Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
Short and sweet for today’s practice recap.
Let’s get right to it:
• First off, I noticed that senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson went through warm-ups and stretching — and looked pretty comfortable doing it — but once the individual drills began, Patterson jumped on the exercise bike. KU coach Charlie Weis said earlier today that Patterson was still questionable with a head injury and his status for this weekend’s game against Texas would not be determined for a few days. I took today’s progress as a good sign considering the fact that Patterson was not on the field at all last week during the portions of practice that were open to the media and, of course, he did not play against OU.
• Although he has fallen into the role of back-up quarterback, senior Dayne Crist continues to take his job as team captain seriously. Crist looked energized and focused during today’s practice and often was seen jumping to his usual spot at the front of the line to lead off drills. Based on what I’ve heard and learned about Crist in the short time I’ve known him, this isn’t a surprise in any way. The guy’s a competitor and he wants to be out there, but he’s also a team player and, more than anything, he wants the team to win. Props to him for handling this whole deal with a good attitude.
• Weis said during today’s news conference that defensive coordinator Dave Campo told him that last Sunday’s practice was as good a practice as he’s been through during his entire time at KU. The reason? Lots and lots of individual attention and emphasis on guys getting better. It seems Campo picked up where he left off, as I noticed an extra bounce in his step while working with the safeties and cornerbacks. Campo always has a lot of energy, but what I saw today was even more detailed than normal. He was talking about little things like proper footwork, stepping the right way with the right foot and getting in and out of breaks faster and quicker. When guys messed up, he jumped on them. These coaches aren’t messing around. They’re working these guys hard and they believe in their abilities as coaches. I’m not at all surprised by that either, but, at 1-6, you never know how that’s gonna hold up.
• Having said all of that, I still noticed great attitudes from the Jayhawks themselves. Most guys were out there busting their butts and having fun while doing it. Sometimes we get so focused on a team’s record or their failures but we forget what all goes into each week. These guys have struggled through a lot of down times during this season as well as the past couple of seasons, and I think it’s a real testament to each one of them as well as the team’s leaders — coaches and players — that they still show up to work every day ready to get better and have fun. I know that may come off as a little cheesy, but it’s an important part of this whole rebuilding process and one of the reasons that I still think this team has another win in them this season.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Roll of the Dice” by Bruce Springsteen.
All right, forget the final score, the details of the blowout or the fact that the Jayhawks seemed to take a one-week hiatus from what had, for the most part, been a pretty promising streak of progress during recent days.
We all saw it. And those who didn’t were lucky to miss it. Either way, there’s no need to rehash the obvious: KU got whipped by Oklahoma last Saturday night. End. Of. Story.
What is worth looking back on, however, is the play of red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings, who picked up the first start of his career against the Sooners and had a few good moments and a few too many bad ones.
At this point in KU’s season — the Jayhawks are 1-6 overall and 0-4 in Big 12 play — the biggest question about this team is not so much whether it will win another game as much as it is, do they have a quarterback.
We’ve seen what Dayne Crist can do, and, unfortunately for him, KU coach Charlie Weis and the Jayhawks as a whole, watching him play the position has been rough. Remember, this is a team that’s just a couple of throws away from owning a 3-4 record, perhaps better. Even if the Jayhawks had just laid a 52-7 egg at Oklahoma, can you imagine what a different feel this thing would have if that were the case? I know I can.
So, let’s take Crist out of the equation. Will he play again this season? Probably. Will he start again this season? I doubt it. Will it matter either way? Probably not.
What will matter, though, is the play of red-shirt freshman Michael Cummings, who last week against at Oklahoma, answered a couple of questions and raised a few more.
Here’s a look:
QUESTIONS CUMMINGS ANSWERED:
1 - Is he capable of stepping into a hostile atmosphere and leading the offense? Absolutely. KU didn't score much, but Cummings' moved the offense on the first couple of drives and did so in a high-pressure situation. The more I’m around this guy, the more impressed I am with him. He’s young, inexperienced and has played just a few minutes more than I have out there, yet you’d never know it from talking to him. He’s a cool customer and has a very natural leadership vibe.
2 - Cummings has a strong arm. We’ve heard Weis say it throughout the year and we finally got an extended look at Cummings' arm strength on Saturday. If anything, he may have a little too much zip on a lot of his passes, but you’d probably rather have that problem and work on the feel than have the opposite problem. Of the 21 passes Cummings threw, several were on a line and got on the receivers in a hurry. The KU wideouts are going to have to adjust to that to help Cummings become more effective, but we know this guy can wind up and wing it.
3 - Cummings is coachable. Rather than roll out there like a wildman looking to make plays at whatever cost, Cummings stuck to the gameplan, did what his coaches asked him to do and leaned heavily on KU’s running game. (By the way, this would be a good time to point out that this KU ground attack is legit and James Sims is well on his way to becoming one of the toughest players ever to wear a Jayhawk uniform.) OK, back to Cummings, for a young guy with no experience, sticking to the script surely earned more trust from the coaching staff. With more trust should come more of a chance to make plays. Weis hinted at that Sunday night: “This week, if Michael were the guy,” Weis said. “I think the offense would be quite expanded from where it was (against Oklahoma).”
QUESTIONS THAT WERE RAISED:
1 - Can the Jayhawks open up the offense when Cummings is under center? It sure didn’t look like it Saturday night, as Cummings handled mostly handoffs and read-option-type running plays. That was by design. Here’s Weis’ explanation: “Remember now, this is the first time the kid’s played and he’s going to Norman against a top-flight team. The last thing you want to do is have him having to think about 100 different adjustments walking in there. You want to get it where he knows what to do so he can just get out there and play.”
2 - Can Cummings eliminate the ill-advised throws down the field and into coverage? Time will tell. There’s no way to know the answer to this without, at first, letting things play out. But a good sign that he can get there is that both Cummings and Weis made it clear that they understood and communicated to each other (and the media) that he forced way too many throws while trying to make a play. With experience, such mistakes usually can be corrected.
3 - Can Cummings stay within the offense, even while running around to escape pressure and extend plays? Again, time will tell. I’ve seen as much evidence that he can get his head up and his eyes downfield as I have that he can’t. I really think Cummings’ cool, calm and collected demeanor will go a long way toward helping him in this area. This is not a guy who wants to be a hero on every play. He wants to make plays — no question about it. But he wants to make the right plays and has no problem deferring to his teammates.
Because none of us can get inside the mind of Charlie Weis, it’s hard to say what all of this will mean.
It’s possible that Cummings will be given the keys to the offense from here on out and will use the next five games to audition for some type of role on next year’s squad, whether that’s as a legitimate threat to push Jake Heaps for the starting job or as the clear-cut back-up.
It’s also possible that Weis will continue to play both Crist and Cummings, and, depending on how that goes, may even consider looking in the direction of reserves Turner Baty or Blake Jablonski, although that option seems like a longshot at this point.
One of the more interesting moments from Wednesday’s practice came after the team wrapped up its stretching and moved on to individual drills by position.
Before they broke into groups, KU coach Charlie Weis called the whole team to the middle of the field for a quick talk. What he said was hard to pick up thanks to the wind — and I’m sure Coach Weis was trying to keep the volume down a little, too — but the bits and pieces I was able to make out were kind of interesting to here.
• “If you can’t run the play...”
• “Full speed.”
• “Now, let’s go to work.”
I know. Nothing groundbreaking. But when you throw those snippets into the context of understanding that Weis put together a whole new offensive gameplan just for this week’s game against Oklahoma, it was kind of interesting to hear.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what wrinkles Weis adds to the offense now that he’ll have both Dayne Crist and Michael Cummings in the mix at quarterback.
It could be subtle. It could be obvious. Maybe it’s something really cool that I don’t even know about.
Either way, it seems clear that the KU offense — coaches and players — has been working overtime this week to give the Jayhawks some kind of chance against the Sooners this weekend in Norman.
For those following along, yesterday my official stance was that Crist would start and Cummings would play more. It’s changed. I think Cummings gets the start and, if he does well, I’m not sure he’ll come out much. I’m not basing that on anything other than what’s in my own mind and a little over-analysis of the question at hand.
