Entries from blogs tagged with “ku”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A man becomes familiar with the details of his own funeral and it spooks him to the bone. This sort of thing is only supposed to happen in that dimension that lies between the pit of Rod Serling’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.
And at Bruce Weber’s basketball practice.
In a move that at some level has haunted Bill Self since it happened — despite how he has played it off publicly — and could haunt Weber every time his Kansas State team plays against Kansas, Weber held a mock Self funeral at an Illinois practice.
Since his own funeral, Self has won eight consecutive Big 12 titles, plus a national title, has gone 3-1 in Final Four games and has signed a 10-year, $53 million contract, all of which helps to explain why he’s such a friendly ghost.
Tired of his players getting peppered with questions about Self, Weber showed up for practice wearing black and informed the players there would be a funeral for Self.
Weber’s nearly decade-old macabre act is grist for the Kansas-Kansas State rivalry, but only to an extent. Bob Huggins, as his is custom, got right to the point regarding the rivalry when he started his only season in Manhattan. It’s only a rivalry, he said, if both teams win their fair share of games.
Huggins, back in the conference with West Virginia, added rivalry spark with the national reputation he brought and the alley-fighter quality he and his teams bring to every game, but he went 0-3 against Kansas.
Huggins left K-State after a year, but left behind key recruits and his combative spirit in the form of his long-time assistant. Frank Martin coached 11 games against Kansas and his court-side antics — death glares, foot stomps and verbal bombs aimed at his players and referees — made his rivalry role memorable, but he only won twice.
Other than winning more often, about all Weber could do to approach the sizzle Huggins and Martin brought to the rivalry is wear all black every time he faces KU, but he’s not likely to cling to the weirdest incident of his career.
I asked Weber about the mock funeral and whether if he had to do over again he would not have done it. He stopped short of saying that.
“To me it was a compliment to Bill,” Weber said this morning in the Sprint Center at Big 12 Media Day. “The players loved him. The fans loved him. And he left. And I always joked, the fans were mad at me for coming and he’s the one who left. It didn’t make sense to me and I would always tell people, this is bass-akward.”
Why the funeral?
“I did it for the players,” Weber said. “The players kept saying, ‘Coach, we can’t move on. The media’s not letting us.’ Just like you’re not letting me move on. ‘They keep asking the same question.’ So I said, ‘I’m going to end it for you guys.’ That was my way of doing it.”
The after-shock continues.
“Now, did I ever anticipate it would get the publicity it did? No, I didn’t anticipate that,” Weber said. “For Bill’s sake, it was a compliment for what he had done there in a short period of time. Just like now, there are a lot of people who love Frank Martin. Now you’ve got to kind of win those guys over.
"Bill obviously did a great job at Illinois, at Tulsa, at Oral Roberts, and now at Kansas. He’s an exceptional coach. I’m just happy I’m at K-State and have a chance to compete against one of the top programs.”
In a five-year stretch that spanned his final two seasons at Southern Illinois and his first three at Illinois, Weber averaged more than 28 victories and won 10 NCAA Tournament games. He took his second Illinois team, loaded with Self’s recruits, to the national-title game, where it lost 75-70 to Roy Williams and North Carolina.
Timing is everything. Had Weber come to K-State in the midst of that run of big-time success, Manhattan might have erected a purple statue in his likeness. Instead, some faces turned purple with outrage, clinging to the belief that athletic director John Currie was responsible for Martin fleeing to South Carolina.
“What I’ve done is try to be out there,” Weber said. “You’ve got to be around and let them get to know you. I know there was some people grumbling a little bit when I took the job, but overall I just can’t believe the reception. They keep coming up to me and saying, ‘Thank you for coming to K-State.’ I tell them, ‘Thank you for having me.’ ”
Weber said that during his interview for the Kansas State job after getting fired by Illinois, one of the first questions athletic director John Currie asked him was, “Do you want to come here and deal with that?” meaning the KU rivalry.
“I think as a coach you want to compete against the best,” Weber said. “... I hope we can make it a rivalry. Obviously, it is a rivalry, but we hope we can compete and have a chance to really get them worried about us also. It should be fun.”
Big 12 media days blog: Travis Releford says dance moves ‘pretty close’ to Psy’s; plus, a recap of Self’s comments
4:26 p.m. update
A few more videos before signing off on our live coverage.
This video shows a little bit of personality from the KU seniors as they flip through this year's KU media guide.
In this video, I ask KU guard Elijah Johnson about his experience at Big 12 media days. All four seniors also wore their Big 12 championship rings, so I asked him if that was a coincidence. He says it was, but he's not very convincing.
And finally, Travis Releford talks about his now-famous "Gangnam Style" dance that he performed at Late Night.
Here it is if you haven't seen it yet, as the video is over 14,000 views on YouTube in less than a week.
That's going to wrap up our live coverage from Big 12 media days. Thanks for being a part of it.
3:16 p.m. update
Nick Krug just posted his photo gallery from Big 12 media days if you haven't seen it. Some good behind-the-scenes shots in there.
2:33 p.m. update
Haven't put it in here yet, but be sure to check out Tom's blog about K-State coach Bruce Weber and his fake funeral at Illinois for Bill Self. Some interesting quotes in there from Weber about the situation and why he did what he did.
I just uploaded a couple videos as well. The first is Self talking about what he believes was the key to winning the Big 12 eight straight years.
You'll also want to check out this video, as Self talks glowingly about freshman Ben McLemore, saying the guard now has a new appreciation for learning because of last year ... the year he didn't play basketball.
1:46 p.m. update
If you haven't seen it yet, KU is ranked No. 7 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll released today.
When asked about the ranking, Self said he was surprised that KU was that high, but he added that his team would embrace the ranking.
12:25 p.m. update
I stood at Bill Self's table for a half-hour — long enough to drop my recorder and have it shatter into three pieces before Self stopped in mid-question to say, "Nice hands, Jess."
Anyways, here are some of the interesting notes from what Self said:
• Self said his teams benefited a lot from having Larry Brown around the program last year, even though he couldn't coach the players because of NCAA rules. There were times when Brown would tell Self, "I have an idea for you, though it might be a dumb idea." Self said he always listened to him when that happened. The players love Brown.
• After being asked about perhaps going to the NBA sometime in the future, Self said. "I like my job. I like my job a lot." He later said he believes he has one of the "best jobs that basketball has to offer."
• Self said he's changed as a coach over the years in that he's more understanding, he's more patient and he doesn't worry about things as much. He wants guys to show their personalities. Earlier in his career, he said some of the things that happened with Tyshawn Taylor last year off the court would have bothered him. Now, he realizes that's part of growing up. Self sees things more big picture and is more concerned about winning the war and not necessarily winning every battle. He also believes he's learned more about college kids and how to better interact with them.
• Self believes AAU has a good impact on basketball. For the most part, there are good guys involved with it that give players exposure. Sometimes, things like AAU get a bad reputation, even if 97 percent of it is good and 3 percent of it is bad.
• Self said, hypothetically, if he could get four one-and-done recruits in one year, he would take them. KU will always go after the high-end talent. He believes the perfect team, though, has a foundation of older guys with younger guys who are the most talented. Self said Kentucky coach John Calipari did a "remarkable" job at getting so many high-level players to buy into their roles last year to play as a team.
• Self told his team before the year that he was going to take it as hard on them as any group he's had, but he said that's probably not true so far, because the guys try so hard. Self says his freshman have to perform at sophomore, junior and senior levels in the next month for KU to be successful. The biggest challenge for Self right now is to get his players to play hard and aggressive like he expects.
• Regarding the 4-spot, Self said he's looking most for players "who can play the way I want them to play." Self said Kevin Young is ahead of everyone right now because of experience. Perry Ellis is a better scorer. Self is not looking at which players complement each other on the floor yet. He doesn't know enough about the potential level of play of guys like Ellis and Jamari Traylor to start looking further down the line at things like that.
• Self said Young might be a better guy coming off the bench because he's an energy guy, but the coach isn't going to say that to him, because he's worked hard enough to start.
• Even with his contract extension, Self says the pressure is still on, because if you're not successful, there are ways to get a coach out of a contract. That's the way it should be, Self says. The pressure should always be on.
• Self said Travis Releford will graduate in December. The coach said Releford is the best player on the team at stealing extra possessions. "He's one of the most fun kids I've coached," Self said. "I love the guy."
• Self said his old guys like the young guys, and the young guys are deferring to the old guys. That could change. Right now, the team is unselfish almost to a fault. Self gave the example that Ellis would be totally satisfied this year if Withey did well and had a great senior year.
• Self said Withey has the skill set to average double figures in points. He benefited from Thomas Robinson offensively, but Self said people don't realize how much Robinson benefited last year from having Withey there. Self wants KU to play inside-out this year offensively, and Withey is a big reason for that.
• Self said assistant Norm Roberts' years coaching at St. John's made him an even better coach. He's a basketball junkie. Self is amazed with the stuff that Roberts is doing in drills that has helped the Jayhawks' big men.
• Self complimented KSU coach Bruce Weber, saying he took a team that Self left behind at Illinois and made it a better team than his staff would have, just because of the way Weber coached the players and because of the motion offense he implemented.
11 a.m. update
One-on-ones begin right now with coaches and noon with players, so I'll be spending a lot of time over there in the next couple hours. I should be back for a post or two to keep you guys updated.
10:56 a.m. update
Huggins says teams in the Big 12 have the best home-court advantage of any teams in the country. Some of the Big East teams play at arenas away from college campuses. For the Big 12, having arenas on campuses make a huge difference.
Huggins said things have changed since he coached in the Big 12. At the time, the conference had north and south divisions when it came to scheduling. Huggins deadpanned that he didn't get to visit Lubbock, Texas, as K-State's coach in his one year, and he thought about sticking around another year just to visit there.
Someone asked Huggins at Big 12 media day about his team's rival in the conference. He said he joked it was probably Iowa State, because it was closest to West Virginia — at only 853 air miles. Huggins said he thought about staying the night at Big 12 locations, but his players don't sleep much anyways. Plus, he said those guys sleep well on planes. He also jokingly asked if everyone else had noticed that college kids sleep better sitting down than they do laying down.
Huggins said KU's eight-year Big 12 conference title run is amazing. Huggins said no one has a better home-court advantage than Kansas. He joked that his K-State team lost by about 106 when it went into the Fieldhouse during his one year there. He says Self does a great job. When you talk about who's responsible for that streak, it mostly should be him.
10:45 a.m. update
West Virginia's Bob Huggins will be the final coach at the podium.
10:39 a.m. update
Texas coach Rick Barnes said his team will start the season by going 11 players deep. At the end of his press conference, he joked with Matt Doherty, asking him how old he was. Barnes then talked about how he recruited Doherty to play for him earlier in his career, which is interesting, because both appear to be about the same age looks-wise.
A quick Google search shows that Barnes is 58, while Doherty is 50.
10:25 a.m. update
Baylor coach Scott Drew says his staff teaches both man defense and his 1-1-3 zone at the beginning of the year. Then, as the season goes along, he uses whichever gives his team the best chance to win. With his personnel this year, Drew said he could see his team playing more man defense this year.
10:22 a.m. update
Bill Self's full transcript can be found through this link at ASAP Sports.
10:16 a.m. update
Just posted the full audio from Bill Self's time at the podium, in case you want to hear the whole thing for yourself.
10:02 a.m. update
Here are the Cliff's Notes from KU coach Bill Self at the podium here at Big 12 media days.
• Self is excited about this year's team. It has some seniors and also "a lot of puppies." Self likes the possibilities of his team competing for another championship.
