Entries from blogs tagged with “college football”

Is Peyton Bender still KU’s starting QB?

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Football coaches and coordinators have no incentive to divulge their game plans publicly, and that’s the primary reason Kansas head coach David Beaty elected this week to not announce a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Iowa State.

If you listen to offensive coordinator Doug Meacham’s perspective on the matter, though, the decision may have been an easy one.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Meacham discussed how the staff came to a conclusion early in the week on whether Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley would hold the No. 1 QB spot at ISU (11 a.m. kickoff, FOX Sports Net), instead of letting it play out at practices.

“The team knows the plan. We’ve got a plan. We kind of like to keep it a little bit more internal to have that element of (Iowa State) not knowing,” Meacham began, regarding Beaty’s strategy.

So did either Bender or Stanley show the coaches something early in the week to end the QB debate ahead of schedule?

“It’s just a body of work over the course of time, you know. You still reflect back on that,” the first-year KU coordinator said. “I think Peyton was just going through a little bad spell there (in the loss to Texas Tech). I don’t think he’s necessarily just crummy for life.”

In theory, it’s possible Meacham could be floating the idea of Bender starting — without actually saying the junior transfer is still the starter — as a ploy to throw off the Cyclones (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12). But the more he spoke at his weekly media session, the more it seemed he’s not ready to move on from Bender.

A 6-foot-1 junior with past Air Raid experience at both Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.), Bender at numerous times through five games has dumbfounded his coaches with mistakes. For example, Bender misfired on goal-line throws to both tight end Earl Bostick and receiver Jeremiah Booker just before halftime against the Red Raiders. KU’s coaches decided shortly after to play Stanley at QB the rest of the blowout loss.

“When he overthrew a 6-7 tight end (freshman Bostick, listed at 6-6) on the goal line I was a little nervous about throwing verticals,” Meacham said, with a wry chuckle. “Six-seven and he overthrows him. How do you do that?”

An end zone pass to Kansas tight end Earl Bostick Jr. (87) goes wide late during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

An end zone pass to Kansas tight end Earl Bostick Jr. (87) goes wide late during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Bender’s two quarters worth of stats read: 12-for-24 passing, 146 yards, one touchdown, one interception, no sacks.

“He just had a bad day,” Meacham said. “You know, it’s like you shoot layups and all the sudden you miss five out of 10. Hard to answer why. You just keep shooting them.”

It was Bender’s fluctuating success that led to Stanley (11-for-19, 110 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one sack, one lost fumble) finishing the fourth straight loss for Kansas (1-4, 0-2) instead of just entering for certain packages designed around his strengths as a mobile QB.

But the highs and lows of Bender’s play were nothing new.

“He’s just had moments of inconsistency that kind of come out of nowhere,” Meacham said. “We’ve just got to deal with it. There’s a lot of things that factor into it that kind of take the blame and kind of spread it around a little bit.”

While fans might see Bender throw the ball and have it picked off — through four and a half games of action he has completed 56.4 percent of his 202 passes while suffering eight interceptions — Meacham said a missed protection or bad route have led to some of the costly turnovers.

“Or a tipped ball,” Meacham continued. “Tipped ball, and then maybe a tipped ball. I see tipped balls all the time, from the line of scrimmage or wherever. It just seems like all the time somebody grazes the ball — I almost want to tell our guys, ‘If you don’t think you can catch it just put your hands down.’ Because we touch one, they pick it and then they score.”

A not-so-supercut of Bender’s interceptions, Meacham suggested, would leave a viewer scratching one’s head.

“That’s just like, how does that happen consistently?” Meacham said of tipped passes becoming takeaways for KU opponents. “Just freakish stuff.”

Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen (40) looks to stiff arm Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) after intercepting a pass from Bender during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen (40) looks to stiff arm Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) after intercepting a pass from Bender during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

A deflection, of course, had nothing to do with a second-quarter Bender throw over the middle against Texas Tech, which Dakota Allen snagged out of the air, setting up a quick Red Raiders TD drive.

“He under-threw it. Ben (Johnson) was wide open,” Meacham said. “(Bender) just kind of panicked a little bit. If you watch the tape from the end zone the linebacker’s feet were like (more than 3 feet) off the ground, made the greatest interception of his entire life. He’ll never do that again. He jumps up in the air and just … unbelievable.”

While inaccuracy obviously has played a factor in Bender’s struggles, Meacham said he doesn’t necessarily judge the starter of KU’s first five games as an eight-interception QB.

“No, if he had (eight) picks legit and was on the wrong guy, made a horrific throw over a guy’s head and the safety picked it or he under-threw a ball or he threw it right to them (eight) times he wouldn’t be playing at all,” the man in charge of KU’s Air Raid said. “It’s just, he’s had about three of them that weren’t very good, and the rest of them are just … it’s unbelievable some of the stuff.”

Bender hasn’t produced at the level Meacham and the rest of KU’s offensive coaches hoped. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to move on from him and hand the offense over to Stanley.

“I keep thinking about the sweet’s not as sweet without a little sour,” Meacham offered, regarding how he handles the inconsistencies and turnovers. “Can’t always be good.”

— PODCAST: Is There Any Hope Left for KU Football?

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Some hope for Daylon Charlot’s future with Kansas

Kansas receiver Daylon Charlot sits with his fellow position players during the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Daylon Charlot sits with his fellow position players during the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Believe it or not, there may be a Saturday in the future when Kansas football fans don’t feel inspired to file a missing persons report for receiver Daylon Charlot.

A much-hyped sophomore who transferred to KU from Alabama, Charlot expected to put up gaudy numbers and star alongside Steven Sims Jr. in the Jayhawks’ Air Raid offense this season.

However, as a borderline second- or third-string wideout during KU’s 1-3 start, Charlot has experienced few in-game reps. A third of the way through the season, the 6-foot, 195-pound, former four-star recruit has made just one catch for zero yards — a reception that didn’t amount to anything versus Central Michigan. The names of 13 Jayhawks (four of them running backs) appear before Charlot’s on a list of the team’s most productive receivers.

So why should we expect anything to change on the “Where’s Charlot?” front? It’s possible he could be on the path to a breakout game in the near future.

Look to Khalil Herbert’s head-scratching rush totals from earlier this season — one carry for 4 yards vs. Southeast Missouri State; two rushes for 6 yards against Central Michigan. The numbers puzzled at the time but look even more outrageous now, following outings of 137 and 291 yards for the sophomore running back.

Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said Thursday Herbert was “not really” healthy the first couple of weeks and didn’t practice well, either.

Asked whether similar circumstances have kept Charlot off the field, KU’s Air Raid expert and receivers coach said practice habits and some injury-related physical limitations held back the Patterson, La., native.

“Yeah, Daylon’s kind of a combination. He’s been nicked up as well. He’s doing so much better now out at practice. He had a really good day yesterday, I thought,” Meacham said. “As a coach, that’s what our job is, to assess what you see, and put a guy in based on what he’s doing. You’re going to get what you see.”

There was a time just a few weeks ago when Herbert hadn’t given coaches enough reasons at practices to use him more during games.

“I know a lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, you’re really smart. The guy rushed for 300 yards and he was on the bench.’ But the thing that fans, I urge them to kind of take a look at, is that they’re not at any of our practices,” Meacham explained. “They don’t see any of our kids day-to-day. They have no idea why. You can only assume, which is fine. Because if we didn’t have fans, we wouldn’t have a job, so I appreciate every dadgum one of them. But we’re making decisions based on practice. And I hadn’t seen (Herbert) play in a game yet, but I’d seen him in practice a lot, and he just didn’t look very good.”