Check back tomorrow, and again Friday, as it’s certainly possible that my “gut feeling” could change yet again.
Here’s what else caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice:
• Still no Daymond Patterson. The senior wide receiver has been dealing with the effects of a head injury this week and the longer things go with him not practicing the less likely it becomes that he will play this weekend, especially when you consider that they’re adding a new look to the offense. As a side note, I think it's going to be real interesting to see who steps up if Patterson can't go. With him and D.J. Beshears both out, there's an opportunity out there for someone to raise his game. True freshman Tre' Parmalee did that against Oklahoma State, so he might be the most obvious choice. That said, I think Kale Pick is in for a huge game against the Sooners. There just seems to be some kind of special between Pick and Cummings.
• Tony Pierson looked good today, but he was once again held out of some of the heavy contact drills. They didn’t go as easy on him today as they did yesterday, but he was still limited in some capacity. Most likely just a precaution. If there’s a chance he can play, I’m betting he’ll play. It’s gonna take all of KU’s bullets to hang with OU.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “No Apologies” by Bon Jovi.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (4-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) •
— 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla. —
Opening Las Vegas Line: OU -35.5
Current Las Vegas Line: OU -35
Three and out, with Oklahoma...
As is the case during most years, the Oklahoma roster is packed with future pros, but this defense, which ranks 14th in the country and has seen its starters surrender just one touchdown in the past three weeks, is led by an usual group — its defensive backs. OU’s three leading tacklers start in the secondary, with safeties Tony Jefferson (37) and Javon Harris (30) joining cornerback Aaron Colvin (20) as the top tacklers on the team.
KU coach Charlie Weis said the trio of defensive backs leading the team in tackles is a product of the way the Sooners play defense. There’s not a lot of trickery and deceit and the defensive backfield often is divided into quarters, with each guy manning an area and all of the defensive linemen and linebackers funneling the action into those spots where the DBs often play close to the line of scrimmage and lower the boom on anybody that comes their way.
Odd-cornerback-out, Demontre Hurst is fifth on the team with 18 tackles.
While KU has started to look to red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings to bring a different a little different look — read: more mobile — to the Jayhawks’ offense, what Cummings does on the field pales in comparison to what the Sooners get from their change-of-pace quarterback, Wichita native Blake Bell.
Known simply as “The Belldozer,” OU’s back-up QB to Landry Jones stands 6-foot-6, 254 pounds and has one job and one job only.
“We know about the Belldozer,” Weis said. “We all got that one down. They put in this huge mountain of a man at quarterback when they get down close (to the goal line) and they run Jayhawk formation, they snap it to him and he runs it in and everyone knows he’s going to run it. We will probably stop him and he’ll probably throw a pass (this week). But when they put him in there, it is usually just to go ahead and muscle it in.”
OU coach Bob Stoops said they believed when they recruited Bell that he could add that kind of Tim Tebow look to the offense.
“We knew how big and strong he was,” Stoops said. “He was a good athlete in high school. We always recruit our quarterbacks first on if they can throw the football and if you can run with it, it gives you a little extra dimension.”
Putting too much emphasis on The Belldozer seems to be a dangerous idea considering the fact that the guy who starts at QB is the Sooners’ all-time leader in several statistical categories.
“It really all starts with Landry Jones,” Weis said. “He’s 6-foot-4, 218-pounds, has experience, a big arm and accurate. He throws for 270 a game. The things that you have to look for to stand out for good quarterbacks is touchdown-to-interception ratio and in this case it’s 3-1, which I think is always a magic number. He has nine touchdowns and three interceptions, which is a 3-1 ratio.”
Jones currently ranks as OU’s all-time leader in wins by a QB (33), passing yards (13,731), TD passes (102), completions (1,135) and pass attempts (1,813) and ranks fourth in completion percentage (.626).
Oklahoma leads the all-time series with Kansas, 69-27-6. The Sooners have won seven straight against the Jayhawks, including a 47-17, primetime victory last season in Lawrence, when the Sooners came in ranked first in the country.
Prior to that, KU had hung tough with the Sooners for a while during their last two meetings, losing 35-13 in 2009, and 45-31 in 2008. KU was ranked 24th and 16th in those games, respectively.
KU’s last win in the series came in 1997 in Lawrence, when Terry Allen’s first KU squad stunned the Sooners in front of a crowd of 43,500 at Memorial Stadium.
OU owns a 36-13-3 advantage in games played in Norman.
Not a ton of news from today’s practice, but since KU is in the middle of figure out its quarterback situation, I spent most of the day watching the way things unfolded at that position.
I didn’t get to watch them run any live offense or anything like that, so this will not be a breakdown of what Michael Cummings can do or did versus what Dayne Crist can do or did. Besides, don’t we know that by this point?
It will, however, be a breakdown of how these two are handling what KU coach Charlie Weis dubbed earlier today “a distraction.”
In a word — well.
There did not appear to be any animosity or anything different between Crist and Cummings today. They went through drills the same way, worked together, laughed at times and even seemed to help each other out whenever possible. We’ve heard all year that this is a close team and that these guys are genuinely interested in how they can help the team, regardless of what specific role they play. Crist and Cummings are proof that those words are not just lip service.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard or read that Weis plans to play both QBs this weekend at Oklahoma. He did not divulge who the starter would be and kept a tight lid on how the snaps would be divided. But, reading between the lines, I have to believe that Weis has a doozy of a gameplan in store for the Sooners this weekend, one with all kinds of new looks and wrinkles.
For most of the week, I had been leaning toward the vibe that Cummings would get the start, but now that I know — or at least have been led to believe — that both WILL play, I’m leaning more to Crist.
If he starts Crist, he knows what he’s getting. So do the rest of us. I’m sure the thinking is, ‘Why not see if he’s hot and can move the ball in the first and second quarter the way he did against Kansas State or even, at times, Oklahoma State. If he doesn’t, then you go to Cummings, who already has shown what kind of spark he can provide off the bench.
If Weis starts Cummings and he struggles, I’m not so sure going back to Crist would provide the same lift.
So, as of 5:37 p.m. CST Tuesday, put me down for Crist starts but Cummings plays more. I’m sure I’ll be updating this position throughout the week.
Now, as for what else caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice, here’s a quick look:
• As expected, senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson was nowhere to be found. Weis said earlier in the day that DP would not practice today and that he was questionable for Saturday because of a head injury. Senior wideout D.J. Beshears also was absent. Beshears is out for an extended period of time because of a shoulder injury that required some type of medical procedure Monday.
• Good news on the injury front came from sophomore running back Tony Pierson, who looked closer to full-speed and went through drills with a much smaller brace on his left elbow. Pierson remains a question mark for Saturday, but it looks like he’s closer to playing than he was a week ago at this time. The “brace” that he wore today was merely a small flap that covered the joint and some type of small wrap above and below it.
• As for how Crist and Cummings handled reps, I was not allowed to stay for that, but Weis said earlier in the day that Cummings would lead off one drill and Crist would lead the next and that both would get equal work in each. Not the grandest detail, but interesting nonetheless. One other thing that’s interesting is that it sounds as if the team knows what the gameplan will be with these guys. As expected, Weis has been very clear in explaining to them that they are not to discuss it with the media this week, so don’t expect anything to leak that way. I’m not.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Dancin’ in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen.
Making his second start of the 2012 season, former Kansas University cornerback and current Denver Bronco, Chris Harris, made quite a name for himself on Monday Night Football during Denver’s 35-24, come-from-behind victory over San Diego.
Harris, a 2011 KU grad, known by all of those who ever covered him as one of the nicest dudes around, finished with two interceptions, four tackles and the game-clinching pick-six touchdown during Denver’s historic comeback. The Broncos' victory, after digging out of a 24-0 halftime hole, was the biggest comeback in Monday Night Football history.
Harris’ success in the NFL has caught many by surprise, and it’s a classic example of one of those situations where raw talent and a ton of hard work can pay off for these players in the end.