• Last year, guard Ben McLemore spent a lot of the time in practice guarding Tyshawn Taylor. McLemore was long enough and athletic enough to give Taylor problems. Forward Jamari Traylor went against Thomas Robinson in practices. Self said Traylor held his own for about three out of five days against Robinson, and the other two days, he was beaten badly. Those practices helped both guys improve. They're picking up things quickly this year.
• Depth was a factor for KU last year. KU went seven deep and not eight. This year, Self thinks KU can go 10 or 11 deep. Self thinks his team can shoot it better, but it doesn't have star power. The challenge will be to get the good players to step up and be excellent players and to get the blend players to step up and have greater roles.
• An emphasis for KU has been helping Jeff Withey improve his offensive game. He's a good face-up, jump-shooter and an excellent free-throw shooter. He's good at scoring over his left shoulder, but he needs to learn to score over his right shoulder. KU assistant coach Norm Roberts is working with him every day. Scoring isn't natural for Withey. It doesn't come easy for him. Withey benefited a lot offensively from the defensive attention Robinson received last year. If Withey scores 12 points per game this year, that will show great improvement. Self is excited for him.
• Self thinks the Big 12 reloads. He believes the league has just as many prospects this year as it did starting last year. The league won't take a step backwards. Last year, the Big 12 had three teams in the top 10 almost all season long, and Self would anticipate about thee same this year.
• Self said KU's newcomers will make mistakes. Self's bigger concern is getting his seniors playing like seniors. Self thinks some nights KU will look really good, and other nights, the team won't look so good. Self is going to enjoy "getting there" with his team.
• Self believes KU's run of eight straight Big 12 titles is a reflection of good players. It's a great source of pride for everybody in the program. The players don't want to be the team that doesn't win it. There might not be as much jubilation at KU for winning the conference title, because they believe it's their job. That's what they came to KU to do.
• Self said that it was a great rule change to allow coaches access to players in the summer more often. Guys always do better when there's structure. The Europe trip was good for KU. The Jayhawks didn't perform well there, but that might be good, because they were humbled. Self hasn't heard one coach say that he disliked the new rule that allows coaches more access to players in the summer.
9:43 a.m. update
KU coach Bill Self will be at the podium here shortly. I'll get up a Cliff's Notes version wrapping up his comments right after he wraps up.
9:29 a.m. update
Shaw also says that a coaches' box has been added to the rulebook. Officials have told the referees to allow spontaneous reaction to calls. Officials can help coaches get under control after that. If the conduct continues, it's a technical foul.
Jumping up and running down the sideline by a coach to dispute a call is a technical foul. Ripping off a suitcoat is a technical foul. Falling to the floor is a technical foul.
"You're going to see a tougher enforcement," Shaw said.
Shaw says if coordinators don't see officials calling technicals for the behavior above, those officials will be fined. That usually gets things changed.
9:19 a.m. update
Big 12 coordinator of officials Curtis Shaw is talking now, and he's going through block/charge calls on some monitors. He says, all things equal, there should be more blocks called than charges in basketball. If calls are 50-50, officials are being told to default to a block call.
9:08 a.m. update
TCU coach Trent Johnson just finished up at the podium. He said that now — following TCU's switch to the Big 12 conference — the kids in the Dallas/Fort Worth area know they will be playing in one of the premier basketball conferences in the nation if they join the Horned Frogs. He said players that choose TCU also will have to have a lot of courage, as those players will have to want to build a basketball tradition in Fort Worth, Texas.
9:02 a.m. update
Here's the full Bruce Weber quote on Bill Self, courtesy of ASAP sports:
"It was difficult to follow him. He did a tremendous job at Illinois. The kids liked him, the fans liked him, and I had to get them sold that, hey, we'll be OK. We actually did pretty good. So it was a good run for us. Bill was truly missed there when he left. But we kind of got our own thing going.
"Now, obviously, as one of the first questions John Currie asked me, my athletic director, when I interviewed. Why do you want to come here and deal with that? And I think as a coach, you want to compete against the best. Kansas, and running the Big 12 is amazing.
"Obviously, nationally the last three or four years Bill has been to the Final Four, runner up, won national champions. As a coach, you want that challenge. That's the exciting part of it. I hope we make it a rivalry. It's obviously a rivalry, but we hope we can compete and have a chance to really get them worried about us also. So it should be fun. He's done a great job, and hopefully we can compete with them."
8:52 a.m. update
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg just finished up at the podium. He said his team had to play unconventional team last year with talented forward Royce White and a team without many ballhandlers. Hoiberg said, in many ways, it was a perfect team for White, because ISU had a lot of shooters that he could pass the ball to. White was ISU's biggest mismatch for opponents, so Hoiberg catered the offense around him.
This year, ISU will play more conventionally with a true point guard in Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious. Hoiberg believes his team will be able to run more this year because of that.
8:36 a.m. update
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford says incoming freshman Marcus Smart (No. 10 in Rivals.com's rankings for class of 2012) can play four positions ... every position except for center. Ford has been especially impressed with Smart in practice, as the coach said the freshman is involved in every play. He's vocal, and Ford has never seen a player make more extra-effort plays. Ford said it's refreshing to have a player like that and says that's it's fun to watch him play every day.
8:24 a.m. update
Our own Tom Keegan asked Weber which would be tougher: following Bill Self at Illinois or facing him in the Big 12.
"It was difficult to follow him," Weber said. "He did a tremendous job at Illinois. The fans liked him. The kids liked him. I had to get them sold that things would be OK."
Weber said that while Self was missed, Illinois did get its own thing going under Weber.
The KSU coach said one of the first questions posed to him in his interview with KSU athletic director John Currie was, "Why would you want to come here and deal with that?"
Weber says he likes the challenge. He acknowledges KU's recent run in the Big 12 is "amazing."
"I hope we make it a rivalry," Weber said. "It's obviously a rivalry, but we hope we can compete and have a chance to really get them worried about us also."
8:17 a.m. update
Kansas State first-year coach Bruce Weber up now.
He says his main focus was getting his upperclassmen, like guard Rodney McGruder, to buy in.
"The thing I've done since I've took the job is focus on those guys," Weber said. "I want them to be successful."
8:10 a.m. update
Walker says his team's biggest challenge is to get his players to believe they can win in Lubbock. He said looking at the Big 12 preseason coaches' poll (TTU is picked ninth) can get players down if they don't believe they can win. Walker wants to create a road mentality for his team all the time, because on the road, he says, teams have greater intensity and focus in on the goal. Walker commented that Texas Tech's players are even wearing their road black colors at today's event to signify the road mentality they hope to take.
Walker should have quite a challenge this season, as he takes over for Billy Gillespie, who resigned last month.
8:05 a.m. update
New Texas Tech coach Chris Walker is at the podium now. He seems excited to be here, showing some good energy while starting off his press conference by saying it was a great day to be a Red Raider.
A familiar face in one of the front rows here, as former KU men's basketball assistant Matt Doherty has already asked Walker a couple questions. Doherty is here reporting for ESPNU.
If you're just landing here, also be sure to also check out Gary Bedore's KU basketball story from today, which talks about KU's 2013 recruiting class being ranked No. 2 in the nation.
7:45 a.m. update
Welcome to the Newell Post (early morning version) live from Big 12 men's basketball media days at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas coach Bill Self will be sixth at the podium this morning at 9:45 a.m., but before that, the goal will be to keep you updated on what other conference coaches are saying. Surely a few of them will be asked about KU, which was the unanimous coaches' pick last week to win the conference this year.
After Self talks at the podium, I'll also type up a Cliff's Notes version of what he says to keep you updated on the latest.
Here's the schedule of coaches, for those wondering:
8 a.m. — Texas Tech coach Chris Walker
8:15 a.m. — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber
8:30 a.m. — Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford
8:45 a.m. — Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg
9 a.m. — TCU coach Trent Johnson
9:45 a.m. — KU coach Bill Self
10 a.m. — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger
10:15 a.m. — Baylor coach Scott Drew
10:30 a.m. — Texas coach Rick Barnes
10:45 a.m. — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins
11 a.m. — One-on-one interviews with coaches
Noon — One-on-one interviews with players
I wanted to start the discussion with some interesting information I found in a report from the NCAA men's basketball rules committee meeting on a sheet of paper here by the media guides.
The thing that caught my attention most was the committee "expressing concern regarding the number of incorrect block/charge calls, especially those called as charges which should have been, by rule, blocking fouls."
Here are the key teaching points listed for immediate implementation this year:
• Before the offensive player (with the ball) becomes airborne, the defender must have two feet on the floor, be facing the opponent and be stationary to draw a charge. Otherwise it should be a blocking foul.
• Secondary defenders (help defenders) moving forward and/or to the side are also in violation and these should be blocking fouls.
• Contact that is "through the chest" is not de facto proof of a charge. The rule in its entirety must be considered before making a foul determination.
• In some cases, it appears that a defender is being rewarded solely for being outside the arc, without considering the other aspects of the rules.
At first glance, this seems like it could benefit some teams that don't take a lot of charges (like KU) and hurt others that have been known through rely on the defensive tactic (Duke and North Carolina).
So what are your thoughts on the new rules?
Keep checking back throughout the day for more Big 12 media day updates.
Mention the name Matt Williams to sports fans outside of Lubbock, Texas, and most will think of the retired power-hitting third baseman. In Lubbock, the name conjures memories of a student who started the football season sitting in the stands and midway through the schedule found himself on the field scoring points.
Williams made his debut for Mike Leach’s Texas Tech team in Lawrence on Oct. 25, 2008, when he made all nine extra-point kicks in a 63-21 rout of Kansas.
Leach discovered Williams when he booted a 30-yard field goal at halftime of a game in a fan competition five weeks before the kicker’s debut.
At Notre Dame, Charlie Weis had an assistant coach call David Ruffer in his dorm room to see if he would be interested in trying out for the football team. Ruffer passed a three-day tryout. The year after Weis was fired by Notre Dame, Ruffer was one of the three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to college football’s top kicker.
Kansas so desperately needs a kicker that instead of taking what would have been considered a near-sure three points in most programs, Weis opted Saturday for a fake field goal in the first quarter of a scoreless game on fourth and seven from the Oklahoma State 17. A strong wind would have been at the kicker’s back for a 35-yard attempt. Holder Blake Jablonski was stopped five yards short.
Ron Doherty, a better punter than kicker, has been replaced at the top of the kicker depth chart by walk-on Nick Prolago, shaky even on extra points.
A search for a hidden foot among the KU student body has come up a foot short.
“I scoured the campus,” Weis said. “We had a couple of guys who came in, an Australian rules football player and a couple of other guys. So we had them come over, but they couldn’t kick a football. They forget it’s a different ball. There have been multiple guys from Australia who have shown up in the NFL, punting and all that other stuff, but no, we haven’t been that fortunate.”
Williams had spent two years at Tarleton State University in Texas, one as a walk-on kicker, before transferring to Tech. The NCAA granted the Red Raiders an exception to the rule that requires transfers to sit out a year because he had not been on scholarship. The 15 minutes of fame was not without its costs for Williams, who kicked a 49-yard field goal in a high school game. The NCAA did not allow him to collect the year of free rent he won by booting the 30-yarder through the uprights at halftime.
A risk to taking a student kicker who did not have the same college experience Williams gained at Tarleton: The ball is placed on a tee for high school kickers, on the ground in the college game, an adjustment some make better than others.
Not one of the 27,939 students enrolled this fall can give Kansas a legitimate kicking game.
Or could it be he or she just has not yet used that foot to step forward?
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
Also, there are quite a few changes to the depth chart, with James Sims moved to starter at running back, Brandon Bourbon moved to starter at fullback and Aslam Sterling moved to starter at right tackle.