Meacham said KU’s coaches have since learned Herbert is a “gamer,” and now they’re seeing him practice “a lot better,” as well, because his confidence is growing.

The man in charge of KU’s offense didn’t claim Charlot will be able to reproduce Herbert’s trajectory to a starring role, but there’s no denying the former Alabama receiver and other Jayhawks now have an easy example to follow if they want to burst out of the depth chart’s lowest rungs.

— PODCAST: Best case/worst case scenarios for rest of KU football season —

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Prepare to see more of Carter Stanley, David Beaty contends

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) look to cut around the Ohio defense during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) look to cut around the Ohio defense during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

No, Carter Stanley is not about to supplant Peyton Bender as the Kansas football team’s starting quarterback. But head coach David Beaty said the redshirt sophomore backup will play a factor in KU’s Big 12 opener versus West Virginia.

The Jayhawks used Stanley in a limited capacity at Ohio. Late in the second quarter, on a touchdown drive, the former KU starter made his season debut in a short-yardage scenario.

Stanley, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB with more rushing ability and mobility than Bender, was credited with two rushes for just two yards. Still, one short carry came on fourth-and-1, before Bender re-entered and threw a touchdown pass to Chase Harrell.

“I thought what he did do when he went in there was very positive,” Beaty said of Stanley, who started the final three games of 2016 for Kansas. “He did a nice of job really straining to get that first down on that fourth down. No hesitation to him, seeing him going in there and doing that.”

The coach claimed the Jayhawks would like to sub in Stanley in other scenarios moving forward, not just when the first-down marker is a few yards away.

“We actually like him everywhere,” Beaty said. “We’ve got an even bigger package for him this week.”

Ohio’s 18-0 lead, Beaty asserted, kept KU (1-2) from playing Stanley even more in the nonconference finale. While such a declaration could be pure posturing, an attempt to float toward WVU (2-1) another wrinkle for which to prepare, the third-year head coach avowed the Jayhawks’ No. 2 QB will get on the field more often Saturday at Memorial Stadium (11 a.m. kickoff, ESPNU).

“We would have loved to have seen him a little bit more the other day, because of what we have in him, the plan for him, is going to be very helpful for us,” Beaty added.

Whatever Stanley’s role may be this weekend and beyond, his head coach said the QB has been “unbelievable” in his new, less prominent post.

“This guy was the starter here last year. He beat Texas,” Beaty stated. “He came in with a lot of accolades and hopes about coming in and being the starter, and for him to handle himself the way he has, I mean, I cannot be more impressed with him. And he's not satisfied. He wants to play. But he also wants to win. So, very, very impressed with Carter Stanley. He's going to get on the field a lot more for us, no doubt about it.”

Stanley was requested for an interview Tuesday, but according to a KU official, had a class conflict. His teammates, though, say he manages his duties well.

“I feel like he’s handling it really good,” fellow redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell said. “You don’t ever see Carter down or in a bad mood. Carter’s a really good guy for that and he’s always trying to improve, watching film and stuff. You can tell he wants that No. 1 spot. He’s on his way up.”

PODCAST: KU football’s offense is not the problem

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Q&A with KU football left tackle Hakeem Adeniji

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

This week’s Q&A is with sophomore left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, from Garland, Texas, who has started all 14 games of his college career heading into the Kansas football team’s road opener at Ohio.

Q: Obviously Saturday night’s loss against Central Michigan was disappointing, but then you come back Sunday and get right back to work. How intense are those meetings with offensive line coach Zach Yenser as he breaks things down for you?

A: Coach, he’s not really an ‘I’m gonna yell at you and chew you out type of guy.’ Because he knows what we’re about and that we know what we want to get done. So we just kind of go over things and go over our mistakes and what we need to focus on in practice in the upcoming week.

Q: So it’s more of a learning environment in that setting. Is Yenser more fired up on the sidelines?

A: During practice coach gets pretty fired up, but he does a good job of keeping his cool for the most part.

Q: What proved to be the biggest issues against Central Michigan when you reviewed the video? What areas of concern kept popping up for the O-line?

A: It’s a lot of mental stuff, I feel like. We’ve got some younger guys on the line and we’ve got to do a better job of encouraging them and keeping your composure, because we’ve got some talented guys there. It’s going to take a little bit of time, because experience is probably the most important thing in playing. I feel like as they continue to get more reps and more snaps then I think their game will just elevate.

Q: That right side of the line is less experienced, with right guard Chris Hughes and right tackle Antione Frazier each having started just two games. As a leader, how do you try to help those guys along?

A: When I’m watching film I like to give them a little breakdown here or there if I see something, if I see certain tips. When we’re out practicing, especially Antione, I’ll try and tell hims something he can tweak, whether it’s in his stance or technique-wise that he can do to make himself better.

Q: Right now are you all finding more success in pass-blocking or run-blocking? Is it close?

A: It’s hard to really say. I feel like we’ve had ups and downs in both of them. But I feel like we’re continuing to improve.

Q: What are the biggest challenges going to be for the offensive linemen this week at Ohio? How much have you all got into their defensive front and the kind of things they might try to do?

A: We played them, obviously, last year (a 37-21 home loss), and it’s the same front pretty much. And I’m probably going to get in touch with Coach (Jesse Williams, KU’s defensive line coach who left Ohio to join David Beaty’s staff), since he recruited pretty much all of those guys. I feel like that could be a really huge advantage for us. But they’re a really good D-line from what we’ve watched, and we’re just going to have to come ready, for sure.

Q: How much have you all discussed being the team that finally ends the program’s road losing streak — 41 consecutive in opponents’ stadiums, 44 overall away from Lawrence?

A: We really don’t discuss it at all. But it definitely would be really good to do that. To go out there in another environment and win would be great, especially for the plane ride home. At the end of the day it’s about winning and coming back with that win. Regardless of if it’s at home or on the road, it’s something we need to do.

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4th-down philosophy: Punting, field goals can be ‘kind of a buzzkill’ to Kansas OC Doug Meacham

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Two weeks into the season, the Kansas football team’s offense has not yet achieved the type of results coordinator Doug Mecham’s Air Raid scheme is designed to produce.

But fans combing through the debris of a 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan in search of some signs of encouragement could choose to cling to this: the Jayhawks appear to have a plan for fourth downs.

The days of indecision and calling timeouts to determine whether to punt, kick a field goal or go for it just might be behind KU, now that Meacham is calling the plays.

“We have a lot of data that gives us a read on when to and when not to,” KU’s first-year coordinator and receivers coach explained this past week.

Meacham said as a drive progresses, members of the staff will let him know what a chart of percentages says about a given situation on the field.

“There’s a lot of math involved, a lot of data involved in when and when not to. It’s kind of like when you go to Vegas, you know the blackjack card, when to take a hit. We kind of have that for fourth downs,” he said. “They let me know. And it helps me because on third down I can maybe do something that is a little abstract, because I know I’ve got another one.”

So far this year it has worked to KU’s favor. The Jayhawks are 5-for-6 on fourth downs, an 83.3-percent success rate, which ranks 28th nationally among FBS teams. Only Miami (Ohio), Pittsburgh, UMass, Syracuse, Idaho, East Carolina, Virginia, San Jose State and Hawaii have attempted more fourth-down conversions, with eight being the most.