It happens all the time in the NBA. How many random point guards have you come across where you have to look up where he went to college or wonder why you’ve never heard of him?
Harris, no doubt, is one of those guys for NFL fans everywhere but, to the Broncos, he’s an absolute steal.
Not only has he produced on the field, he already has become a fan-favorite around the Denver area for his signature smile and never-ending kindness. He's done a ton of charity work in the city and also is a regular weekly guest on a local talk radio show.
For those who watched him in college, Harris’ rise to NFL starter came as quite a surprise. After starting opposite future first-rounder Aqib Talib for the Jayhawks in the Orange Bowl, Harris’ next few seasons were a little quieter. He always seemed solid, but rarely stood out as a guy who had an NFL future. Part of the reason for that was coaching, as Harris was moved around to a lot of different positions and was not always used in a way that showcased his strengths. He never complained. Instead, he soaked up everything he could from each position and each coach, and it was that versatility and depth of knowledge that caught NFL eyes.
Another thing Harris did during all this time was work — hard. I’ve never seen a player get so much bigger and so much better in the few months between the end of his senior season and that April’s Draft as I did with Harris. The leap he made was immediately noticeable and very impressive.
I love the guy, and he was a favorite of mine from his freshman year on. But, love him or not, he definitely was a guy that you had to feel good for when everything worked out the way it did.
Harris joined Denver as an undrafted free agent following the 2011 NFL Draft. He had interest and offers from other teams but chose Denver because he believed he had a chance to play. He was right.
While playing in all 16 games as a rookie in 2011, including making four starts, Harris finished among the top five rookies in total tackles and was one of the true bright spots on a Denver defense that helped quarterback Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs.
He finished the season with 72 tackles and one interception. He had two picks tonight while giving new Denver QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense a chance at the crazy comeback. Heck, Harris was so good that former NFL coach and current MNF broadcaster Jon Gruden named him one of his two "Gruden Grinders" for the night. This, just a week after former NFL QB and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms called Harris "one of the best slot defenders in the NFL."
There were a dozen big plays Monday night by some names far bigger than Harris. But when the game was on the line, it was the former Jayhawk who sealed the deal. And, for those in Jayhawkland who were watching, Harris’ name was the biggest of them all.
What a night.
Sunday night, after his 6-touchdown performance in a dominant victory over the Houston Texans, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers explained during a postgame interview that even though his team had started out 2-3 — Sunday's win pushed the Packers to .500 — the players inside the Green Bay building were cool, calm and confident even though the world around them believed the sky was falling.
I couldn't help but think about the current state of Kansas football when I heard Rodgers say that.
Under first-year coach Charlie Weis, KU is off to a 1-5 start, sits at 0-3 in the Big 12 and hasn't won a conference game in its last 15 tries.
Although many fans are staying loyal and choosing to see the progress and enjoy the ride, several have bailed, most of them tossing out that tired-old, oh-so-unoriginal line about basketball season in the process.
To each his own, but while some have chosen to take the latter route, Weis and company have continued to work. And you know what? It's actually paying off.
Last Saturday, Weis' Jayhawks almost knocked off defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma State with a wild fourth-quarter run in which back-up QB Michael Cummings sparked the struggling offense and nearly got the job done.
A day later, Weis talked about how he knew that moment was coming. Not Cummings' magic or the close call against the Cowboys, but the moment when he looked out onto the field and saw the type of team he planned on building when he first took over at KU.
“The way they were working, it was just a matter of time,” Weis said. “It was gonna happen.”
He wasn't the only one who felt and feels that way. After the loss, D-Line coach Buddy Wyatt Tweeted about how close the Jayhawks had gotten and said again, "Our time is coming."
Monday morning, defensive coordinator Dave Campo also turned to Twitter: “We’re getting better, hang in there Jayhawk fans. Your time is coming!”
Heck, even junior kicker Ron Doherty, who was taken off of both the field goal and punt teams vs. OSU, Tweeted something similar about how much the loss hurt and how close his team was. No whining. No animosity. No poor me. Just trust that the Jayhawks were getting there, getting better.
There are at least a dozen signs and stats that point to this fact, many of which have been said over and over on this website and in this very Monday Rewind blog. But it seems that's no longer necessary. We're past that now. For anyone who chooses to see it, this is a team very much headed in the right direction, and, perhaps more importantly, one that believes that direction is worth pursuing.
"There’s a lot more positive vibe around the place than there’s been in quite some time,” Weis said. “There’s never been a problem with work ethic but it’s tough to be positive all the time when you’re losing.... If they were gonna quit, they'd have done it a long time ago. We're too hard on them.”
What caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice, complete with a mini-reaction to the recent KU-UDK showdown
First thing’s first... Let me just tell you that there were two reporters from the University Daily Kansan present at today’s practice and, at least from where I stood, there did not appear to be too much bad blood floating around between them and the football program over the fiasco that has emerged regarding the Kansan’s KU football coverage and KU’s response to it.
I’m not going to get into it too much because it has nothing to do with me or the football team that I cover, but I will say that I think a little of the blame falls on both sides for the way this thing has been handled. And it seems certain to me that both sides are remorseful about that.
Do I think KU coach Charlie Weis is bullying UDK reporters? Absolutely not. Do I think things could have been handled better? You bet.
Whether the Kansan reporter in question was called aside by KU officials out of a courtesy to him or as an intimidation tactic, here’s hoping all parties involved — and even those not involved — learned a valuable lesson here and can move on without any ill feelings.
OK, back to practice...
Just a couple of quick things that caught my eye today and the most relevant of them all was the giant brace on Tony Pierson’s left elbow.
Weis has said all week that Pierson should play this weekend against Oklahoma State and it certainly looks like that will be the case. But I do think there’s at least some pain still associated with the elbow and that Pierson will have to overcome some potential pain to be effective. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, Pierson’s biggest weapon is his speed and a bum elbow does nothing to hurt that.
I noticed that Pierson was treated a little differently during some of the drills at practice today. For instance, in the drill where the other running backs bash the guy with the ball with pads as he runs through the line, Pierson ran through untouched. And when the rest of his teammates did cut blocking drills by diving on the turf, Pierson sat out.
It’s not a huge deal — likely more of a precaution than anything. But I think it’s safe to say that Tony won’t quite be 100 percent when KU takes on OSU this weekend. Oh well, though, right? Tony Pierson at 88% is still a lot better than most.
• Quickly, I kept a closer eye on back-up QB Michael Cummings today and a couple of things stood out. I focused mostly on his throwing motion, but it should be noted that what I watched came during warm-up drills and not live action. That said, aside from being more on the short side (he’s listed at 5-foot-10), Cummings appears to have a long wind-up and releases the ball a little later than most QBs. Most of what I watched came with Cummings lined up next to Jake Heaps, who went through the same drills at the same time. Heaps is a little taller than Cummings (6-1) but seems, overall, to have a more fluid throwing motion.
There’s a lot more that goes into the decision to put Cummings on the field than his throwing motion, with his understanding of the offense, experience and size all being relevant. But since what I watched today was a throwing drill, I figured I’d offer up my amateur critique of the way he wings it.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi. Great song.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-4 overall, 0-2 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (2-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12) •
— 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS —
Opening Las Vegas Line: OSU -20
Current Las Vegas Line: OSU -24
Three and out, with Oklahoma State...
While most of the rest of college football already has played five games (and had one off week), Oklahoma State enters this weekend’s contest with KU already having had both of its bye weeks. The second came last week, as the Cowboys were off while KU traveled to K-State.
Although their second off week came after a disappointing home loss to Texas, OSU coach Mike Gundy said his team did not let the bye weeks disrupt their flow.
“I think we've had good practices,” Gundy said. “We've been able to get out on the road and work hard with recruiting. Players came back (from fall break Sunday) night and were out on the field. I think the perfect situation would be to have an open week after the fourth or fifth week and then again after the eighth or ninth week. We can't do anything about it, but we've tried to take full advantage of the situation that we did have.”