• Weis says linebacker Tunde Bakare will be back this week after sitting out last week following a head injury. Running back Tony Pierson looks better, but KU will wait and see with him. Receiver D.J. Beshears has a slight fracture in his shoulder and will be gone for a long period of time. Receiver Daymond Patterson has concussion-like symptoms after getting hit hard on a punt return against Oklahoma State. He's questionable for the OU game.
• Weis says both Dayne Crist and Mike Cummings will play against Oklahoma. He's not going to say who the starter will be. Also, neither QB will be made available for media interviews this week. Weis says the reason for that is to limit distractions. The quarterback who plays the most significant role in Saturday's game will be made available for interviews after the game.
• Weis says his team can't go vanilla and expect to slug it out against OU. Both QBs will get plenty of reps in practice. Weis says he hopes the first guy plays so well that he isn't tempted to put in the second guy, but he knows that probably won't happen. He says he's fired up with how this two-QB system might look. He joked that he's been drawing up plays in the dirt this week for his QBs.
• Cummings is still significantly behind Crist when it comes to reading coverage. But seeing how Cummings has handled everything ... he hadn't played significant snaps in two years. Weis hopes his best football is ahead of him.
• During Cummings' last play against OSU, there were a lot of guys open. A corner route was open for a TD. With that defensive end rushing, instead of trying to throw over him, Cummings should have stepped up in the pocket and looked downfield. Weis isn't mad at him for that play. That's all part of learning.
• What Weis saw out there was, on defense, KU was being physical and winning the line of scrimmage against OSU. Those weren't lucky tackles. There were a lot of gang tackles by KU.
• Weis said a couple guys came in to try out for kicker earlier this year. One was an Australian rules football player. The problem was, those guys couldn't kick a football well. Weis said he took a kid out of a dorm team one time, and he ended up as a finalist for a Groza award. KU hasn't been that lucky to find a kicker on campus to help. Weis thinks the problem will be fixed soon.
• Ron Doherty will be the starting punter this week. He also will be the backup kicker. Doherty was banged up a little bit last week.
• Weis said knowing he's going to play might take pressure off of Cummings. It also keeps Crist from being in the tank. Weis said he joked with Cummings to "check his pants," because he was going to play this week in Norman. Weis thinks both QBs were at ease. Weis says he always tells the players exactly what's happening. Weis met with both QBs on Monday night along with QBs coach Ron Powlus.
• Two weeks ago against Kansas State, KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo was miserable. KU's defense had a nice turn-around against OSU. The players haven't seen good play until this year. The expectations of play have gone up. KU's defense played well against the best offense in the country last week. That gave the players confidence. They have some bounce in their step.
• All running back James Sims has done is verify what Weis thought of him in the preseason. Sims is physical. He can pick up the blitz. He can catch.
• KU has been a run-first team for some time. The better the backs run, the better the offense, as teams have to move more defenders toward the line of scrimmage.
• On KU's side of the field against OSU, James Sims told his offensive linemen, "Just give me a little bit of space, and I'll get it into the end zone." A few plays later, he was in the end zone. The linemen block a little harder when they hear that.
• Oklahoma has a bunch of good players on both sides of the ball. You look at draftable guys on OU compared to KU, and it's night and day. If both teams play their best game, OU wins, because it has good coaches and players. Weis is hoping his team plays well while OU doesn't.
• Weis told his team after the game that it was the second time he was proud of them, because since he'd been at KU, it was the first time he saw his team with a different attitude in the fourth quarter like it wanted to win. The first time was for its grades. As miserable as he was after the game, Weis was proud of his team. You could see true pride in the locker room after the game. That's a good thing.
• Darius Willis has moved up the depth chart. He started as a middle linebacker at KU. He got beat out by a bunch of guys, and instead of complaining, he went down to show team. KU moved him to defensive end, and he played hard. Eventually, Weis told the other coaches they had to take a look at him, because he was making plays. He's disruptive. He's helping KU.
• Weis says he can't see any reason why James Sims won't eventually play on Sundays. Weis thinks he's a solid player. He would want him on his team.
• Crist will never change who he is. When he isn't in there, he will be the first guy trying to help Cummings. Realistically, it's tough to be the leader when he's not on the field. Weis said he had a conversation like this with quarterback Phil Simms when he was with the New York Giants. Weis wanted him to talk to the team when it was struggling, and Simms told him that players don't want to hear from players that aren't on the field.
Just wanted to put out a quick plug for our KUsports.com online preview magazine, which was just released today and is available for $3.95 plus tax.
We're excited about a lot of the extra features that are only in the magazine. They include:
• A behind-the-scenes look at the magazine cover photo shoot.
Here's a quick video from photographer Nick Krug showing a bit of what will be shown in the full-length video posted in the magazine.
• A new Q&A with Rivals.com national recruiting expert Eric Bossi.
Bossi is one of the knowledgeable guys in the business, and he was nice enough to talk exclusively about KU's upcoming recruiting class to give his insight.
Here are a couple of snippets from the interview:
Q: KU commit Brannen Greene has made a pretty big jump in the Rivals.com rankings (from No. 42 to 22) this year. What has he been up to lately that has helped him make that jump?
A: I guess he made kind of a big jump, but not a huge one. He's always been been ranked pretty highly. I think maybe the fear — this wasn't a bad fear — but that maybe he was becoming a bit too reliant on being a spot-up jump shooter when he's got such great size and good touch. I thought that this summer he really looked a lot more apt to give a shot-fake and use a dribble or two to get somewhere and use that big body of his to shield off defenders.
So I just think that he's begun to show a bit more of a diverse game on the offensive end than just being a jump-shooter, which is obviously a good trait. But you still want to be more than a one-trick pony, and I think he's starting to show that.
Q: He's not ranked by Rivals.com right now, but it seems like a lot of analysts have been really talking seven-foot center Joel Embiid up. Where would you guess he's going to end up in the rankings?
A: I conservatively guessed it yesterday as top 50 to 75, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was more top 25 to 50. I have had coaches from three different schools now tell me they're convinced he's going to be in the NBA in three years.
He's good, and he really is a nice kid. He's just so happy to be here and to have this opportunity. I'm a human being, too. I want to see kids like that do well no matter where they are.
• Video from KU commit Conner Frankamp during a shooting workout with his father, Marty.
During his trip down to Wichita to shoot photos for a feature story on Conner Frankamp, Krug captured various aspects of Frankamp's after-school routine.
Here's a short trailer previewing what's in the full video in the online magazine.
• Tyshawn Taylor videos discussing last year's NCAA run and this year's team.
Get Taylor's take on Elijah Johnson's ability to lead and surprise players for this year while also hearing about memories of going against Naadir Tharpe last year in practice.
Taylor gives memories from last year, including this video where he discusses KU's 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse, saying it was "the legit best feeling that I've ever had in my life."
The online magazine also includes audio from KU coach Bill Self at KU media days where he discusses individual members of this year's team, an exclusive podcast from Tom Keegan and myself previewing the year and additional photos from our archives and also submitted ones from KU's European trip this summer.
Those who buy the online magazine also will have access to all our preview stories in the print magazine, which includes player profiles, photos and a Big 12 preview.
The casual sports fans first heard the name of Kansas University quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus when ESPN’s Beano Cook predicted before Powlus took a snap for Notre Dame that he would win the Heisman Trophy twice.
Cook was one of three sports characters who died during the week, joining former NFL player and color commentator Alex Karras and Chicago Tribune sportswriter/TV panelist Bill Jauss. I asked Powlus last winter if he had ever met Cook, whose prediction many blamed for adding unfair pressure and expectations to Powlus. He said he had not.
“People always say, ‘Are you mad at Beano Cook?’ ‘Do you blame Beano?’ I don’t,” Powlus said last winter. “The guy, his job is to make ridiculous statements. That’s what he does. That’s why people know his name, because he makes the statements and predictions. It’s not his fault. That’s his job. As a player, I was flattered. It was a nice thing to say. But I’m not mad at Beano. I don’t know Beano.”
Powlus never finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting, but did start 42 games for Notre Dame, set single-season school records for completions (182) and attempts (298) as a senior and set the ND record for touchdown passes in a game with four (three times).
As a coach, Powlus and KU receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello are in danger of enduring a third consecutive 1-11 season. Powlus worked as quarterbacks coach at Akron for Ianello, who had back-to-back 1-11 seasons in his only two years as Akron’s head coach.
Powlus has a tough challenge ahead of him this season. Dayne Crist entered the Oklahoma State game ranked 119th among 122 rated quarterbacks. Interestingly, Garrett Gilbert, more highly touted coming out of Lake Travis High in Texas than his predecessor, Todd Reesing, is ranked 121st. Gilbert, a bust at Texas, now plays for SMU. Tulane’s D.J. Ponder is ranked last.
Crist was off to a good start (4 of 5 for 55 yards) against Oklahoma State when lightning struck.
*Alex Karras isn’t the only athlete noted for punching a horse, but at least Karras only portrayed Mongo punching a horse in “Blazing Saddles.”
Arthur Long, who played at Cincinnati for Bob Huggins and is from my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., really punched a horse and was arrested for it. According to an old friend who was an assistant coach at a Division I school recruiting Long, he punched more than horses. During a junior college practice, Long punched a teammate during a scrimmage, was not disciplined for it and was allowed to continue playing in the scrimmage. That’s when my friend stopped recruiting Long.
*Really enjoyed covering DePaul with Jauss in the early ’90s, but the funniest DePaul-related story about Jauss came long after that.
In 2006, Jauss visited Ray Meyer on his deathbed and the coach was so weak he could barely whisper. As Jauss was leaving, Meyer motioned him closer, closer, close enough to hear him and then whispered in the sportswriter’s ear: “Hey Jaussy, you don’t look so hot yourself.”
A minor spat between a football coach and a newspaper somehow has turned into a national story.
I’ve had hundreds of spats with coaches, media relations officials, etc., — Tommy Lasorda once stood so close when he was hollering at me I actually swallowed some of his chicken spittle — that didn’t seem to me to be newsworthy. But I suppose because this has become national “news,” it’s time to comment on it.
The University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper, ran a sharp, fair, prophetic cartoon cover that portrayed the Jayhawks as Kansas State road kill. From there, just about everybody involved tripped all over themselves. Now it’s a national story.
Mistake No. 1: Charlie Weis, whose press conferences have been extremely candid and entertaining, showed a hole in his swing when he tweeted, “Team slammed by our own school newspaper. Amazing! No problem with opponents paper or local media. You deserve what you get! But, not home!”
For such a smart guy who does such a good job of interacting with the media at press conferences, this was a shockingly naive viewpoint. A school newspaper is a training ground for future journalists. Yell leaders cheer. Reporters report.
Mistake No. 2: Kansan reporter Blake Schuster tweeted a link to his well-written story about quarterbacks taking hits in practice that week, as opposed to the normal routine of wearing a red shirt that reminds defenders the QB can’t be tackled. With the link, Schuster wrote, “Here’s my story from today’s Kansan, I guess coach Weis wasn’t a fan”. The story had nothing to do with Weis’ beef. It was all about the cover art. Schuster knew that, but misrepresented to Twitter nation that his story set off Weis, making Weis’ tweet look even worse.
Mistake No. 3: Reviving a story that should have been swallowed in the wake of Kansas getting outscored in the second half, 35-2, by Kansas State.
Katy Lonergan, the sports information department’s football contact, is at the very least indirectly responsible for this one. Lonergan met with Schuster on Tuesday before Weis’ weekly press conference to let him know to be prepared for unpleasant responses if he asked questions of Weis and the players. Even if she thought she were helping the young reporter, she should have just let the football coach, a big boy, handle whatever questions Schuster sent his way.
