Three games into the season, the Kansas University football team’s offense has averaged 537.7 yards per game (second in the Big 12), scored 16 touchdowns (tied for first) and has committed just two turnovers (tied for second).
Yet, most of the talk about the unit has revolved around what’s wrong, not what’s right. Receivers dropping balls, Dezmon Briscoe not always running the precise route Todd Reesing anticipated him running, holding penalties here and there, slow first quarters.
Why such scrutiny of an offense that so far has done a good job? Easy. Because the way this team is constructed, good won’t cut it from a unit that has potential for greatness. In order for this team to hang with Big 12 heavyweights, the offense will have to perform at near perfection because the defense is young in some spots and soft in others.
Junior Jake Laptad and surprising senior Maxwell Onyegbule give the Jayhawks a pair of pass rushers, but will the tackles get enough penetration to flush the quarterback toward a rushing end? Sophomore cornerback Daymond Patterson has looked great hanging with receivers running deep routes, and senior safety Darrell Stuckey is a proven star, but where are the turnover-generating playmakers on this relatively young defense?
After his team looked to be in need of a little tightening-up on both sides of the ball in dumping Duke, 44-16, in Memorial Stadium, KU coach Mark Mangino was asked if this team had the potential to have a season reminiscent of the 12-1 Orange Bowl champ of two seasons ago.
His answer revealed this defense is as short of that one in the demeanor department as in experience and pure talent.
“I don’t know how many games this team will win, but this team has a completely different personality than the 2007 team,” Mangino said. “It’s just a different group of kids, different way to coach them. I think the things they do share in common is a great work ethic. They play hard, but the personality of the team is a lot different from 2007. I can’t compare them.”
That team featured a first-team All-American in cornerback Aqib Talib and a second-team selection, tackle James McClinton. Talib oozed with confidence and played with a nasty, trash-talking edge. McClinton, so at peace spiritually, rightly never saw that as a contradiction to his violent, trash-talking style of playing football. He viewed both sides of him as outlets for his boundless passion and energy. Middle linebacker Joe Mortensen, then a junior playing on strong knees, had a most sinister, twisted laugh when he talked about delivering particularly vicious hits. All three players were good, they knew it, and they demanded excellence from teammates.
“They were kind of like the whip, making sure everybody was focused on every play,” Mangino said of Talib and McClinton. “This year on the defensive side of the ball, it’s the coaches that stay on top of every single thing, not that we didn’t in 2007, but we had more pure leadership than we do now.”
No shortage of leadership and playmakers on offense means a good defense is all that’s needed for this team to have a shot at hanging with the best.