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages the Pokes had during the bye weeks was the opportunity to get starting quarterback Wes Lunt a little free time to get healthy. Lunt, of course, is OSU’s true freshman QB who won the starting job in the preseason and then was injured in the opener. Red-shirt freshman J.W. Walsh replaced him and the off weeks were good for him, as well.
“It's beneficial to Wes Lunt for getting his health back, it's beneficial to J.W. Walsh getting reps and from that end of it we had a couple other guys banged up,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “So the bye week was beneficial more than anything.”
Speaking of Lunt and Walsh, Gundy said on Monday morning’s Big 12 coaches teleconference that Lunt had returned to practice but he did not offer any further comment on which of his two young QBs would be starting on Saturday against the Jayhawks.
Monken was not as guarded with his evaluation of the position.
“Wes was out there throwing the other night in pads,” Monken said. “He threw the ball really well, and that gave us some encouragement. We just have to get to the point where we are confident he can run. He ran a little bit the other night, so we're hopeful to get him back this week so we can see if he can protect himself. I think that's the biggest thing. Also, seeing who gives us the best chance to win.”
As for when they would decide who that would be, Monken also hinted at a time frame for the decision.
“It'll be midweek because someone has to take the reps with the ones,” he said. “You have to move in the direction that you want to go with your offense. Obviously, we'll know. Now whether everyone around the country will know, I don't know, but we will.”
As expected, the Cowboys players offered up nothing but respect for the Jayhawks, despite KU’s less-than-stellar record.
“We’re not far enough along and we're not mature enough at key positions to overlook anyone at any time,” Gundy said. “It’s been several years now that we’ve been talking about the parity in college football and especially in this conference. You just have to look at the scores across the country and it's getting more and more exciting for television networks and the fans, but more difficult for the coaches. If you turn the ball over a couple times and miss a few tackles and the other team hits a few plays, then you can be in a difficult situation in the fourth quarter. You just have to look at the scores and you can see that happening every Saturday.”
OSU’s crew went beyond that type of general respect for the Jayhawks, with the KU running game receiving the most praise from the Cowboys’ defense.
“They're really good at scheming around the defense,” OSU linebacker Caleb Lavey said. “They played Kansas State really well until the second half. They were right there. We can't take any game off, especially this one. Kansas is a good team, and they're capable of beating anybody any week. It's a game that we have to prepare hard for. Especially playing on the road, we can't get down early.”
Lavey continued: “This week, we really have to watch our keys. This offense is one that is going to try to get you out of your correct position, so you have to know where you are, where you're supposed to be, where you're lined up and use your eyes a lot.”
Added defensive tackle Davidell Collins, who was particularly impressed with KU’s offensive line: “They look good. They are experienced and all that. They are going to give us a challenge on the inside."
Oklahoma State leads the all-time series with Kansas, 30-29-3. That includes a 17-15-1 advantage in games played in Lawrence. On the flip side, KU leads in games played in Stillwater, 14-13-2.
Last year’s 70-28 victory by the Cowboys in Stillwater represents the largest margin of victory by either side in the series and OSU currently owns a two-game winning streak over the Jayhawks.
KU’s last win in the series came in 2007 when the fifth-ranked Jayhawks topped OSU, 43-28, in Stillwater during their magical 12-1, Orange Bowl championship season.
For KU fans, perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of Saturday’s 56-16 loss to Kansas State — other than the final score and the third quarter, of course — was the fact that the Kansas University football team let a golden opportunity slip through its fingers.
Down 21-14 at the half with most of the momentum on their side and the home crowd booing the Wildcats as they went to the locker room, the Jayhawks looked as if they were poised to hang tough with the No. 7 ranked team in the country to the end.
Think about that. I mean really think about it. Just months removed from some of the most embarrassing defeats in school history, KU was right there with one of the top teams in the country.
Had they stayed there, it could have and likely would have changed the way these guys felt about themselves for the rest of the season. Imagine if the Jayhawks had turned in a second half that looked a lot like the first half and lost 35-24. People would be talking. Sure, the national folks would have brushed it off and it would have registered more as a “What happened to K-State” question than a “How about those Jayhawks” statement.
But inside the program and among KU fans, such a result would have been encouraging. There’s no reason to think that getting to that point wasn’t encouraging in itself.
I know KU coach Charlie Weis said he would rather get drubbed by 100 trying to win than gameplanning to stay close. But the way things unfolded last Saturday, no one would have accused Weis of being too conservative had the Jayhawks hung in there in the second half and lost by 10-14 points.
They didn’t, of course, and the final score and the feelings that followed resembled those we’ve seen in recent years with this rivalry. It’s too bad, too. Because other than the final score, this game was nothing like the blowout losses we saw the past couple of seasons.
In those games, the Jayhawks looked lost, made tons of bonehead mistakes and never seemed to actually be in the game. Saturday, KU committed just two penalties (by the way, they’re the third least penalized team in the country through six weeks), made plenty of mistakes but mostly mistakes of effort and had the ball down just 12 points with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
To me, that’s progress.
Don’t confuse the word progress with achievement. Nobody is saying KU has accomplished anything yet. Not I, not Weis, not the players, nobody. But I think it’s OK to say they’re making progress. Especially when it’s true.
I have to admit I’ve been a little surprised by the outrage shown by a good chunk of KU’s fan base so far this season. I’m not sure if people actually expected this thing to turn around overnight or if they just have gotten so used to complaining about KU football that it’s the only thing that seems right these days.
Either way, I think it’s too bad. Because even though the signs of progress — better effort, fewer penalties, more competitive play, a coach who works hard and cares — haven’t made a difference on the scoreboard, they are there. And, overall, Weis seems pretty pleased with that. Pleased, mind you. Not satisfied.
The first step, he said, was getting to the point where he didn’t have to wonder if his guys were going to play hard for 60 minutes. They’re there.
The next step, he said, was getting to the point where the outcome of each game was still in doubt at the half. They’re there.
I’m guessing the next step will be consistently having a chance at the end of the game and then, from there, winning.
Whether Weis’ Jayhawks get to those the next few steps this season remains to be seen and certainly seems unlikely considering Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12 are still on the schedule.
But the tide is slowly turning and I think it’s fair to say that this is not the same old Jayhawks.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-3) vs. No. 7 Kansas State Wildcats (4-0) •
— 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, KS —
Opening Las Vegas Line: KSU -23.5
Current Las Vegas Line: KSU -24
Three and out, with Kansas State...
Kansas State’s roster features 56 players who list cities in Kansas as their hometowns, compared with just 24 for the Jayhawks.
Although the Wildcats have more than twice as many Kansans on their roster, neither school features a player from the opposing city on its side, as no one on KU’s roster lists Manhattan as his hometown and no one on KSU’s roster lists Lawrence.
In all, eight Jayhawks played high school football with players on K-State’s current roster. In addition, KSU coaches Tom Hayes (defensive coordinator), Joe Bob Clements (defensive ends) and Chris Dawson (strength and conditioning) spent time as coaches at KU, while KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and assistant to the AD George Matsakis worked on KSU coach Bill Snyder’s staff in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
KU’s offense certainly has left a little to be desired so far this season. Through four games, the Jayhawks are averaging 21 points per contest and have yet to see quarterback Dayne Crist and the passing game get going.
The Jayhawks have delivered in the running game and junior wide receiver Christian Matthews’ management of the Jayhawk attack sparked Kansas in its Week 4 loss at Northern Illinois. Although the KU offense has been a little out of sync, KSU coach Bill Snyder still has a tremendous amount of respect for its potential.
“I think we see an offense that presents a lot of issues,” Snyder said of Weis’ attack. “The execution is good and (they have) the ability to do so many things because of the many formations that they utilize and the variety of schemes. They do something new every week. I think that presents a lot of problems for us.”
Everyone knows about quarterback Collin Klein, linebacker Arthur Brown, coach Snyder and the fact that the Wildcats rarely, if ever, beat themselves. But KSU possesses a weapon that very few people outside of Manhattan know much about. His name is Ryan Doerr, he’s the Wildcats’ punter and he’s played a huge role in just about every K-State victory this season. Two weeks ago, when the Wildcats upset Oklahoma in Norman, Doerr earned Big 12 special teams player of the week honors by landing all five of his punts inside the OU 20-yard line, including two inside the 10.