Mistake No. 4: Schuster didn’t ask any questions at the press conference. He’s young and inexperienced, so he probably was a little shaken. He needed to ask a question and put what he perceived as an implied threat to a test.
Mistake No. 5: Kansan wrote a story about the Lonergan conversation, making itself a part of the story.
Mistake No. 6: Lonergan talked to 810 sports talk radio host Kevin Keitzman off the air, trying to explain why she talked with Schuster, thus giving more legs to the “story.” Keitzman added fuel to the controversy. National websites took it from there. Now the national perception is that Weis makes a habit of bullying college reporters. Until his tweet, nothing could have been more untrue. Until his ill-advised tweet, Weis consistently showed incredible patience with stupid questions from some reporters, more patience than any coach at any level I’ve covered in more than 30 years on the job.
Normally, I would be extremely careful about not criticizing a reporter from a student newspaper, but since the Kansan decided to make itself part of the story, it opened up its reporters to this revelation: Schuster twice asked Weis about using running back Tony Pierson as a wide receiver sometimes, apparently thinking that when a running back comes out of the backfield to make a catch, he switches positions. On both occasions, Weis explained Pierson is a running back and didn’t mock the reporter for not knowing the difference.
That’s why Weis over-reacting to the cartoon came as such a shock. If he had not tweeted his pre-historic thoughts on the role of a student newspaper, this molehill — Weis’ players being upset over a cartoon — never would have grown into a mountain.
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas basketball coach Bill Self's comments at the KU basketball media day press conference today.
• Self thinks KU is talented. He thinks the young kids will be good. Self thinks Ben McLemore is the most talented. He can do about as many things as any player KU has had under Self. The next-most heralded young guy would be Perry Ellis. He has a knack for getting the ball in the basket, but he needs to be more aggressive, too. Self thinks Jamari Traylor is going to be good. Self thinks they'll all be good, but he says Andrew White has been the biggest surprise. He has length, and he can shoot.
• Self is excited for his son Tyler because he thinks he'll be a good teammate. The players will like him. Coach Self said, if anything, he will be tougher on Tyler. Self is also excited because he gets to see him everyday. Self sometimes feels like he's cheated Tyler and hasn't spent as much time with him as he wanted to growing up. Being able to be with his son every day might be recharging Self's batteries for this year more than anything.
• Self thinks Jeff Withey can be an All-America type guy. It's not a stretch to say he could be the best defender in the country. He just needs to be a little more consistent offensively, and he needs to not wear down.
• Self likes freshmen that come in and think that they can dominate. KU needs Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis and Andrew White especially to come in with a confident attitude.
• Self thinks Elijah Johnson has to have a big year. Self said seeing how Johnson played in the last third of last season ... there's not many guards better than him around. The added thing he's got to understand is that his words and attitude and approach will have as much impact on KU winning as his play. He's getting better with that. Self is definitely expecting a big year from Johnson.
• Self would say his most talented guys on the perimeter right now would be Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis and Elijah Johnson. That's two wings and a combo guard. This is more of a lineup like Self had with Keith Langford, J.R. Giddens and Aaron Miles. Tyshawn Taylor had the ball in his hands during game point most of the time last year, but Elijah Johnson could take pressure off him ball-handling-wise. KU has to develop some help in that aspect for Johnson this year.
• Self was more surprised KU being picked first this year in the Big 12 than not being picked first in the past. KU lost a lot with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Self thinks his team could be good by the end. Baylor will be good, and Self thinks Oklahoma State could be the sleeper team in the league. Kansas State and Texas both return good teams. Other teams will be much improved. Self thinks that his team's ranking might be a little bit high, but his team will embrace it.
• Self says the Zach Peters injury deal has him confused. He was doing well, then complained of shoulder problems. KU tried to give him time off, but it didn't work. KU tried some rehab, but it didn't work. Peters plays a certain way, and he has to be healthy to play that way. Rest and rehab should be able to take care of the injury, but there's still the possibility it could be a long period of time before he's back. Self says, right now, KU is probably looking at 4-6 weeks. Peters was one of the better players in Europe, so Self thinks this team needs him. He's not even thinking about at a potential red shirt at this point.
• Self says he wasn't sure the Europe trip helped his team basketball-wise as much as he thought it might. The guys got humbled, though, and that includes the older guys. They played just good enough to get beat.
• KU has to get the young guys to buy in to understanding that the team has to get a shot each possession. Self would say his team's greatest weakness, right now, is valuing the ball. That usually happens with younger teams.
• Jamari Traylor is going to be good. He's never played. He's 19 and played one year a little bit in high school. That's it for his life. Even in Europe ... he looked good in practice before that, but he struggled in games. It's going to take time with him.
• Thomas Robinson gave KU an air of toughness that made others believe they were tough as well. This team has to be great at stealing possessions. Self thinks he has competitive guys this year, too.
• Self says last year was hard for him, because he thought McLemore and Traylor both should be playing. It ended up being a good thing for their lives, though. They took a negative and turned it to a positive by both posting 3.0 GPAs last year. Self says McLemore has a chance to be one of the special ones to come through here. He's not there yet.
• Self says there's a difference playing under the lights. Late Night will be nerve-wracking for a lot of the young guys. Some of them haven't played in front more than 1,000 people. There's a lot of pressure playing here, which is part of the reason guys come here. Guys have to learn to play in those situations through experience.
• Self didn't feel like last year's team felt much pressure. Once the team got on a roll, it was like KU was playing with house money. So much of it for Self is learning how to close. The games are going to be close. KU's record was 32-7 last year, and it easily could have been 25-12 if it didn't show toughness at the end of games. This team will have to play with that sort of toughness.
• Self think Naadir Tharpe has gotten better. Rio Adams is a talent. Evan Manning is a pretty good player, but Self says hopefully he's a guy KU doesn't have to rely on. Self hopes Tharpe and Adams are able to fill in that backup point-guard role.
• Self thinks KU will have more balance scoring, but this team needs two guys to step up and score 15 points per game.
• Perry Ellis is quiet. Self joked that if Ellis had his way, he might go through a whole day without talking. The coaches have to get him to where he's more comfortable talking. Self likes his talent, though.
• Self felt like he had decent security before signing his new extension, as he still had six years left on his contract. Through security, Self says, in general, perhaps a coach could be more inclined to do what's best for his program over time instead of going for a quick fix.
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
The most notable change on the depth chart is the moving of kicker Austin Barone to first team along with Ron Doherty.
• Oklahoma State running back Joe Randle is different from KU's Tony Pierson because he's a bigger back at 200 pounds, though he's still a home-run back. Weis wouldn't trade Pierson for anyone, but being a bigger back presents a different challenge.
• Receiver Andrew Turzilli has a chance to be a front-line receiver. He runs good routes, has good hands and he is smooth. He's still learning, but he has a chance to be a top-line guy in the future. Weis wouldn't call him one yet. Weis said he didn't know how good he could become. Weis joked that he barely knows the next play. Weis says, to use a coahing cliche, Turzilli doesn't know what he doesn't know.
• When asked what he'd like to see from his kicker competition this week, Weis said he'd like to make a field goal in a game. That would be a good start. Weis said there were problems with a high snap with last week's missed field goal, but those are attempts you just have to make. KU will practice field goals every day this week. That usually doesn't happen. Pressure does a lot to a lot of people. That happens in the pros, too. Certain people handle pressure differently.
• Weis said in the future he will use one and maybe two scholarships on kickers. KU has a transfer kicker right now with a big leg that can kick touchbacks (Eric Kahn), but because he's a transfer, he can't play this year. That could solve some of KU's kickoff issues next year.
• Weis says he's always been an aggressive coach when it comes to fakes. He also believes going into a game, you have to sit down and talk about the best way to put your players in a position to win. If you come to the conclusion that if you just line the players up and you can't win a game, then you have to take some chances to try to win.
• Weis said he's bothered by KU's struggles in the second half. He knows there is an issue there. That will be addressed this week.
• Both Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, whom Weis has worked with in the past, are both aggressive offensively like Weis is. Neither one of them are conservative. Belichick goes for it on fourth down more than any other coach Weis has seen. Both those guys are going to the hall of fame, and both, Weis says, are better than him. The coach said that's why he follows their lead.
• Weis says KU's seniors not practicing on Sunday with the rest of the team was more of a punishment for the younger guys than it was a slight to the older guys. The youngers guys had to go full speed a day after a game. That included a guy like linebacker Ben Heeney, who played almost every snap for KU against Kansas State.
• Weis says he's approaching this rebuilding job differently than he did the one at Notre Dame. It's different situations. Weis says you have to do everything in your power to win the next week.
• Weis says he has to continue to find more alternatives to how his team plays in the second half. He hasn't found the right one yet, but he's going to keep working on it.
• There's several guys that Weis doesn't know enough about when they go on the field. Sometimes, that happens because there are more experienced guys in front of them. Offensive lineman Pat Lewandowski is an example. Weis doesn't know how he can do in pressure situations because Tanner Hawkinson is in front of him. Maybe that means, with the game still in doubt, Weis need to put Pat in during a series to see how he does. That's the Catch-22. You want to know, but you don't want to at the expense of hurting your chances of winning.
• Everyone wants to look at developing your team as giving up on your team. Weis says those people misconstrue the whole thing. You can't sacrifice your team for the sake of development.
• By the time the players leave practice on Sunday, that Saturday game is history. The best way to move on is to practice. Anyone who watches KU's practice would say that the team isn't practicing any differently than when it was 1-0. Weis' philosophy is that you should coach hard and practice hard every single day.
• Running back Tony Pierson's elbow was stiff on Sunday. He said he jokingly called him the drama king. Pierson's range of motion is better now. Weis is expecting him to be a go on Saturday.
• Oklahoma State's tempo is different than other teams, but they also don't change personnel groups very often. The Cowboys don't use a tight end often. Because they don't change personnel groups as much, your calls and what you're going to do is more solidified. Other teams, you have to see who's running on and off the field and adjust.
• Weis can't be worried about anything that happened last year, like last year's lopsided result against Oklahoma State. He can only worry about what happened last week. KU played a really good team last week, had it on the ropes, then got whupped in the third quarter. That's Weis' framework now. He wants to improve from where his team was last week and not worry about last year.
• Weis joked that he's really appreciative that athletic director Sheahon Zenger and others voted West Virginia and TCU into the conference. Weis said Big 12 defensive coordinators probably don't sleep well. The team KU played last week is totally different philosophically from the team KU plays this week. Weis says as bad as it is to be a coach, the worst job in the league is defensive coordinator. You're basically signing up for gray hair.
• Weis said he talked to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn the other night. He told him to support Matt Cassel and then told him to be ready to go. He told him that was the reason he joined the Chiefs. Weis says it's Quinn's job is to support Cassel, and if Cassel can't go, it's Quinn's job to lead the team. Weis thinks he'll do that.
• Weis says the gap between Michael Cummings and Turner Baty lies in inexperience. It's not necessarily an ability gap between Mike and Turner. It's more an experience gap.
Team: Kansas State
Kansas State's greatest strength lies with its offense and quarterback Collin Klein.
The biggest key for KSU is to stay in manageable downs and distances. The Wildcats are fifth nationally in FootballOutsiders.com's statistic for "standard downs," which consists of all first downs, second and eight or shorter, third and five or shorter and fourth and five or shorter. Basically, if teams haven't been able to key in on the pass against KSU, they've had a hard time stopping the 'Cats. That's illustrated in KSU's third-down percentage, as the Wildcats have converted 10 of 12 third downs this season (83 percent) when the distance to go is between one and three yards.
