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Archive for Friday, October 31, 2008

Keegan: KU coaches should commit to Sharp

October 31, 2008

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The Kansas University football coaching staff had reason not to trust the running game early in the season. The new offensive line, featuring a redshirt freshman at each tackle spot, was having trouble meshing. The search for a first-string tailback still was in the audition stage and every one of the three candidates appeared to be singing slightly off key.

Now, the issue isn't so much either the run-blocking or the running back as much as it is the lack of commitment to a running game.

Junior Jake Sharp has won the job for which Jocques Crawford and Angus Quigley battled and has done so more by performance than default. But Sharp can only run for first downs if he is handed the football.

Think about it: In each of the Jayhawks' last two losses, the games started getting away from them when they went away from giving the ball to Sharp. It happened in the third quarter against Oklahoma, when KU was down by a touchdown and in the second quarter when the deficit again was a touchdown.

That pattern isn't likely to be repeated Saturday at Memorial Stadium against Kansas State. Now, more than ever, it makes sense to trust the running game and stick with it, even if it doesn't hit right off the bat, rather than ditch it when it's purring.

In the past four games, Sharp has rushed for five touchdowns, averaged 95 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry.

All those games came against better rushing defenses than Kansas State's, which statistically is the worst in the Big 12 in conference games and averages 200.9 rushing yards allowed for the season.

Tony Sands holds the KU record for most rushing yards in a game against Kansas State. He gained 217 yards in 1989. Given the ball enough, it's conceivable Sharp could threaten that figure Saturday. Not likely, but not completely out of the question.

Consider the list of Heisman Trophy candidates to have big weeks against the Wildcats' shoddy tacklers. Demetrius Crawford of Division I-AA (or whatever they call that division now) Montana State rushed for 90 yards, which is above his season average against a I-AA schedule.

Two Louisville running backs had their best games of the season to date against K-State. Victor Anderson rushed for 176 yards, Brock Bolen for 104 yards. Louisiana-Lafayette's Tyrell Fenroy rushed for 183 yards, Colorado's Rodney Stewart for 141 yards, Oklahoma's Chris Brown for a season-high 142 yards to go with 104 yards from teammate DeMarco Murray.

In back-to-back weeks, Louisville and Louisiana-Lafayette, which leads the nation in rushing, combined to rush for 638 yards.

Relying more on the run would also have the benefit of keeping KU's defense off the field for longer stretches, never a bad thing. KU coach Mark Mangino praised Texas Tech for doing a great job of that a week ago.

"I think one of the things that people are finding out that are in the spread, they're mixing it up more and running more to use up more clock so they don't give up the ball for the other team to get a quick score or a sustained drive," KU coach Mark Mangino said after last week's 63-21 loss to Texas Tech. "I think our offense has been building to do that."

Building toward Saturday.

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