“We’re just gonna go,” Meacham said. “We have speed-ball plays in line for fourth, we’ve got normals and we’ve got a fourth-down plan. We’ll probably go for it on fourth more than the average team will.”

Against Central Michigan, those words proved factual, as Kansas found prosperity on four of its five fourth-down tries.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson slips past a CMU defender during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson slips past a CMU defender during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

The first came in the second quarter. On fourth-and-four at the CMU 31-yard line, junior quarterback Peyton Bender found senior tight end Ben Johnson for a seven-yard gain — a play which Meacham didn’t hesitate to signal in.

Later, in the third quarter, with KU trailing 31-20, Meacham called upon freshman running back Dom Williams to convert on fourth-and-one at Central Michigan’s 45, which Williams did, with a four-yard rush.

The other three attempts came in the final quarter. Just one yard across midfield, on fourth-and-10 and trailing 38-20, Bender connected with junior receiver Ryan Schadler on a 15-yard pass.

Next, with the CMU lead up to 45-27, Kansas went for it on its own 42, and Bender threw to redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell for nine yards on fourh-and-six.

KU’s run of fourth-down success didn’t end until the final minutes, in desperation mode from its own 32. On fourth-and-11, Bender’s pass to Schadler only picked up nine yards.

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

According to Meacham, he prefers assertive tactics on fourth downs.

“It’s probably a little bit more aggressive than your norm. Than what the norm is, I guess,” he said. “It’s just like if I coached baseball I’d probably steal a lot more than a lot of these guys do. I mean, make them make a play. You go for it on fourth down. Make them make a play. You punt or try a 48-yard field goal, that’s just kind of a buzzkill to me. Let’s just go.”

KU also converted on fourth down against Southeast Missouri State, in Week 1. At the SEMO 25-yard line, on fourth-and-one, Bender hit Harrell for a nine-yard gain.

Any time head coach David Beaty asks Meacham what the Jayhawks should do, he knows what his response will be.

“I’m going to say ‘go,’ every time,” Meacham said. “You cross that 50, let’s go.”

Beaty pointed to KU’s fourth-down triumphs after the CMU loss as one of the few silver linings.

“I’d just like us to do it on third down so we don’t get to fourth,” the third-year KU head coach added. “But the analytics that we use is something that’s paying off for us.”

— Below is a list of fourth-down positions in which Kansas punted or kicked a field goal during the first two games.

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE

FIRST QUARTER

  • Own 24, fourth-and-six: punt

SECOND QUARTER

  • Own 49, fourth-and-11: punt

  • SEMO 49, fourth-and-13: punt

THIRD QUARTER

  • Own 5, fourth-and-15: punt

  • Own 37, fourth-and-14: punt

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

1ST QUARTER

  • Own 47, fourth-and-seven: punt

  • CMU 6, fourth-and-goal: Gabriel Rui 23-yard field goal good

2ND QUARTER

  • Own 25, fourth-and-10: punt

  • Own 13, fourth-and-11: punt

  • CMU 16, fourth-and-13: Rui 33-yard field goal good

3RD QUARTER

  • CMU 41, fourth-and-10: punt (down 31-20, late in quarter)

4TH QUARTER

  • CMU 19, fourth-and-10: Rui 37-yard field goal missed wide right
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Coordinator recap: Meacham and Bowen assess KU’s play entering Week 2

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws against the Southeast Missouri defense during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws against the Southeast Missouri defense during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

As coaches tend to following any game — win or lose — Kansas football coordinators Doug Meacham and Clint Bowen saw both the positives and negatives of the Jayhawks’ season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State when they reviewed footage after the fact.

Both spoke with media members Thursday, revealing their evaluations of a 38-16 victory.

Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Meacham began by going into the details of a solid, albeit imperfect, debut from junior quarterback Peyton Bender.

After first offering his opinion that Bender — 23-for-37 passing, 364 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions — looked “good,” Meacham immediately turned to his quarterback’s second-quarter interception as his first talking point.

“It was a great decision. That’s where his eyes should’ve been. That’s really the biggest part of all of it is him being on the right guy and triggering the right guy,” Meacham began, on Bender’s first pick, targeted for Jeremiah Booker. “He triggered the right guy and it was just a horrendous throw, which is unusual for him, because he hits the bull’s eye pretty good. He’s pretty accurate for the most part, throws a pretty nice deep ball. I don’t have an explanation for that. He just threw it way behind the guy.”

Other than that blunder, Meacham thought Bender played well, and said redshirt sophomore receiver Chase Harrell could have done a better job preventing the second interception, in the fourth quarter.

“Our receiver didn’t go up and play strong with the ball, so that was on him. But you look at the stat line and you see two picks,” Meacham said. “I think we left some points out there.”

The first-year KU coordinator went on to give examples of some other mistakes that prevented the Jayhawks from steamrolling SEMO.

“Ben (Johnson) dropped that one, had a chance to go to the crib right there. No. 3 (Harrell) makes, it’s No. 3 on ESPN,” Meacham said of Harrell’s one-handed TD grab in the first half, “and then he drops one that hits him straight in the bread basket. I don’t know what to tell you. So there’s probably another 100 yards of receiving and two more touchdowns.”

On another play, Meacham said Bender overthrew Ryan Schadler on a seam read, because the slot receiver ran a hook when he should’ve continued on a deep pattern.

“It looks like Peyton is making another bad throw when in actuality the receiver hosed him. He didn’t run a correct route. If he stays high on that route there’s another touchdown,” Meacham said. “We were close to having a better game, but it’s just a couple things. You always have four or five plays every week, even if you win or lose, there’s always that handful of plays you wish you had back.”

The former TCU and Oklahoma State assistant went on to explain passing game misfires get “magnified” but other problems inevitably show up on video, too.

“(Fans) don’t see a right guard miss a nose guard on an inside run. They see the other part, though,” Meacham said. “But I thought (Bender) played pretty good in terms of operating and having his eyes in the right spot and checks and all of that stuff. Did good.”

Run-game assessment

Kansas running back Taylor Martin (24) looks for room during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Taylor Martin (24) looks for room during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Kansas only rushed for 73 yards (2.9 a carry) on 25 attempts versus SEMO in its debut.

But Meacham said he wasn’t worried about KU’s progress in that aspect of the offense.

“I would have a problem with our run game if I was running into a nine-man box all day long. Then I would be upset. It’s just like, Would you get a canoe and go upstream?

“And I get it. People do it,” Meacham added. “But that’s what they do. Ohio State and LSU, that’s what they do. They’re gonna pound it and force-feed it and that’s what they do. That’s not necessarily what we do. I’m not concerned about it, no.”

First look at KU’s new cornerbacks

Several Jayhawks get up to bat down an end zone pass to Southeast Missouri wide receiver Trevon Billington (14) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Several Jayhawks get up to bat down an end zone pass to Southeast Missouri wide receiver Trevon Billington (14) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Week 1 also marked the KU debuts for starting cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor, both of whom played at the junior college level in 2016.

Bowen wasn’t ready to thoroughly praise them, though, after Defense made five solo tackles and broke up two passes and Taylor contributed two solo stops and a pair of pass breakups.

“They did OK. We’re obviously going to face a lot better competition, though. No discredit to SEMO,” Bowen said. “But they didn’t get in there and panic. They held in there and competed and were assignment-sound. I don’t know that they were 100 percent technique-sound, but they did challenge and they did compete.”

