Entries from blogs tagged with “football”

Love is in the KU football air

Kansas football head coach David Beaty cracks a smile during the team's second fall camp practice on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.

Kansas football head coach David Beaty cracks a smile during the team's second fall camp practice on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. by Mike Yoder

I sometimes wonder if the KU Athletic Department celebrates itself a little too often. That thought occurs most loudly every year when the Rock Chalk Choice Awards — doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it? — take place.

Those are basically the Oscars of the athletic department and they took place this year two days after the football team’s one-sided loss to Central Michigan. Love was in the air.

KU football coach David Beaty leads with love, too.

Nebraska graduate transfer Zach Hannon talked about what makes KU a different place.

“I would just say it’s a family atmosphere,” he said, echoing the sentiments expressed by so many recruits in various sports when they explain why they chose KU. “You can tell all the coaches treat us like their own sons. They’re hard on us, but at the same time they have passion for us and for the game. That’s just one thing that’s invaluable for us here. You have coaches and an environment that’s just really full of love. You can’t get that everywhere, so it’s a great thing to have.”

It’s quite different from the approach of many successful football coaches, such as Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty. Times change and it will be interesting to see whether Beaty is ahead of the times or if too much love just can’t work in a sport as brutal as football.

Beaty enjoyed having Hannon as part of the program even before he moved into the starting right tackle spot with a credible performance in the loss at Ohio.

“Having him in that locker room and really being able to speak truth into guys about how good they really have it here, what a phenomenal place this place is,” Beaty said. “…Zach has been great for us to help our guys understand how good they have it. It's a good place here. Really good place.”

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Zach Hannon transforms from Missouri Tigers fan to Kansas Jayhawks blocker

KU offensive lineman Zach Hannon

KU offensive lineman Zach Hannon

Then a junior at Rockhurst High, Kansas offensive lineman Zach Hannon sat in the stands and watched Tyshawn Taylor score nine of his 24 points in overtime to lead the Jayhawks to an 87-86 victory against Missouri in the final game between the bitter rivals.

Hannon watched with Montell Cozart, Ben Johnson and other recruits. He watched Kansas whittle away at Missouri’s 19-point lead. He watched and he stewed.

“It was so tough for me not to cheer for Missouri,” Hannon said. “I was trying to keep my mouth shut."

It’s a shame late Kansas football player and coach Don Fambrough was not around to see what the coach would have considered Hannon’s transformation from foolish teenager to wise, young husband and father.

“I never thought I’d be a Jayhawk because both of my parents and my grandma were Tigers,” Hannon said. “I actually grew up hating KU, but my parents love it for me and I love it.” For one thing, he’s getting to play. He watched others play during his four years at Nebraska before coming to Kansas as a graduate transfer.

Hannon earned his roster spot in Saturday’s loss at Ohio. It became increasingly evident that sophomore right tackle Antione Frazier needs more seasoning, so offensive line coach Zach Yenser turned to Hannon early in the game and the former Cornhusker gave a credible performance, especially for someone who had not played tackle since high school.

His reps throughout fall camp all came at guard and he just moved to tackle during last week’s practices.

At not quite 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and not blessed with particularly long arms, Hannon is built more like a guard.

“Definitely a little bit different,” Hannon said of playing without his hand on the ground. “It’s fun when you’re out on an island like they call it. It’s just you one-on-one against the D-end and you get an opportunity to show what you’ve got.”

Hannon’s not fast but has better footwork than his body type might suggest. He attributes that to playing lacrosse from a young age. His father, Tim Hannon, is on the lacrosse coaching staff at Rockhurst High.

“So even though I’m a shorter, heavier dude, I still can keep up because I have the feet,” Hannon said.

He’s atop the depth chart, expected to make his first college O-line start Saturday vs. West Virginia at Memorial Stadium, 11 a.m. kickoff.

So far, transfer Charles Baldwin has done a much better job of working himself into the coach’s doghouse than out of it — he was not in uniform the past two games — but remains KU’s most talented option at right tackle. Even if Baldwin eventually earns the job, Hannon will supply valuable depth at multiple positions.

Hannon said no to Charlie Weis out of high school and yes to Beaty when Texas Tech and Nevada recruited him as a graduate transfer.

“One of the reasons I wanted to play close to home was my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Hannon said.