“Number one, Ryan is a good worker,” Snyder said. “He takes a lot of pride in his skill level and his contribution to our football team and special teams. The result of all of his kicks was positive, and some of them probably were not as good of kicks as he would like.... When Oklahoma has to start on its own 10-yard line instead of its 30, it is a big difference, a major difference, and it has an impact on the outcome of the ball game.”
Although the Wildcats have dominated the series since Snyder took over in 1989 — Snyder is 16-4 vs. KU all-time — the Jayhawks still lead the all-time series 65-39-5. In fact, KU owns a winning record all-time against K-State both in Lawrence (37-16-2) and in Manhattan (28-23-3).
The Wildcats have won three straight in the series, dating back to a 17-10 victory in Manhattan in 2009. Prior to that, KU won three straight from 2006-08, including a 52-21 rout in 2008, the Jayhawks’ last win in the series.
KU hasn’t won in Manhattan since 2007, when the Jayhawks knocked off the No. 24 Wildcats, 30-24 during Week 5 (on Oct. 6, no less) en route to their 12-1, Orange Bowl championship season.
You asked for it, and you got it.
In yesterday’s comments, someone mentioned that they were tired of hearing that the Coach Weis song of the day was either Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every single time.
It was again today, as the Jayhawks once again practiced in Memorial Stadium, but it was preceded by a good six or seven minutes of the Kansas State fight song playing on a loop.
At one point, Weis stopped the music to explain to his players why they were hearing the song over and over and over. He said something to this effect: “I just wanted to get used to hearing it because those guys over there (the Wildcats) are expecting to hear it a lot on Saturday.”
The song, as most are, is played after KSU touchdowns and Weis clearly wanted to make the point that he did not want to hear it much this weekend and therefore would need his defense to limit KSU’s touchdowns.
It’s just one of many, many motivational tactics that Weis figures to use during his time here, but I got the feeling that it really struck a nerve with the KU players, who were yelling repeatedly during its playing.
We’ll see if it makes any difference.
Here’s the rest of what caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice:
• Speaking of making a difference, it’s quite clear that a huge chunk of what the Jayhawks’ are focusing on this week in practice is inspired by K-State quarterback Collin Klein, the menacing runner who is tough to bring down and even tougher to rattle. Several of KU’s linebacker drills on Wednesday focused on stopping the run, with LB coach DeMontie Cross imploring his guys to use their hands to avoid the cut block and then hit and rip. Pretty standard stuff, of course. After all, it is football. But there appeared to be an extra emphasis on those types of fundamentals because that’s what the Jayhawks will encounter this weekend. Another LB drill took place on the sideline and after several of the first- and second-string guys missed tackles and failed to use the sideline as another defender, Cross sent them into a session of up-downs. After that, things looked much better.
• One other thing I noticed in watching Cross work with his crew was the constant screaming of “Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers,” coming from his mouth. K-State rarely beats itself, but it’s clear that the Jayhawks are emphasizing that aspect this week.
• A couple of depth chart tweaks I noticed that I meant to mention yesterday. After all that talk about moving him inside and putting weight on him, Keba Agostinho is listed as a second-string defensive end this week. That, too, could be because of Klein, with Weis believing that he’ll need a little more size on the edge to help handle Klein and tailback John Hubert. Keon Stowers also made his way back onto the depth chart as a No. 2 defensive tackle. Could be that size thing again.
• Took a closer look at Lubbock Smith today and he looks pretty good. I wouldn’t call him 100 percent, but he definitely looks sharp while going full speed. It’s after the action stops where he looks a little gimpy. That’s to be expected, of course, and reminds me a little of how things looked for wide receiver Kale Pick a couple of weeks ago. As long as he looks good at full speed, that’s the most important thing. And I’d say he looked 90-95 percent while going all out.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Last to Die” by The Boss.
Earlier during the day Tuesday, Kansas University coach Charlie Weis explained how the Jayhawks did not simply kick their feet up during last week’s bye but instead hit as hard as they had all year each day in practice.
That, Weis said, was the only way to toughen the team up and that, he added, was one way to help these guys learn to finish games.
That heavy hitting did not exclude the quarterbacks, who dropped the red jerseys that signaled no contact and ran through live-action, full-speed football throughout the week.
Apparently, that concept carried over into K-State week, as Dayne Crist, Michael Cummings, Turner Baty, Blake Jablonski and Jake Heaps all wore white jerseys during Tuesday’s practice, which took place inside Memorial Stadium.
Baty was the most interesting of the group, considering the fact that he traded in not only his red jersey but also his No. 6 jersey to wear the No. 7 worn by KSU quarterback Collin Klein. Weis said Baty would run a lot of the scout team offense this week, which, I’m sure was just fine with him. For starters, it’s more action than normal, even if it is with the scout team. And, what’s more, 7 is Baty’s number. He’s worn it most of his life and started wearing it because his dad was a teammate of John Elway’s at Stanford, where Elway wore the number before donning it in blue and orange with the Denver Broncos.
KU senior Kale Pick has the number now, of course, but look for Baty to make the full-time switch next season.
Anyway, here’s a quick look at a few other things that caught my attention during Tuesday’s practice.
• Junior running back Taylor Cox was out there and appeared to go through every drill without much trouble. Weis said earlier that everyone who had been banged up was on the “go” list for this week’s game, except, of course, for the guys like Prinz Kande and Riley Spencer who have been deemed out for the season. Cox did not appear to be 100 percent all the time, but he looked good enough to be able to play and I expect he will.
• Quarterback Jake Heaps joined offensive lineman Sean Connolly on the exercise bikes today, but only at the beginning of practice. Heaps then rejoined his teammates while Connolly stayed on the bike. The good news here: Senior linebacker Anthony McDonald was nowhere near the bikes and he continues to take steps forward toward having a bigger role on the KU defense. Lubbock Smith also was off the bike and it looks as if he’ll be ready to go Saturday, too. He once again reclaimed his spot at the top of the depth chart at strong safety, with Dexter Linton sliding down to second string again. Linton filled in admirably for Smith during the two games he missed.
• Lots of energy out there today, even during the so-called warm-up drills. This makes sense considering it’s K-State week and I heard people yelling “K-State” more than a few times out there today. But it also seems to indicate that the bye week did these guys some good, not only in returning them to full health but also in recharging their batteries and preparing them for the Big 12 grind that’s ahead.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Keep the Faith” by Bon Jovi. Don’t think for a second that the selection was a coincidence.
By now, you’ve probably read about, or at least heard about, the contract extension that Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self agreed to recently.
The extension, which, if fulfilled, will guarantee Self just over $53 million over the next 10 seasons, locks up the KU coach through the 2021-22 season and further cements him as not only one of the best coaches in college basketball but also one of the most highly-compensated coaches in all of sports.
I’m sure you’d be hard-pressed to find a person around here — whether they’re a KU fan or not — who believes that Self is not worth that kind of money.
• It should be noted, that the previous statement was made assuming you’re talking about people who already have accepted that contracts for both coaches and players are what they are and, outrageous or not, represent the going rate.•
OK, so back to the contract. Like most contracts these days, Self’s new ink includes all kinds of incentives.
• Regular-season conference championship ($50,000)
• Conference postseason tournament championship ($25,000)
• AP Coach of the Year ($100,000)
• Final Four appearance ($150,000)
• NCAA Championship ($200,000)
You know what else it includes? Thanks to a Tweet sent out by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, who was at least the first to announce that he did the math, it includes Self making $14,978 per day. Per day!!! Rovell also pointed out that for the cost of Self’s contract, the folks at KU could build 2.5 Allen Fieldhouses. I’m not exactly sure where those numbers came from, but they sound about right and they put the value of Self’s contract into even greater perspective.
You know what else puts it in perspective? Seeing where Self now ranks among college basketball’s highest-paid coaches.
