Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
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.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (2-1) •
— 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, IL —
Opening Las Vegas Line: NIU -10
Current Las Vegas Line: NIU -9
Three and out, with Northern Illinois...
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, a junior from Chicago, was named the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after tallying 467 yards of total offense during the Huskies’ one-point win at Army last week.
The first-year starter threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 342 yards on 18-of-27 passing and also ran for 125 more on 13 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run.
KU coach Charlie Weis said Lynch’s unpredictable skillset make him tough to slow down.
“The problem with him is he is running the ball so effectively in the read option that everybody is trying to load up the box against him and it opens up big chunks in the passing game,” Weis said. “You really have to pick your poison there.”
Added NIU coach Dave Doeren of his junior QB: “Jordan’s a gamer. He loves to compete, he plays extremely hard, he’s very aggressive.”
Lynch’s recognition marked the third straight week that the Huskies had been highlighted in the conference player of the week awards, with defensive end Sean Progar and defensive back Jimmie Ward earning back-to-back defensive player of the week honors to kick off the season.
NIU extended its school-record winning streak at Huskie Stadium to 16 games with its win over UT Martin in Week 2. The Huskies have not lost a game in DeKalb since Sept. 26, 2009, when NIU dropped a 34-31 decision to Idaho.
Northern Illinois has won 12 straight MAC games at home, dating back to a 33-30 overtime loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 12, 2008.
“The home stadium, we practice in it every day and it’s just so familiar to our guys,” Doeren said. “We’ve definitely, for three seasons now, taken advantage of understanding that we need to protect our home.”
Northern Illinois is one of 10 FBS programs to win at least 11 games in each of the last two years (2010 and 2011). The Huskies join Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, TCU, Boise State, Oregon, Stanford, LSU and Alabama on the short list.
In fact, NIU and Stanford are the only teams whose 11-win seasons came under different head coaches, as Jerry Kill led the Huskies to 11 wins in 2010 and Doeren followed that up with an 11-3 season in 2011, which included a streak of nine straight wins the close the season and victories in the MAC championship game (23-20 over Ohio) and the GoDaddy.com Bowl (38-20 over Arkansas State).
This week’s game marks the third meeting all-time between the Jayhawks and Huskies. The series is tied at 1, with both of the previous meetings taking place at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
NIU won, 37-34, on Sept. 3, 1983, and the Jayhawks evened the score with a 45-42 victory on Sept. 10 of last year. In that one, then-quarterback Jordan Webb found wide receiver D.J. Beshears for the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line with nine seconds to play. The game featured more than 996 yards of total offense and just three total punts.
To be fair, I received a copy of KU’s updated depth chart at Charlie Weis’ news conference earlier this afternoon.
But just because I had a head start did not mean that I didn’t notice quite a few of the new looks during Wednesday’s practice.
Rather than leading with a couple of nuggets about how sunny it was or how focused they looked, I figured we’d start this one out with a quick look at those depth chart changes.
In all, I circled 10 significant pieces of information on this week’s depth chart, by far the most of any so far this season.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at the changes, followed by a couple of quick practice tidbits:
In — Randall Dent
Out — Aslam Sterling
• Sterling is now listed as the back-up at both right guard and right tackle and Weis said he would be involved in a three-man rotation with Gavin Howard and Dent at those two spots.
In — Andrew Turzilli
Out — D.J. Beshears
• Simply put, Turzilli is performing better at the moment, as evident by his 100-yard game last week.
In — James Sims as an “Or” option with Taylor Cox for the back-up spot behind Tony Pierson
• All three guys will play Saturday and all three bring different elements to KU’s offense.
In — Kevin Young
Out — Jordan Tavai
• Tavai is now listed as the starter at defensive tackle, as Weis said he wanted to find Tavai a home he could settle into instead of playing him all over. This move also bumped John Williams up to the lone second-stringer behind Young.
In — Jordan Tavai
Out — Keba Agostinho
• Again, Weis was looking for a home for Tavai. This is not a reflection on Agostinho, who still remains a front-line guy when the Jayhawks play “big” and kick Toben Opurum out to Sam linebacker.
In — JaCorey Shepherd as a back-up to starter Tyler Patmon
Out — Greg Allen
• Not only has Shepherd worked his way into this spot, but I’m guessing Allen has emerged as a strong red-shirt candidate. Win-win.