So even when he didn’t play in the first two games, he said he was “extremely grateful. I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything, and as of Monday we found out my dad is cancer-free, so God is good. Everything is going great.”

He said his father underwent 49 sessions of radiation and described him as “a fighter, man. He’s always been a very positive role model, a great example of the type of man that I want to be, the type of father that I want to be, the type of husband that I want to be. I’m just very blessed to have him as a father."

Hannon and receiver Ryan Schadler are the only married players on the KU roster. Hannon and wife Jennifer, who “started talking,” as freshmen in high school, per Zach, have a 2-year-old daughter, Harper.

“My daughter’s a blessing,” Hannon said. “She came at a perfect time. She helped me and my wife through so many different things. When the coaching change happened, I was starting to get upset with my playing time, then I would come home and see her. “Then when I found out about my father being sick, whenever she was in the room with my parents or Jennifer’s parents, she just lights up the room. She definitely has her grandparents wrapped around her finger.”

Hannon has taken over at right tackle for the moment, junior-college transfer Andru Tovi at left guard, two friends ascending on the depth chart at the same time. Tovi calls Hannon, “Old Man.”

“After practices, I’m not as young as I used to be, so you can catch me limping off the field,” Hannon said. “They tell me I need a cane.”

He doesn’t need one of those yet, but he did need a chance. He came to a place where one was available and he made the most of his first shot at the age of 23.

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Baylor has become the game to circle on Kansas football calendar

Kansas head coach David Beaty, right, screams from the sidelines during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas head coach David Beaty, right, screams from the sidelines during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

Kansas head coach David Beaty, in his third season of trying to build something out of the rubble left him, went out of his way to praise the school's football fan base at his weekly press conference.

"I would just say that we've got unbelievable fans," Beaty said. "They've been patient. We certainly appreciate it. There's no doubt about that. But the plan is a great plan. We believe in it. We know it will work. There's no doubt in our mind."

During the offseason, Beaty underrated the importance of experience and physical maturity and talked in a way that made many believe he tought a bowl game was possible this season. Reality has set in.

"We've got some young guys," Beaty said. "We're not going to use that as an excuse. You know what, we've got some young dudes. Probably 53 percent or more of our roster that we traveled with the other day were sophomores or juniors. Only three of them, three of those guys were redshirt juniors in Joe (Dineen), and Keith (Loneker), guys like that. You're talking about there's a lot of youth there."

Young doesn't necessarily mean eventually good. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. You can guess which side Beaty stands on with that one.

"I would say that the future looks bright," Beaty said. "The good thing is we're 1-2. That's where we're at. There's a bunch of teams out there that are 1-2. I would just say, Hey, listen, don't make it more than it is."

Beaty didn't mean that 1-2 is a good record when the only victory came against Southeast Missouri State, an FCS program, followed by a pair of losses to MAC schools Central Michigan and Ohio. He meant that 75 percent of the season remains and it's too early to tune out.

"We've got a great opportunity this Saturday against West Virginia," Beaty said. "Show up. Be there. Bring five friends. Let's get after 'em."

At this point, KU probably needs to show something on the field for that fan-recruiting talk to resonate. As is the only appropriate focus for a football coach, Beaty's attention remains trained on the next game, against a team blessed with a quarterback, Florida transfer Will Grier, well-armed to shred the Jayhawks' secondary.

I like the "bring five friends," pitch though. And if every KU student who goes to KU football games talks five friends into coming to one game, the more time she or he has to make that pitch, the better. So it's not difficult to know which game on the brutal Big 12 schedule is the best one for KU fans to circle if they can make it to just one game this season: Baylor.

The beleaguered Bears visit Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4, which we'll call, "Bring Five Friends Day." Baylor has lost to Turner Gill-coached Liberty, 48-45, UT-San Antonio, 17-10, and at Duke, 34-20.

Circle it, bring five friends, and in the event that Kansas should win, know that you had a part in what very well could be a victory that keeps the Jayhawks out of last place, a sign of progress.

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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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Big stadium donation, Adidas extension on horizon for KU Athletics

According to KU Athletics officials, Memorial Stadium is set to undergo a $300 million renovation. Currently, architects are completing renderings of the renovation plans.