According to this USA Today data base, Self is now the fourth highest paid college hoops coach in the country, trailing only Kentucky's John Calipari, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. The top of the board has changed a little since this report from Forbes Magazine was released last March.
Here’s the current list:
• John Calipari, Kentucky — $5.38 million
• Rick Pitino, Louisville — $4.81 million
• Mike Krzyzewski, Duke — $4.69 million
• Bill Self, Kansas — $3.85 million
• Billy Donovan, Florida — $3.64 million
Talk about some heavy hitters and some big-time programs. Again, no surprise there, but it still is interesting to see how things sit. One other interesting note from that March article was the fact that, 31 college basketball coaches — including five in the women’s ranks — make at least $1 million per year. The information came from data compiled by USA Today and other sources, the article said.
Something else the Forbes article pointed out that I thought was pretty interesting was that college coaches, especially the good ones, often are paid such high salaries because they are the marquee names at their schools year in and year out.
Sure you get the guys like Thomas Robinson or Mario Chalmers or Paul Pierce coming through for a few years at a time, but they come and go. The coaches stay (at least the winners) and, therefore, compensating them at a high level is easier to do and more beneficial for the universities than it would be for NBA franchises, which are driven by the salaries and superstardom of their top players.
So what does all this mean? Not a whole lot, I guess. Self made a lot of money before this weekend and he still makes a lot of money now. But it certainly is interesting to see how it all breaks down, where it all comes from and where it puts Self in the ultra-competitive coaching world. You think these guys are only competitive during games and in recruiting? No way. You can bet this news opened more than a few eyes at other schools around the country, especially those where the coaches in place wear national championship rings and hang Final Four banners.
Oh yeah, it should also be pointed out that it was a nice move by the KU athletic department to announce this news during a weekend when football wasn’t playing. Not only did that give the Self extension its own spotlight, but it also was a classy gesture toward the football program, especially considering we are still in football season.
With the Kansas University football team in the middle of its bye week, we’ve spent the past few days looking back at what we learned from the first four weeks of the 2012 season.
From strengths and good moments to weaknesses and disappointments, I’ve tried to look at just about every angle that’s relevant with this year’s team.
At 1-3, the results on the field have been disappointing for most people, but it seems clear that several Jayhawk fans have been able to see the progress this team has made. They’ve been more competitive, played harder, played longer and taken obvious steps forward.
Of course, the fact that the Jayhawks are making progress does not mean that they have made it. And no such analysis about that progress should be mistaken for any of us saying that we believe this team is where it needs to be.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, and, it’s my belief, that we’ll see even more progress by the end of the season, even as the competition gets tougher week in and week out.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at six KU players who I think will help make the next eight games even better for the Jayhawks, with breakout performances the rest of the way.
1. Andrew Turzilli — The sophomore wide receiver already has made some noise this season, but the No. 1 receiver job on this team remains open and Turzilli has the perfect blend of size, speed and drive to grab it. He’s as good a deep threat as the team has and has shown improvement with some of the intermediate routes. The next step is to become the reliable, tough-as-nails, over-the-middle option.
2. James Sims — Tough to call Sims a breakout candidate since he’s led the team in rushing during each of the past two seasons. But, since he missed the first three games because of suspension, Sims qualifies. And if his performance against Northern Illinois is any indication of what’s to come, Sims is in store for a big final eight games. He’s faster, more explosive and looks more motivated than ever.
3. Michael Reynolds — Reynolds was anointed as the next defensive star after the spring game, but hasn’t done much since then. He’s had some good moments in a couple games, but has not been on the field enough to function as the dominant pass rusher he has the potential to be. The KU defense needs his speed on the field and I’m guessing he knows that and will find a way to earn more trust from his coaches so he can stay out there more often.
4. Jimmay Mundine — Through four games, the sophomore tight end has just four catches, 44 yards and a touchdown. There’s much more to be had there, and KU’s tight ends have consistently gotten open throughout the first four games. If Crist can get a little more comfortable, he should be able to work the middle of the field regularly and Mundine, who has great size, speed, power and athleticism, should benefit tremendously.
5. Tre’ Parmalee — KU’s receivers have been pretty disappointing through the first four weeks of the season. Part of that has been the inconsistency of QB Dayne Crist and the other part has been their inability to get good separation and make plays. The longer that goes on, the more likely Weis will be to give other guys a shot. One of those could be Parmalee, who already has worked his way onto the field on special teams and could be a huge asset in the passing game. His one-cut-and-go style could be just what this offense needs.
6. Jordan Tavai — The junior-college transfer who arrived later than expected has impressed during the first four games. He’s been active in rushing the passer and done a decent job stuffing the run, as well. The one thing he has lacked has been consistency, as he’s been great at times and disappeared at others. I’m expecting that to change as Tavai continues to get into better game shape, with the good moments becoming more consistent and the bad moments showing up less often.
By now, you’re all surely aware that we’re nearing the end of the Kansas University football team’s bye week.
But instead of taking the bye myself, I’ve spent the week looking back at the first four games of the 2012 season, trying to determine what went right, what went wrong and why as the Jayhawks sit at 1-3 overall, with the lone victory coming in the season opener against South Dakota State and two of the three losses coming in disappointing, fall-from-in-front fashion.
As we get closer to the end of the bye week, and therefore to the start of K-State week, it only makes sense to look ahead a little bit. So today, I’ll give you a quick look at the top six players who have surprised me during the season’s first four weeks, followed by a quick comment on why that’s the case and whether I think they’ll be able to keep their roll going.
And then Friday, in addition to our regular weekly chat — submit questions here — I’ll give you a quick look at the six Jayhawks I think are headed for better days in the next couple of months and could be considered breakout players by the time the season’s finished.
Anyway, enough about what we’re doing or what we’ve done, let’s jump right into today’s edition of the bye week blog, with the top six KU surprises of the first four weeks.
1. Tunde Bakare — His stats don’t necessarily show it (13 tackles, 1 sack), but Bakare has been all over the field so far this season for the KU defense. His speed is what has made him stand out, as Bakare is one of the true burners on KU’s defense. The strides he made in the offseason with regard to a better mental approach to the game are what have made him effective. No longer is Bakare just running as fast as he can at a guy and not knowing what to do when he gets there. Bakare’s as tough as they come and has been in on a lot of plays that he didn’t necessarily end up getting stats for.
2. Dexter Linton — Pushed into extended action because of the injury to senior starter Lubbock Smith, Linton has impressed me more and more each week. We all knew that the junior from Arlington, Texas, was a solid athlete, but it’s been his brains and confidence that have made him effective in Smith’s absence. After being thrown into the fire against Rice without much experience, Linton has looked more and more sure of himself each week since and appears to be developing into a nice player. His emergence not only gives KU solid depth this season but also some much-needed returning experience in 2013.
3. Christian Matthews — I’ll admit it, I thought Matthews was finished when he fell off the depth chart at wide receiver during fall camp. I don’t think I’m alone. We heard next to nothing about this guy throughout August, but his performance in last week’s loss to Northern Illinois — five carries, 43 yards out of the Jayhawk formation — clearly shows that the 6-1, 200-pound junior is still very much a part of KU’s plans on offense. Look for him to be on the field more and more in the coming weeks as KU likely mixes more Jayhawk snaps into the offense.
4. Trent Smiley — The sophomore tight end has played a ton and has made a major impact on KU’s successful rushing attack. Haven’t noticed him? Pick any play and watch #85... He’ll be the guy driving his man down the field and still blocking through the whistle.
5. Kevin Young — This offseason, Young dropped some serious and unnecessary weight and he finally looks like the player he was recruited to be. He’s more explosive on the D-Line than we’ve ever seen him, and his added muscle has transformed him into a ferocious tackler. Let’s just put it this way, KY’s one of those guys you don’t want to run into if you’re an opposing ball carrier.
6. Randall Dent — Still listed as a defensive tackle throughout the spring, Dent shifted to offensive line when fall camp opened and, a few weeks later, worked his way into the starting role at right guard. He has not been flawless in that spot, but the simple fact that he was able to move up that fast and perform as well as he has is impressive. The 6-4, 300-pound junior certainly looks comfortable in his new home, now he just has to become consistent.
