Now that the 2016 Big 12 football season is complete, all the numbers have been totaled and averaged and sorted nicely for consumption, and postseason honors are starting to get handed out.
So it’s a good time to review the league’s individual statistical leaders and see where Kansas football players landed among their peers.
As one might guess, the Jayhawks, who used three different starting quarterbacks, didn’t show up with this year’s passing leaders.
Perhaps head coach David Beaty will find a QB he can count on throughout 2017.
Still, KU had plenty of individuals stand out over the past few months, despite a 2-10 overall record and 1-8 mark in the Big 12.
What follows is a review of the categories in which Jayhawks ranked among the conference’s best, with a look at the numbers produced by the league-leader for context.
How did the Jayhawks stack up? Some of them finished higher than you might have guessed.
- Big 12 leader: D’Onta Foreman, Texas, 193.3 yards a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Ke’aun Kinner, 61.5 yards a game
The senior running back often shared rushing duties with teammates, but Kinner averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns for Kansas in 2016. He looked even stronger late in the season, when he produced a season-best 152 yards on the ground against Iowa State.
- Big 12 leader: KD Cannon, Baylor, 6.6 a game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Steven Sims Jr., 6.0 catches a game; 9th — LaQuvionte Gonzalez, 5.2
Sims emerged as the top target for Kansas quarterbacks this season, but Gonzalez was as solid a second option as the offense could hope for during another rebuilding season.
Sims scored seven touchdowns, with a long of 74 yards. And while a No. 4 ranking in this category is impressive, Sims fared even better within the conference. Looking only at league games, Sims led the Big 12 with 6.8 catches an outing. Even OU star Dede Westbrook only caught 6.3 a week against league foes.
On the season, Gonzalez tied for 9th with Oklahoma State’s James Washington (5.2 catches). Gonzalez reached the end zone three times as a junior, including a 95-yard score in the finale at K-State, thanks to a deep ball from redshirt freshman quarterback Carter Stanley.
- Big 12 leader: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, 122.1 yards a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Sims, 71.6 yards a game
During his breakout year, Sims, a 5-foot-10 receiver, hauled in 72 catches, averaging 11.9 yards a reception.
- Big 12 leader: LB Travin Howard, TCU, 10.4 a game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — S Fish Smithson, 7.8; 13th — S Mike Lee, 6.9; 30th — LB Courtney Arnick, 5.5; 47th — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 4.7; 47th — S Tevin Shaw, 4.7
As he did in 2015, Smithson led Kansas in tackles. The senior safety made 93 total stops. As the season progressed, Smithson's young apprentice in the secondary, true freshman Lee, developed into a presence, as well. After graduating high school early to join Kansas this season, Lee made 69 solo tackles (76 total) in 11 appearances and eight starts.
With Kansas missing key linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. and Marcquis Roberts, senior ’backer Arnick contributed 66 total tackles for the defense.
Both Armstrong, on the D-line, and Shaw, in the secondary, made 40 solo tackles apiece and 56 total.
- Big 12 leader: DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State, 0.96 a game (11.5 total)
- Ranked Jayhawks: 2nd — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 0.83 (10.0 total); 16th — LB Cameron Rosser, 0.33 (4.0)
With 10 quarterback takedowns behind the line of scrimmage, Armstrong produced all one-man sack attacks, without an assist, during his outstanding sophomore campaign.
Rosser, a senior who played a hybrid linebacker/end position, made all four of his sacks during a two-week span in the first couple of Big 12 games. Rosser made one at Texas Tech and three versus TCU.
Tackles For Loss
- Big 12 leader: DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas, 1.67 a game
- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 15th — Daniel Wise, 0.82 a game
Simply put, Armstrong was the Big 12’s best at creating chaos in the backfield. With 20 solo tackles for loss as a sophomore, Armstrong beat K-State’s Willis in this category by 3.5.
Although Wise didn’t have the numbers to match Armstrong, the defensive tackle had as much to do with the Jayhawks’ success on the defensive line as anyone. Wise made 9.0 stops behind the line, all solos, when he wasn’t disrupting offenses in other ways.
- Big 12 leader: D.J. Reed, Kansas State, 1.5 per game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — Fish Smithson, 0.92 a game; 17th — Marnez Ogletree, 0.67
Not only did Smithson finish plays with tackles, the senior safety found his way to the ball when quarterbacks passed in his direction. While captaining the KU defense, Smithson broke up seven throws and came away with interceptions on four other occasions.
