Fans of Kansas University football — particularly those who had hoped to see a blowout in Saturday’s season opener — might have gotten a jump-start on critiquing KU’s 31-17 victory against South Dakota State on Saturday night.
KU coach Charlie Weis did his best to catch up Sunday.
It was clear Saturday that Weis was pleased but not completely satisfied with his team’s opening act, and Sunday, after a productive practice, he detailed what he took away from the game film.
“There were a lot of good plays on offense, a lot of good plays on defense and a lot of big plays on special teams,” Weis said. “But, at the same time, there were a lot of crummy plays, too.”
Those “crummy plays” came at various points.
From poor chemistry between quarterback Dayne Crist and his receivers to struggles with the kickoff team, all of KU’s woes showed up crystal-clear on film, Weis said.
“It was about what I expected,” he said. “This was a really good day for us because we got a chance to watch all the stuff as a coaching staff and go over it thoroughly. We had plenty of time to show it to the players, explain the good, the bad and the ugly and still turn this into a work day, physically.”
As for what jumped out the most, the list was long but not all that alarming.
“There’s a handful of things,” Weis said. “You want better production in the passing game, you want to have better efficiency on third-down offensively, I’m not satisfied with three out of five touchdowns in the red zone, and then we gave up six explosive plays.”
KU’s first-year coach did not seem overly troubled by any of the aforementioned aspects of Saturday’s game.
“The only area of concern I had was our kickoff team because we didn’t kick the ball great on kickoffs, and we had a couple decent-sized returns that put us in a little bit of a problem,” Weis said.
On six opportunities, the Jackrabbits averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return. The Jayhawks, however, never got the chance to return a kickoff, as all four SDSU kickoffs resulted in touchbacks compared with zero touchbacks for Kansas.
KU also struggled on field goals, as junior Ron Doherty connected on just one of two attempts and missed a 35-yarder on the first drive of the game. Weis said KU’s place-kicking woes were far less worrisome than what he saw on kickoffs.
“The wind in the north end was a lot more significant in the kicking game than it was in the passing game,” Weis said. “Unfortunately, most of the field-goal opportunities were going in that direction.”
One day after toting the ball 20 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns, sophomore tailback Tony Pierson, who stands 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, hit the practice field feeling good.
“He was begging for more,” Weis said. “He would’ve taken as many (carries) as I would’ve given him, but I explained to him that it’s a long season, and we gotta be smart.”
KU’s running backs finished with 42 carries — 20 for Pierson, 16 for junior Taylor Cox, five for Brandon Bourbon and one for Marquis Jackson.
“When you run the ball (42) times, there’s enough carries for everybody,” Weis said.
Although a handful of the 42 carries — which accounted for 255 yards — were highlight-worthy, Weis particularly liked one from Cox where the 5-11, 210-pound tailback took an inside hand-off, cut to the left, made a couple of guys miss and could not shake the safety at the end.
“He just lowered his shoulder and basically put the guy right on his back,” Weis said. “When a guy has enough wiggle and shake-and-bake to make people miss, but is physical enough to run people over, that’s a good sign.”
Weis said KU suffered no notable injuries Saturday.
“Knock on wood, this was as clean a day as I can remember for a Sunday,” he said.
Staying healthy was part of the motivation behind the intense strength-and-conditioning program the Jayhawks underwent in the offseason.
“I would like to think there’s a direct correlation with that,” Weis said. “But some of the injuries that occur are just bad luck.”
Following the first start of his KU career, Crist shouldered a lot of the blame for KU’s passing woes. Making his first start in nearly a year, Crist was rusty, completing 17 of 36 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. While some of the incompletions were on Crist, others were the fault of his receivers. Weis said both groups were able to address the issue during film Sunday.
“You can definitely see it,” he said. “When you watch a guy run an in cut and the quarterback’s waiting for (him) to come out of the break instead of just letting it go ... there’s gotta be a point where you just trust that the guy’s gonna be at the right depth and in the right spot.”