In — Dexter Linton
Out — Lubbock Smith
• Lubbock is still battling an injury that kept him out of last week’s game and Linton has done a nice job in his absence.
In — Justin Carnes
Out — Trevor Marrongelli (short snaps) and Reilly Jeffers (punts)
• Weis said Carnes would have to earn his spot back after returning from a three-game suspension, but it seems like a safe bet that he’ll be able to do that. This should help KU’s struggling kicking game.
In — Tre’ Parmalee
Out — D.J. Beshears
• Weis said he was very disappointed in the kick return game last week and simply wanted to see if getting someone else out there could give KU a lift. Parmalee has earned it.
• OK, so there you have it.... A quick look at the depth chart changes and why they might have happened. As for the guys who are coming back from injury, Lubbock Smith certainly still looks a little hobbled out there and I’d guess it’s 50-50 whether he’ll be able to play this weekend at Northern Illinois. Kale Pick looks a lot better and Weis said he’d be shocked if Pick didn’t play. The good news is Pick looks close to 100 percent while running through drills and making cuts. Away from the action, though, you can still tell he’s favoring that left leg. Both Pick and Smith are wearing braces on their afflicted knees.
• Alex Matlock, Sean Connolly and Brian Maura were on the exercise bikes at today’s practice. Other than that, the rest of the team looks like it’s preparing to play in this weekend’s game, except, of course, for Prinz Kande (out) and Riley Spencer, whom Weis said earlier today would miss the rest of the year in order to “get his knee fixed.”
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen. A message to KU’s defensive backs, perhaps?
Before we look back at what went right and what went wrong during last Saturday’s 20-6 loss to TCU, let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: The 15-yard, personal foul penalty for “hitting a defenseless receiver” called on KU safety Bradley McDougald midway through the fourth quarter was quite possibly the worst call I’ve ever seen in my football-viewing life.
The blown call did nothing to impact the outcome of the game and was rather harmless in the big picture, but I don’t think it’s right for that kind of blip to slide by without so much as a mention. Credit the Jayhawks and head coach Charlie Weis for not publicly griping about it after the game. That wouldn’t have accomplished anything and, worse, would’ve made them look like whiners.
Weis made it very clear that his is not a team of whiners when he talked about his displeasure with the way quarterback Dayne Crist came to the sideline with his palms up after some confusion in the passing game. “We don’t do that here,” Weis said simply. And they don’t whine about officiating either.
Their restraint is part of the reason I chose to bring it up here. That official should at least be forced to miss some Big 12 games and work at a lower level for the next couple of weeks. Inexcusable. I’m not sure what McDougald is supposed to do there. Let the guy land before he hits him? That’s not football.
OK, moving on...
Prior to the TCU game I heard a lot of people say they felt like this would or could be the “Georgia Tech game” like KU had in 2010 after losing at home to North Dakota State.
It wasn’t, of course, but even if the Jayhawks had pulled off the upset, I don’t think it would’ve been like the Georgia Tech game at all. For starters, that one came after one of the most embarrassing losses in program and Big 12 history. Losing to Rice was a tough beat, but it was nothing like losing to an FCS team, 6-3, in a coach’s debut. Beyond that, the Georgia Tech game was the peak of the Turner Gill era at Kansas. Things only got worse — nearly every week — from then on out, and I don’t get the sense that the peak of the Weis era will come at any point during the 2012 season, let alone three weeks into it.
To me, it seems as if this team will continue to improve dramatically — week to week, game to game, year to year — and that this year’s loss to TCU, many months from now, will be looked back on as the one where everything started to click.
After the game, the players and coaches who were made available for interviews clearly were upset that they had lost the game. But it wasn’t the kind of anger that comes out of embarrassment, frustration or failure. It was the kind of anger that comes from believing you should’ve won and these guys most certainly believed that. Had the offense just been a little sharper, they might have pulled it off.
That mentality is as good a sign as any that Weis truly has changed the losing culture that existed here. The results might not be showing it yet, but seeing that these guys genuinely believe they can and should win games might mean more to the big picture than a couple of early victories.
So now the Jayhawks move on to Northern Illinois. They’re a 1-2 team and they’re headed on the road this week, but their confidence is back and they’re starting to look like many of us expected a Charlie Weis team to look. If they can just get the offense to reach that point, too, it should be fun to watch this group play the rest of the way — win or lose.
