All offseason, coaches and players talked about the offensive line — and its five returning starters — being a strength of the Kansas University football team heading into 2010.
But then Saturday happened, and all that talk went flying out the window after a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State.
To be fair, the line that started last Saturday’s season opener was not the same line many had envisioned. It lacked junior Jeff Spikes, who will miss the season after suffering an injury to his Achilles’ tendon, and also played without junior Jeremiah Hatch, who dressed out but did not get into the game.
That may change this week, and, according to senior tackle Brad Thorson, adding Hatch into the mix can only help the Jayhawks.
“Hatch is a guy who’s comfortable on gameday,” Thorson said. “He’s certainly got a lot of experience in there, he’s a guy that plays with a lot of passion, and hopefully he can get himself back ready to go. But I do think we’ve got other capable players that need to get experience for later in the season.”
Part of the reason Hatch was held out of Saturday’s loss was the same thing that dropped him from first string to second string on the team’s depth chart.
“He’s had some health issues in the spring and during the summer,” Thorson said. “It’s a lot of stuff I can’t talk about because it’s medical, but he’s getting himself back into playing condition and looking a lot better every day. He had a great week of practice last week, and he’s the type of guy who takes the pain of not being there for us very seriously.”
After a loss as embarrassing as the one the Jayhawks suffered last week, it’s easy for people to point the finger at a lot of different places when trying to explain what went wrong. Many pointed to the team’s most visible position — quarterback — while others pointed to the O-line, some singled out the running backs and still more called out the KU coaches.
With a few days to digest things and shake off the shock that followed the stumble in the season opener, the Jayhawks emerged as a team more united than ever.
“Offense is a unit,” said senior running back Angus Quigley, who gained 15 yards on seven carries. “Everyone’s needed. As a whole, on offense, I don’t think we played very energetic. I felt like we were out there at times, just going through the motions. I don’t know why that is, but we have to go back to the drawing board and get those things corrected, and I feel like we will.”
Added KU coach Turner Gill: “It’s not just an Angus Quigley thing. We got tight ends blocking, we got the whole offensive line blocking and things of that nature. So it’s a combination of all the above. We’ve got to score, and we’ve got to score often. We’ve got to be extremely efficient.”
No official starter at QB
One week after Kale Pick’s name appeared as the undisputed top dog on the KU depth chart, the dreaded two-letter word was back Tuesday — “or.” Pick and red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb continue to compete for the title of starting quarterback, and Gill said he and offensive coordinator Chuck Long were engaged in an ongoing evaluation of the position.
“We’re still evaluating that,” Gill said. “We’ll make a decision here fairly soon and let our guys know. We definitely want to let our players know before we say something to the media.”
Though he plans to pin down a full-time starter as soon as possible, Gill said evaluating both quarterbacks early on has its ups and downs.
“The benefit of it is, you’ve got competition,” he said. “The negative of it is that you don’t have an opportunity for chemistry, continuity. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m for playing (both) quarterbacks. We just want to do whatever it takes to get us to be successful.”
No kicker controversy here
Though there is some uncertainty at the quarterback position, special-teams coordinator Aaron Stamn said there was no such drama in the kicking game, despite senior Jacob Branstetter’s missing two of three field goals in last week’s loss.
True freshman Ron Doherty will continue to handle kickoffs, and Branstetter will function as the team’s place kicker.
Branstetter left a 52-yard field-goal attempt short, but Stamn said KU would still go with the senior for all field goal attempts — short and long.
“Jake’s our kicker,” Stamn said. “He just mis-hit it, point-blank, and he’ll tell you that, too. He didn’t hit it right, and that happens. He was upset with himself after the game, obviously, being a senior placekicker, but Jake’s a hard worker, and you’ve just got to keep grinding away.”
True freshman Sims to play
The idea of fielding a more productive offense has led to a couple of changes on the latest KU depth chart.
Freshman running back James Sims, 6-foot, 206 pounds, now is listed as the third-string tailback, behind red-shirt freshman Deshaun Sands, who is “very questionable” for this week’s contest against Georgia Tech because of a leg injury. If Sands can’t play, that would leave the Jayhawks with just Quigley, Sims and true freshman Brandon Bourbon at tailback. Gill also said he would not move sophomore linebacker Toben Opurum back to offense.
“James Sims will play this week,” Gill said. “I can state that. But, no, we’re not moving Toben to the offensive side.”
In addition to Sims’ promotion, true freshman Keeston Terry jumped to second string at safety.
In other injury news Tuesday, Gill said defensive end Tyrone Sellers, a red-shirt freshman, will miss three to four weeks due to a leg injury. That moves true freshman Keba Agostinho, 6-3, 253, into the position of second-string D-end behind Jake Laptad.