At corner, Ogletree, another senior, didn’t pick off any passes, but he broke up eight while defending the Big 12’s many talented receivers.
- Big 12 leader: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia, 0.67 a game (eight total)
- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Fish Smithson, 0.33 a game (four total); 10th — Brandon Stewart, 0.25 (three)
Averaging a pick every three games in 2016, Smithson took away four as a senior. But he actually vastly improved his average in November, with an interception apiece against Iowa State and Texas.
Stewart wasn’t far behind Smithson with three passing takeaways of his own during his senior season. Few of KU’s 10 picks on the year were as critical as Stewart’s 55-yard INT return for a touchdown during the Jayhawks’ upset victory over Texas.
- Big 12 leader: Five-way tie, three
Armstrong’s three forced fumbles on the season tied him with K-State’s Willis and Reggie Walker, Baylor’s Patrick Levels and Texas Tech’s Jah’Shawn Johnson for the top spot in the category.
- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Smithson, two
The other most active defender on the KU roster, Smithson knocked the ball out of an opponent’s grasp twice this season.
- Big 12 leader: Patrick Levels, Baylor, four
- Ranked Jayhawks: 5th — Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Damani Mosby, two
Twice this season, Armstrong, the Jayhawks’ most disruptive defender, found his way to a loose ball to recover it for Kansas. So did the man lining up on the other edge of the D-line, senior end Mosby.
- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 9.1 points a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Matthew Wyman, 5.4 points a game
West Virginia’s Mike Molina and Texas kicker Trent Dominigue both missed seven field goals on the season — more than Wyman’s six — but, like most of the conference’s kickers, benefited from their teams reaching the end zone for far more extra-point opportunities than Kansas. Five of the league’s kickers, including top scorer Ben Grogan of Oklahoma State (55-for-56), got to kick at least 49 PATs. Wyman only had a crack at 26 kicks following a TD.
Kick Return Average
- Big 12 leader: Byron Pringle, Kansas State, 28.7 yards per return
- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 21.5 per return
Gonzalez proved a better kick returner than punt returner for Kansas. On 28 occasions during his junior season, the speedy receiver fielded a kickoff and decided to go and attempt to make something happen. Gonzalez totaled 601 return yards, and housed a 99-yarder against Ohio in Week 2.
- Big 12 leader: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma, 195.5 yards per game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 109.2 yards per game
With his kick return yardage added to his 729 receiving yards, Gonzalez’s numbers ranked among the Big 12’s best, even though he finished the season with negative totals in punt returns (-10) and rushing (-9).
- Big 12 leader: Michael Dickson, Texas, 47.4 yards per punt
- Ranked Jayhawk: 4th — Cole Moos, 41.4 yards per punt
For KU junior punter Moos, 14 of his kicks traveled 50-plus yards, including the longest in the Big 12 this season, an 82-yarder at Baylor.
- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 1.5 field goals per game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 1.08 per game
Wyman tied for 6th with Texas Tech’s Clayton Hatfield in field goals per outing. The Kansas senior made a season-high three versus Texas at Memorial Stadium, including the game-winner in overtime.
Field Goal Percentage
- Big 12 leader: Cole Netten, Iowa State, 94.1%
- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 68.4%
Beaty sent Wyman out for 19 field-goal tries this year, and his kicker nailed 13 of them, including a season-best 50-yarder versus TCU.
PAT Kicking Percentage
- Big 12 leaders: Mike Molina, West Virginia; and Matthew Wyman, Kansas, 100%
When Kansas reached the end zone and called upon Wyman’s services, the trusted kicker never missed. Wyman went 26-for-26 on PAT’s.
As young Kansas football fan Cole Hayden continues his fight against undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, his cheering section continues to grow.
Over the past couple of days, Cole’s mother, Shanda Hayden, shared video messages sent the youngster’s way courtesy of some of the most recognizable Jayhawks in the NFL.
Shanda, the KU football team’s academic and career advisor who has worked with the program for nearly a decade, is beloved by current and former players alike. Many around the team consider her a bit of a team mom. In turn, Cole has become a popular member of the Jayhawks’ family.
KU players and coaches have rallied around the determined boy, wearing #TeamCole bracelets and doing everything they can to support him and the Hayden family.
Now former players are letting Cole know they have his back, too. Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald reached out via video this weekend to the Haydens.
“I’m definitely pullin' for ya down here in Tampa,” McDougald said.
Monday morning, Shanda shared another video message, this one from the top two Kansas players in the NFL, Denver Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.
