Analysts have been so preoccupied with the Kansas University football team's woeful pass defense that they haven't gotten around to tackling another pressing matter.
Namely, the Jayhawks' inability to tackle.
"We're just not a good tackling football team right now," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino, whose team plays host to No. 4 Texas at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. "We're having trouble getting people on the ground on the first hit, (and) it's not just open field. Everybody right away runs to this spread offense theory. We're having trouble right in the box. We've blitzed into some run plays, I mean, we brought somebody blitzing right into the gap where they're running the ball ... and didn't put them on the ground."
The troubles came to a head last weekend, during Kansas' 45-35 loss to Nebraska. On multiple occasions, the Jayhawks (6-4, 3-3 in the Big 12) struggled to bring down opposing ball-carriers in open space, while giving up a number of big runs - none of which was more devastating than a 52-yard scamper by Huskers running back Roy Helu Jr., that gave Nebraska a 31-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Afterward, players could only shake their heads.
"It's really frustrating," said senior linebacker Joe Mortensen. "On 3rd-and-long, 3rd-and-short, when we have a chance to make a play and get off the field, it's huge. We got a lot of opportunities last Saturday where we could have gotten off the field, but then the series went on and (they ran) eight or nine other plays or they even scored. So that's something that we've got to improve on."
The lack of such a fundamental necessity has proven costly to a Jayhawks' defensive unit that can use all the help it can get. So far this fall, Kansas has re-positioned nearly its entire secondary, battled lingering injuries to multiple members of its linebacking corps, and gone significant stretches without starting members of the defensive line.
Players point to a number of reasons for the trouble - lack of focus, laziness, poor technique - but understand that the situation needs to be rectified immediately if the Jayhawks hope to finish the regular season with more than their current total of six victories.
While extra emphasis has been placed this week on tackling, and while players have vowed to make improvements, in the end, coaches say, it comes down to on-field execution.
"We pointed out to the players that it's something that needs to get corrected, and needs to get corrected right away," said defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. "We'll continue to practice it, and on gameday, they've got to go in and apply those fundamentals and have that drive to get that guy to the ground."
lKickoff returns serious issue: Mangino said Wednesday that while he's seen improvements in some aspects his team's special teams unit in recent weeks, the Jayhawks' kickoff return unit remains a serious area of concern.
As they have most of the season, Kansas ranks last out of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams in kickoff return average, despite featuring preseason all-Big 12 return man Marcus Herford.
"I'm very frustrated with that unit," said Mangino. "We have done a lot of things, everything over the course of the season from changing schemes to changing some personnel. ... In other areas we have improved in special teams. Not kickoff return, we have not."
Patterson, Johnson expected to play: Mangino said Wednesday that starting cornerback Daymond Patterson and starting defensive tackle Richard Johnson, Jr., both of whom have been out with injuries, are expected to play Saturday against Texas.