Though KSU is known for its running game, its passing game (in limited attempts) has been extremely successful this season. The Wildcats rank third in FootballOutsiders.com's Passing S&P+ statistic (think of it as football's version of OPS), and the standard numbers back that high ranking up.
Consider this: KSU has 15 20-yard passes this year, compared to just nine for KU. The Wildcats have done that despite attempting 50 fewer passes than KU this year (130-80).
Anyone that says the Wildcats can't throw probably hasn't seen them play this season (KSU did only have 26 20-plus-yard pass plays in 12 games last year).
Coach Bill Snyder also, once again, has a team that wins the field position battle. The Wildcats rank sixth in the "field position advantage" category on FootballOutsiders.com (KU is 85th), with the Wildcats also boasting a kickoff return for touchdown and a punt return for touchdown this year.
KSU also plays clean football. The Wildcats have just three giveaways this year (T-ninth nationally) while leading the nation with just 16.5 penalty yards per game.
Kansas State's defense appears to be its biggest question mark, at least statistically.
The Wildcats don't appear to be a team that gives up many big plays (KSU has allowed just 11 20-plus-yard plays, good enough to be tied for sixth nationally), but they have allowed teams to move the football methodically, especially through the air.
KSU has allowed 49 first downs via the pass this year, which actually is more than KU has given up (47). The Wildcats also have surrendered 12 scoring drives of 50 or more yards, with six of those lasting 10 plays or longer.
In addition, opponents have completed a whopping 66.7 percent of their passes against KSU (100 of 150, T-115th nationally).
Players to Watch
The aforementioned Klein (No. 7) remains as one of the Heisman's frontrunner after leading KSU to an unexpected 4-0 start.
The senior is 11th nationally in rushing yards by a QB (294) while also ranking 45th in total yards per game (264.3).
Senior linebacker Arthur Brown (No. 4) is the clear leader of the defense, as he's third in the conference with 36 tackles to go with three tackles-for-loss, one sack and two pass breakups.
Junior John Hubert (No. 33) has been the Wildcats' primary running back, averaging 107.8 rushing yards per game (16th nationally) while also posting 6.5 yards per carry. He hasn't broken many huge plays, though; he has just two runs of 20-plus yards this season.
Finally, sophomore Tyler Lockett (No. 16) is the one KU should be most worried about on special teams. His 97-yard kickoff return to start the second half broke open last year's 59-21 KSU victory over KU, and his 39-yard average on kickoff returns this year ranks second nationally. With KU's struggles at getting kickoffs to the end zone, Lockett should get the opportunity to make a game-changing play on special teams during Saturday's game.
To me, this seems like a game that will be closer than most are predicting.
For one, there shouldn't be too many possessions. KU coach Charlie Weis has already discussed "nickle and diming" KSU's defense, and the Jayhawks will have to do that along with milking the play clock under five to have any chance as a huge underdog.
Also, though Snyder is probably once again the lead candidate for national coach of the year, I don't think Weis is as overmatched as his predecessor at KU was (which also was the main reason I predicted a 28-point blowout for KSU last year, though even that wasn't enough). With two weeks to prepare, Weis should pull out some things that he hasn't shown before, which could be a benefit against a KSU defense that doesn't appear to be as strong as it was a year ago.
Though KU's offense has struggled a lot, it still could be due for some better fortune. The Jayhawks have converted just 25 percent of their third downs this year; though KU's offense is bad, no team in the nation was lower than 27 percent a year ago.
If the Jayhawks can keep the 'Cats from scoring off their defense and/or special teams, I see this as a game KU can keep close.
And that would be progress for the Jayhawks after the last two years' beatdowns.
Prediction: Kansas State 30, Kansas 20.
Hawk to Rock: If quarterback Dayne Crist is going to turn his season around, this looks like a good opportunity to do it. As mentioned above, opponents have completed 66.7 percent of their passes against KSU. Also, Crist shouldn't have to worry much about trying to force big plays, as the Wildcats have allowed just nine 20-plus-yard passing plays all season (T-13th nationally).
It'll be a tough environment to play with K-State's crowd, but Crist should be able to have some success if he can stand in against the rush and find open receivers running short-to-intermediate routes.
I think we'll see Crist's best game as a Jayhawk on Saturday. Let's say 250 passing yards with two passing TDs to go with an interception.
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
• Weis says it's important for the players to know that there's something to play for when you play your in-state rival. The goal is to have the governor come congratulate you in your locker room after the game.
• Weis says it's tough for him to say anything negative about KSU coach Bill Snyder. He says he's a great offensive mind and a "helluva" coach. If you're not sound fundamentally on defense, he will expose you.
• In a time when most teams either throw it around all the time or run mostly the read-option, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is unique. He is a power runner. If you don't stop him, you don't have much of a chance. He's physical. He's tough. He runs big.
• KSU has no glaring weakness. This is a team that plays sound fundamentally on both sides of the football that feeds off your mistakes. The Wildcats are tough up front as well. K-State is going to smash it down your throat, and you'd better be ready for it.
• It's good for KU to have two weeks to prepare for a team like this. All offseason, KU prepares for spread-like offenses. This is like playing one of the academy schools because it's an offense unlike what KU normally sees.
• KU's players hit each other in practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. Weis did that because he believes his team has to play more physical football. It also needs to play tougher late. Weis also took the red jerseys off the quarterbacks in practice, meaning they were full contact as well.
• During the extra time last week, Weis evaluated each player on Kansas State to help with the scouting report for his players. Usually, he doesn't have the extra time to do that for each player.
• Weis said "absolutely" when asked if his team had a chance to win Saturday. You can't go to a game, saying, "We're 1-3, and they're 4-0. Let's try to keep it close. The fanbase will be happy." Weis said he'd rather lose 100-0.
• Weis says Kansas State is a good role model. KSU is doing a lot of things right. That would be a good place to get to.
• Weis said his team is going to continue to take a bunch of junior-college players. Juco players is one reason KSU's recruiting classes sometimes appear to be ranked lower. Those ratings are high-school ratings. The guys in juco want to go somewhere where they can play against good competition and can play now. KU plays against good competition. There's a great opportunity there for juco players at KU.
• Weis said KU quarterback Dayne Crist's head is a lot better now than it was at 8:15 p.m. last night when he chatted with Weis. Crist wasn't down, but part of Weis' job is to let him know where the team is. All he has to worry about is putting KU in the best position to beat K-State. He can't think about the past. He has to think about the present.
• Weis said it's important for his players to know that the coaches aren't blaming the players for early losses. The players are not going to get over the hump if they think the coaches aren't in their corner. As long as everyone keeps battling together, the switch will flip at some point.
• KU's assistants were on the road Thursday through Saturday of last week recruiting. The assistants then had Sunday off.
• Scrimmaging in practice last week gave guys the chance to be "the guy." For example, it gave Mike Cummings a chance to be the starting quarterback in a practice, even though he's the backup behind Crist. It gave guys the opportunity to have the feel like it's next year when some other players will be graduated.
• Against K-State's defense, the most critical factor is taking care of the football. The second-most important factor is being prepared to nickel-and-dime K-State's defense all game, because it doesn't usually give up big plays.
• Weis says he also used the bye week to self-scout. For example, KU has been poor offensively on third downs this year. Weis thinks he has a better understanding of why now after film study.
• Quarterback Turner Baty will get more time as scout team QB this week, as he's more of a dual-threat quarterback like Klein than KU quarterback Jake Heaps is.
• Weis says he shouldn't have to be Ronald Reagan and give a "Win one for the Gipper" speech this week for the KSU game. The motivation for winning should be obvious.
• Every once in a while in sports there's an opportunity for both the coach and university to win. To Weis, that's what Bill Self's contact extension was. Self is one of the best coaches in America in any sport. To set up a situation where everyone is content ... Weis thinks that's a great thing.
Team: Northern Illinois
Offensively, Northern Illinois' greatest strength so far this season has been its passing game.
Though quarterback Jordan Lynch is quickly gaining the reputation of a dual-threat player (he's averaged 101 rushing yards per game), he's been most impressive hitting deep plays in the air. NIU has 10, 30-plus-yard passing plays already this season (T-10th nationally) and also is averaging 8.8 yards per pass (24th nationally).
NIU also has performed extremely well on third downs, converting 22 of 37 (59 percent, fifth nationally).
Defensively, NIU's strengths are up front and in the secondary. The defensive line has racked up nine sacks in three games, which is even more impressive considering that Army had only four official pass attempts in last week's contest.
The Huskies also bring back five experienced players in their secondary and have broken up or intercepted 14 of 73 passes against them this season ... a strong ratio considering the low number of passes they've had against them.
The Huskies offensive line is about as inexperienced as you can get. In NIU's first game against Iowa, it went out with five brand-new starters on the O-line. Since then, Jared Volk has returned from injury, but even he only had two starts a year ago.
That inexperience hasn't hurt the Huskies too much in the passing game yet (five sacks compared to 72 passing attempts), but it does appear to be affecting NIU's ability to run the ball with its backs. Take away Lynch's rushing numbers, and the rest of the team has 69 carries for 269 yards (3.9 yards/carry). NIU had 28 non-Lynch rushing yards in the opener against Iowa and 48 non-Lynch rushing yards against Army last week, with the Huskies' lead back Leighton Settle rushing just five times for 19 yards last Saturday.
Defensively, NIU has struggled to stop the run against triple-option (Army) and non-triple-option teams.
The Huskies actually have been solid at limiting big plays (they haven't allowed a 30-plus-yard rush all year), but teams have had success grinding it out against them. NIU's opponents have 22, 10-yard rushes against it (T-115th nationally) while averaging 4.1 yards per attempt.
This also shows up in time of possession, as opponents have racked up an average of 37 minutes and 9 seconds of possession time against NIU this season.
Players to Watch
NIU coach Dave Doeren has described quarterback Jordan Lynch (No. 6) as "a linebacker playing quarterback." Lynch will be the main one to watch, as NIU is reliant upon him for almost all the offense. The 6-foot, 216-pound junior has completed 63 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's also shown the ability to make the big play with his feet, as he posted an 88-yard touchdown run against Army last week.
Senior receiver Martel Moore (No. 1) is the one Lynch will look to for almost all of his deep throws. The 6-foot, 183-pounder already has six, 20-plus-yard receptions, which ties him for sixth in the nation. So far, Moore has more than double the receptions (15) of any other NIU receiver while contributing 229 receiving yards and three TDs.
Senior defensive end Alan Baxter (No. 90) has been the most productive player on the defensive line. The 6-foot, 240-pounder has five tackles for loss — including three sacks — while playing against run-heavy opponents so far this year.
Finally, KU quarterback Dayne Crist will have to look out for junior safety Jimmie Ward (No. 15). The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder — in addition to leading the team with 33 tackles — also has broken up five passes (T-sixth nationally) and has intercepted another. That's about as active as a safety can be through three games.
If Weis' gameplan last week was to try to pick on TCU's pass defense (not a bad strategy considering the numbers), then the gameplan should be the exact opposite this week.
KU's best chance to win against Northern Illinois will be to run, run, then run some more against a Huskies rush defense that has shown some flaws.
Not only that, NIU can play to its strengths defensively when it knows a pass is coming. With good pass-rushing ends and a talented secondary, KU will want to avoid third-and-longs as much as possible.
Though a few KUsports.com staff members are picking KU for the upset, I'm not brave enough to predict it. The biggest reason is simply recent history.
You might have already heard this, but the last time KU won a road game, Kale Pick was a quarterback, Toben Opurum was a running back, Bradley McDougald was a receiver and Daymond Patterson was a cornerback. That was a long time ago.
The Jayhawks have played so poorly on the road for so many games, I've been trained to believe that when they go outside Memorial, they're probably just not going to play well.
