NOTE: Las Vegas oddsmakers set the opening line at Ohio minus-9, which means Ohio was a nine-point favorite. In slightly more than 24 hours, the legal-betting public had moved the line an amazing 12 points, making the Jayhawks a three-point favorite, which was where the line stood as of Tuesday morning.
Kansas, seeking to move two games above the break-even point for the first time since improving to 2-0 in 2011 with a victory at home against Northern Illinois in Turner Gill’s second and final season on the job, has a few factors going for it Saturday when Ohio visits Memorial Stadium for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
First, Kansas should be able to draw more from Ohio’s Week 1 game tape than vice versa because the Bobcats were in a tight game, one they lost to Texas State, 56-54 in three overtimes, so they couldn’t hold back anything from the playbook.
In contrast, KU could afford to treat much of its 55-6 victory against Rhode Island almost like an NFL team approaches an exhibition game. The Jayhawks spread the ball around to multiple players, giving Ohio so much to prepare for and so little on any one player.
Nine different Jayhawks caught a pass and three different quarterbacks combined for six touchdown passes, Montell Cozart throwing three, Ryan Willis two and Carter Stanley one. Ohio must prepare for both Cozart and Willis. Four different running backs rushed the football anywhere from four to nine times.
The second factor involves KU’s Week 1 strength, the passing attack, matching up with Ohio’s Week 1 weakness, defending the pass. Kansas passed for 399 yards vs. Rhode Island and Ohio surrendered 440 yards and five touchdowns at home vs. Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference.
The third factor, the biggest one considering the extent to which emotion sways football performances in general and in the college game in particular, involves respect.
Oddsmakers made a loud statement that in their opinion KU’s 49-point victory said far more about the quality of its opponent than about the Jayhawks. Visiting Ohio opened as a nine-point favorite. What happened in Lawrence stayed in Lawrence in terms of national respect. Acting quickly, bettors put so much money down on KU that the Jayhawks became favorites in slightly more than 24 hours. As of Tuesday morning, Kansas was favored by three points, a remarkable swing.
If second-year head coach David Beaty can parlay the original lack of belief in his team among outsiders into an emotional outburst that fuels players to perform out of their minds, Kansas could score a victory and make believers out of Las Vegas oddsmakers who set the point spreads, and more important, out of a fan base that can be enticed back in droves at the first unqualified sign of legitimate progress.
Big game Saturday.
I won’t pretend that I can say something nice about the Kansas football depth chart having three names listed as possible first-stringers with the season-opener days away.
Best-case scenario would have had one of the three quarterbacks blowing away the competition by now.
Instead, I’ll reach into the issue and find something nice to say.
The size of the crowd for Saturday’s Rhode Island game has the potential to turn faces red, so I’ll use this week’s blog to examine whether head coach David Beaty’s attempt to keep his starting quarterback a secret until the 6 p.m. kickoff will increase the size of the crowd or decrease it.
Since URI, 1-10 in the Football Championship Subdivision last season, doesn’t have the talent to create scoreboard suspense, uncertainty regarding the starting QB, provided it doesn’t leak before game night, adds a little intrigue, creates a potentially powerful moment.
If Beaty really can pull it off and keep the secret, fans will explode in support of whichever quarterback sprints off the sideline. Cool moment, one that might motivate someone on the fence to buy a ticket and head to Memorial Stadium. So in that sense, it should increase attendance.
The potential for it backfiring at the gate exists. Here’s how: Fans wanting to believe the team will improve significantly from last season’s 0-12 finish might fear that Beaty keeping the secret in order to give his team an edge means the Jayhawks are weak enough to need an edge to defeat a team that went 1-10 in a lower division. Most thinking that way will get off the fence and makes plans for a Saturday night out on the town or in the den watching multiple games.
My guess is fans curious to experience suspense at Memorial Stadium, not that common a feeling in recent years, will outnumber those bummed that the coach thinks his team needs the edge against the Rams.