This summer, as Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis sat in his office with a small group of local reporters, he pointed to the first four weeks of the season as a key measuring stick for his Jayhawks.
After the first four weeks, Weis said, he would know a lot more about his first Kansas team.
Well, here we are, four weeks into the season, and piecing together what Weis knows about this team has become an interesting exercise.
There are characteristics, both good and bad, that have emerged clearly during the Jayhawks’ 1-3 start. But the guess here is that Weis expected he might know a little more than he does today, particularly in a couple of key areas.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the three most positive things and the three most concerning things to come from the first four weeks of the 2012 season.
1. Defense/Turnovers: There’s no question that KU’s ability to take the ball away from opposing offenses has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season. With 13 total turnovers caused, the Jayhawks are averaging more than three takeaways per game, and twice have topped four takeaways in a single game, by snagging five in the season-opening victory over South Dakota State and forcing four fumbles in the 20-6 loss to TCU.
2. Productive Running Game: Tony Pierson has looked fast, Taylor Cox has looked tough and, most recently, James Sims has looked better than ever. That’s not a bad three-headed monster in the backfield for the Jayhawks. Toss in the fact that the offensive line has done a solid job of opening holes for all three guys and you’re looking at the strength of this year’s squad — by far. The big question now? Will their early success transfer over when Big 12 play arrives?
3. Improved Defensive Line: One of the glaring weak spots during the past couple of seasons, the Jayhawks appear to be much improved up front on defense. With Josh Williams and Toben Opurum functioning as consistent and disruptive pass-rushing forces and D-Tackles Jordan Tavai, Kevin Young, John Williams, Keon Stowers and Keba Agostinho playing at high speeds week in and week out, the Jayhawks’ defensive line actually has been one of the most improved units on this team.
1. Quarterback Play: It’s a well known fact that Dayne Crist has underperformed so far, and while that certainly is understandable given his long layoff and injury history, his erratic play has been tough for the Jayhawks to handle because his miscues have so closely been tied to the outcome of KU’s games. A couple of better throws or decisions here and there, and it’s easy to see that the Jayhawks could be 3-1 instead of 1-3. They’re not, though, and positive production from this position remains a question mark.
2. Fourth-Quarter Collapses: You have to wonder about the mindset of these guys when you look at the fact that they had double-digit, fourth-quarter leads in two of their three losses. They said all offseason and all preseason that this was a different team with a different mentality. And while that may be true in many ways, this still seems to be a team — at least right now — that struggles to slam the door. It’s understandable, given the way the past two seasons have gone, that the Jayhawks might have forgotten how to win, but the fourth-quarter collapses against Rice and Northern Illinois seem to indicate that they still have a ways to go to get past that.
3. Right Side of Offensive Line: Junior Gavin Howard has had plenty of positive moments, especially when you consider that he’s a first-year starter and the same goes for juniors Randall Dent and Aslam Sterling. But all three also have had their share of bad moments, and, when your quarterback is struggling to get comfortable those bad moments are magnified severely. It seems that stamina and experience are areas of concern here, so it’ll be interesting to see if either improve as the season moves along.
In addition, here’s a quick look at the five guys I think have been the best for KU so far and the five guys who I think have underachieved. If they’re not on either list, they’ve played about the way I expected them to thus far.
1. Bradley McDougald — The catalyst for the KU defense’s turnaround in the takeaway department, McDougald has recorded a few turnovers, forced a few more and generally looked like the toughest dude on this defense.
2. Tony Pierson/Taylor Cox — Both players have done everything one could hope for in making KU’s running game a legitimate strength. Tough inside, dangerous in the open field and not afraid to fight for tough yards, Pierson and Cox have become a solid one-two punch in the backfield.
3. Tanner Hawkinson/Duane Zlatnik — The offensive line has had issues, but very few of them have come from the left side, where Hawkinson and Zlatnik have manhandled defenders on a regular basis in both opening holes for Cox and Pierson and giving QB Dayne Crist good protection. Throw senior center Trevor Marrongelli into this list, too. He's off to a solid start.
4. Toben Opurum — Continues to get better each week and really has become a force to be reckoned with for opposing quarterbacks.
5. Greg Brown — Living up to his “Lockdown” nickname, Brown’s coverage has been air tight, his tackling better than ever and his aggressive nature the norm. This guy’s a stud.
1. Dayne Crist — Crist’s struggles have been beaten to death on message boards and blogs everywhere. He’s had plenty of good moments but needs to show he can deliver in the clutch.
2. D.J. Beshears — Has looked nothing like the player we’ve known him to be during the first four weeks of the season. Not sure if it’s in his head or if it’s a physical thing, but the KU offense definitely misses Beshears’ angry style.
3. Ron Doherty — Some of the struggles haven’t been Doherty’s fault, but still, the kicker’s No. 1 job is to bang the ball through the uprights and that hasn’t happened enough so far.
4. Michael Reynolds — He’s made a few plays in the pass game, but obviously needs to become more of a complete player to convince the coaches that he should be out there on first and second downs, too. This defense needs his speed on the field.
5. Aslam Sterling — It’s a lot to ask of a late-arriving junior-college transfer to jump right in and make a difference. But it’s not so much that Sterling hasn’t made a difference as it is that he’s looked a little lazy and disinterested at times that’s concerning.
With his hands on his knees and his head hanging in disappointment, Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis stared down at the ground and then stood back up in an attempt to move forward.
What he had just witnessed likely was something he never expected to see — at least not in an actual game at a crucial moment when everything was set up so perfectly.
But what he saw was a very real moment during last week’s 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois, and as KU quarterback Dayne Crist walked back to the sideline after missing a wide open Kale Pick on fourth down for what could have been — and likely would have been — a game-changing touchdown, Weis kept his composure and began to think about the next defensive series.
As Crist walked past Weis on his way to the bench, there was not so much as a look exchanged between the two. No words were said, no sympathetic eyes a smilin’, nothing.
It would have been real easy for Weis to pat Crist on the butt and utter some encouraging words to keep his spirits up, but we’re past that point now. Crist missed a throw that thousands of quarterbacks would have made and both he and Weis knew it. There’s no sugar coating that.
As crazy as it may sound, it was that exchange that further cemented my belief that Weis is sticking with Crist because he believes he’s the best quarterback for this team, not because of some kind of blind, golden-boy loyalty as the Crist bashers suggest.
Look, Weis is no fool. He gets that what’s happening with his quarterback is a far cry from what anyone expected — himself included. And he also understands that if the Jayhawks hope to win another game this season and continue taking the slow and steady steps toward overall improvement, he’s going to need a better showing from the game’s most important position. But that’s why he’s sticking with Crist. The upside of the fifth-year senior with the good frame and even better arm is far greater than his other options at this point in the game.
In addition to the advantages Crist provides, such as size, experience and intelligence, one of the biggest benefits of playing Crist at QB is the fact that keeping him out there gives Weis the potential to flip to any page in the playbook and make any call.
It doesn’t matter if the rest of us have seen what we want from Crist. Somewhere along the line Weis has seen what he wants, and, obviously, that’s enough. Simply put: Weis still believes it’s just a matter of time until Crist makes plays. Maybe it will just take one throw. Maybe the throw to Pick that he missed would have been the one. But Weis will never know if he yanks him now. And let’s be honest, is four games enough of a true evaluation to make a move of this magnitude — from experienced and trusted starter to unproven and unknown back-up?
Could KU reserves Michael Cummings or Turner Baty come in and make a few plays? Sure. They’re talented athletes who have played the position before. But we know both have been slow to pick up Weis’ offense, and if putting Cummings or Baty out there means Weis would only have 40 percent of his playbook available, you have to wonder how comfortable that would make him. And if the head coach isn’t comfortable then what kind of mess do you have on your hands?
As for what's actually going on with Crist, right now it appears to be largely mental. Mental in terms of trusting his abilities. Mental in terms of not being comfortable out on the field even when he has time. Mental in terms of mounting pressure to perform that only weighs more and more with each rough outing.