“Cole, man, stay strong,” Harris said. “We’re prayin’ for your family, prayin' for Miss Shanda. Just hope everything goes well.”
Second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty often mentioned Cole’s fight and the Hayden’s throughout the season, dating back to KU dedicating its opener to #TeamCole.
“Man, that dude is a tough dude,” Beaty recently said of Cole. “He's fighting, and just want to let Shanda know how thankful we and our players are for her. I don't think people know how much she does for these guys, and I know not just the guys we have here but the ones that have came before them. Man, a lot of those kids have degrees because of her. She wears so many hats for us, and not the least of which is what she does for them academically. She's like a second mom for them while she's here.”
With Cole’s battle often keeping Shanda away from the team of late, a number of Jayhawks went to visit the Haydens after their season ended to check in and help out with some holiday decorations.
Sophomore receiver Steven Sims Jr. recently said the Jayhawks used FaceTime at one of their final practices to check in with Shanda, and players regularly get updates on Cole’s progress through Beaty.
“She’s a strong woman,” Sims said of Shanda Hayden, “and we’re fightin' for her, and she’s gonna keep fightin' for us.”
As Kansas football coach David Beaty and his staff keep persevering in their ongoing venture to reinvigorate a program that had been left to languish, the offseason months are just as critical as Saturdays in the fall.
The two most direct avenues for improvement — as Beaty referenced shortly after the conclusion of his second season at KU — are player development and recruiting. While the head coach thinks the Jayhawks already on campus are steadily getting bigger and better, Beaty knows that’s just one part of the process.
“And then I think the other thing is understanding we’ve gotta go out and continue to recruit and get some marquee players to help us,” Beaty said, “’cause every good coach I know has some really, really good ones. And we’ve got some good ones already, and we’ve gotta go get some really, really good ones from this point forward to be able to do what we want to do, which is win a lot and compete for championships.”
Just a week after those words left Beaty’s mouth, Kansas will welcome some highly sought after high school prospects to Lawrence. Adrian Ealy, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle from Gonzales, La., will be in town this weekend to check out Anderson Family Football Complex and hear the KU staff’s recruiting pitch.
Running backs coach and Louisiana native Tony Hull, of course, deserves credit for getting Ealy — a four-star O-lineman who already has visited Oklahoma and has offers from Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Texas and many more — to give Kansas a look. A high school senior at East Ascension, Ealy is listed at 282 pounds. Rivals.com ranks him the 20th best prospect in the nation at his position.
As reported by Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Ealy won’t be the only talented Louisiana recruit in town. Tevin Bush, a speedy 5-foot-5 athlete from New Orleans’ Landry Walker High (the same program that gave the Jayhawks starting safety Mike Lee), will visit Kansas this weekend, too.
A high school senior assessed three stars from Rivals, Bush already has verbally committed to West Virginia, but must be intrigued with Kansas as an option — thanks again to Hull — if he is making a visit. Bush also has picked up offers from Arkansas, Louisville, Texas Tech and others.
Although Ealy and Bush visiting campus obviously doesn’t guarantee anything for Kansas, it’s another indicator that Beaty seems to be steering the program in the right direction.
KU’s 2017 recruiting class already includes eight three-star prospects: former Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender, juco defensive back Hasan Defense, Texas prep linebacker Kyron Johnson, Louisiana prep receiver/athlete Travis Jordan, Derby standout receiver Kenyon Tabor, Garden City Community College defensive end Jamie Tago, Chicago high school defensive back Robert Topps and Texas prep running back Dominic Williams.
As Beaty suggested, Kansas needs a number of members in its latest recruiting class to come in and make a difference — just like Lee, defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., defensive tackle Daniel Wise and receiver Steven Sims Jr. did before them.
The more impactful recruits the staff lands, the quicker KU can escape the Big 12 cellar and start chasing Beaty’s hopeful longterm goals.
David Beaty’s first fall as Kansas football coach went pretty miserably. Twelve games. Twelve losses. Minimal hope for the future for a frustrated fan base.
Only someone as positive as Beaty could come away from the 2015 campaign feeling optimistic, and, of course, he did.
So it came as no surprise this past weekend, upon the conclusion of Year 2 for Beaty, the man running the program sounded even more fired up entering the offseason. Asked to assess his second year compared to his first, Beaty didn’t reference the Jayhawks’ 2-10 overall record or 1-8 mark in the Big 12.