According to KU Athletics officials, Memorial Stadium is set to undergo a $300 million renovation. Currently, architects are completing renderings of the renovation plans. by Nick Krug

The downside of Big 12 membership for Kansas is that it ensures a brutal schedule for a rebuilding football program.

With the exception of Baylor (0-3), which visits Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4, every conference member is off to a significantly better start than Kansas.

The upside of Big 12 membership gets better all the time and far outweighs the burden the football schedule brings. After all, there is a positive as well to playing in such a tough conference. Members can recruit to it.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby spelled out clearly speaking at Big 12 Football Media Day the financial benefits to members.

“It varies a little bit from institution to institution based upon how they did in some of our championships -- but we distributed a little over $34 million last year,” Bowlsby said. “That is about a 15-percent increase from the previous year. That also, I would remind you, doesn't include our third-tier rights, which in the case of several of our schools are very substantial. “So we felt like we really have continued to compete from a financial standpoint. Among the critical success factors for any conference is the ability to distribute money to its members, and I think that we've continued to keep pace there.”

No disputing that.

In order to ensure it keeps its place in such a lucrative conference, Kansas must eventually get football turned around to the point it draws much bigger crowds and becomes a more appealing team for prime TV slots.

To that end, KU is trying to raise a stunning $300 million to renovate Memorial Stadium. No specific plans have been revealed for the first phase of renovations, but should come this month, perhaps tied to an announcement of a $50 million donation from a prominent KU graduate.

Even without a competitive football team in recent years, Kansas remains an appealing brand for apparel and equipment companies.

Look for Adidas to extend its six-year, $26 million deal with Kansas that expires in 2019, and do it in a way that could put KU at the top of its schools in terms of dollars and products received.

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Peyton Bender a little better than so-so so far

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is driven to the turf by Ohio linebacker Dylan Conner (35) and Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling (32) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is driven to the turf by Ohio linebacker Dylan Conner (35) and Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling (32) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

Any time a team loses football games by significant margins human nature dictates that most of the time analyzing the outcome focuses on what factors contributed to the loss.

In the case of Peyton Bender, it’s easy to pinpoint the negatives. First, he throws too many interceptions, five in three games to be exact. Second, he does a poor job of recognizing blitzes, a weakness that contributes to him being sacked too many times, eight to be exact.

But head coach David Beaty isn’t just being nice when he follows up talking about those deficiencies by saying that Bender is “doing some really good things.” He’s right about that.

Bender has shown toughness in making throws while taking hits. He’s also zipped a number of passes into small windows and as offensive coordinator Doug Meacham pointed out, when Bender doesn’t miss by a mile, he’s an accurate thrower.

The fact Bender hits so many receivers every game suggests that he does a nice job of going through his progressions and finding the right target.

He seems to be developing nice chemistry with Evan Fairs, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound sophomore who knows how to attack the ball. Keep an eye on Fairs. He's a keeper and so is Chase Harrell.

Let's look at Bender's numbers, before doing so, I’ll issue a qualifier by saying that I agree with Vin Scully, the friendly retired Dodgers broadcaster, who once said: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”

Here goes: Kansas ranks 12th in the nation in passing yardage with 343.3 yards per game. The rest of the numbers are less impressive and more illuminating. Bender completes 58.2 percent of his passes and he has one more touchdown pass (six) than his interception total.

Bender's not the problem, but can develop into part of the solution.

So far, not great, but not so bad either.

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Kansas receiver Ryan Schadler back playing sport he loves most

Kansas freshman Ryan Schadler returns a kick in the Jayhawks' 23-17 loss to TCU on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas freshman Ryan Schadler returns a kick in the Jayhawks' 23-17 loss to TCU on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. by Richard Gwin

As is the case with much of the Kansas roster, junior slot receiver Ryan Schadler didn’t have any Div. I football scholarship offers when he played his final high school game.

Schadler had more options than most, but no Div. I football offers.

Selected 4A state player of the year after rushing for 2,541 yards and 42 touchdowns, Schadler had a slew of Div. II offers from which to choose. One of four players to average more than 12 points a game on Hesston High’s 26-0 4A state-champion basketball squad, he was recruited to play guard by many junior colleges and NAIA schools, including Baker University.