Humans tend toward optimism, particularly in regards to a team that has not yet lost a game.
Will it be Ryan Willis, Montell Cozart or Carter Stanley to take the first snap of the 2016 season? My guess is it will be Willis, but it’s only a guess. The only way to know for sure is to show up before Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff.
Every time a walk-on football player makes his way onto the Kansas depth chart it becomes that much easier for a high school player considering joining the Jayhawks without the benefit of a scholarship for the start of his career.
Red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Mesa Ribordy had to pay his own way this season and last. He had enough faith in his ability to believe that he will be on scholarship his final three years in the program.
Ribordy is on track to make that happen. Players who spend two years as walk-ons and then earn scholarships only count against the overall scholarship limit of 85 per Football Bowl Subdivision school. They don’t count against the single-year limit of 25.
In order to get back to a competitive level, Kansas will need to take advantage of several players in that category, which makes Ribordy a very valuable recruit.
A 6-foot-4, 290-pound graduate of Louisburg High, Ribordy is pushing for time at both right guard and center and has a strong chance of becoming one of the eight blockers who account for the majority of snaps at the five offensive-line positions.
Other players from Kansas high schools who have joined the program as walk-ons since David Beaty became head coach and hired Gene Wier as director of high schoo relations include: sophomore transfers Keith Loneker Jr. (Baker University, Free State) and Ryan Schadler (Wichita State track, Heeston), junior transfer Deron Thompson (RB Colorado State, Wichita Northwest); sophomore Reese Randall (RB Baldwin); red-shirt freshmen Mazin Aql (DE Blue Valley), Jackson Jenkins (OL Bishop Meige), Beau Lawrence (OL Blue Valley Southwest), Nathan Miller (CB Washburn Rural), Hunter Saulsbury (OL Blue Valley Southwest); freshman Tate Vang (WR, Goddard).
Kansas State has dominated in-state, walk-on recruiting and Kansas is coming from behind, but it’s important the coaches stay committed to bringing depth to the program through this method in hopes of eventually closing the gap on the Wildcats.
Kansas head football coach David Beaty’s media policy makes freshmen off-limits for interviews, but that didn’t keep teammates and Beaty himself from talking about running back Khalil Herbert during Monday's media session.
Clearly, Herbert has made a strong first impression.
“I saw him make some really good cuts, stuff that a typical freshman can’t really do,” tight end Ben Johnson said of Herbert’s performance in a Saturday scrimmage in which the South Florida native carried the ball three times for 93 yards and a touchdown. “That kind of stood out to me and I was pretty impressed. He’s just a natural ballplayer. There are things you can coach and things you can’t coach. He’s kind of one of those guys who just has natural instincts.”
Quarterback Ryan Willis shared what it does for him to see that sort of an effort from a freshman: “It fires me up. ... The key to this offense is getting it to our playmakers. Our playmakers right now are our running backs.”
Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez is the top playmaker at wide receiver and his face lit up Monday at the mention of Herbert’s name.
“I love that kid,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, he can really run the ball. I like that kid. He’s got pretty soft hands. He can catch like a receiver. He’s an all-purpose back. He can do everything.”
Herbert, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound burner, comes to Kansas from American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., where he played for former NFL defensive back Mike Rumph, now cornerbacks coach for University of Miami.
As did Gonzalez, Beaty gave Herbert points for more than his ability to run the football.
“He’s a dominant guy,” Beaty said. “He’s fast. He actually pass-blocks pretty good. Smart kid. Great kid. He showed some real burst on Saturday. Avoided some tackles, avoided a tackle in the backfield and took it for a long run, something I haven’t seen in a while.”
Beaty also praised the work of first-string senior back Ke’aun Kinner, sophomore sprinter Taylor Martin and the short-yardage contributions of Arkansas transfer Denzell Evans.