“One of the best things that we’ve done is I think we’ve developed the guys that we have in our program,” Beaty offered. “There’s two ways I think you get better: you recruit and you develop the one’s you’ve got. ’Cause you’re not gonna get any more — they’re not gonna give you any more. You have what you’ve got and then you get to go get 25 (in recruiting), is what you get to get.”
The progress Beaty alluded to showed up in 2016 thanks to freshmen and sophomores making significant on-field contributions.
A year ago, receiver Steven Sims Jr. caught 30 balls for 349 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. His production leapt to 72 receptions, 859 yards and seven touchdowns — all team-highs — as a sophomore.
A true freshman who graduated a year early to join KU football ahead of schedule, safety Mike Lee tied senior safety Fish Smithson for the team lead with 70 solo tackles. Lee’s 77 total tackles trailed only Smithson (93) and he didn’t become a starter until October.
Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., while expected to play a key role for Clint Bowen’s defense, turned into one of the Big 12’s most disruptive forces. Armstrong likely will finish the year as the league’s top tackler for loss. His 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage lead Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis’ 15 — though the Wildcats’ end still has a Saturday date at TCU to try and catch up. Plus, Armstrong finished his second season with 10.0 sacks, currently second in the Big 12 to Willis’ 10.5.
Mostly playing as a replacement starter for Marcquis Roberts, who missed five games, sophomore linebacker Keith Loneker Jr., in his first season of FBS football, finished sixth among KU defenders in tackles, with 43, while also breaking up four passes.
Second-year defensive tackle Daniel Wise, who looked the part of a future impact interior lineman as a freshman, fulfilled that promise. Wise came through with 10 tackles for loss and 38 total stops playing a spot where it’s difficult to produce many statistics.
Redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over starting quarterback duties with three games left and Kansas experienced the best stretch of its season to close it. In his three starts, Stanley completed 71 of 124 passes (57.3 percent) for 693 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Freshman defensive end Isaiah Bean, in limited playing time, finished with 3.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
“And the thing that I’m very proud of our strength staff, our coaches, is they develop those guys,” Beaty said of the program’s youngest talents. “They’re a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit faster. … They’re all very young, which they’re gettin' something we can’t give ’em, which is experience. Unfortunately sometimes it comes with growin’ pains when you’ve got a bunch of ’em out there at once. Maybe sometimes not so much when you’ve got one or two of ’em, but if you’ve got a bunch of ’em out there, there’s some growin' pains that come along with that.”
The hope for Kansas is less of those aches will show up in 2017, with Armstrong, Sims, Lee, Wise, Stanley and Loneker returning, with running backs Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin, and offensive linemen Hakeem Adeniji, Mesa Ribordy and Larry Hughes among the promising underclassmen.
Plus, upperclassmen such as receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, O-lineman Jayson Rhodes, defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis, linebacker Joe Dineen, cornerback Derrick Neal and safety Tyrone Miller Jr. will continue to play big parts in the Jayhawks' plans.
“But, man, I think the thing that I’m most impressed with is the way that we’re developing ’em,” Beaty said. “I think if we can continue to do that we’ll have a chance to be a very competitive ball club here in the future.”
David Beaty has seen redshirt freshman Carter Stanley manage a game. Now the Kansas football coach wants his starting quarterback to take the next step this week, in his second career start.
In completing 26 of 38 throws for 171 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State this past weekend, Stanley did enough for Beaty to consider it a “solid” debut for the Jayhawks’ new No. 1 QB.
While Stanley rarely made mistakes that cost KU (1-9 overall, 0-7 Big 12) dearly, Beaty pointed to a couple of instances in which a better read and reaction could’ve improved the team’s chances of pulling off the program’s first Big 12 victory in two years.
“There's a couple plays that I know that he would want back and we'd want back,” Beaty said. “We had one trick play where we had Zuni (senior blocking back Michael Zunica) going down the seam. We had him in a hidden formation. Man, that would’ve been a big play right there, because that would have extended the lead quite a bit, and we left it short. I know he would want that one back.”
And although Stanley only suffered one sack against the Cyclones in a 31-24 loss, it came on third-and-10 late in the first half, with KU leading 14-10 and operating just outside of the red zone. Losing that yardage in that situation meant kicker Matt Wyman had a slightly more difficult field goal, and he missed from 46 yards out with 1:20 left in the second quarter.
“So those yards all make a difference,” Beaty said.