Armstrong’s production

The Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. didn’t have a monster statistical day by his standards in the opener. The all-league pass-rusher came away with three total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.

Of course, much of SEMO’s offensive game plan revolved around preventing Armstrong from wreaking havoc.

Bowen said he began seeing KU opponents give that much attention to the star D-lineman during his sophomore season.

“That was kind of the norm from what we were seeing out of him last year,” Bowen said of double-teams and schemes designed to limit Armstrong. “By Week 7 or 8 last year, it wasn’t too hard to figure out he was pretty good by then. What we got on Saturday was pretty much what we got all of last season.”

While sometimes SEMO simply called rushing plays away from Armstrong’s position, Bowen said there was more to the relatively small statistical output than that.

“We didn’t get a lot of drop-back pass game. We hardly got any, and when we did there was attention paid to him,” Bowen said. “That was kind of SEMO, their plan anyway. I think they did a nice job of understanding what their strengths are, and sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball downfield wasn’t going to be one of their strengths going into that game, so they didn’t do it. If you’re not good at it, don’t do it.”

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Say What? Smith on KU football’s 1-0 start and what’s next

KUsports.com football beat writer Benton Smith joins Nick Schwerdt of KLWN on Rock Chalk Sports Talk (14:05 mark) to discuss the Jayhawks' 1-0 start and what KU is capable of this weekend versus Central Michigan, and beyond.

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Q & A with KU football linebacker Keith Loneker Jr.

Kansas' Keith Loneker Jr. lines up across from Texas quarterback Shane Buechele and running back D'Onta Foreman during the first quarter of the Jayhawks' 24-21 win over the Longhorns on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas' Keith Loneker Jr. lines up across from Texas quarterback Shane Buechele and running back D'Onta Foreman during the first quarter of the Jayhawks' 24-21 win over the Longhorns on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In the past at KUsports.com, we've used a section of our Gameday preview called "5 Questions" to give a player or coach's perspective leading up to a Kansas football game. Much of the time those question-and-answer interactions have to be edited down to five, when they could go on much longer.

So beginning this week I figured we would try something different, using the old format but expanding it into something that should be better.

This week, ahead of Saturday's KU game versus Central Michigan (3 p.m., FOX Sports Net), I sat down with junior starting linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. to talk about what proved to be a difficult season opener for him, playing for the first time since his father, former KU offensive lineman Keith Loneker Sr., died this past summer.

Loneker also provided some insight on his development as a player and how KU's linebacking unit performed in Week 1 victory over Southeast Missouri State.

Before the SEMO game you tweeted out the No. 74 in honor of your father. How emotional did that day end up being and how did you feel like you handled it?

None by Keith Loneker

“It was a little bit more emotional than I thought it was going to be. I don’t think about that stuff. But, yeah, it was just kind of tough. That’s the first game my dad’s not been able to watch or see. So sitting in the hotel I thought about it a little bit, but I had a bigger task at hand, going out and playing for the defense — had to play well, you know, you can’t have that stuff overriding it. But, yeah, I thought about it a little bit.”

Were you surprised by how difficult it was to separate emotions once you got onto the field or can you feed off those emotions?

“I think you can build off it, but, surprisingly, yeah, you’ve got to — it’s a Big 12 football game, it’s a Power 5 football game — you’ve got to push some of that stuff away. But I used some of it as momentum. It’s just a feeling, everybody who’s played football knows it, once you get that first play out of the way, you’re in a groove. All the nerves and everything was put away.”

What were you all as linebackers most pleased with when you went back and looked at the video?

“There was a lot. Coach (Todd) Bradford did a tremendous job, as well as Coach (Clint) Bowen. They did a crazy-good job of pulling up plays of what they thought (SEMO) was going to run. And we executed those plays that we worked in practice all week very well. Very well. And we got them out of what we thought was comfortable for them and they had to go to some stuff we didn’t think they were going to run. When we did that we even executed those plays.”

You and Joe Dineen go back so far, playing football together growing up in Lawrence as well as at Free State High. Do you ever get competitive with tackle totals after a game or performance grades?

“We take a couple of jabs at each other about who’s going to have more tackles, you know. But it’s something that we both know we’ve got to play solid for each other to do well. It’s all competitive — competitive love, though.”

How much do you all as linebackers feel like it’s really on your group to shore up the run defense, because that was an area last year that was an issue?

“Huge point of emphasis. With our D-line being as stout as they are you don’t want to be that weak link, and the linebackers are a big part of the run game. Always have been, always will be. That’s something that we put a lot of emphasis on in the offseason and we felt like we executed well, but it’s only one game, so we’ve got a lot to go.

Pro Football Focus had a stat this summer about how good you are as a pass defender at inside linebacker. What did you think of that?

None by PFF College Football

“I don’t pay too much mind to that. Some of these stats they find now are crazy. So I don’t know what all goes into that. So I just continue to work on what Coach Bradford talks to me about. We work pass coverage a lot during the week and we’re going to work on it a lot being that our opponent is Central Michigan. So I just keep working on it every day and I try to pick the brains of the DB’s, because those are the best pass coverage guys on our team. So as much as I can do that, and just keep on improving.”

Do you feel like pass coverage is a strength for you, though?

“I believe it’s a strength. It’s something I don’t think is where I want it to be yet, but, yeah, I could use it as a strength.”

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Former Alabama WR Daylon Charlot trying to make up ground, climb up depth chart

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot rolls over out of bounds after pulling in a catch while covered by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the second quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium.

Team Jayhawks receiver Daylon Charlot rolls over out of bounds after pulling in a catch while covered by Team KU cornerback Julian Chandler (25) during the second quarter of the 2017 Spring Game on Saturday, April 15 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

From the day he arrived in Lawrence a little more than a year ago, people in and around the Kansas football program looked forward to the debut of former Alabama receiver Daylon Charlot.

But Saturday, after sitting out a year as a transfer, Charlot found himself wrong side up on the Jayhawks’ depth chart, hovering on the border of second and third string, and played sparingly in the second half of KU’s victory over Southeast Missouri State.

Such a scenario didn’t seem possible after the physically gifted 6-foot wideout from Patterson, La., proved to be one of the highlight-makers in KU’s spring game, with three receptions, 45 yards and a touchdown (one of just three scores in the scrimmage).

A four-star recruit in his days at Patterson High and a player college football icon Nick Saban didn’t want to lose, Charlot came to Kansas with visions of turning into a Biletnikoff Award candidate. As recently as the first week of August he said his goals for 2017 included becoming a better leader on and off the field, making his teammates better, “hopefully” helping Kansas earn a bowl game invite and reaching the challenging statistical targets of 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Those numbers now look implausible after Charlot played as a reserve versus SEMO, and had one catch negated by a penalty.

Even so, Charlot’s upside for the weeks and seasons ahead shouldn’t be abandoned. Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham, asked whether the receiver was held back for any reason in particular in Week 1, said Charlot was just “behind” for injury-related reasons during the preseason.

“If you’re not going to get reps in practice you’re just not going to play as much,” Meacham said. “He struggled a little bit with some physical stuff in camp.”

KU is fortunate to have a number of Peyton Bender targets in Meacham’s Air Raid offense, with the likes of Steven Sims Jr., Jeremiah Booker, Chase Harrell, Ben Johnson, Kerr Johnson Jr., Ryan Schadler and freshman Quan Hampton, whom Meacham said will be “really good” down the road.