Also, to me, NIU looks like a better overall team than KU that gets the benefit of being on its home field. That adds up to a 10-point win.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Kansas 28
Hawk to Rock: This seems like a game set up for Taylor Cox's skills. KU will need to set up manageable second- and third-down situations, and Cox has been KU's best back at getting positive gains out of small openings. Based on the matchup, don't be surprised if James Sims jumps right into the mix as well, as he's the same kind of runner. As for Cox, I'll go with 110 yards rushing and a TD against NIU.
Also, here's the updated depth chart (quite a few changes, including lots of shuffling on the defensive line and in special teams).
• KU offensive lineman Riley Spencer will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Once Gavin Howard settled into right tackle, the KU coaches decided it would be best for Spencer to get his knee fixed through surgery. Spencer should be ready to go for spring ball next year.
• KU running back James Sims has seen the other two running backs play well. He knows he'll have to play well to get snaps. A lot of times when guys get suspended, they come back thinking, "They need me." Sims sat in the stands watching KU's three games wondering if the Jayhawks do need him. He's hungry to show what he can do, and that excites Weis.
• Weis expects Sims to be ready to go this week. He doesn't expect to see any rust.
• Weis said that out of his backs, the most polished receiver is Tony Pierson. That gives you an opportunity to do some things that he's better than the other backs at doing. Weis wasn't going to give away his game-plan for the NIU game, but Pierson's versatility gives KU options.
• The fact that Randall Dent has moved ahead of guys that have played that offensive guard a long time says a lot about him. His progression has been impressive to Weis. The coach kept seeing Dent drive people off the ball when he was on defense. When KU defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt would talk about Dent and some of his limitations, Weis would say, "Don't worry, he's going to be an offensive guard eventually." KU will use a three-man rotation on the right side of the line and get Aslam Sterling more snaps along with the starters Dent and Howard.
• The KU coaches have seen flashes in practice of what receiver Andrew Turzilli could do before Saturday's performance. You have to be willing to take an older player's job. He's started to challenge more as opposed to being settled in at the No. 2 spot. He's easier to find for a QB because he's a big target.
• Weis says you have to go by performance when it comes to the depth chart. You can't go by seniority. You have to go by who you think gives you the best chance to win. Someone like D.J. Beshears, who was moved down the depth chart, will still get opportunities to show what he can do. Turzilli is just playing better. That's why he's playing.
• When Weis was told that it didn't look like he was happy with kickoff return last Saturday, he told the reporter that would be an understatement. Weis said if you have other guys you think can do better, you have to give them a chance. It's a coach's job to find answers. You can scheme as part of the answer, and you can also change personnel as the other part of the answer.
• The players will hear several times this week about KU's 13-game road-game losing streak. That will be one of Weis' main messages. Weis said he will use his vintage New Jersey sarcasm when discussing it with the players.
• Weis said long snapper Reilly Jeffers went above and beyond the call of duty. He had never snapped in a high school game before coming to KU. His snaps weren't perfect, but they got the job done. Justin Carnes isn't getting the job handed to him, though Weis thinks Carnes is probably better than Jeffers at long snapper. Carnes is going to have to show that in practice. Weis thinks KU will see the bigger improvement in its short snaps, where Carnes will take over for fill-in Trevor Marrongelli. It's tough to snap when you're taped up to be on the offensive line like Marrongelli was. Snappers want as little wrapping and tape on as possible.
• KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo has been tooting JaCorey Shepherd's horn lately. Earlier, Shepherd was, at best, KU's third-best slot receiver. Campo believed that he could work his way into the two-deep at cornerback, though, and Shepherd has done that. Weis thinks Shepherd would be a fine slot receiver. Shepherd sees himself as having a greater opportunity to move up the ranks on defense, though. He can turn his hips and backpedal well. Not every offensive player can play that position.
• Weis said he would be surprised if receiver Kale Pick doesn't play Saturday against NIU. He looked more normal in practice to Weis on Sunday. Safety Lubbock Smith is a little bit behind Pick. KU's coaches will talk through his status again later today.
• Weis said the best offensive linemen are ones that play with a defensive mentality. If you think about the best offensive linemen, they have a nasty mentality.
• Weis believes KU quarterback Dayne Crist was more comfortable last week, and he believes he will continue to get more comfortable each week. Crist didn't get hit in practices during the spring or summer, so he's just now adjusting again to getting hit.
• Weis said he will use film from last year's Northern Illinois game. He's also already read comments from NIU coach Dave Doeren saying that KU didn't win the game last year, but instead, NIU gave it away. The KU coaches will use that as motivation for the players.
AP rank: 16
ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll rank: 15
It's hard to take too much away from TCU's 56-0 victory over Grambling State last week. When a team goes 17-for-17 passing like the Horned Frogs did (and eight of those passes are from the backup QB), it's pretty safe to assume they weren't challenged.
TCU also was just one of four teams nationally to have a bye during Week 1, which further limits the information we have on this year's team.
Coming into the season, TCU appeared to be a balanced team that would be led by quarterback Casey Pachall.
The 6-foot-5 junior completed 67 percent of his passes in 2011, racking up 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and 12 sacks. Those numbers put him in the elite category of returning QBs.
TCU also have a great complement of backs returning in senior Matthew Tucker and junior Wayman James. Tucker, at 6-1, 227, picked up most of the carries in the red zone (12 touchdowns), while the 5-8, 203-pound James averaged — averaged — 7.2 yards per carry.
Junior Josh Boyce is Pachall's favorite target, posting 61 catches and 998 yards a year ago.
TCU coach Gary Patterson also has a reputation for building great defenses, and last year, the Horned Frogs' strength was stuffing the run.
TCU allowed just 38 10-yard runs to opponents a year ago, which ranked fifth nationally. Opponents averaged just 3.5 yards per carry while only mustering seven rushing TDs against the Horned Frogs. That tied for the second-lowest number in the nation, behind only Alabama.
TCU lost most of its experience on the offensive line in the offseason, so that unit is still a bit of an unknown.
All-Mountain West first-teamer Blaize Foltz, a native of Rose Hill, is the starter at right guard, while left guard Eric Tausch (one start in 2011) and center James Fry (second year as starter) are the only other players who entered 2012 with starting experience at TCU.
Defensively, TCU appears to still have questions in the secondary after losing five contributors from a year ago.
The Horned Frogs actually struggled some against the pass in 2011, allowing 22 passes of 30 yards or more (tied for 97th nationally).
Junior cornerback Jason Verrett returns after being named All-Mountain West honorable mention in 2011, but besides him and sophomore safety Jonathan Anderson, TCU doesn't have a lot of experience on the back end of its 4-2-5 setup.
Players to Watch
As mentioned, quarterback Casey Pachall (No. 4) is an elite passer, making it onto multiple preseason QB award lists.
"There’s a lot of things to like about this kid," KU coach Charlie Weis said, "but his arm strength and his accuracy stand out for me."
Also, junior receiver Josh Boyce (No. 82) is tied for the most receiving touchdowns all-time at TCU with 17.
"Boyce is a guy, who it wouldn’t make a difference what team he was playing on, he’d be playing," Weis said. "He’s a really, really dynamic receiver and he’s not the only one they have but he’s ... if you have to pick your poison, that’s the first one you better be worrying about, because he’s a very, very good player."
Defensively, junior left end Stansly Maponga (No. 90) is the clear leader. The preseason All-Big 12 selection had nine sacks in 2011 and tied for sixth nationally with five forced fumbles, meaning KU quarterback Dayne Crist would be smart to secure the football if he feels pressure coming.
Just because TCU is new to the conference doesn't mean it's not a powerhouse.
The Horned Frogs have one of the most impressive recent résumés of any Big 12 team, and statistically, they should be just fine this year with a step up in competition.
Not including this season, TCU has lost just three times in its last three seasons. The Horned Frogs have playmakers on offense, defense and a coach that should be considered as one of the best in the conference and nation.
After a loss against Rice last week, I believe KU will play well Saturday. I just don't think it will matter much.
Prediction: TCU 49, Kansas 24
Hawk to Rock: If KU's scoring 24 points, and TCU is strong against the run, then those points are going to have to come from somewhere. Give me quarterback Dayne Crist as this week's Hawk to Rock, with Weis finding creative ways to get receivers open in the passing game. Give me 250 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception or fewer for Crist.
Also, here's the depth chart (not many changes; Brandon Bourbon is no longer at fullback; Jake Love is back in as a backup at SLB; plus, a few minor changes in the secondary).
• Weis confirmed that linebacker Prinz Kande is out for the year with a torn ACL. Weis says Kale Pick, Brandon Bourbon and Lubbock Smith are all day-to-day. If KU was playing today, Weis said those guys probably wouldn't play. Still, KU will put those guys through treatment and see how they feel by the end of the week.
• Weis expects KU to be able to run the ball against TCU. He said KU schemed its running game well against a similar defense to TCU's last week (Weis said Rice's defense is similar schematically to TCU's).
• Weis said he let the team be in the tank Saturday night because he was in it too. The best medicine in sports is to go out there and play again. Once KU gets out there Saturday afternoon, you've already moved on.
• Weis said he is happy with both Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Those guys are doing their jobs and doing what they can do.
• Weis would say he isn't happy with the passing game right now. He said that might be an understatement on his part. The passing game has a lot of room for improvement. It had better come on in a hurry, because as opponents improve, you're going to have to score more than 24 points.
• Weis said Aslam Sterling made a lot more mistakes than Randall Dent, so Dent played more at right guard on Saturday against Rice.
• KU is going to play a team this week that is going to try to pound it. That's why Weis shifted some bigger guys like Jake Love onto the depth chart.
• Weis said linebacker Anthony McDonald is ready to play.
• Dayne Crist is going to tell reporters today that he's disappointed. Everyone expects to be more efficient in the passing game. KU made strides from Week 1 to Week 2, but it's going to have play much better to compete with the big boys.
• Weis talked to Crist on Monday night. He told him to just do his job.
• Kande was playing well before he was injured, and he was playing two positions. He was providing decent snaps. It hurts. Weis feels bad for Kande, who was taking advantage of a new chance with a new coaching staff.
• TCU is saying it wants to make a statement with its first Big 12 conference game. But Weis says we should look at this from a practical perspective. TCU is looking at film of KU after losing to Rice. It might be tough for TCU to get motivation for this game. Weis has been on that end as a coach, too. It's tough to get motivated to play games like that.
• Weis says he's laid mousetraps around the locker room when his team has been favored in the past to get the team to focus on a "trap" game. He said if you are the favorite, you use any means necessary to get your team's attention.
• TCU is definitely an upper-level team in the Big 12. Weis has looked at tape of all the teams in the conference, and TCU can hang with the best. TCU is well-coached. Weis says his team could win or lose any game it plays in the Big 12 just based on its preparation. Most people don't think that, but Weis believes that.
• The way the games have played out, it's presented itself in a way that Tony Pierson has been able to go more than 15 touches. Like last week, Rice had a 17-play drive, and Pierson had about 20 minutes on the sideline. Weis joked that he could have taken a nap. Pierson was well-rested, and the game was tied, so Weis decided to go with his best player.
• Weis said he still has confidence in his kicking game. He said he knew he was taking a chance on a 53-yard field-goal attempt. On the 36, a punt might only net 16 yards. He took a chance there. The 40-yarder, though, is one you plan on having. Weis has been known as a guy that goes for it a lot on fourth downs already. If the kicking game does continue to struggle, that might play into his decision-making on fourth down. Weis said he's not at that point yet.
• Weis' conversations with defensive coordinator Dave Campo in the last 48 hours have been more about personnel than about scheme. First the discussion was about KU's personnel, then it was about TCU's personnel. A lot of times the average fan doesn't know that much of coaches' preparation is based on a team's personnel. The personnel is who that team is.