Still, it was hard to ignore how Stanley infused some life into the KU offense. The Jayhawks’ 24 points were the most they’ve scored during their current nine-game losing streak. Seven of KU’s 11 drives finished in ISU territory. Even Beaty admitted his offense had not consistently put the team in position to score over the past several weeks.
“I thought our guys really responded to him, which was something that I really enjoyed seeing,” Beaty added. “He played pretty sound football.”
Of course, Stanley’s most significant error came in the final minutes, when he threw his lone interception after his target, Steven Sims Jr., got pushed out of bounds.
“But as far as understanding his reads and his eyes being in the right place,” Beaty said of Stanley, “he really did not put the ball in jeopardy, with the exception of the last play.”
Thirteen of Stanley’s 26 completions went for five yards or fewer, 10 were for 6-10 yards and just three gained 11 or more. Beaty liked what the young QB from Vero Beach, Fla., did with his short and mid-range throws.
“There was a couple I thought he could have done a little better with. But for the most part, he actually executed exactly like we wanted him to,” Beaty said. “We would like to have hit a little more on those deeper balls, but it's not necessarily a tradeoff. We're going to try to play the whole system.”
Stanley enters his start against Texas (5-5, 3-4) — 2:30 p.m. kickoff, ABC — with a better completion percentage (68.6%) than either of KU’s previous two starting QBs this season, junior Montell Cozart (58.6%) and sophomore Ryan Willis (61.5%). Stanley has completed 48 of 70 throws for 437 yards and four touchdowns, with three interceptions.
Beaty thinks now that Stanley has his first start out of the way, the 6-foot-2, right-handed quarterback will have an opportunity to grow more comfortable, recognize more opportunities and improve upon what he showed against ISU.
“As you start and play more games, that starts to become innate about you as a quarterback,” Beaty said. “That was my only fear for him going into the game. But you don't control it, because he doesn't have that experience until he gets in there and does it. But for his first complete game, I thought he played solid. He certainly put us in a position to be able to win the game. He didn't do anything to lose the game for us.”
While discussing Joe Dineen’s season-ending hamstring injury Tuesday, head coach David Beaty and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen alluded to the junior linebacker’s leadership within the program and how he remains engaged with teammates.
Another example of Dineen’s impact at Kansas showed up this week, when he and some teammates wanted to find another way to support for a young KU football fan in the midst of a battle with cancer.
Seven-year-old Cole Hayden, son of Shanda Hayden, the team’s academic and career advisor, is an avid Jayhawks fan. And as he continues to fight undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, the Jayhawks have rallied around him, wearing #TeamCole bracelets, visiting with the youngster and, in general, doing anything they can to cheer him up.
With Dineen leading the charge, a number of Kansas football players decided this week to shave their heads in a from of solidarity. So if you see a Jayhawk missing some hair, it wasn’t just part of some elaborate Halloween get-up or a stylistic choice. The Jayhawks just wanted to remind Cole they’re rooting for him.
KU football tweeted out a photo of just a handful of players who shaved their heads to support Cole, as they posed with his mother, Shanda. Pictured below are: (front row, from left) freshman long-snapper Kolin Hayes, junior punter Cole Moos, sophomore quarterback Keaton Perry, Shanda Hayden, freshman tight end Jace Steinberger, assistant strength coach Ervin Young, (back row) freshman defensive end Sam Hardy, sophomore offensive lineman Larry Hughes, junior center Joe Gibson, retired O-lineman Jordan Shelley-Smith, freshman punter Kyle Thompson and sophomore offensive lineman Clyde McCauley III.
This past weekend, Cole traveled with the Jayhawks to watch them play at Oklahoma.
The last time the University of Kansas football team won a Big 12 game, many of the men who occupy key roles on this year’s roster weren’t even involved with the program.
The Jayhawks, with interim coach Clint Bowen leading them, defeated Iowa State on Nov. 8, 2014.
KU had dropped every Big 12 game since, and the conference skid hit 16 this past weekend, against Oklahoma State. Kansas (1-6 overall, 0-4 Big 12) came within a missed field goal of upsetting TCU a couple weeks ago and entered the second half Saturday against the Cowboys trailing by only four points.
The longer Kansas goes without knocking off a conference foe, the harder it is for the players — and, surely, the program’s supporters. Still, for play-makers such as sophomore Steven Sims Jr., who’ve only experienced league losses, the stigma that accompanies the program’s Big 12 troubles only makes them hungrier.
“Starving,” Sims clarified. “We want to get that win so bad in the Big 12. Because the win over Rhode Island (55-6 in the season opener), it was a win, but we just felt like we want to beat a team in our conference to prove to everybody that we can’t only beat a (FCS) team.”
