Archive for Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Woodling: At least Kansas was consistent

November 28, 2006

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Year after year after year, it seemed, Kansas University football fans groused about the roller-coaster effect.

Too many good seasons followed by too many bad seasons. Too many peaks followed by too many valleys. Gee, they said, if we could just reach a level of consistency.

Welcome to the 21st Century and the regime of Mark Mangino, who has succeeded in eliminating the highs and lows. Welcome to 6-6 following 7-5 following 4-7 following 6-7.

Not that this .500 season didn't produce a handful of highs and lows. Who can forget, for instance, that 39-20 thumping of Kansas State? On the flip side, who'll ever forget that stunning second-half swoon against Oklahoma State.

But if someone had told you before the season the Jayhawks would boast the Big 12 Conference's leading rusher and that Jon Cornish would break the school single-season rushing record, you would have licked your chops.

Factor in that for the first time in two years Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were missing from the Jayhawks' schedule, and you would have salivated some more. This loomed as a very good year indeed.

Unfortunately, the absence of Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech proved meaningless when the Jayhawks couldn't defeat the three replacement schools in the two-year cycle - Texas A&M;, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Worse, KU blew leads in all three of those defeats.

At the same time, the history books show that a 1,000-yard rusher is no guarantee of a memorable season. Tony Sands ran for 1,442 yards in 1991, and the Jayhawks were 6-5 that year. June Henley rambled for 1,349 yards in 1996, and that KU squad finished 4-7.

Cornish surpassed both Sands and Henley this fall with 1,457 yards, but all the Jayhawks had to show for it was a 6-6 record. Thus the combined record for the three best individual rushing seasons in school history is 16-18.

In other words, a running game isn't everything. The whole is equal to the sum of its parts, and Kansas suffered from parts shortages on both offense and defense.

The main defensive woe - in case you spent this fall dodging ice floes inside the Arctic Circle - was stopping opponents' passing attacks. Kansas ranks No. 119 out of 119 NCAA Division I-A teams in pass defense. Not only have the Jayhawks surrendered the most aerial yardage in the nation (269.08), their secondary was bombarded by more passes (470) than any other team.

Defensive coordinator Bill Young tried everything but barrage balloons in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. Aqib Talib was OK at one corner, but the other defensive backs were like rowboats in a tsunami.

On offense, the Jayhawks were decent. Cornish gave KU a ground presence, and red-shirt freshman quarterback Kerry Meier, when healthy, was a viable threat passing or running.

But the offense gave the ball away too many times. Kansas lost 14 fumbles and threw 19 interceptions. That's 33 giveaways. Only four I-AA teams turned the ball over more.

Still, there is next year. Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech will remain missing from KU's schedule, and the Big 12 North is hardly full of juggernauts.

So maybe 2007 will be the year the Jayhawks blast out of the mediocrity orbit. Maybe.

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