Nobody knows better than Kansas University offensive coordinator Chuck Long that shifting from a pass-first to run-first football team doesn’t always require a long, arduous process.
Then working for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Long was approached by the running-backs coach and told it was imperative to put some I-formation in for that day’s practice. Naturally, Long, the coordinator of a shotgun offense, asked why.
“Adrian Peterson’s here today watching practice,” Long was told. “We’ve got to give him some ‘I.’ So we put in some I-formation in spring ball just that day to show we had I-formation. Long story short, we ended up getting him.”
Once Peterson arrived, Long said it took the coaching staff all of one practice to realize the Sooners had themselves a truly great back. After that practice, the coaches huddled again and this time put in the I-formation for real.
Nineteen years after Iowa’s Long finished second to Auburn running back Bo Jackson in the Heisman Trophy voting, the freshman Peterson was runner-up to USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
KU doesn’t have a Peterson clone, but it has added exciting talent at the position. Plus, wide receivers coach David Beaty will demand better downfield blocking. Transfer Nick Sizemore is a battering-ram blocker of a fullback. A healthier, slimmer center, senior Jeremiah Hatch, leads an improved offensive line.
That all doesn’t amount to much without a consistent commitment to run first, pass second. Turner Gill talked about doing that in advance of his first season at Kansas, but deep early deficits and shallow running-back depth got in the way.
“What you saw in the Colorado game was probably ideal,” Long said of his preference. “We had some nice balance in that game, and you know what? We stuck to our guns. We got down fast. We got down in other games, and we had to try to throw to come back, and that alters your game plan. But in that game, we just stayed with it, we just said, ‘Let’s just get better at what we’re doing,’ and lo and behold, we’re in the game, and all of a sudden we win it.”
Long said he envisions running 60 percent of the time.
James Sims, a strong between-the-tackles runner, didn’t have as much backup or competition a year ago as now. Red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon and true freshman Darrian Miller offer more break-away speed, and Sizemore will help in short-yardage situations and as a pass-blocker.
Long’s appreciation of a relentless running game grew during his first coaching assignment, when he was in charge of the secondary at Iowa.
“When somebody can run the ball and you can’t stop it, that is the most helpless feeling in the world,” Long said. “When they throw the ball around on you, you always feel like, ‘We’re going to pick one off,’ or, ‘He’s going to get cold. He’s going to be erratic. He’s going to miss one every once in a while.’ When they have a running game, they’re running it down your throat, that’s just helpless. You’re trying everything in the world to stop it, and you can’t do it. So that’s what we’re trying to get to.”
That approach could enable KU to stay in games against more experienced, talented foes.