KU’S BIG 12 LOSING STREAK
34-30 L vs. TCU
44-7 L at Oklahoma
51-13 L at Kansas State
38-13 L at Iowa State
66-7 L vs. Baylor
30-20 L vs. Texas Tech
58-10 L at Oklahoma State
62-7 L vs. Oklahoma
59-20 L at Texas
23-17 L at TCU
49-0 L vs. West Virginia
45-14 L vs. Kansas State
55-19 L at Texas Tech
24-23 L vs. TCU
49-7 L at Baylor
44-20 L vs. Oklahoma State
It seems highly unlikely the streak will end this week or next, with KU traveling to No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 10 West Virginia. But severing it as soon as possible definitely remains a high priority for Kansas players.
“It’s very important,” said sophomore Dorance Armstrong Jr., another crucial Kansas cog yearning for the better days he believes are ahead. “No one wants to go four years with having a losing streak. Every game that we don’t come out with the victory, it eats at us. It should strive us to go harder. For the most part we’ve got to keep doin' what we’re doin’ and get better at most of the things we’re doin’, as well.”
Against OSU, the Jayhawks trailed 24-20 with six-plus minute to play in the third quarter before suffering yet another conference setback.
“There’s a little bit of positive out of that,” Armstrong said, given the context of a relatively better showing than KU had a week earlier in a 49-7 blowout at Baylor. “We take the positives out of every game that we have, but for the most part that’s not how we play. That’s not the type of game we need to play — ever,” he added of the 44-20 defeat versus OSU. “For us to be that close at halftime and then for the final score to be that, it’s not acceptable. We’ve just got to keep working and get the positives out of all of it.”
Now a senior, safety Fish Smithson is one of the few current players who can say he has experienced a conference victory — almost two full years ago. Like many of his teammates, he left the field Saturday dissatisfied, and said players are eager to put an end to the streak.
“That’s tough. Because that’s why we all came to the University of Kansas, to get Big 12 wins and play in bowl games — stuff like that,” Smithson said. “The wins not coming in Big 12 play, that’s kind of tough, but at the same time we can’t get down. We just gotta keep fightin’.”
At this point, a Nov. 12 home game against Iowa State (1-6, 0-4) looks like KU’s next shot to put an end to the misery.
As for the program’s 41-game losing streak away from Lawrence … that’s another story (or blog).
Down 49 points on the road in the third quarter this past Saturday at Baylor, Kansas football coach David Beaty got an extended look at backup quarterback Carter Stanley.
The redshirt freshman checked in for starter Ryan Willis to begin KU’s final drive of the third quarter, and though other skill players, such as true freshman running back Khalil Herbert and sophomore receiver Steven Sims Jr. deserve even more credit, the offense did score its first — and only — touchdown of the game with Stanley at QB.
The Jayhawks (1-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12) already had picked up two first downs on Herbert runs and moved the ball 25 yards before Stanley, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound freshman from Vero Beach, Fla., attempted his first pass.
Out of a typical KU shotgun set, with four receivers, Stanley quickly spotted Sims breaking open out of the left slot for an easy throw, roughly five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
From there, Sims, one of KU’s top play-makers, juked his man and sped away to a 34-yard gain that got Kansas inside BU’s 10-yard line for the first time all game.
Stanley missed his next attempt to big red zone target Chase Harrell, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman. Then, after Bobby Hartzog drew a pass interference penalty to give KU a first down and move the ball to Baylor’s two-yard line, Beaty called on freshman Maciah Long to come in for a snap as a wildcat QB. The Bears stopped Long for no gain and Stanley threw another incompletion (intended for Sims) before Herbert finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
On Tuesday, Willis praised Stanley for helping the Kansas offense finally break through.
“He did a good job, put us in a good opportunity. He drove the ball down the field. He did a great job. I’m proud of him,” Willis rattled off. “I’m good friends with him. We have a lot of good quarterbacks who can move this offense, and whoever’s in there is gonna do a good job.”
The remainder of Stanley’s snaps came in the fourth quarter, with fewer results. Kansas picked up just one first down on four possessions over the final 15 minutes. Stanley threw incomplete passes intended for Evan Fairs and Keegan Brewer, and had another throw intercepted by Clay Johnston after KU got the ball in good position, thanks to a Damani Mosby fumble recovery.
