Fast start key
All offseason, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill raved about his team’s improved speed and the impact that the new crop of faster players would have on his team.
Tuesday, at his first regularly scheduled news conference of the 2011 season, Gill said fans should not have to wait long to see it.
“On offense, defense and special teams we need to have a great start,” said Gill, looking ahead to Saturday’s 6 p.m. season opener against FCS foe McNeese State. “We need to have some guys making plays and getting some excitement for our team and our fans. That was one of the things we didn’t have as much of last year. I think we have some people that can do that this year.”
Statistically speaking, the first quarter was KU’s poorest in terms of putting points on the board during 2010. In 12 games, the Jayhawks scored just 43 points in the opening quarter, including 26 against conference foes. That number included five field goals and four touchdowns, and the Jayhawks scored more than 7 points in the first quarter just once, when they tallied 14 against Oklahoma State during the second-to-last game of the year. What’s more, opposing defenses kept the Jayhawks off the board altogether in the opening quarter five times.
As with most areas in which the Jayhawks struggled in 2010, the coaching staff put a premium on improving their first-quarter performance this offseason.
“What the coaches have really stressed is starting strong and finishing strong,” said junior defensive end Toben Opurum. “It’s something we do in practice. Right out of our stretch we go into a live period so we can get used to starting fast and coming out of the locker room and not being timid.”
3 players suspended
Gill announced Tuesday that three players had been suspended for violating team rules. Sophomore wide receiver Erick McGriff and red-shirt freshman tight end Jimmay Mundine will miss the next two games to serve their suspensions, while sophomore defensive end Tyrone Sellers will sit out Saturday’s game against McNeese State. In addition to those three players, the Jayhawks will be without senior defensive tackle Patrick Dorsey, red-shirt freshman linebacker Jake Farley and sophomore wide receiver Chris Omigie, who all will miss Saturday’s contest because of injuries.
Freshmen to be featured
Gill revealed the number of true freshmen he expected to play during KU’s opener.
“I can probably sit here and say six of them for sure are gonna play in this first ballgame,” he said. “There may be one or two that may play, and that’s why I can say 7-to-10 who would probably play in a two-game scenario. They’ve shown great progress and they can help our football team win games. That’s probably the ultimate deal, us saying, ‘This guy or that guy can help us win games, so let’s play him.’”
Though Gill stopped shy of naming names, he did single out running back Darrian Miller, of Blue Springs, Mo., as one of the true freshmen who would play this weekend. Others who also may be on Gill’s list include: running back Tony Pierson, place kicker Alex Mueller, long snapper Tanner Gibas, linebacker Colin Garrett and wide receiver JaCorey Shepherd.
Red-shirt freshman Pat Lewandowski, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end from Blue Valley West High in Overland Park, will be available for Saturday’s game. After moving to defensive tackle — and tearing it up — during the spring, Lewandowski was moved back to D-End at the beginning of fall camp. A few days in, on Aug. 8, he suffered a leg injury which forced him to miss the next couple of weeks. He returned to practice early last week and Gill confirmed Tuesday that Lewandowski would play on Saturday.
“He’s playing, he’s ready,” Gill said.
Gill talks captains
On Monday, KU announced seniors Tim Biere, Jeremiah Hatch and Steven Johnson, along with junior Toben Opurum, as the team captains.
“They have been good examples (of what our team’s about) in my full year, going on my second year here,” Gill said. “They have represented KU (well) on the field, off the field (and) in the classroom.”