Archive for Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Woodling: KU football not half bad at midpoint

October 5, 2004


Five games down and six to go. Halftime of Saturday night's collision with Kansas State will mark the official mid-point of Kansas University's football season.

No reason to wait until then, so here's an unofficial mid-season look the Jayhawks in a nutshell: Opportunistic defense, conservative offense, shaky kicking.

Saddled with one of the toughest schedules in the country -- one publication rated it THE toughest -- it's not a stretch to say the Jayhawks could be a surprising 5-0 at this stage. Instead, KU has dropped three in a row by a combined total of only 10 points.

Most of the blame for the three losses has been heaped on an offense that has been unable to generate the big play or the key third-down play.

It's true the offense has been unspectacular. Yet the noticeable improvement on defense owes a lot to the offense. That much is obvious when you check the possession-time chart and the number of plays generated. Only a couple of Big 12 teams have maintained possession or compiled as many plays per game as the Jayhawks.

KU is averaging 77 plays a game. In contrast, last year's offensively potent Tangerine Bowl team averaged about 69 plays a game.

More evidence of the Jayhawks' penchant for ball control can be found in the passing stats. Kansas has the second-best passing offense in the league -- behind Texas Tech, who else? -- but the Jayhawks are dead last in the league in yardage gained per pass at 5.5.

By now we know coach Mark Mangino is committed to sophomore Adam Barmann as his quarterback for now and the future. Although no threat to run, Barmann clearly has a major-college arm, a stage presence that belies his tender years and uncommon durability.

Surely Barmann could throw deeper than he does, but that isn't the game plan. By throwing short, the Jayhawks not only maintain ball control but lessen the potential for sacks. Foes are averaging only about a sack a game, a small percentage considering KU is averaging 43 aerials a game.

Curiously, Barmann has the lowest pass-efficiency rating among the Big 12's starting quarterbacks. His 108.08 rating ranks 91st nationally. I don't think he has been that bad.

Barmann is completing nearly 55 percent of his passes and has more TD passes (nine) than interceptions (six). If you ask me, his low yards-per-completion average is weighing too heavily against him.

As the Jayhawks' offense leans closer and closer toward becoming more Texas Tech-ish, look for Barmann to become more and more proficient. Now if only KU's receivers were more consistent. The closest Kansas has to a go-to receiver is Brandon Rideau, and no one ever has called the slender senior glue-fingered.

As noted, the offense has helped the defense, but so, too, has an influx of talent -- notably cornerback Theo Baines, safety Rodney Harris and end Jermial Ashley. Throw in the return of Travis Watkins at tackle, the maturation of outside linebacker Nick Reid and the move of Charles Gordon to a corner, and KU has a defense that actually can make plays.

Kansas leads the conference with 17 forced turnovers, including a league-high 11 pass interceptions.

Unfortunately, the multi-talented Gordon cannot play both ways. Last year, Gordon led the Jayhawks in receptions, but he has plugged a defensive weakness noticeably. Did you see his two interceptions against Nebraska? Both were plays a lesser athlete could not have made.

It's evident to me the Gordon switch has had more of a positive effect on the defense than a negative effect on the offense. Besides, he still logs some duty on offense from time to time, often with dramatic effect, although not Saturday at Nebraska, when Barmann overthrew him on what looked like a sure go-ahead late TD pass.

That Barmann-Gordon call came on fourth-and-long from a spot where Mangino could have opted for a field goal that would have, if successful, cut the Huskers' lead to 14-11 with plenty of time still remaining.

But when you consider KU's kickers already have botched more field goals (seven) than many teams even have attempted, you hardly can blame Mangino for defying those fourth-and-long odds.

Still, you have to believe that one of these days, if the short-passing game is clicking, if a rested defense is forcing turnovers, and if the Zodiac favors the kickers, Kansas is going to fire a shot heard around the world.

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