Stanley went 2-for-5 on fourth-quarter passes, with minimal gains: five yards for LaQuvionte Gonzalez and six yards for Harrell. He finished his longest appearance of the season 3-for-8 with one interception and 45 passing yards.
As you might expect, Beaty didn’t rave about Stanley’s performance, calling it average.
“There were still a lot of things that we saw that we need to get a lot better at. Particularly the pick. Just eyes in the right spot, understanding what coverages are doing to you, not picking a route out, that will get you in trouble,” Beaty said, sounding similar to his review of Willis’ bad outing at Baylor.
Beaty thought Stanley did some things well, referencing the QB’s decision-making on plays featuring run-pass options. But the head coach/offensive coordinator/QBs coach also said Stanley didn’t always properly prepare his receivers before snaps.
“We had a couple times when we weren't on the same page with those guys and that comes down to communication and that’s, there’s no excuse for that,” Beaty said. “Communication errors, they’re not tolerated. So we gotta get that taken care of.”
The appearance marked Stanley’s fourth this season. He didn’t play in either of KU’s home losses, to Ohio and TCU.
- vs. Rhode Island: 3-for-4, 56 yards, 1 TD
- at Memphis: 4-for-6, 26 yards, 0 TDs
- at Texas Tech: 2-for-2, 11 yards, 0 TDs
- at Baylor: 3-for-8, 45 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
- SEASON: 12-for-20, 138 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
At KU’s practice sessions, Beaty says Stanley has shown steady improvement, week by week.
“It was good to be able to get him in the game and be able to give him a quarter and a half to really see what he can do and run some offense — some real offense — other than just handing the ball off. We needed to be able to do that,” Beaty said, “and in that situation, hey, unfortunately, it was what it was. We were where we were. You'd love to be able to get young guys in the game when you're up by a bunch. But in that situation it gave me an opportunity to see what he could do and I wanted to do that and we wanted to do that. So it was good to be able to see him a little bit more. He’s got a long way to go, just like all of ’em. But he works hard at it and I appreciate that.”
Based on what we’ve seen thus far from Stanley, it’s hard to see Beaty moving him up KU’s depth chart to No. 1 any time soon — let alone for Saturday’s homecoming game against Oklahoma State (4-2, 2-1). I mean, let’s not get crazy.
It seems it would take unexpected injuries or further regression from Willis for the head coach to start Stanley in the immediate future. But if Stanley really is making progress behind the scenes and keeps doing so, and if Kansas keeps getting blown out, maybe Stanley will get his first college start in November.
As has been said so many times regarding KU’s quarterback situation this season: Who knows?
The Kansas offense did something a bit unexpected Saturday in its home game against TCU.
KU football fans had grown accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks play two quarterbacks, a strategy implemented by head coach David Beaty during the first four games of the season. But no one outside of the Kansas locker room could’ve seen this coming.
On the first play of the second quarter, newly named starting QB Ryan Willis was no where to be found. In his place on the Memorial Stadium turf for a third-and-1 play at KU’s 29-yard line stood a 6-foot-2 freshman wearing a No. 6 jersey.
Much more massive than Willis or backup Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart, 245-pound true freshman Maciah Long faked a handoff to running back Taylor Martin and powered ahead for a one-yard gain, just enough for a first down.
Recruited to KU as a linebacker and listed on the roster as a tight end, Long played QB in high school at Houston’s North Shore, where he led the Mustangs to the Class 6A Division 1 state championship, picking up offensive MVP honors in the title game.
Long only came in for one snap at QB for the Jayhawks (1-4 overall, 0-2 Big 12), and the play did little more than extend the possession ahead of a punt. But it could be a harbinger of more to come.
Beaty said at his Tuesday press conference the offense had been working on using Long “for weeks.” KU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach added he hopes to expand Long’s role going forward.
“He's a load, and he's getting better at it, which gives you an extra gap for defenses to have to defend,” Beaty said of one of the benefits of putting Long, a running threat, in at QB.
Leading up to this week’s game at No. 11 Baylor (5-0, 2-0), Beaty mentioned the Bears are able to do the same with their full-time QB Seth Russell (5.2 rushing yards per carry, three touchdowns this season).
Whether Kansas will start turning to Long for more short-yardage or goal-line downs moving forward, Beaty didn’t care to specify.
“When the situation calls for Maciah, we'll use him as much as we can,” the coach said. “We're not going to necessarily tip our hand to how we're going to use him or how much we're going to use him, but I do know this: He's getting well, finally. He was hurt for a long time. He’s been hobbled for four weeks. That ankle has not been healthy. Having him healthy now is really helping us with wanting to use him more.”
