College football offenses have come so far since the days of the Ohio State teams of Woody Hayes employing the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach. The spread offense makes defenses cover the entire field. Scoring has soared.
Teams that run the spread generally use the pass to control the ball. They make their way to touchdowns quicker than offenses from a bygone era. More than ever, the quarterback carries the brunt of the pressure. Kansas has an excellent quarterback, Todd Reesing. He’s the biggest reason KU has a 25-8 record in the past three seasons.
Yet, in sports, teams that rely too heavily on their best player tend to reach a point where they pay for that approach. Kansas appears to have reached that point. Everything opposing defenses do is aimed at slowing down Reesing. It’s getting mighty hot in Reesing’s kitchen, with defenses hemming him in, at once taking away his East-West scrambling opportunities and blocking his vision at the line.
One means of relieving the pressure on Reesing hasn’t really been tried, at least not in a stubborn way. One teammate just might be Reesing’s salvation and he is neither a receiver nor a lineman. He’s a running back made to run between the tackles.
The easy answer to why it wouldn’t make sense to open the game handing it three consecutive times to true freshman Toben Opurum from Plano, Texas, is that the defense would catch on, bring an extra defender to the line, and stop him. Easier than it sounds. Opurum is a powerful back. He hasn’t often shown an ability to cut in a Brandon McAnderson way that makes tacklers miss, but he does drag defenders with him. He doesn’t run backward. He’s the sort of back who can keep the chains moving forward. And if he does, he could open things up for Reesing and his receivers and make Jake Sharp more dangerous as the change-of-pace home run hitter.
He could bring the balance Kansas hasn’t had in the Big 12. In three conference games — KU had to play catch-up in two of them — Kansas has attempted 145 passes and 84 rushes.
Opurum, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound back gifted with sure hands, has averaged 4.4 yards per carry and rushed for eight touchdowns. Many of those carries have come in short-yardage situations, bringing the average down. He also gets high grades for pass-blocking, receiving and a mature mental approach.
“Really like what he brings to the game,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “... He’s done a nice job, even in big games in crucial situations. We’re just real pleased with him. He just keeps getting better and better. I thought he made some really nice runs on some third downs (against Oklahoma), really moved the pile and converted for us.”
Making tacklers miss regularly will come, Warinner predicts.
“Sometimes it’s a little bit of us just wanting to have a physical approach with him and let Jake be the change-of-pace guy,” Warinner said. “But I think he can make guys miss in practice and he’s shown it in a couple of the games.”
It would be interesting to see what Opurum could show Saturday in Lubbock as the focal point of the offense.