“You’ve got to show us that you can do it first,” Meacham added, in reference to Charlot, “and then part of his problem was he maybe wasn’t able to demonstrate all that because he’s hampered with this or that through the course of August.”

Is Charlot making up any ground as KU prepares for a Week 2 matchup with Central Michigan?

“A little bit,” Meacham offered. “I just think there’s a lot of undue pressure put on him because of where he came from. Everybody thinks he’s going to walk in here and be Drew Pearson (former Dallas Cowboys receiver). I mean, he’s still a young kid, too. He’s got to learn a lot of stuff.”

None by DC

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Peyton Bender identifying mistakes of debut and striving for perfection

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

No one expected Peyton Bender’s Kansas football debut to be a flawless one. Aside from perfectionist Peyton Bender. For all the positive plays the program’s new starting quarterback made during his introductory performance, as he prepares for his second game Bender is most concerned with his shortcomings — and fixing them.

By the end of a four-touchdown, 364-yard outing against Southeast Missouri State, the former Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.) QB had thrown 14 incompletions and two interceptions — one in each half.

Those are the plays he’ll study and learn from most frequently in KU’s quarterbacks room this week; not the TD passes to Steven Sims Jr., Chase Harrell and Ben Johnson.

On Bender’s first turnover, in the second quarter, with the Jayhawks aiming to improve upon a 14-7 lead, he looked for junior receiver Jeremiah Booker, who had lined up wide right, and began breaking toward the middle of the field roughly 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The ball went behind Booker, and into the hands of SEMO corner Shabari Davis.

[Check out Scott Chasen’s video breakdown of Bender’s debut at the conclusion of the blog.]

“On the first one,” Bender said Tuesday of his first major mistake with the Jayhawks, “I tried to throw it a little bit too early and didn’t let Booker get into his route long enough.”

Not that he was perfect for the ensuing two quarters, but Bender’s next costly blunder came on a throw in the fourth quarter, with the Jayhawks in position to officially put SEMO out of reach.

The QB looked deep down the left sideline for long, agile wideout Chase Harrell. Bender should have put the ball out farther in front of his target, because Harrell had no one in front of him and the speed to beat his man in a foot race to the end zone on a longer throw. Instead, Bender left it short, Harrell tried to slow down and make a play, but lost a tug-of-war for the ball to SEMO’s Al Young.

Southeast Missouri cornerback Al Young (1) picks off a pass to Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Southeast Missouri cornerback Al Young (1) picks off a pass to Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

“Then on the second one I just under-threw Chase,” Bender admitted. “Those are fixable. My eyes are in the right spot on both of them. I just didn’t make the best throw.”

KU’s head coach was more forgiving of his quarterback in his assessment. David Beaty thought Bender “did a really nice job” throughout the KU win, the two interceptions notwithstanding.

“As we go back and look at the first pick that he throws, I think we were a little deep on that route, which that will affect the timing sometimes,” Beaty said. “It's just got a chance to keep you off of being on the same page when you're not at the right depth. So we've got to be better there.”

Among Bender’s 14 incompletions, Beaty admitted some balls looked under- or over-thrown as he watched from the sideline. But the coach said when he reviewed the game footage on video, missed assignments often were to blame.

“The guy just misread what was going on with the safety, and (Bender) put it right where it was supposed to be,” the coach said of his general takeaway on perceived off-the-mark passes. “If he'd have been there (a receiver read a route option correctly), it would have been a big play.”

— PODCAST: KU Sports Hour review of Jayhawks' season opener —

Outside of his two give-aways, which Bender and his coaches vow to learn from, Bender felt encouraged by the offense’s 437-yard night in the first game for both the quarterback and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham.

“I thought we converted on all of our third-and-mediums, but we put ourselves in bad position on third-and-long, so we have to do a better job on first and second downs. So that’s an emphasis going into this week,” Bender said ahead of Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Central Michigan. “We just want to clean up what we can do on first and second down and make it easier for us on those third downs.”

The lack of consistency stood out to the quarterback when he went back and reviewed the video, a sign he’s striving for perfection, even after putting up the best numbers from a KU quarterback since the days of Todd Reesing.

“I think we did a lot of things well as an offense, but we also have a ton to improve on, which is a good thing,” Bender said. “I think overall we just saw glimpses of how good and explosive we can be.”

— Bender breakdown video from Scott Chasen:

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15 KU football greats decorate Memorial Stadium’s old exterior

Banners of famed Kansas football players have been added to many of the archways set within the north end of Memorial Stadium. The stadium is pictured on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Banners of famed Kansas football players have been added to many of the archways set within the north end of Memorial Stadium. The stadium is pictured on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. by Nick Krug

When fans descend upon Memorial Stadium for the first time this season, before they even enter the gates they will be greeted by fond memories, thanks to some of the prominently-displayed most recognizable faces in Kansas football history.

From John Hadl and Gale Sayers to Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, the giant likenesses of Jayhawks associated with on-field success are now plastered on the outside of the team’s nearly century-old home.

One of the 15 player banners even represents someone they can watch live and in person — the most talented player on the 2017 roster, star defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr.

Third-year Kansas football coach David Beaty never has seen junior Armstrong get a big head about any of his accomplishments, so it was an easy decision to sign off on adding the standout defensive end to the stadium’s exterior.

“The one thing that is basically the common denominator amongst those guys is production, right? Dorance is the first All-Big 12 unanimous pick that we’ve had here,” Beaty said. “So that really was where the decision-making was, because that was all above my pay grade, in terms of who went in there. They certainly talked to me about it a little bit.”

When the banners first began appearing on the old facade, someone texted a photo of Armstrong’s to him the first day it went up, in early August.

“I had to make that drive over there and take a picture for myself and send it to my family,” Armstrong said. “I was excited for it.”

Predictably, Armstrong’s family members — particularly his mother, Carol Watson, who “put it out everywhere” — were thrilled by the latest distinction for the Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

As usual, the humble defensive lineman downplayed the honor.

“I don’t want one thing to feel bigger than the other. It’s keeping me going,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’m going to use it as.”

Here’s a quick look at the 15 KU players represented on the stadium — although Beaty hinted he’d like to see more former players added in the future.

Nick Reid

The Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, as a senior the linebacker made 112 total tackles, including 13 for loss. His 416 career tackles are second in program history (Willie Pless, No. 1, 633).

Aqib Talib

A first-team All-American in 2007 and the MVP of the 2008 Orange Bowl, the former KU corner picked off 13 passes in his college days, ranking him second all-time in program history.

Dorance Armstrong Jr.

A consensus All-Big 12 first-team defensive end as a sophomore, Armstrong racked up 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago, making him the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year as a junior.

Ben Heeney

In two of his final three seasons the home-state linebacker recorded triple-digit tackles: 112 total as a sophomore and 127 as a senior.

Chris Harris

During four seasons, the cornerback totaled 290 tackles (198 solo). As a junior, in 2009, Harris’ nine passes defended ranked 10th in the nation.

Charles Gordon

He played both receiver and corner for the Jayhawks. In 2005, his final season at KU, Gordon made 34 receptions, scored two offensive touchdowns, totaled 28 tackles and picked off two passes. His seven interceptions in 2004 are the third-best single-season total in program history. He also has returned more career punts (96) than any other Jayhawk.

Ray Evans, John Hadl and Gale Sayers

The only three players whose jerseys have been retired by KU.