Say something nice about Kansas football: Improved depth eliminates need to rush freshmen onto field
True freshmen Larry Hughes and Clyde McCauley combined to start nine games at offensive tackle for Kansas last season and classmate Tyrone Miller started the first seven games of the season at cornerback.
If the same players were true freshmen this season, they would combine to start zero games at those positions.
That demonstrates the improved depth, most of it through upgraded recruiting, that already is taking place in the major rebuilding job.
“They were not strong enough to compete in this league,” strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson said of Hughes and McCauley. “They weren’t, and it was evident when they played.”
That’s why true freshmen linemen redshirt in all but rare circumstances.
Hughes and McCauley aren’t as strong as they will be two years from now, but they are a great deal stronger than a year ago.
“I’ve put on 25 pounds since when I first got here,” McCauley said. “I’m way stronger. My clean shot up about 50 pounds. My bench shot up about 90.”
He shouldn’t have had to face future NFL defensive linemen before those gains were made, but the ranks were so thin last season, he and Hughes were pressed into duty.
In contrast, incoming freshman O-linemen Hakeem Adeniiji (6-foot4, 265 pounds, Garland, Texas) and Antoine Frazier (6-4, 260, Huffman, Texas) have the luxury of red-shirting, which doesn’t necessarily mean they will.
Jackson said they both arrived on campus stronger than some of the veterans were when Jackson rejoined the Kansas football program in Jan., 2015.
“Those kids are both 260 pounds and they’re bench-pressing over 315 pounds,” Jackson said. “Young guys who are able to do it, it’s a great foundation to be able to build on.”
There is no masking a lack of strength up front or a lack of speed in the back of the defense.
Miller does not and will not ever have the speed to play cornerback in the Big 12. But the coaches didn’t know where else to turn, so they played a true freshman safety at cornerback and it showed.
Now if the Jayhawks need to call on a true freshman at cornerback, they can choose from a pair of speedy players born to play cornerback in Kyle Mayberry from Tulsa and Mike Lee from New Orleans. If they aren’t ready, it won’t be because they are playing out of position or don’t have the speed to keep up.
As for Miller, his confidence will grow instead of shrink now that he’s playing a position that suits his talents.
At linebacker, true freshman Maciah Long (6-2, 240) is more physically ready for Big 12 play than most freshman, but he played quarterback in high school and is new to the position. No need to rush him into action and burn his redshirt with experienced reserve linebackers Courtney Arnick, Kendall Duckworth, Keith Loneker Jr. and Osaze Ogbebore on hand.
Dallas Skyline point guard Marcus Garrett, who on Monday made a verbal commitment to attend Kansas, wears No. 6 for the red team in the first video below.
Garrett, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound point guard who has the size to play the other two perimeter positions as well, is shown in the video below playing against Texas A&M three-star recruit T.J. Starks, a 6-foot pure point guard who led Dallas Lancaster to the state title last season.
Rivals does not include Starks in its top 150 for the Class of 2017.
In the next video, Garrett is wearing No. 23 in blue and Irving MacArthur point guard Andrew Jones wears No. 10 in white. Jones, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound, five-star shooting guard, committed to Texas to play for Shaka Smart. Rivals ranks him No. 22 in the Class of 2017.
It won't take long for the Kansas coaching staff to turn Garrett into a much more intense defender. Other coaches will have a tougher time trying to figure out how to defend a long guard with a quick first step and a touch so soft the net barely moves.
Now that a new recruiting rule has gone into effect, a football program might as well be on the winning side of the rule change, even if it’s a minor one. David Beaty’s social media-conscious coaching staff is on the winning side of it.
As of Monday, college coaches in all sports are allowed to click “retweet” and “like” on the Twitter accounts of recruits and allowed to share recruits’ content on other social-media platforms. Coaches still can’t directly comment on the posts, but are allowed to show they are paying attention to the recruits’ via social media.
Every little bit helps and Kansas certainly needs any help it can get in trying to climb out of the Big 12 basement.