Jeff Sagarin rating: 116
KU's Sagarin rating: 88
Sagarin line: KU favored by 9
Rice had some success both running and throwing the football against UCLA last week, led by quarterback Taylor McHargue, who threw for 172 yards and rushed for 95 more with three combined touchdowns.
McHargue is the key offensively, as not only will he run when passing plays break down, but he also will keep it himself for designed read-option plays.
Defensively, Rice's secondary is considered its strength in its 4-2-5 setup. Sophomore cornerback Bryce Callahan was a Sporting News freshman All-America selection last year after leading all FBS freshmen with six interceptions, while Corey Frazier — son of Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier — also starts at free safety as one of only eight seniors on the roster.
If the game is close, Rice has one of the best kickers in the nation in junior Chris Boswell. He had three field goals of 50 yards or more last season — tying him for the lead nationally — and also booted a 53-yarder against UCLA last week.
Rice's defense has been killed by big plays.
That was the Owls' biggest weakness a year ago, and it showed up again last week. UCLA had three 70-plus-yard runs against Rice. To put that in perspective, no other team in the NCAA gave up more than one last week, and there were only 12 70-plus-yard runs total, meaning the Owls have surrendered 25 percent of the nation's 70-yard runs this year.
Offensively, Rice's inexperienced offensive line struggled to keep McHargue upright. The unit, which returned just 15 combined starts among the five offensive linemen coming into the season, allowed six sacks on 30 total passing attempts against UCLA.
Rice's offense also hasn't shown the ability to be explosive in recent years. In 2011, Rice ranked 89th in 20-plus-yard plays, while last week, the Owls had just one play go for more than 30 yards (a 40-yard run by McHargue).
Rice's special teams have been historically poor at coming up with touchdowns. The Owls have not scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since Nov. 17, 1984, and they also haven't scored a TD on a punt return since Nov. 8, 1997. Both are the longest return streaks without a touchdown in Div. I.
Players to Watch
Senior receiver Sam McGuffie (No. 2) started his career at Michigan and at one time was being recruited by current KU coach Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Though he's only 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, McGuffie's been described by Weis as an athletic player, and he also will be involved in special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
Senior tight end Luke Willson (No. 82) had a relatively quiet first game with two catches for 18 yards and a touchdown, but his offseason alone should be reason for KU to pay attention to him. Not only was the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder named to four preseason watch lists in the summer, he also was signed as an undrafted free agent for the Toronto Blue Jays before participating in a month's-worth of extended Spring Training drills. While he was with the Blue Jays, he also was selected with the 32nd pick in the Canadian Football League Draft.
Junior linebacker Cameron Nwosu (No. 57) was Rice's leading tackler a year ago and also tied for the team lead with nine tackles against UCLA last week. If his name sounds familiar, it's probably because of his special-teams accomplishment a week ago, as he blocked an NCAA-record three extra-point attempts. Weis has said he believed those kicks might have been a bit low, but KU still will need to account for Nwosu in the middle of its line during kicks.
Senior defensive end Jared Williams (No. 97) was singled out by Weis on Tuesday as "clearly the leader of their defensive line. (Kansas offensive lineman) Tanner (Hawkinson) will have his hands full, because that's where the guy lines up most of the time." The 6-5, 250-pound Williams had a sack and five tackles to go along with a fumble recovery against UCLA last week.
Rice has shown the ability to be competitive ... when it can avoid big plays by the opponent.
Advanced stats suggest that Rice's pass defense in 2011 was much better than the numbers looked, but once again, big gains by opponents skewed the final statistics.
This looks to be a game that could be decided on the lines, and KU should have an advantage up front on both sides. Will the Jayhawks be able to run the ball effectively as others have done in the past against Rice's 4-2-5 setup (UCLA had 37 carrries for 343 yards last week)? Also, will KU be able to get a couple big plays?
If so, the Jayhawks should be able to pull away at home to win this one by a couple possessions.
Prediction: Kansas 34, Rice 21
Hawk to Rock: This week it has to be sophomore running back Tony Pierson, who is clearly KU's home-run threat in the running game. Rice's defenders will need to be especially careful when he's in the game, as they won't be able to catch him from behind if he gets in the open field. I'll go with one long run (40-plus yards) and 140 yards total from Pierson.
Also, here's the updated depth chart (Not many changes this week, with Jake Love being taken off the OR line at linebacker and kicker Nick Prolago being added to the OR column on kickoffs).
• Most of the rushing yards that Rice allowed last Thursday against UCLA were on big plays. Sometimes, that skews the numbers. You have to look at the whole body of evidence. Rice gave up big plays, but it also made some plays as well.
• Weis thinks UCLA's three blocked extra points against Rice last week were all kicked low. Sometimes, the protection gets all the blame, and it's the kicker's responsibility to get the ball up.
• Weis grades players with pluses and minuses that add up to a percentage grade. The coaches grade hard, so Weis said there were "probably not" many guys that graded well after the first game. When you have a clicker in your hand, it's easy to nitpick, because you can see every little thing. With the naked eye, it's sometimes harder to see detail.
• Coming in, Weis knew that Taylor Cox had some shiftiness and shake-and-bake and also that he had some power. Weis said seeing both the shiftiness and power in the same game was encouraging. Weis also said that, after the fumble, Cox was ready to get back out there, and that was a good sign as well.
• No one gets graded harder than the quarterback. Weis joked that Dayne Crist's parents wouldn't have been happy if he'd have brought his grade home.
• Weis says if you bring in a junior-college player, they're probably not coming to sit the bench. Cox wasn't picked as an All-American in junior college for no reason. Weed, Calif., is a tough place to find. The coaches definitely thought he could help KU. Tape doesn't lie. Weis didn't have doubts that he could compete at a higher division. All players can do on film is dominate, whatever the competition is, and that's what Cox did on film. He dominated.
• Weis said it was good for both Tre' Parmalee and Schyler Miles to get their feet wet. Any time young guys get 10 or 20 plays out there, those players start to get their butterflies out of the way. KU is going to need some of these guys later in the season.
• There are so many things you can fix when there is evidence of it on tape. KU is mostly a new team, so game tape is helpful. The more these guys play against opponents, the more significant their improvement should be.
• Guys are much more receptive to coaching after a win than a loss. It's not close. Weis said if you win a game and there are a lot of problems, you can't wait for them to come in. They feel good, then you tell them how bad they stink. That knocks them off their pedestal quickly. Weis said he thought his guys were expecting that. Weis makes a cut-up of good plays and bad plays after each game. When Weis' team wins, he shows the bad plays first. After losses, he shows the good plays first to build them back up and show that everything is not all bad.
• Charles Brooks is a little behind the other tight ends because right now he came in as more of a pass-catching tight end. Weis has been very happy with Jimmay Mundine, Mike Ragone and Trent Smiley. It all starts at the tight-end position. If tight ends get manhandled by defensive ends, then you're going to have a long day at the office. Brooks is catching up, but blocking isn't something he's had to do all that much before.
• Crist gets every play broken down in film. Then he gets it broken down to good plays in the run, good plays in the pass, bad plays in the run, bad plays in the pass. Quarterbacks can get negative plays on runs if they don't carry out fakes. After a day off, Weis looks more big-picture with his QB, like telling him not to press. Weis' biggest concerns with Crist going to be whether he was going to be scared, whether he was going to be looking at the rush and whether if he was composed if things didn't go well. To Weis, Crist hit the trifecta on those three with the first game. Weis says he can help fix the other things. Crist passed those three criteria with flying colors.
• When Weis was a younger coach, after a win, he'd feel miserable. He'd think about all the mistakes and feel awful. As he's gotten older, he's learned to at least celebrate the win 24 hours before looking at corrections.
• Weis says he doesn't single out offensive linemen. You don't, for example, say Tanner Hawkinson played well and someone else didn't. You talk about them as a group. Some guys grade better than others, but that's not the point. They want to be talked about as a unit.
• Weis wants to build some depth on his offensive line. One of the ways you do that is by playing more than five guys. KU would have liked to play nine or 10 on Saturday, but that's not the way the game played out.
• KU has a couple walk-on kickers (Austin Barone and Nick Prolago) that have kicked pretty well in camp. This week, KU will give a look to the walk-ons for kickoffs to see if they can take that one duty from Ron Doherty, who already kicks field goals and punts.
• Weis was happy with his defensive line. He started by jokingly asking a reporter how he thought the D-line looked. After the reporter said, "Better," Weis said, "Thanks" with a smile.
• Quarterback Jake Heaps was the offensive scout team player of the week the first week. Weis said he's not giving him the award any more, telling him that if he's not the best offensive scout team player each week, the two are going to have a problem. On defense, Tyler Holmes was the defensive scout team player of the week.
Team: South Dakota State
Jeff Sagarin rating: 125 (KU's Sagarin rating is 85)
Sagarin line: KU favored by 11
South Dakota's biggest strength is its passing game, which ranked No. 1 in the Missouri Valley a year ago (286.7 yards per game).
A lot the credit goes to sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner, who threw for 300 yards or more in five of SDSU's final seven games last year. Sumner set a conference record for passing yards by a freshman in 2011 with 2,382, and he also placed third in the voting for FCS freshman of the year.
Sumner, though, might not play against KU on Saturday. He was held out of practices earlier this week with a thumb injury, and coach John Stiegelmeier listed him as doubtful on Tuesday.
The latest from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's Terry Vandrovec in a chat on Thursday, though, was that Sumner was claiming that he was throwing passes this week.
If Sumner doesn't play, 6-4 redshirt freshman Eric Kline will start for the Jacks. Kline was the 2010 Gatorade Minnesota Football Player of the Year and has more mobility than Sumner.
South Dakota State's defense struggled against both the pass and rush during a 5-6 season in 2011.
The Jacks allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game and also allowed opponents to complete 64.8 percent of their passes a year ago while allowing 33.1 points per game.
SDSU also had an inconsistent running game, averaging a Valley-worst 83.5 rushing yards per game. The Jacks' backs posted just 2.6 yards per carry, which was nearly a full yard worse than any other Missouri Valley team.
Players to Watch
Sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner (No. 6) set a new conference record for passing yards in 2011 despite only starting eight games. He posted 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and also tied a school record with 37 completions in a 31-14 loss to Northern Iowa.
As mentioned earlier, Sumner might not play because of injury, but if he does, he'll be the one to watch in SDSU's shotgun, quick-throw offense.
Senior receiver Aaron Rollin (No. 5) is the Jacks' big-play threat, posting 61 catches and 906 yards a year ago.
The Lee's Summit, Mo., native had four 100-yard receiving games a year ago and averaged 122 yards receiving yards in the Jacks' final three contests.
"You'd better learn who he is," KU coach Charlie Weis said Tuesday, "because he's a dynamic wide receiver."
Senior Tyrel Kool (No. 2) should spend most of his time at receiver after rushing for a team-high 534 yards last year. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Kool had 64 receptions for 808 yards as a sophomore in 2010.
"He's a good runner," Weis said. "He provides a lot of versatility to their game and he can play either position, and they can do a lot with him."
Senior defensive tackle Andy Mink (No. 52) has been a productive defensive tackle despite his size (6-2, 270 pounds). An honorable-mention all-conference selection last year, Mink posted team highs in sacks (six) and tackles-for-loss (8.5) while finishing second on the team with 75 tackles.
"Everyone will talk about how undersized Andy Mink is ... but he's a true pain in the butt for whoever is going to go against him," Weis said. "He's a good, solid football player."
It's hard to know what to expect from both teams with so many unknowns heading into Game One.