Evans (No. 42) is the program’s all-time leader in interceptions, with 17 in the 1940s, including a Kansas-best 10 in 1942. He made first-team All-America in 1947.

Hadl (No. 21) received first-team All-America nods in both 1960 and 1961. He played quarterback and halfback and became a three-time all-conference selection, ending his career with 1,281 passing yards and 1,016 rushing yards.

Sayers (No. 48) joined Hadl as a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964. He rushed for 2,675 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career. In 1962 he averaged 7.1 yards per carry.

Darrell Stuckey

A key contributor in the secondary and as a returner, Stuckey topped 90 total tackles in each of his final two college seasons, 2008 and 2009. He averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return as a senior. As a junior, he picked off five passes, contributing to his career total of eight.

Dezmon Briscoe

KU’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,240), touchdown receptions (31) and 100-yard games (14), Briscoe also is responsible for the two best individual receiving games in program history: 269 yards versus Oklahoma in 2008, and 242 against Missouri in 2009.

JaCorey Shepherd

A receiver-turned-defensive back, Shepherd also returned a Big-12 best 37 kickoffs as as senior, in 2014, leading the league with 773 yards in that category. In his final two seasons, as a corner, he defended 24 passes. Shepherd’s 14 defended as a senior ranked seventh nationally.

Kerry Meier

The Jayhawks’ all-time leader in receptions (226), Meier owns the two best season totals in that category, too, with 102 in 2009, a year after totaling 97. Meier’s 2,309 career yards and 18 career TD’s rank second to Briscoe.

Anthony Collins

A first-team All-American offensive lineman his junior year, in 2007, Collins was an Outland Trophy finalist. The massive tackle helped block for two of the 14 1,000-yard rushers in KU history, Jon Cornish and Brandon McAnderson

Todd Reesing

Name a KU career passing record and Reesing owns it: total yards (11,194), completions (932), attempts (1,461), TD passes (90), completion percentage (63.3%), yards per game (273), 400-yard passing games (4), 300-yard passing games (18).

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Say What? Smith discusses KU football’s season-opener vs. SEMO on KLWN

KUsports.com's Kansas football beat writer, Benton Smith, joins Nick Schwerdt on KLWN's Rock Chalk Sports Talk — beginning at the 37:20 mark — to discuss the Jayhawks' Saturday opener versus Southeast Missouri State.

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 2, DT Daniel Wise

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise takes off his helmet as he listens to instructions during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise takes off his helmet as he listens to instructions during practice on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

No one on the Kansas football roster has started more games for the Jayhawks than redshirt junior Daniel Wise (18). So the massive, fun-loving defensive tackle from Lewisville, Texas, is one of the few people in KU’s locker room who can get away with giving star defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. a hard time.

Wise pounded the interior of so many opposing offensive lines, causing so much trouble in 2016, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound tackle might say, it made Armstrong’s job that much easier on the edge.

Be honest, Daniel. Aren’t you at least partially responsible for Dorance’s success, and his Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year status?

“I let him know,” Wise responded, while laughing. “I trash-talk to him every now and then. I tell him I should get half the award. But, nah, I’m just kidding. He earned it all himself. He went out there and got all those sacks and TFL’s. He put in the work and he deserves it.”

While Armstrong racked up 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a sophomore, Wise made 10 takedowns in the backfield of his own while contributing three sacks, helping him land on the Associated Press All-Big 12 second team.

With two stars setting the tone at the line of scrimmage, Wise is eager to see just how productive KU’s defense can become this fall.

“Excited to see what we have and put it together, come against SEMO, our first game of the season,” Wise said. “And obviously still building. A lot more to build and a lot more to prove to people who don’t know us and people who don’t know what’s going on.”

Wise and Armstrong already have the most of the Big 12’s attention, so it’s easy for them to hold each other accountable and inspire the best out of their teammates on the defensive side of the field. What’s more, Wise and Armstrong feed off of each other, because they know the whole team needs that from them.

“It’s a brotherhood. So it’s not that hard,” Wise said. “You see your brother going through some stuff, trying to reach his goal. And that’s my brother (Armstrong), so I’m going to help him reach his goal — not only me, but he helps me, as well.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

6 - Hakeem Adeniji

5 - Daylon Charlot

4 - Peyton Bender

3 - Steven Sims

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 4, QB Peyton Bender

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas junior quarterback Peyton Bender throws during the spring game, on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

The first Saturday of the Kansas football season is upon us, and so, too, is the highly anticipated KU debut of junior quarterback Peyton Bender.

Expected to be the kind of QB the program has lacked for years, Bender, a 6-foot-1 former Mike Leach protégé at Washington State, where he spent his first two seasons, has the familiarity with the Air Raid offense to not just hit the ground running, but hit the turf throwing.

Although the hundreds of quick reads and releases he has made at KU practices through the spring, summer seven-on-sevens and preseason have come almost exclusively behind closed gates, fans and everyone else who cares enough to follow the Jayhawks closely will finally see what Bender can do to invigorate a long-stumbling offense this weekend, versus Southeast Missouri State (6 p.m. kickoff, Memorial Stadium).

Third-year head coach David Beaty hasn’t said as much publicly, but Bender is the inevitable starter entering the season, and is poised to take off with the help of first-year KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a deep receiving corps and what Beaty extols as a much-improved offensive line.

No one is proclaiming Bender as a program-altering talent, but Beaty, Meacham and his teammates often during the past several weeks have referenced the ball security displayed during practices and scrimmages.

“The thing that has stuck out to me is just management of a team, and management is a lot of things,” Beaty said of what encouraged him during camp about Bender and redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley. “The number one thing is taking care of the football, not putting the ball in jeopardy and seeing us really focus on an area that we were not very good at last year, which was throwing the ball to the other team.”

And while Bender so often is characterized as a smart read-and-react pocket passer, his position coach, Garrett Riley, says the aspiring Air Raid expert can do more than put the ball on the money.

“I’ll tell you what, Bender can really make some plays with his feet, as well,” Riley said of the former juco standout’s ability outside of the pocket.”

Bender won’t be asked to play like a young Peyton Manning, but he will be charged with distributing the ball expediently to a variety of targets.

Expect to see more moving chains and scoring drives out of a KU offense than you have in nearly a decade — if you’ve bothered keeping up that long.

The Peyton Bender era is here, and for a change, the Kansas offense shouldn’t be unbearable to watch.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

6 - Hakeem Adeniji

5 - Daylon Charlot

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Former KU safety Fish Smithson makes a pick, reveals secret behind his name

Washington Redskins defensive back Fish Smithson (25) rushes the ball after intercepting a pass attempt by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron in the second half of a preseason NFL football game, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Redskins defensive back Fish Smithson (25) rushes the ball after intercepting a pass attempt by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron in the second half of a preseason NFL football game, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sunday proved the biggest day to date in former Kansas safety Fish Smithton’s budding professional career.

An undrafted rookie trying to make Washington’s roster, Smithson came up with his first highlight play of the NFL’s preseason, intercepting a pass on national television during the fourth quarter against Cincinnati.

Smithson returned the pick 63 yards in what became the Redskins’ first win of the exhibition schedule.

The 5-foot-11, 196-pound NFL hopeful was feeling so good afterward, he even finally revealed the origin of his nickname-turned-given-name. You may remember that Smithson was born Anthony but hasn’t gone by that in years. During a post-game interview with CSN Mid-Atlantic Sunday, Smithson divulged the secret of how he became Fish.