Beaty (1,809 tweets), walk-around guy Rob Likens (1,539), offensive line coach Zach Yenser (1,321) and defensive line coach Michael Slater (967) are particularly active on Twitter.
Losing five assistant coaches after his first season, only one via demotion, certainly wasn’t ideal for Beaty, but he seems to have rebounded well and put together a staff that so far seems to have good chemistry, solid recruiting contacts and a strong work ethic.
Yet again, I have said something nice about Kansas football. Your turn.
Setting rules and then dismissing anybody who doesn't follow them is not the way to establish discipline in a football program. Anybody could do that. It's easy. The tough challenge is taking players who lack discipline and finding a way to get them to change their behaviors.
The summer conditioning program plays a big part in instilling discipline and things seem to be going well on that front.
“What showed me we’re changing is the amount of guys I've had to punish at 5 a.m.," Kansas strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson said Friday. "Like today, I didn’t have anyone. Let's say we have 100 guys. There will be eight different times per week they have to be somewhere on time for me. So that's 800 different opportunities for them to miss one of those times. I bet we've had six all summer. Six! When I first (returned to Kansas), that first spring, we might have six per week. I went 55 days in a row where I punished guys at 5 a.m. Fifty-five days in a row!"
Tardiness or absence from a class, a tutoring session and a workout are examples of transgressions that could earn a player an early alarm clock setting.
"Coaches are holding them more accountable and they don’t want to come in here and get crushed at 5 a.m.," Jackson said. "What coach (David) Beaty is doing, it’s working. It really is working."
All program reversals start with instilling discipline. It's a first step that must be followed by many, many more, such as improved recruiting, smart game-planning and in-game adjustments.
Frank Solich made his coaching reputation at Nebraska, where fleet running backs and powerful backs alike darted through holes blown open by corn-fed linemen.
That blueprint has worked well for Solich at Ohio University, which he has on a hot streak that includes going to bowl games in 6 of 7 years heading into this season.
Entering his 12th season at Ohio, Solich has a big, experienced offensive line, and all but two of the eight players who rushed for more than 100 yards last season back, including A.J. Ouellette, the leading rusher.
Based on the performance of last season’s Kansas defense, the Sept. 10 clash with the Bobcats in Memorial Stadium has all the earmarks of a blowout with the home team on the losing end.
A refresher on just how poorly the Jayhawks fared among 124 FBS schools against the run during an 0-12, 2015 season: 124th in rushing touchdowns (39), 123rd in yards per carry (5.67), 125th in yards per game (267.17).
Ohio’s rankings in rushing the football: 68th in rushing touchdowns (22), 76th in yards per carry (4.3), 50th in yards per game (180.85).
Solich doesn’t have an obvious choice to start at quarterback — always good news for the opposition — but all the candidates are dual-threats.
Obviously, KU stats were compiled against a brutal schedule, Ohio’s vs. a less challenging one.
Still, it’s a case of OU’s strength matching up against one of KU’s biggest weaknesses (another being pass defense), based on last season.
But last season’s defense won’t be taking the field, even though most of the names will be the same.
Other than Ben Goodman, all the starters from the defensive line were in their first year of Div. I football.
They all have grown in physique, confidence and football smarts. On paper at least, the D-line should be the most improved position group.
Sophomore Dorance Armstrong had a standout spring at defensive end. On the other side, Damani Mosby and Anthony Olobia have their junior-college transition year behind them.
It’s the improvement in the middle of the D-line that creates the most hope that KU won’t get steamrolled to the extent it did a year ago.
D-tackles Daniel Wise and D.J. Williams both have been singled out as recipients of strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson’s Workout Warrior of the Week honor. (Reserve defensive end Josh Ehambe also was so honored).
Wise started seven games last season as a redshirt freshman and has added needed weight and emerged as a big leader on the defense. Williams, a prospect with impressive enough physical tools to receive scholarship offers from Oklahoma and Missouri, has completely transformed his work ethic, according to Jackson. He’s 6-foot-5, 306 pounds and agile.