Ranked last in the Big 12 in rushing offense (97.2 yards a game) and ninth in total offense (376.4 yards), KU needs every offensive wrinkle it can create. So more Maciah Long at quarterback doesn’t seem out of the question in the weeks to come.
In fact, perhaps everyone who follows Kansas football should’ve seen this coming. This past winter, at KU’s Class of 2016 signing day press conference, Beaty raved about Long’s versatility and size.
“We're going to use him at linebacker,” the coach said in February. “Don't be surprised if we don't put him back there and see him do some of the stuff you're going to see him do on tape here (running the ball as North Shore’s quarterback). Built-in short yardage scheme there with a guy that weighs 230 to 250 pounds. I won't give him up. I think he's somewhere between 230, 250, good-looking kid and can run for a kid that size.”
So far, Long, who chose KU over Ohio State, UCLA and other more reputable programs, has one carry for one yard. But Kansas sure could use another dynamic option on offense as Beaty and company keep building for the future. In his senior year at North Shore, Long carried the ball 200 times, racking up 984 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also passed for 1,785 yards and 16 touchdowns.
During much of Saturday’s game against TCU, the Kansas defense schemed ways to contain multi-dimensional Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hill.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior completed a season-low 53.1 percent of his passes (17 of 32) against the Jayhawks, threw three interceptions (Hill only had 5 in his first 224 throws this season) and felt the brunt of KU’s pressure in the form of four sacks.
But all anyone who watched TCU’s 24-23 victory will remember about Hill’s performance is how he produced one of the crazier plays we’re likely to see this college football season.
In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, with Kansas leading 23-14, Hill looked doomed on a third-and-12 pass play. First, KU defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. came at the QB from his right. Then Hill had to maneuver away from a diving Isi Holani. Finally, Hill found enough time to gather on the left side of the field, but that’s when Josh Ehambe charged at him and began the process of bringing the quarterback to the turf. Linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. flew in to finish that final part of the process.
Or so it seemed.
A flag came out as Loneker tackled Hill roughly 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, because Ehambe had grabbed Hill’s facemask (as captured by our photographer Nick Krug, at top). The ball also ended up on the turf thanks to Ehambe’s pressure.
The thing was, nobody seemed to notice the ball except Hill, who casually walked over to pick it up. Then he just ran before the Jayhawks knew what to do.
It took a while for anybody but Loneker to realize what was going on and Hill rushed 34 yards for a first down to extend the drive.
“I mean, that play that Kenny made — what a good play, man,” Kansas coach David Beaty said after his team fell to 1-4 on the season and 0-2 in conference play. “I mean, what a heads-up play by that kid. I don't think I've ever seen that. I'm not sure anybody in here has ever seen that, either. I asked the officials out there. I said, ‘I don't really know what to say, because I've never seen that.’ And they said, ‘Coach, we don't really, either.’ It was crazy. It was a crazy play, because we grabbed Kenny by his facemask, and the tendency there was to kind of hold up, and the ball came out and there were so many crazy things, but that was a big play in the game. He made a big run out of that.”
Of course, the Frogs (4-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12) would have picked up 15 yards and a first down due to the Ehambe facemask penalty, even if the Jayhawks had pounced on the loose ball themselves, let alone stopped Hill before he picked up any steam with his recovery and scramble.
Still, by reacting quickly the QB got TCU much closer to the end zone. Riding that momentum, two plays later Hill threw to Jaelan Austin for a 25-yard touchdown, giving the Frogs a critical quick-scoring drive (1:35) in a tight game, and cutting KU’s lead to two.
“You know, he made a lot of mistakes today that really kept us in the game at times,” Beaty said of the quarterback he successfully recruited to Texas A & M back before both the coach and player moved on, “but, man, when they needed him, he scored a touchdown (on a second-quarter run), he scrambled to go get that ball down there and get it, and they scored a touchdown off of that. That's what real players do, man. He's a real player.”
It was weird, for sure, but also as crucial a play that happened in the game. For a rebuilding program like Kansas, it’s the kind of thing fans must almost grow to expect. Even on a day when the Jayhawks performed better than almost anyone anticipated, the opponent found ways to sneak out of Lawrence with a win.
The Hill recovery and run didn’t decide the game, of course, but it was one of many examples of Kansas mistakes proving costly in what would’ve been a massive upset — and Beaty’s first victory against a Big 12 or FBS program.