State champion in the 400 meters and long jump and state runner-up in the 100 and 200 meters as a senior, Schadler ultimately chose to accept a partial scholarship to run for nearby Wichita State.

“I decided to give up football and focus on track,” Schadler said. “I thought it would be better for my body. But when I got there I just missed football way too much. Right when football season began I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It was killing me.”

So he asked for and eventually was granted his release from Wichita State, which does not have a football program. He and his high school coaches became pro-active in trying to drum up interest in him as a football player by sending video of his high school highlights.

He said he was on the verge of committing to Missouri State, but it was then that coach Terry Allen was fired.

“Then I was about to commit to Pitt State to be a dual-sport athlete in track and football,” Schadler said. “Then the next day Clint Bowen called me on my head coach’s phone and said “We want you to be part of our team. He’s big on Kansas kids and that’s something I really value in him. You see the guys 90 miles down the road doing it well for years now and it’s really cool how he’s helped Kansas with that.”

Since scientists haven’t yet figured out how to clone human beings, Schadler won’t be playing for Bowen. Otherwise, he might be a safety. Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham is happy to have Schadler in his stable of receivers, even though he’s new to it and needs reps before mastering the nuances of the position.

It was Meacham who suggested to head coach David Beaty that Schadler convert from running back to receiver.

Schadler already made a positive impact in KU’s second game of the season. He not only ran 33 yards for a touchdown on a double reverse and returned a kickoff 46 yards against Central Michigan, he also caught six passes for 60 yards.

“I do have a lot to work on and I feel like I’m getting a lot more comfortable,” said Schadler, who missed last season after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery to address a birth defect that led to excruciating pain. “The first game, especially after my injury, I was a little anxious and I probably wasn’t thinking as much as I should during plays. The last game I felt more comfortable.”

Beaty has coached receivers for much of his career and likes Schadler’s ceiling at the position. “There are still some things that as you go through the tape, you’re like, ‘OK, he hasn’t played that position yet.’ . . . He’s getting better every week," Beaty said. "He improved greatly (from first game to second).”

Meacham said he shrunk the number of plays he used Schadler on and put tight end Ben Johnson in the slot more often, so as not to give Schadler too much too soon.

“We made the volume of things he needed to know a little smaller,” Meacham said. “There are some little things he’s still trying to figure out. It’s really just coverage read things. It’s not the actually running in a particular route, it’s how you run it into this or that (coverage), where you go. So we try to put him in there when we know he’s going to know.”

That Schadler’s first touchdown run happened to cover 33 yards gave it an eerie quality. He has worn No. 33 his entire life and when he had his surgery, his mother, Donna Schadler, said that when she saw his patient number was 33 that made her feel as if everything would turn out fine.

Schadler was born with a malrotation of his small and large intestines and his appendix. “It’s still twisted up, but it doesn’t affect me because they cut the strands that were really long and twisting around,” Schadler said. “My intestines are still in the wrong spot.”

Yet, he’s still on the football field, which he is convinced is the absolute right spot for him to showcase his athleticism. His two autumns away from the sport, one to focus on track, one to recover from surgery, hammered home what he already knew, that football is his favorite sport.

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Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams liked discipline he saw during recruiting visit to KU

Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams flashes a smile during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams flashes a smile during spring football practice on Thursday, March 30, 2017. by Nick Krug

First-year Kansas defensive line coach Jesse Williams didn’t see a strong performance from the Jayhawks when he visited Lawrence last season as part of Frank Solich’s Ohio staff, but he decided to make the move anyway.

Ohio defeated Kansas 37-21 at Memorial Stadium after jumping to a 25-0 lead. Kansas managed just 21 yards in total offense in the first half in that one. The Jayhawks never drew closer than 10 points.

So why did Williams make the move?

“I definitely saw it as a program on the rise,” Williams said during the summer. “When I was able to come on my visit, you saw the discipline. That locker room was pristine. When I was on my visit I toured it three times: before a workout, after a workout, on the tour. Not one time was something on the ground, so you knew there was discipline within the room. You knew there was talent in the room and you knew there were some good coaches in the building. That’s why I felt like it was on the rise.”

That discipline hasn’t shown on the field yet as Kansas continues to turn it over too often and draw costly penalties, but Williams didn’t expect the program to turn around overnight.