Statistics don’t accurately reflect the contributions of a defensive lineman, so I thought it would be interesting to ask Williams to share his individual goals for this season.
“Every time someone comes in my hole, it’s not open. Just make sure that hole’s not open,” Williams said. “That’s my No. 1 individual goal. Another individual goal would be not getting tired, trying to keep that endurance. I really don’t like coming out of the game because I really didn’t get that many snaps (last year). I’m trying to get as many as I can before my time is up.”
Those are terrific goals, one centered on on-field performance, the other on conditioning. Still, no position requires more depth than D-tackle. Huge men who so often have to wrestle with two blockers at once need to rest. That’s where junior-college transfers Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis enter the equation.
Holani looked too overweight during the spring to project as a player who could help as soon as the fall. He looks as if he’s shedding pounds at a good rate.
Occupying blockers so that linebackers can come up and make the tackles is one job for D-tackles. Then it’s up to KU’s linebackers making tackles closer to the line of scrimmage than a year ago. Marcquis Roberts has healthier knees than at this point last season and brings quickness and toughness. Joe Dineen, with the first full year of his life as a linebacker behind him and added strength should make a leap forward.
So even though Ohio will be favored against Kansas in Week 2, an upset is possible if the Jayhawks’ run defense improves even more than I suspect it will.
Yet again, I said something nice about Kansas football. Step up to the plate and take your best cuts at shining optimism on a team coming off an 0-12 finish.
As we approach the Top 10 of this summer's list, it's back to the defensive side of the ball, where the Jayhawks return a bunch of players with significant experience who are expected to enjoy a much more productive season in 2016 than the ones they produced in 2015.
Today's entrant might be at the top of that list, given the hope and expectation for him to deliver in Year 1 and the fact that it took him a little time to adjust and ease into things during his first season as a Jayhawk.
Stewart was by no means stellar during the 2015 season but he wasn't bad either. But because he plays one of the most visible and important positions in the Big 12, KU's going to need him to make a meaningful jump this season to improve its chances at snagging some victories.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.
This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.
Matt Tait and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.
Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.
11. Brandon Stewart, Sr. Cornerback
The emergence of potential star defensive end Dorance Armstrong figures to translate to less time for opposing quarterbacks to find a receiver, which in turn translates to the Kansas secondary not getting shredded as badly as it did a year ago.
That factor and greatly increased experience combine to make the outlook of the pass defense less hopeless than a year ago. A more sound season from senior cornerback Brandon Stewart would go a long way toward making that happen.
The Kansas coaching staff was excited to get a commitment out of Stewart, a junior college cornerback especially since he was arriving at mid-semester and could participate in spring practice in 2015. A little undersized, he graded out well as a prospect in every other area. Yet, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry was quick to point out that junior college competition does not equate to that in the pass-happy Big 12. Perry used another junior college player who struggled mightily in his first year in the Football Bowl Subdivsion and ultimately developed into a first-round draft pick. It would take time, perhaps a whole season, Perry cautioned, for Stewart to show why the staff was excited to land him.
“I call him Crazy Legs,” Perry said at the time. “His legs are all over the place.”
His body needed to become more disciplined to execute the fundamentals of playing cornerback and as his first season progressed, Stewart did show subtle improvements. He will be counted on to take a bigger leap forward now that he has a full season of game experience and two springs behind him.
“Last year was just getting a feel for D-1, getting a feel for KU,” Stewart said. “It was all just a whole bunch of new stuff thrown at you all at once. So now it’s, “I know what to do and I want to play with confidence and and play fast because you know what’s going to happen and you have the feel for stuff. That’s when a defense can really start making plays and start doing things to turn this program around. ... I know from scrimmages we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Stewart sounded more confident than ever this past spring.
“I know it’s the Big 12, but I feel like this guy across from me, I feel like I can beat him,” Stewart said. "He’s mine for the day. You just have to play with that confidence.”
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016: