The Georgia Tech game notwithstanding, Kansas University’s football team has not panicked regarding its defensive approach during the bye week.
“It’s pretty much been the same thing we always emphasize,” said cornerback Dexter McDonald. “Run to the ball, aggressive play, when ball carriers are stood up you want to strip the ball out, finishing through the play, all that stuff.”
All that stuff without drastic position changes, scheme overhauls and the ever-popular sky-is-falling attitude that sometimes can accompany losses like the one the Jayhawks suffered at Georgia Tech.
There’s good reason for Kansas to stick to its guns regarding its defense and it has as much to do with the present as it does the future. For starters, the Jayhawks are just three games into their time with Vic Shealy as the defensive coordinator. In addition, they’re just three games into their time as a 3-4 defense. After spending most of the offseason transitioning in both areas, many believe it would be foolish to scrap it now in some sort of overreaction to one game.
After Wednesday’s practice, Shealy, who was noticeably upset by the performance of KU’s defense last weekend in Atlanta, went into great detail about what the team has done to improve defensively during its week off.
“In the last 48 hours, we have done a lot of self-scouting,” Shealy said. “You put up all the different cut-ups from the different packages and coverages and you look at what you are doing well and what you are doing poor. Then you have to ask, in the things you are doing well, if it was a physical attribute that caused it or was it a scheme advantage. On the other hand, you have to look at areas where we are not playing well and you have to (ask) is it a younger guy who is not executing technique-wise and can they get better, or are you asking something from someone that they physically cannot do. You have to make the decision on where you go from there.”
Overall, Shealy said the Jayhawks’ youth had played a big role in allowing 132 points and 1,650 yards through three games. He made sure to point out that he was not tagging the Jayhawks’ underclassmen as an excuses, just as an answer to the many questions that have kept him up all hours of the night.
“Some of what we have to correct involves our less-experienced players taking what they’re doing well on the practice field and transferring it to the game field,” Shealy said. “We are practicing better in some areas than we are playing or performing.”
While a good chunk of KU’s self-analysis this week has taken place in film rooms and team meetings, the Jayhawks have not been encouraged to kick back and take it easy. Players dealing with injuries were given time to heal. But the rest worked as hard as any other week.
“For it to be the off week, we’ve definitely been banging,” McDonald said. “Our coaches are after us, making sure we’re physical.”
Added safety Keeston Terry: “We’re basically just focusing on what our defense is all about. We’re still trying to focus on getting off the field on third downs and getting some turnovers to help our offense.”
As for Shealy, he feels the pressure to get this thing turned. Most of that, he said, had come from inside his own head. He added that KU coach Turner Gill had been nothing but supportive.
“We’ve talked in detail about what we need to do to get better,” Shealy said. “He makes it clear and I understand the accountability that I have without him even having to say it. I understand exactly what we have to do to get better. He has conveyed exactly what he expects.”
Shealy said he believes the team has responded to this week’s message and he expects the Jayhawks’ young talent to improve each week.
“We have to adjust,” Shealy said. “The game is about adjustments. But our compass is set on (the) direction that goes forward and we just have to make sure that our sails are set with more precision. With that comes increasing some accountability for some players to get better now, and having a little more sense of urgency in some areas we need to improve.”
Offense ahead of schedule
While the defense has done some work to try to figure out how to improve, the offense has focused its efforts during the bye week on continuing to cruise. Through three games, Kansas (2-1) has scored 111 points and racked up 1,343 yards, good for nearly 450 yards per game. That’s not even the most impressive part. Offensive coordinator Chuck Long on Wednesday marveled at how well his unit protected the ball during the first three games of the season.
“I think to a certain degree, we may be exceeding expectations,” Long said. “If you look at our last game, we had six-to-eight freshmen or sophomores handling the ball. To have all those guys handle the ball and only have one turnover in three games, that’s exceptional. That’s the best part.”
The KU offense currently ranks first in the Big 12 in red-zone offense, converting 11 touchdowns and two field goals in its 13 trips inside the 20 thus far.
The Jayhawks also rank second in rushing offense (235 yards per game) and third in pass efficiency, with a team pass rating of 181.6.
“I think we’ve done a good job as a staff to make sure we package things for those guys and not give them the whole playbook,” Long said. “But they’ve done a great job of staying eager and wanting to play and getting in there and playing well.”
Bye week not bad
With their next game not until Oct. 1, the Jayhawks will practice just three times this week and will take the weekend off before getting back to work on Sunday in preparation for their Big 12 opener against Texas Tech.
With a big chunk of the bye week spent on self-evaluation, the Jayhawks said Wednesday that the down time had helped.
“I think it is a good situation for us to have the bye week after coming off a huge loss like that,” Terry said. “We definitely didn’t show up, but getting this week will help us get our minds back together.”
McDonald, who enjoyed extended time on the field at cornerback against GT because of an injury to Isiah Barfield, said the memory of the loss and the fact that they have to wait to do something about it has fueled the team’s fire.
“In the bye week, you get a chance to get your legs fresh, watch some extra film and that definitely makes you hungry,” he said.