For a while, it looked like the Kansas University offensive line might have been the program’s most overachieving unit this fall.
Despite returning only two starters from last year’s line, the team’s ground game was ranked among the best in the Big 12 through five games, and when quarterback Todd Reesing threw for a career-high 442 yards in a Oct. 10 victory over Iowa State, KU coach Mark Mangino called it one of the best pass-blocking performances that he’d been associated with.
But during the past three games — as Reesing has been sacked a combined 14 times and the team’s ground game has sputtered — members of the line are trying to make sense of the recent decline in performance.
“A lot of people didn’t expect a lot out of us,” junior lineman Brad Thorson said Tuesday. “And people started to praise us, and that feels good when you’ve kind of changed people’s opinions. Then to fall back, it’s tough.”
Theories as to why the group has regressed are plentiful. An increase in the level of competition. Defenses that have figured out a way to exploit a relatively inexperienced unit. The absence of a necessary mean streak.
“We just need them to have a more aggressive demeanor, and to play with a more aggressive attitude and really try to get after an opponent,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “The one-on-one battles, to win those, to not just get in people’s way, but to try to create space and move people and be more dominant there — that’s something that we’ll challenge them to do.”
If nothing else, members of the struggling line can take solace in the fact that, for a significant stretch this season, they experienced success.
Now, with just four games remaining on the schedule, the key will be figuring out how to regain it.
“We’ve seen ourselves succeed playing as a group,” Thorson said. “We need to get back on the same page and really start clicking like five offensive linemen should.”
Rojas getting workout
The offensive struggles that have plagued Kansas in recent weeks have paved the way for an expanded role for punter Alonso Rojas, and the junior from Miami has made the most of his opportunity.
In the team’s past three games, Rojas has punted 19 times — more than in the team’s first five games combined — and is currently ranked fifth in the Big 12 in punting average (40.8 yards), having landed 13 punts within the opponents’ 20 yard line.
“When he first got here, he wanted to kick with all his might, and now he has learned you can drop it in certain spots,” Mangino said. “He’s got to be one of the best punters in the nation on sky kicks, dropping the ball inside the 20 and 10 and even 5 yard line.”
Defection not a concern
Although the Kansas State coaching staff features an assistant well-versed in the Kansas playbook — Joe Bob Clements served as the Jayhawks’ defensive line coach last season before leaving to join K-State coach Bill Snyder’s staff — Mangino is confident that Clements’ knowledge of the KU program won’t be an issue in the Jayhawks’ 11:30 a.m. matchup with the Wildcats on Saturday.
“I couldn’t imagine anything that he could possibly know that would give him an edge in the game,” Mangino said. “I just don’t see it. That’s not a factor at all.”