New-look O-line improved
KU still can’t run, but pass-blocking ‘much better’
Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino made it clear following last week’s loss to Texas Tech that he’d do what was necessary to shore up his team’s offensive-line struggles, and Saturday that meant making a number of personnel changes.
Linemen Tanner Hawkinson and Jeremiah Hatch started in their usual spots at left tackle and center, respectively, but little else about the line looked familiar.
Jeff Spikes, who was pulled from the Jayhawks’ loss to Texas Tech last weekend, started the game on the bench as Brad Thorson earned the start at right tackle. Sal Capra, meanwhile, shifted from right guard to left guard to replace Thorson, and Trevor Marrongelli earned his first start of the season at right guard.
“It wasn’t unusual for us,” Thorson said of the new alignment. “We’ve done a lot of experimenting in practices throughout the week. We got a lot of reps in this week, and we felt comfortable when we went out there. I really wish it would have gone the other way, but there wasn’t any problems with our chemistry.”
Entering Saturday’s game, the unit had hoped to improve on facilitating the team’s run game and in reducing the number of sacks allowed, and while the ground game stalled for the fourth straight week — Kansas managed just 60 yards on 23 carries — quarterback Todd Reesing appeared to have plenty of time to maneuver in the pocket.
“I think we pass-protected much better today,” Mangino said. “The run game never really got going as well as we’d like. There’s no excuses for it, but I thought our kids blocked better up front.”
Branstetter kicks: On the heels of a recent hot streak that included a 5-for-5 performance and a career-long 57-yard field goal in back-to-back games against Colorado and Oklahoma, Kansas placekicker Jacob Branstetter has hit a bit of a rough patch in the team’s past two games.
The junior from Lawton, Okla., missed his only attempt in last week’s loss to the Red Raiders and connected on just one of three attempts Saturday against Kansas State.
“There’s no excuses about it,” Branstetter said. “I’m going to go evaluate the film and see what I did wrong on those kicks and get back on track.”
But as Mangino pointed out, Saturday’s game wasn’t decided by a pair of missed field goals.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, that doesn’t become a big factor,” Mangino said. “It really doesn’t. It’s hard to lay blame on him. It would be foolish to do that. The blame is with me. I’ve got to coach better.”
Stuckey making most of limited kick returns: Despite returning just four kicks this season, KU safety Darrell Stuckey has gained 153 total return yards, and, following Saturday’s game, has the Jayhawks’ two longest kick returns of the year.
His 67-yard return to open the game was Kansas’ longest of the season, and his average of 38.2 yards per return is also first on the team.
“As a defensive player, I haven’t … run the ball in five years,” Stuckey said. “I played a lot of great offense when I was in high school. I played running back and had some great efforts. But it’s a lot different when you play defense for five years then try to return the ball again. It felt good to have the vision, still, to have the open gap and just take it.”
Patterson a no-show: Daymond Patterson, who started six games this season as a cornerback and punt returner for the Jayhawks, didn’t play Saturday against Kansas State.
D.J. Beshears and Anthony Davis both played at the left cornerback position, while punt-returning duties were handled by true freshman Bradley McDougald, who returned one punt for one yard Saturday.
Quick hits: Reesing, who threw for 241 yards Saturday, became just the fifth player in Big 12 history to throw for 10,000 career yards. … Receiver Kerry Meier’s reception on the Jayhawks’ first drive of the game made him just the fourth player in program history to record 2,000 career receiving yards. …. Meier, who has 2,082 career receiving yards, has 73 receptions this season, 24 fewer than his single-season school record 97 from a season ago. …. Fellow receiver Dezmon Briscoe’s touchdown reception in the second quarter was his sixth of the season and the 28th of his career. … Tertavian Ingram started in place of Johnathan Wilson at receiver. … Receiver Bradley McDougald’s four catches for 25 yards were both season highs in a Big 12 game for the true freshman. … Freshman safety Lubbock Smith’s nine tackles were a season high.