As he has alluded to before, Smithson said his grandmother made the name stick when he was a boy. It turns out she called him Fish because, at the time, he was scared of the limbless, water-dwelling creatures.

"I used to go fishing with my grandfather a lot when I was younger and he used to reel them into the boat and I always used to run from it,” Smithson said.

The young defensive back has since conquered his ichthyophobia, but also made another confession: he can’t swim.

In three preseason games, Smithson has four solo tackles (six total) and one interception.

Smithson and countless other players around the league will learn what the next several months will look like for them later this week, when NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 players.

None by NFL

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 6, LT Hakeem Adeniji

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji runs through warmups on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

It takes a special kind of true freshman offensive lineman to start 12 games at tackle, and that’s exactly what Hakeem Adeniji did for Kansas in his debut season.

The 6-foot-4 blocker from Garland, Texas, solidified himself as the left tackle of the present and future for the Jayhawks in 2016. Aiming to play at around 295 pounds in his upcoming sophomore year, Adeniji might not be as heavy as some of the Big 12’s most notable O-linemen, but he’s sturdy, nimble and a natural at his position.

KU’s O-line coach, Zach Yenser, says Adeniji is the rare kind of lineman who can be shown something once and immediately pick it up.

And as Adeniji described earlier this summer, in an interview with KLWN’s Rock Chalk Sports Talk, he also benefits from practicing against Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU’s star defensive end.

“He brings so much that you’re not going to see on a Saturday. Outside of maybe a Jordan Willis from K-State, you’re not gonna find many guys of his caliber in the country,” Adeniji said of Armstrong, a consensus All-Big 12 end as a sophomore and the conference’s Preseason Defensive Big 12 Player of the Year.

“Personally, I love it, because as a competitor I want to be as good as I can be and going against him every day is just fun,” Adeniji added. “I’m always on my heels and I always have to be ready, because he’s going to come at me with something new. We just go back and forth and make each other better.”

Listed at only 265 pounds when he first joined the program just over a year ago, Adeniji takes conditioning and nutrition very seriously to avoid becoming so heavy he can’t move well and pick up his blocks. He said his mother, Semia, always made sure when he and his brother, Moshood (former Air Force O-lineman), were growing up they didn’t eat fast food or things like that. As a result, Hakeem says his body always feels good and that allows him to compete at a high level.

That approach has only developed further this past offseason, with the help of new KU strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin. Adeniji said he and the rest of KU’s offensive linemen are reaping the benefits of their offseason work.

“I think we’ve taken another step as far as our strength and conditioning. Personally, I just feel a lot stronger, a lot more powerful,” Adeniji shared. “Just pure strength is one thing, but your ability to unlock that and use it in certain ways, I mean, that’s one thing Coach Woodfin’s done a real good job of, taking us to the next level.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

8 - Carter Stanley

7 - Mike Lee

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 8, QB Carter Stanley

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) throws during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

It’s unclear at this juncture just how much Carter Stanley will be called upon this coming season within new coordinator Doug Meacham’s offense. But we know he’s going to play — either as a backup to Peyton Bender or a starter.

The great news for David Beaty is that Stanley, even if he ends up No. 2 on the depth chart, qualifies as a better option than anyone the head coach put on the field at QB in Week 1 of 2015 or 2016.

Stanley began his redshirt freshman season as a third-stringer, but progressed enough behind the scenes to develop into a starter for KU’s final three games, and in those contests the Jayhawks beat Texas in overtime and looked far more competent and competitive than they had most of the season.

In his three starts, Stanley completed 71 of 124 passes (57.3 percent) for 693 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions, but he showed toughness and leadership, as well as flashes of his ability to extend plays with his feet.

That characteristic, more than anything else, tends to be the first thing referenced in KU’s QB debate when it comes to differences between Stanley and Bender.

A 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore from Vero Beach, Fla., Stanley said the longer he’s been at KU the more comfortable he has become in making plays on the move.

via GIPHY

“I think that’s something I’ve always had as part of my game. In high school I think I was able to stay in the pocket a little bit more,” Stanley said. “I think I’ve been able to add skills to my game when I roll out since I’ve been here at KU. The coaches do a great job. We do a scramble drill at least once a week in practice. So the receivers know where to go when the quarterbacks do roll out of the pocket. I definitely think under these coaches I’ve been able to grow in that aspect.”

So is Stanley better throwing on the run, or just tucking the ball and taking off for a first down and/or a chunk-yardage play?

“I think both are there just because the coaches, they teach us about making calculating decisions and making the right decision,” Stanley said. “We’ll watch that on film sometimes and just make sure you make the right decision.”

As Beaty will tell you, most teams need to have two quarterbacks, because staying healthy for all 12 games is no guarantee. So even if Stanley doesn’t end up entering the season as a starter, he will likely still have a significant impact.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

10 - Hasan Defense

9 - Mesa Ribordy

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 10, CB Hasan Defense

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense backpedals while covering cornerback Antonio Cole during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense backpedals while covering cornerback Antonio Cole during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

Every February on National Signing Day, Kansas football coach David Beaty likes to play a little game with his assistants after all those letters of intent become official, and ask them who they think the “dark horse” of the class will turn out to be.

In 2017, when Beaty conducted his survey on the matter, the name that popped up most often belonged to cornerback Hasan Defense.

A Jacksonville, Fla., native who spent his first college football season at the juco level, with Kilgore College (Texas), Defense wasn’t a highly touted high school recruit, but if he produces the way KU coaches think he has the potential to, the 5-foot-11 corner might end up being the most important newcomer on the roster this fall.

Cornerback qualified as the position with the biggest questions heading into the offseason, because KU wasn’t returning anyone of note at the spot. The sophomore with an appropriate last name, Defense enrolled at Kansas in the spring semester, and soon began showing some of the skills that have him in position to start in his Kansas debut.

“This guy's a talented dude,” Beaty said. “We hope that great things are in store for him, and I know he's going to compete like crazy.”

After going through spring ball and offseason training, Defense became one of the players to stand out in the secondary during preseason camp practices, according to defensive coordinator Clint Bowen.

Ask KU’s top returning receiver, Steven Sims Jr., though, and he’ll tell you Defense began making his case to coaches during spring practices. The Jayhawks’ receiving corps might possess the deepest pool of talent on the roster in 2017, so cornerbacks had to step up or be embarrassed by the likes of Sims, Daylon Charlot, Chase Harrell, Ryan Schadler, Kerr Johnson Jr., Jeremiah Booker and others.

“It helps them,” Sims said. “Coach (Kenny) Perry always tells us that we’re making them better and they’re making us better. So it’s just, you get a lot of different type of corners. Hasan’s kind of a bigger corner. He’s more physical than some of the other guys.”

According to Charlot, the former Alabama wideout, Defense was the defensive back who gave him the most trouble throughout offseason practices and workouts.

“He makes me work every play,” Charlot said, echoing Sims’ assessment that Defense plays the position with a physical edge. “I make him work, too. … Whenever we’re about to run a route, he knows he has to be on his A-game or Coach Perry’s going to chew him out.”

Defense doesn’t get to take any reps off at practices, and it could help him become a consistent producer in KU’s secondary in his first season with the Jayhawks.