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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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Kansas losingest FBS program of this decade

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat on the back to Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) after Gonzalez fumbled a punt during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach David Beaty gives a pat on the back to Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez (1) after Gonzalez fumbled a punt during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Third-year Kansas football coach David Beaty lost some followers with Saturday's loss to Central Michigan, but his team hasn't lost him as a believer. Beaty remains bullish on the Jayhawks.

"We're still a good football team," Beaty said Tuesday at his weekly presser. "That's the thing I'm excited about. We're still a good football team. Nothing's changed."

Nothing has changed, but Kansas hasn't been a good football team since last decade. In fact, nobody in the FBS has been worse than KU this decade in terms of W's and L's.

Staring at 10 games in which it will be the underdog, unless favored against Baylor in Lawrence, the Kansas football program doesn't stand a chance of climbing out of last place among all FBS schools this decade any time soon.

Two games into the eighth season of the decade, KU has a .174 winning percentage. New Mexico State is next worst with a .207 mark.

If KU (1-1) somehow still can squeeze two more victories out of the schedule, it will remain in last place, even if New Mexico State goes winless for the rest of the season.

Turner Gill (.217 winning percentage at KU), hired by Lew Perkins to replace ousted Mark Mangino (.510), coached the first two seasons of the decade. Sheahon Zenger hires Charlie Weis, interim Clint Bowen and third-year coach David Beaty have combined for a .161 winning percentage.

These are facts, which makes them slanted neither positively nor negatively. Cold, hard facts.

Here's how the 20 losingest FBS football programs of this decade have fared:

School
Record Pct. Current HC (rec.)
1- Kansas
15-71 .174 David Beaty (3-23)
2- New Mexico State
18-69 .207 Doug Martin (11-39)
3 - UNLV
23-67 .256 Tony Sanchez (8-18)
4- Florida Atlantic
23-63 .267 Lane Kiffin (0-2)
5 - Eastern Michigan
24-63 .276 Chris Creighton (12-27)
6- Idaho
25-62 .287 Paul Petrino (16-34)
7 - Tulane
26-62 .295 Willie Fritz (5-9)
8 - Purdue
27-61 .307 Jeff Brohm (1-1)
9 - Akron
27-60 .310 Terry Bowden (24-38)
10 - Iowa State
29-59 .330 Matt Campbell (4-10)
11t - Miami (Ohio)
30-59 .337 Chuck Martin (12-27)
11t - New Mexico
30-59 .337 Bob Davie (28-37)
11t - Buffalo
29-57
.337
Lance Leipold (7-19)
14 - Colorado
31-59
.344
Mike McIntyre (22-31)
15 - Virginia
30-57
.345 Bronco Mendenhall (3-11)
16 - Army
31-57 .352 Jeff Monken (16-23)
17t - Indiana
32-56 .364 Tom Allen (1-1)
17t - UTEP
32-56 .364 Sean Kugler (18-33)
19t - North Texas
36-58 .383 Seth Littrell (6-9)
19t - Hawaii
36-58 .383 Nick Rolovich (9-8)

Georgia State (10-40) and Massachusetts (10-53) did not qualify for this list because they moved up from the FCS in mid-decade. UAB (19-43) also was not included because it discontinued its football program for a couple of seasons.

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Offensive line disappoints in loss to Central Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Bill Self begins Hall of Fame festivities, receives Naismith Orange jacket

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self receives his Hall of Fame jacket, with the color described as "Naismith Orange," during Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame media day Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 in Springfield, Mass.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self receives his Hall of Fame jacket, with the color described as "Naismith Orange," during Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame media day Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 in Springfield, Mass. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self arrived in Springfield, Mass., and kicked off his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame events Thursday.

Self received his Hall of Fame jacket, which is made of a color described as "Naismith Orange," and gave brief remarks about starting his enshrinement week alongside several new Hall of Famers.

"When we all found out, I think, in April, I think we were all pretty overwhelmed with this. But this really hasn't hit me until we actually got to Springfield. Being in this arena, looking around, and seeing all the portraits is something that is very humbling and I certainly feel inadequate to be before you this afternoon."

None by Matt Tait

None by Matt Tait

None by Matt Tait

None by Matt Tait

None by Matt Tait

— KUSports.com's Matt Tait and Nick Krug are in Springfield to provide all kinds of coverage of Self's enshrinement week, so stay tuned to KUsports.com for more stories, videos and more.