Just looking at the numbers, though, KU should have the advantage when its offense goes up against South Dakota State's defense, which had trouble stopping teams in all facets a year ago.
Something tells me that Sumner is going to play in this game, and if he does, we could see both teams moving the ball against defenses that are trying to rebuild after struggling last season.
(1:40 p.m. update Friday: Uh yeah, I was wrong on that call. See update above.)
In the end, though, this is still KU playing an FCS opponent at home, meaning the Jayhawks should be able to score enough to not be threatened in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Kansas 41, South Dakota State 21
If you walk by the bronze Jayhawk on the south side of Memorial Stadium this week, think about Kansas safety Brandon Hawks.
It was two weeks ago, by that same statue, that he called his mother during one of the best days of his life.
“That’s the first time I’ve cried,” Hawks said, “in a long time.”
Let’s start with this about Hawks: In his fifth year at KU, he’s never played one down for the Jayhawks.
The Oskaloosa native is on KU’s scout team, meaning he helps prepare the starters for the next week’s opponent.
“Brandon Hawks has been tackled more than any guy in the Big 12,” KU defensive backs coach Clint Bowen said. “The guy gets beat to death every day in tackling drills, and that’s his life. And he shows up every day and runs the ball just as hard the next time.”
A 4.0 student the last three semesters and the valedictorian of his high-school class, Hawks — a three-sport star — knew he was going to KU for a while.
His uncle took him to his first KU football game when was 7, and though the Jayhawks lost to Texas A&M, 24-21, on a cold, rainy day in October 1998, Hawks was awestruck.
He attended every KU home game in high school and wasn’t planning on playing football until he contacted Bowen, who was KU’s defensive coordinator at the time.
Bowen visited Oskaloosa High School to see if Hawks might be a fit.
“When you’re in the school, and they say, ‘Who’re you here to talk about?’ ‘Well, Brandon Hawks.’ Ten people go, ‘Oh, that’s the greatest kid in the world,’” Bowen said. “The guy’s had an effect on a lot of people in his hometown.”
KU offered Hawks a walk-on spot, and he showed up a few days before KU’s camp ended in 2008.
Hawks has been on the team ever since.
“I really wanted to be a part of this, and I didn’t want something like money to hold me back,” Hawks said. “I knew it was going to be rough.”
For the most part, it has been.
Without a scholarship, Hawks has had to work to pay for school and rent.
To help with that, Hawks —an education major with an emphasis in math — tutored for the KU athletic department. Many times, that meant tutoring for the same football players he had just practiced with a few hours earlier.
Hawks handled the situation gracefully. When he saw players messing around in the locker room, Hawks would give them a hard time, telling them to be sure to get to class on time and to not be late to their tutoring session.
The schedule, though, was grueling.
Last year during the fall semester, there were times when Hawks would finish with practice in the afternoon, drive to Subway, bring the sandwich back with him, then tutor a teammate while munching on his dinner.
After finishing up at 10 p.m., he would then work on his own homework to keep up his own A’s.
Offensive lineman Gavin Howard had classes with Hawks, and he jokingly calls him “one of the only dudes I would say might be better than I am at math on the team.”
Most nights, Hawks would get between four to six hours of sleep.
“I’d say the best thing was just great time management,” Hawks said. “Being motivated to get stuff done when I had the time to do it.”
The offseasons were just as demanding.
To make additional money, Hawks would tutor from 7-9 a.m. then from 7-10 p.m.
He also would work 12-15 hours a week at Hy-Vee. The duties there included bagging groceries, collecting carts, loading trucks and stocking shelves.
All this to build up money so he could continue to be on a team for which he never played.
“There were some pretty intense conditioning workouts where I was sitting there thinking, ‘Why in the world am I doing this?’” Hawks said. “At the end of the day —after a couple hours — I was like, ‘Yeah, this is where I need to be. I love it.’”
That brings us to two weeks ago when, during a meeting, KU coach Charlie Weis announced that the team had two additional scholarships to give out following some departures in the offseason.
After a pause, Weis said that Shane Smith and Justin Carnes would receive the scholarships.
“I was really excited for them,” Hawks said. “But all along, I was kind of hoping I would get one.”
A few seconds later, Weis had another announcement. The coach said that the team had reserved two more scholarships for players that had earned 4.0 GPAs the previous semester.
Running back Ryan Burton was the first one.
And Hawks was the second.
“I got a little teary-eyed,” Bowen said, “because I know what that kid’s put into it.”
Immediately, Hawks was tackled from behind by one of his teammates in celebration. The room erupted with screaming, and nearly all of his teammates came over to shake his hand.
“The best part was hearing everybody get so excited about it,” Hawks said.
The senior knew he didn’t have much time.
Just before the team’s afternoon practice that Friday, he dressed quickly and made his way outside the complex next to the bronze Jayhawk.
In full football pads, he called his mother, Kim, to tell her that he was officially a scholarship player for the KU football team.
“That was a pretty emotional moment,” Hawks said. “It was unreal. I didn’t accept it as reality for a couple days. It just seemed like it was a dream.”
Hawks, who hopes to one day become a high-school math teacher and football coach, says life will be a whole lot easier with a scholarship (Howard said he couldn’t remember a time during his years at KU when a football player received a scholarship based only on academics).
Hawks is student-teaching sixth-graders at South Junior High this semester, and now he says he can focus more on his work there, which includes teaching exponents to 12-year-olds.
“There’s not as much stress to make sure I am working all the time,” Hawks said. “I can relax and enjoy the college life a little bit more.”
Hawks knows that may or may not include getting on the field at least one time before his final game at KU.
“Of course, I’d love to get in on a play, but I understand that role is on show team right now, and I need to give the best look I can,” Hawks said.
“I just want the team to do well.”
Connelly, as you might remember, studies the advanced statistics in college football. We've had content from him a few times in the past, and his play-by-play-based calculations continue to lead the way into a new era of college football statistics.
Connelly just completed a massive project of his own as well, providing free, detailed previews on each of the 124 Div. I teams. It's definitely worth checking out if you haven't yet.
For this week, though, I wanted to get Connelly's specific thoughts about the Kansas football team from a statistical perspective (especially since optimism sometimes overflows in August when every team is undefeated).
A transcript of our chat is below.
Jesse Newell: What's a reason/statistic that makes you optimistic about KU football in 2012?
Bill Connelly: In 2012? There isn't much. I like Dayne Crist, and I love Tony Pierson, and on defense, Toben Opurum is solid and Bradley McDougald is a lovely play-maker. But that's four guys. There's no doubt that Charlie Weis has pretty quickly upgraded the talent level, but he did so for a team that was truly awful last year. The goal for 2012 should simply be improvement.
JN: What's a reason/statistic that makes you pessimistic about KU football in 2012?
BC: The offense ranked 107th in Off. F/+ last year, below Rice, Troy, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, UAB, New Mexico State and Army (F/+ is Football Outsiders' official team ranking based on play-by-play and drive statistics). The defense ranked 111th in Def. F/+ last year, below Memphis, New Mexico State (again), Duke, Akron, Tulane and Army (again). There's really no reason to go too far beyond that, right? Even if Weis engineers some strong first-year improvement (which is never a given), that still only moves them back toward competent, not good.
JN: I really enjoyed your article about which defensive statistics are more sustainable and which are more based on luck.
Looking at KU, is there any evidence to suggest that KU's defense was lucky or unlucky in 2011?
BC: Not really. It looks like KU was about +1.2 points per game in terms of turnovers luck. They recovered 16 of their own 27 fumbles, and that should have probably been more like 14; meanwhile, they picked off eight passes and broke up 32, which is just about the right ratio.
JN: In your KU football preview, you talk about the evidence indicating that Charlie Weis might struggle again to be a successful college head coach.
What numbers from Weis' Notre Dame tenure make you pessimistic about his ability to rebuild a program?
BC: Primarily, what gives me pause is simply that, once the Notre Dame program became truly his in Year Three, it bottomed out. He pieced together a solid offense again after a brutal 2007 season with Jimmy Clausen as a freshman, but the defense really never came around. That's obviously not a great sign.
That said, the Notre Dame and Kansas jobs are incredibly different. Notre Dame has an odd relationship between expectations and the reality of recent history, and while it hasn't been too long since Kansas played at a really high level, it is probably safe to say that he will get more time to figure things out in Lawrence.
JN: Weis was the offensive coordinator at Florida last year. Is there anything we can take away from those numbers that might indicate Weis' strengths/weaknesses as an offensive coordinator in college?
BC: Last year suggested two things: 1) He didn't deal well with the leftovers of previous coordinator Steve Addazio's "hybrids of hybrids of hybrids" approach. His best tight end was a former quarterback, his two best running backs were two of the better wideouts, etc. Florida's offense didn't regress with him pulling the strings, but it didn't even slightly improve either. 2) He still takes a professional approach to the college game, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
The pro-style offense is great if you have better talent than everybody else, but we don't really have any evidence that he is strong in terms of the underdog tactics requisite to turn a roster like Kansas' into a quick winner.
JN: The latest from KU camp is that receiver JaCorey Shepherd has been practicing at defensive back. Considering his impressive numbers at wideout in 2011 (16.3 Adj. yards/target) and KU's lack of a big-play guy at receiver, would you consider this a mistake? Or is 15 catches too small of a sample size to make any grand conclusions?
BC: It's definitely a small sample size, but he looked good when given the opportunity, that's for sure. I think it probably says more about the secondary than anything else. Outside of McDougald, Opurum and maybe Darius Willis, the defense doesn't really have many play-making options either.
Plus, as always, since Shepherd was only targeted 18 times all season on a bad passing offense, there's a chance that either a) he isn't good in practice, b) his route-running is limited or c) he's not a very good blocker. There's always context behind the numbers.
JN: I enjoyed reading the graphs and statistics from the statistical profile you did on KU.
I just wondered, at a quick glance, which numbers stick out to you most when looking over the 2011 Jayhawks?
BC: Honestly, the biggest thing is the complete lack of disruptive stats on the defensive side of the ball.
Just five players had more than two tackles for loss, two players had more than one interception (none more than two), one player defended (interceptions + passes broken up) more than five passes, and nobody forced more than two fumbles.
Obviously going for more big plays leaves you more vulnerable to ALLOWING more big plays, but … Kansas simply has to make more plays on defense. In the Big 12, you're probably going to allow some big plays no matter what; do whatever you can to be more disruptive.
(This should be seen almost as a reason for optimism. Coaching CAN make a different in a defense's level of disruption. It just comes with a trade-off, i.e. the threat of allowing more big gains.)
JN: Looking at the aforementioned statistical profile, I noticed that KU has failed to win a game in the last two years according to your "Adjusted Score" measure. That doesn't seem like a good thing.
BC: No, no it's not.
JN: Since you started tracking play-by-play numbers, has any BCS team had a worse two-year stretch than KU had under Turner Gill in 2010-11?
BC: Washington State actually ranked 120th, dead last, in each of Paul Wulff's first two seasons (2008-09). So there's that.
JN: Finally, my Kansas State buddy thinks I'm way too hard on his Wildcats. But really, going 8-1 in one-possession games shouldn't be repeatable (even with a Hall of Fame coach), should it?
BC: Auburn showed last year that you CAN keep at least some close-game magic going; the Tigers went 7-0 in one-possession games in 2010, then went 3-0 again in 2011. If KSU can keep things close again, they can pull off just enough 3rd-and-3 conversions to win most close games again, especially when you consider that Collin Klein is back.
That said, while Auburn was still pulling out tight wins, they were also losing five games by an average score of 42-14. KSU might still have close-game magic, but they will probably face a few more whippings along the way. Last year was an absolutely incredible run by KSU, but … doing it twice is even more difficult than doing it once.