Offensive line disappoints in loss to Central Michigan

photo by: Mike Yoder

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) passes while under pressure from the CMU defense during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium.

The most obvious difference in performance when comparing units from Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference and Kansas from the Big 12 came at offensive line.

The Chippewas’ O-line held KU’s talented front four in check and didn’t allow a sack. KU linebacker Joe Dineen was the only one credited with a quarterback hurry.

Kansas did a decent job against the run (3.5 yards per carry), but thanks in part to sound pass protection and his mobility, lefty quarterback Shane Morris shredded KU’s overmatched, green secondary for 467 passing yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception.

In contrast, Peyton Bender was under fire all day, largely because of breakdowns on the right side of the line, where tackle Antione Frazier showed his inexperience.

How can a MAC O-line be so much better than one from the Big 12?

The biggest factor is experience. To what degree making the right decisions in recruiting also is a factor will play out in coming seasons as we learn how KU’s young blockers develop.

Central Michigan started four fifth-year seniors who were all high school recruits who were part of the Class of 2013 and redshirted in 2013. A third-year sophomore started at left guard.

Conversely, Kansas started a true sophomore at left tackle, a third-year senior at left guard, a third-year sophomore at center, a true sophomore at right guard and a second-year freshman at right tackle.

Head coach David Beaty and offensive line coach Zach Yenser expressed confidence throughout camp that the line had made big strides from a year ago. It didn’t show Saturday, at least not in the area of pass protection.

It will be interesting to see if any shakeup is in store, heading into Saturday’s game at Ohio.

Charles Baldwin, dismissed from Alabama’s program after spending one spring with the Crimson Tide, has not earned playing time yet at right tackle. If he hasn’t earned it and Yenser determines Frazier needs more seasoning, no obvious place to turn is available.

Backup junior right guard Larry Hughes played right tackle as a freshman, so that’s an option.

A more drastic step would involve putting fourth-year senior Jacob Bragg at center and moving Mesa Ribordy to right tackle, where he never has played. That alignment at least would have KU’s most talented, smartest blockers at the tackle spot with Hakeem Adeniji at left tackle.

Shifting backup left tackle Clyde McCauley to starting right tackle also could be tried.
Or, Yenser could decide to keep the line in tact and hope that all Frazier needs to hold his own are game reps.

Heading into the season, I thought the O-line was a year away, but based on Saturday’s performance, that projection seems a little optimistic. There is no rushing the development of offensive linemen.