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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.”

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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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Kansas football top 25 difference-makers: No. 1, DE Dorance Armstrong

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) puts Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) on the ground after recovering a fumble during the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Even those who come to Memorial Stadium to honor the Orange Bowl team of 10 seasons ago and don’t know much about the current roster surely know this much: Junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong is the team’s best player.

Armstrong earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore, when he had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, and is this season’s Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s KU’s best defensive player since Aqib Talib, who is in town this weekend for a reunion with teammates and to see his name go up on KU’s Ring of Honor, along with that of former teammate left tackle Anthony Collins.

Talib and Armstrong have distinctly different personalities. Talib, an extrovert, can be on the loud side. At times, he treated some team rules as if they were made to be broken. Armstrong is on the quiet side and a stickler for following rules.

Yet, they do have a common trait. Armstrong and Talib are obsessive students of the game, forever intent on becoming better at their different but linked crafts. Put Armstrong on that 2007 team that went 12-1 and who knows what that record might have been. Put Talib on this KU team and bowl talk would gain credibility.

Listening to coaches and teammates talk about how Armstrong approaches his job calls to mind the way those who coached and teamed with Talib at Kansas viewed him.

“In practice every day I kind of notice that he’s very attentive to the details,” reserve center Jacob Bragg said of Armstrong. “Like when other people are going, you can kind of watch him studying their mistakes and he can pick up on it pretty quickly. I feel like he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes other people do because he pays attention, just because he’s such a good student of the game.”

Really good players can’t be called great unless they make teammates better. Talib did that by covering so much of the field and by knowing where everybody on the defense was supposed to be on every play and not being afraid to challenge someone out of place or off in space.

Armstrong makes the secondary better by getting to the quarterback in a hurry. He soaks up so much of the attention from opposing offensive lines that he makes the rest of the defensive line better.

“He’s a damn good player,” Bragg said. “He pushes the D-line to do better. Any time you have a player who’s on a high level and gets recognition, everyone wants to get where he’s at and it just makes everyone around him better. I know our offensive tackles are going to be a lot better because of him.”

Mesa Ribordy was recruited out of high school as a 245-pound tight end from Louisburg and as a third-year sophomore has worked his way into becoming a second-year starter at center who weighs 305 pounds. He knows dedication when he sees it.

“I think the most important thing for Dorance is as talented as he is he still has one of the best work ethics on the team and I think that’s what’s going to take him to his full potential,” Ribordy said. “He’s not one of those guys who has tons of talent but won’t work. He gives it his all every day.”

Right tackle Antione Frazier, a sophomore, drew consistent praise from all levels of the coaching staff for his commitment to improvement during the offseason.

“He’s a different guy,” Frazier said. “He’s a very different guy and I used to think I was a different guy when we worked out, among my peers, but he’s a different guy. He sticks out. He doesn’t really say too much, but he works. If someone’s not working, I’ve seen him plenty of times call out whoever’s slacking. He doesn’t stand for it.”

Nobody had a greater impact than Armstrong on KU’s biggest of 14 victories in the eight post-Mark Mangino years. He had 11 tackles (nine solo), three TFLs, two sacks, and forced and recovered a fumble in the 24-21 overtime victory against Texas. His stiff-arm of massive Longhorns running back D'Onta Foreman on a fumble return captured the game in one play.

It was an unforgettable performance and made Armstrong an easy choice for postseason/preseason honors, which he uses for motivation to improve.

“I’m ready for the season to start so I can prove to people I am the defensive player of the year,” Armstrong said. “It was never a goal. I never thought of it. It never came on my mind. And then once I was told that, I said, ‘OK, now I’ve got to go get that along with the rest of the awards.' Then I rolled my sleeves back up and got to work.”

First-year defensive line coach Jesse Williams appreciates the many ways that Armstrong makes his job easier.

“When you walk in you want your hardest worker to be your best player not your hardest worker to be your worst player,” Williams said. “It just helps me as far as when I’m pointing out examples on film and even off the field, how to carry yourself, how you’re supposed to do things, doing things right. I think he’s a great model for the young guys and for the new guys coming in.”

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

2 - Daniel Wise

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