Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Smarting KU defense hopes to feast on ISU

November 23, 2005

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It's fitting that on the week of Thanksgiving, Kansas University's football defense is feeling as though it hasn't eaten in weeks.

In fact, calling KU the prey - not the predator - would be awfully accurate the last time the Jayhawks played, a 66-14 flogging to No. 2 Texas on Nov. 12.

After living the other side, KU's defense wants to be the hunter again.

"Whenever you go out and get done like that, it ought to fuel some fire in you if you're a competitor," linebacker Brandon Perkins said. "You never want to be done like that."

As much as the Jayhawks insist they've put that game behind them, they've remembered the crummy feeling associated with it, too. With more on the line, more of their own fans in attendance and more reasons to clutch up Saturday at home against Iowa State, KU's defense isn't in the mood for another ego beatdown.

"The day after the Texas game, they were embarrassed. Many of them told me that," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "They're looking for redemption. They've been very high-tempoed and in good spirits. That game is way behind them now."

Kansas (5-5 overall, 2-5 Big 12 Conference) was ranked fifth in the nation in total defense and first in run defense before the Texas toasting. They since have free-fallen to 19th in total and fifth against the rush. Still good rankings, but only a shadow of its former swagger.

Still, perhaps the biggest challenge for the defense against Iowa State (7-3, 4-3) could be the Cyclone passing game. And the Texas debacle might be proof of it.

In the first quarter in Austin, Jayhawks cornerback Theo Baines had tight coverage on Limas Sweed, only to see the 6-foot-5 Sweed jump and snatch the ball right over the 5-11 Baines for the touchdown. No better way to cover him. No way, in that situation, to combat the height disadvantage.

Now, look at Iowa State's top two receivers: Todd Blythe, a 6-5 sophomore who quickly is becoming one of the conference's best wideouts, and Jon Davis, a 6-4 junior who has caught 48 balls this season.

How does KU's secondary, half of it under 6-foot, shut down such size?

"Is it an issue? Yes it is. But I don't see it as a problem," Mangino said. "You see it all the time in the NFL, smaller corners covering bigger receivers. It's a matter of good coverage, playing the ball at its highest point and not getting outmanuvered."

Of course, there's also the issue of a dual-threat quarterback in ISU's Bret Meyer and a healthy, former 1,000-yard running back in Stevie Hicks to balance everything out and make the Jayhawks long for more eyeballs to keep track of everyone.

But with bowl-eligibility, a winning season and Senior Day all on Saturday's platter, KU defenders claim they are ready now more than ever to feast, no matter the challenge.

"I don't know what it is about games of this magnitude and this situation, but our defense enjoys this atmosphere we're going to have to play in," linebacker Kevin Kane said. "We're definitely going to live up to the moment."

¢ Kemp OK: Mangino said the week off more than anything might have helped heal a couple of players who could have been considered doubtful had the ISU-KU game been last week instead.

One of those players is safety Jerome Kemp, who left in the second quarter against Texas with a leg injury and didn't return.

"All indications are he will be ready to go," Mangino said.

¢ Kick-return carousel: KU tried three kick-return specialists against Texas, after Greg Heggans fumbled a kickoff that Texas recovered and eventually scored on.

The competition for that job still is in session.

"We're working a number of guys there," Mangino said. "I think we'll get that settled probably (today)."

Heaggans, Kenneth Thompson and Gary Green each returned at least one kick against Texas.

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