU's single-season rushing record is 1,442 yards by Tony Sands in 1991. Yet if Sands had compiled that number this year, he wouldn't even have made first-team All-Big 12.

Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency has 1,454 yards this season -- a dozen more than Sands -- and Morency had to settle for second team all-league behind Texas senior Cedric Benson (1,764 yards) and Oklahoma frosh phenom Adrian Peterson (1,671). So did K-State's Darren Sproles despite grinding out 1,318 yards.

Nebraska's Cory Ross (1,102) and Bobby Purify (1,010) were good, but not good enough.

Kansas hasn't had a back surpass the four-digit rushing plateau since June Henley gained 1,343 yards during his senior season in 1996. Do you know where that number ranks on the Big 12 Conference all-time list? Remember, the Big 12 is just nine years old.

Henley's total was listed as 17th best when the season started, but has since dropped to No. 20, and almost certainly will slip even more in 2005.

You probably noticed that Kansas and Kansas State finished in a dead heat in Big 12 standings -- who would have believed that in August? -- with identical 2-6 league records and 4-7 overall marks. Yet K-State had a running back who gained more than 1,300 yards while Kansas rushing leader John Randle accumulated a paltry 540.

Randle's rushing total was the lowest to lead the Jayhawks since Sands' freshman year in 1988. Tuxedo Tony paced that 1-10 team -- arguably the worst Kansas football product of the last 50 years -- in rushing with just 480 yards.

Kansas has gone eight years now without producing a 1,000-yard rusher. Clark Green came close during the 2003 Tangerine Bowl season when he gained 968 yards in 13 games. David Winbush also flirted with a grand on the ground when he racked up 974 yards in 1998.

Randle and Green were the Jayhawks' tailbacks this fall, and between them they didn't reach 1,000. Randle had 540 yards, and Green, who filled in when Randle was hurt, chalked up 309. That's 849 yards from the tailback position. Not enough.

Still, if it were physically possible to combine Randle and Green, you might have a Cedric Benson, or at least a Bobby Purify. Randle has speed but lacks the strength, bulk and durability of Green, who can do everything on a football field except make his feet go faster.

Obviously, offensive lines play a role in how running backs perform. Sands and Henley were blessed to have such standouts as June Jones, Hessley Hempstead, Chris Banks and Keith Loneker, to name a few, opening holes for them.

In contrast, other than center Joe Vaughn, this year's offensive line was average at best. So while it would appear the Jayhawks desperately need a steed at running back, an upgrade up front can't be ignored.

All the late-season headlines about the injuries at quarterback overshadowed the fact a puny running attack doomed the Jayhawks to also-ran status in a rare year in which the Big 12 North was ripe for the taking.

In a nutshell, Mangino's first Kansas team in 2002 had no offense and no defense, his second edition had an offense but no defense, and his 2004 club had a defense but no offense.

If a logical progression continues, Kansas would have both an offense and a defense in Mangino's fourth year. Not unless, however, the running game takes a giant step.

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