The only fix is for Dayne to finally deliver. And the only way he can do that is if he's out there playing. Weis knows that. He also knows it's not a guarantee that it ever will happen. But, right now, it's clear he's still betting on his quarterback.
The way I see it, there are three camps that people have fallen into when talking about KU’s quarterback. They are:
• He’s not good — Right or wrong, we’ve already heard plenty of people saying it’s time for Weis for make a change. It doesn’t look like that’s coming any time soon, but many believe that Cummings and/or Baty should get a look.
• He’s not bad — There’s still a small number out there who believe in Crist. They see the size, the smarts, the experience and the drives and throws where he has looked sharp and are confident that those best represent the type of QB he is. They could be right, but even they are starting to get nervous whether we’ll ever see it.
• He’s still shaking off the rust and is a work in progress — This group might be the largest, as a good chunk of KU fans appear to be comfortable with the idea that the Jayhawks are rebuilding and they believe that having a guy like Crist steering the ship — and more importantly, giving him time to get comfortable — is still the best option for KU’s struggling offense. The question here becomes, if you’re gonna lose with Crist, wouldn’t it be just as beneficial to lose with the back-up who will actually be around next year? That’s a tough one to answer.
Regardless of where you stand, the ‘What’s going on with Dayne Crist’ question has become the one topic that dominates just about every conversation about the KU football team, even though there are at least half a dozen other areas that deserve some attention.
It’s natural for fans of all kinds to have these types of reactions, and it’s certainly more understandable in this case when you consider KU’s current record. If the Jayhawks had made one or two more plays against Rice and Northern Illinois and were sitting at 3-1 instead of 1-3, I can’t imagine anyone would be calling for Crist’s head, even if he had put up the exact same numbers. Such is the nature of the beast, especially at the quarterback position.
The bottom line is this: Weis wants to win. And I honestly believe that if he thought putting Cummings, Baty or even Toben Opurum at quarterback would give the Jayhawks a better chance to win, he’d do it in a second. But they don’t. In so many words, Weis has said that and, certainly for now, I believe it.
This is not to say Weis won’t ever make a change. If things don’t improve and Crist continues to miss throws he should make — especially in clutch situations — Weis may decide it’s time to consider someone else. If it gets to that point, I think he will. But four games into the season is not that point.
Well, this certainly was unexpected.
Even the most pessimistic fans of Kansas University football thought the squad would win a few games this season.
I’m talking about the guys who expect bad things to happen more often than good, the guys who don’t really believe that anyone — not Mangino, not Weis, heck, not John Brown — could get the KU football program on the right track for very long. You know the type. And, yeah, even they thought the upgrade at quarterback, the new coach, and the new attitude would mean a new and improved look for the Jayhawks this season.
And it still could. But with a few of their best chances at victory now behind them, it’s going to take some serious work by the Jayhawks from here on out to turn this season into anything other than a bummer.
That certainly was the most popular way for fans to describe KU’s meltdown at Northern Illinois last weekend, which dropped the Jayhawks to 1-3 and, worse, marked the second fourth-quarter collapse of the young season.
So now what? Simple. It’s time to see what Charlie Weis is made of.
We know his reputation. We know about the Super Bowl rings and the wise-guy New Jersey attitude. We know about his work with Tom Brady, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Cassel. We know he’s an honest man with great work ethic who calls it like he sees it, expects hard work at all times and doesn’t like excuses.
It all makes for a pretty salty resume and one that seems befitting of a coach who would be capable of leading Kansas back to respectability, and perhaps beyond.
But now we need to see if Weis can grind.
It certainly looks like tough sledding the rest of the way, with nothing but talented Big 12 squads dotting KU’s schedule from here on out. And with so many members of this year’s team being so used to losing, one has to wonder what, if anything, it’s going to take to get them to snap out of the funk and find a way to win again.
The easy answer is leadership. It would be nice if some of that came from the guys on the field. I’m guessing it can and will. But it’s mandatory that it comes from Weis and, if my experiences with him thus far have taught me anything, I believe he's ready to dig in.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Weis surely will think harder and work longer in the coming weeks to try to figure this thing out. He’s already famous for arriving at the office before 5 a.m. and is known to burn the midnight oil so long that he keeps a mattress and blankets in his office.
Expect him to begin to do more.
History says Weis is both able and willing to do the dirty work. As has been well-documented, Weis is no stranger to turnarounds. He’s been a part of a few of them, and, each time, things started slowly and finished strong.
There’s one in particular that Weis likes to talk about — New England 1993.
Patriots coach Bill Parcells and Weis, his offensive assistant, inherited a team that had finished the 1992 season 2-14. Things were bleak and, at the time, not many fans expected that anybody — not Parcells, not Weis, heck, not Paul Revere — could get things turned around very quickly. For a while, it looked as if they were right.
New England started off the ’93 season 1-11, with the only victory coming on a deflected pass that Weis said the Patriots had no business coming up with. But they won four straight to end the season and, to hear Weis tell it, those four wins were as important as any for the franchise that quickly became used to winning.
“Although we wound up 5-11, we went into that locker room after beating the Dolphins on the last game of the year and you would think we won the Super Bowl,” Weis said.
The next year, New England made the playoffs. Not long after that they went on to the Super Bowl and became the closest thing to a modern-day dynasty that the NFL has seen.
While this year’s KU squad appears to be a long way from reaching that point, it’s worth putting a little faith in Weis on this one. After all, he’s the one who’s seen it.
“There’s a lot of parallels that I see so far (between the 2012 Jayhawks and 1993 Patriots),” he said. “But it’s still too early to tell.”
The first four weeks of the once promising 2012 season were largely disappointing for KU fans. But, as the Jayhawks head into their bye week, it's important to remember what so many, including myself, said so often throughout the offseason — this year's team should not be judged on its win-loss record. This team should be judged by the eye test.
The Jayhawks do look better in a lot of ways. So that's promising. And it makes sense, too. Getting them to compete all-out from start to finish was Weis’ top priority.
Now it’s time for the Jayhawks to figure out the next step.
The Jayhawks practiced inside Memorial Stadium today and, during the time I was there, I watched junior running back James Sims pretty closely.
Here’s what I saw:
• Lots of energy and excitement
• He was eager and willing to jump to the front of the line to lead off a drill
• And he looked very shifty and much quicker than I remember. Part of that could have been the nature of the drills they were doing, but even during the basic drills, it was obvious that he’s carrying a fewer pounds than before and seems to be a different back.
With that said, I’m expecting that we’ll see a lot of the same things from Sims. His vision was always above average and his nature is to take what’s given and not try to be too flashy. That will bode well for this team and his place on it.
A lot of people are curious about what Sims will do this weekend. I’m right there with you. My best guess is that he’ll get around 12 carries and he’ll make the most of each one.
Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said Tuesday that Sims is faster and that his new-found speed was not just benefiting him on breakaways but also in getting to the holes quicker and making guys miss.
It’s certainly going to be fun to watch, as Sims is one of the most pleasant guys I’ve ever covered and deserves to bounce back from his mistake in a positive way.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at today’s practice:
• Since I watched Sims for a while, I also caught a good look at what the running backs were up to. Most of it was normal stuff, but I did notice an emphasis on catching passes. And I’m not just talking about the nice, easy-to-snag lob passes that QBs throw on screens. Charlie Weis Jr. operated as the quarterback for the drill and he was absolutely zipping the ball at these guys from less than 10 yards away. Mostly catches. So that was a good sign. I wouldn’t read too much into that being a part of the gameplan, though. I think it’ll be in there, but I don’t think it’s their secret weapon or anything like that. If it were, there’s no way they would’ve worked on it while we were there.
• Offensive lineman Sean Connolly was the only guy on the exercise bike today and even he spent a little bit of time off of it. Bad news for him, though. When he wasn’t riding the bike, he was walking the steps at Memorial Stadium, with his hands tucked behind his back. Try it. It’s harder than it sounds, especially at his size and in pads and a helmet.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “I Believe” by Bon Jovi.... No comment.