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

12 - Chase Harrell

11 - Joe Dineen

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Jayhawks reveal biggest players and plays after Friday scrimmage

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley gives a flying bump to running back Kendall Morris, obscured, as the Jayhawks gear up for practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley gives a flying bump to running back Kendall Morris, obscured, as the Jayhawks gear up for practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

When David Beaty leaves a preseason practice, it’s difficult for the upbeat Kansas football coach to limit the best plays he saw to one or two.

So when asked Friday morning following the Jayhawks’ scrimmage what stood out on both sides of the Ball, Beaty proceeded to identify more than a dozen players who pleased him with their contributions.

Beaty said KU emphasized a lot of situational work during the morning session, and highlighted the following athletes as standouts from his perspective.

Travis Jordan, fr. WR: “Stuck out to me a lot. He had several targets that came at him and he had some health issues early in camp, and he’s coming back off that and he made several plays today, which were really nice plays — required strong hands and powerful attempts at the ball with guys hanging all over him. That was impressive.”

J.J. Holmes, jr. DT: “Made a couple really nice plays in there today.”

KU’s defense as a whole: “We were down on the goal line a few times today, and watching Joe Dineen, Mike Lee, Osaze Ogbebor, (Keith) Loneker … Daniel Wise made a couple great plays today. Those guys up front, it seems like the tighter we got down the better they played.”

Kansas cornerback Shakial Taylor watches from the sidelines during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas cornerback Shakial Taylor watches from the sidelines during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

KU’s secondary: “Defensively, we’ve got to get more turnovers. But Shak Taylor still continues to show out to me, and Tyrone Miller was running around knocking people out today. Enjoyed watching him play.”

Taylor Martin, jr. RB: “Has played really well over the last week-and-a-half. He’s been explosive. He had a couple of unbelievable runs today. Another one in that stable of backs that really is doing a good job for us.”

KU quarterbacks: “I thought all three quarterbacks played pretty good today, made good decisions. We’ve had one interception in the last three scrimmages, and it was by a brand-new guy. It wasn’t by Peyton (Bender) or Carter (Stanley). So they’re taking care of the ball, which is something (offensive coordinator Doug Meacham) has done a great job of stressing.”

Kansas receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. pulls in a catch during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. pulls in a catch during practice on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

Kerr Johnson Jr., jr. WR: “Everything gets quiet and the next thing you know he’s making a play.”

Quan Hampton, fr. WR: “Just the little Mighty Mouse. Number six, Quan Hampton. That dude is fast,” Beaty said, mid-chuckle, “as all get-out. He is quick and he is strong. I saw him stiff-arm somebody — I’m not going to mention him, because they’ll wear him out over it. But that little dude is strong. He is really fun to watch, man. I’m excited to see what Coach Meacham does with that guy.”

Steven Sims Jr., jr. WR: “Another one. Really good, talented guy.”

Dom Williams, fr. RB: “Man, he had a couple of really good runs today. He’s hard to tackle now. … It was early in the scrimmage and I basically put a big challenge in front of our defense about, ‘Are you gonna be able to get this guy down? Really. I mean, he’s a freshman. Can you get him down?’ And they hit him later,” Beaty said, with a laugh. “They got him one good time, knocked the breath out of him. But that dude, he can run.”

Players’ scrimmage perspective

After Beaty spoke, a few KU players offered their thoughts on the most memorable plays from the morning’s scrimmage.

Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr. DE

“The big stops in the red zone,” the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year said. “The offense was at the five-yard line or closer and then we would come out with two or three stops like that. I think that was the most impressive thing.”

As Beaty alluded to, Armstrong thinks the defense has a tendency to respond when the players’ backs are against the wall.

“I think that’s how we’ve been for a while,” Armstrong added. “We need it to be like that every down — not just in the red zone. I like how we’ve come together. We’re like a brick wall, nothing gets through us.”

Peyton Bender, jr. QB

“There was a third down in the red zone where we just had four verticals called,” Bender shared, “and we converted that. That kind of stood out to me that everyone was dialed in, and it was good converting on third.”

On the vertical, Bender hit redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell, listed at 6-foot-4.

“It was Cover-2 and he got a good release,” Bender said. “Hit him at about the three-yard line and he just kind of reached out his arm and got it in.”

According to the junior transfer QB, Meacham called more rushing plays than usual Friday morning, to involve running backs.

“Taylor (Martin) had a really nice run on an inside zone that he took for probably 45 or 50 yards,” Bender revealed. “So I’d say out of all the plays those two kind of stood out to me.”

Carter Stanley, soph. QB

“I haven’t watched the film yet so I can’t think of one in particular, but we had some great situations,” Stanley began. “We had our first four-minute situation of camp today, which is when the offense is up and you’re just trying to run out the clock at that point and win the game.”

In that period, Stanley said he was encouraged by the consistency of the offensive linemen in front of him.

“I don’t think we had any busts up front,” the QB explained. “We ran the ball and we converted on third down, which is nice. Got the ball out to Bobby Hartzog for some first downs, so that extended the drive.”

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Kansas football’s top 25 difference-makers: No. 12, WR Chase Harrell

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Chase Harrell (3) is tackled by cornerback Kyle Mayberry (16) after a catch during the spring game on Saturday, April 15, at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.

From the day Kansas signed receiver Chase Harrell as a long, wiry receiver out of Huffman, Texas, head coach David Beaty hasn’t shied away from hyping up his potential.

In fact, on a number of occasions Beaty has told reporters Harrell reminds him of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, a Pro Bowl wideout whom Beaty coached as an assistant at Texas A&M.

Harrell redshirted during his first season at Kansas, and in 2016 only made spot appearances while totaling five receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

Now a redshirt sophomore, though, Harrell (according to his head coach) is closer to 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds than his 6-4, 215 listing in the spring. And this fall is shaping up to be a breakout season for Harrell.

Teammates rave about Harrell’s size and the extra work he put in during the offseason. If the ball is thrown up, they say, Harrell will do everything in his power to come down with it in his possession.

Harrell gave a preview of his third-year ability during KU’s spring game, when he caught three passes for 51 yards, including an incredible snag near the sideline — prompting veteran Steven Sims Jr. to think Harrell was one of the scrimmage’s MVPs.

via GIPHY

New KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham considers Harrell not only a big target in his Air Raid scheme, but also the type of receiver whose presence forces defenses to adjust. When Meacham sends Harrell deep, he said that will benefit the Jayhawks’ running backs, too, because defenses can’t afford to leave Harrell in single-coverage down the field.

“He’s just a long fade guy. You’ve got to kind of double him or we’ll just throw the fade to him,” Meacham said of Harrell, whose size gives Kansas a different look than top receivers Sims (5-10) and Daylon Charlot (6-0). “Just having that type of body gets you a high safety, which helps you run the football to his side. There’s one less support player. It helps you in a lot of different areas. Plus, if they ever seam him up you just throw it up. That’s what we do. It’s no secret.”

Harrell recently said the start of preseason practices had him fired up for the quickly approaching campaign.

“I can tell other people are, too, because tension’s getting a little higher. You can tell testosterone’s kicking up,” Harrell said. “I know I’m ready.”

KU football's top 25 difference-makers

25 - Quan Hampton

24 - Ryan Schadler

23 - Taylor Martin

22 - Ben Johnson

21 - Isaiah Bean

20 - Josh Ehambe

19 - Bryce Torneden

18 - Keith Loneker Jr.

17 - Dom Williams

16 - Derrick Neal

15 - Khalil Herbert

14 - Charles Baldwin

13 - Shakial Taylor

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