As Weis said Sunday night: "So, now we've got 'em playing hard the whole game, now we just gotta play better."
Quickly, here were three things I really liked about the TCU game, all of which I think will pay off big-time for the Jayhawks down the road:
It was good to see Tony Pierson involved in the passing game. The guy’s a weapon and finding creative ways to maximize his play-making ability should be a priority for the Jayhawks. Here’s guessing we’ll see new wrinkles involving Pierson just about every week from here on out.
It also was nice to see Andrew Turzilli really be a factor out there. The kid has some serious skills and now, with his first start and a 100-yard game fresh in his mind, maybe he’ll have the confidence to take his game up a notch or two.
Former Notre Dame linebacker Anthony McDonald made a difference. Sure, he was a little rusty to start out, and, yeah, he might not be the fastest guy on the field, but he’ll hit you and his experience really is an upgrade for this young group of linebackers. McDonald played more than most expected and finished with six tackles, one fumble recovery and a huge smile. More importantly, he finished relatively healthy and should be ready for an even bigger game this Saturday.
Today’s Kansas University football practice carried with it the same upbeat energy and fast tempo as Tuesday’s, but one thing that caught my eye was that a lot of it was coming from the coaching staff.
Sure, that’s their job, to motivate, encourage, even intimidate these players into working their butts off every minute they’re out there, but I was surprised that so much of the hootin’ and hollerin’ came from the coaches.
During the preseason, the players were much more vocal from start to finish and the coaches’ voices merely served as accompaniment.
Now, there are a few ways you can read that, and most of them are good.
The players are locked in. There’s no need to yell and scream when you’re so focused on that task at hand because anything extra might serve as a distraction. Could be.
The players are working so hard that they don’t want to waste the energy getting everyone else hype. If you’re not hyped up for No. 16 TCU coming to town in three days for what could go down as the biggest game of your season, a little barking probably isn’t going to get you there anyway. Could be.
They players are still shaking off the shell-shock and disappointment from their loss to Rice last weekend. Doubtful. Their energy and performance doesn’t indicate that’s the case.
Remember, I’m not out there the entire practice so all of this could have changed the minute I left. But, even during the time we were allowed to watch during camp I saw — and heard — a lot more talking from the players than I did today.
Definitely not something to make a big deal of, just one of the more interesting things I noticed.
Here are a few others:
• I kept an eye on the linebackers for a few minutes today — mostly to see how Anthony McDonald looked — and I continue to be impressed by how hard Tunde Bakare works. He’s always flying around, always going 100 percent, not afraid to leave everything he has out there. It’s typical of a senior who’s hungry to make a name for himself, but still impressive nonetheless. As for McDonald, he looked good. I didn’t see any signs of him playing tentative or easing up. Coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week that McDonald was ready to play and I’m guessing we’ll see him out there plenty this weekend.
• One other thing I noticed while watching the linebackers was the presence of defensive coordinator Dave Campo. It’s not that Campo has never worked with this group, more that, during the early portion of practice he usually works with the DBs and today he was with the linebackers. Could be an indication that KU realizes it’s going to have to bring a little extra beef this week to handle TCU.
• Speaking of not getting cheated, tailback Tony Pierson is another guy who doesn’t hold anything back during practice, and if there’s one guy who could probably get away with it, it’s Pierson. I’m sure the coaches don’t want the 5-10, 175-pound speed back adding practice bruises to the pounding he’s already taking on Saturdays. Even still, Pierson goes all out on every drill, including blocking drills that involve pushing the sled or diving into linebackers to pick up the blitz. There’s a reason Pierson is getting a lot of love as KU’s best offensive player. Two words — hard work.
• With Kale Pick on the exercise bike and his status for Saturday’s game still up in the air (Pick was joined by Brandon Bourbon, Lubbock Smith, Ray Mitchell and Sean Connolly on the bikes on Wednesday), I wondered if that meant JaCorey Shepherd was back with the wideouts for the day. Didn’t look like it. Shepherd still had on white and spent the first part of the day working with the cornerbacks.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi.
• Oh, and just so you know, I'm well aware that today's photo is one of my worst. Cut me some slack. I'll bounce back next time!
Realignment Today: What Notre Dame’s move to the ACC (in everything but football and hockey) means for the Big 12
Today’s announcement that Notre Dame will move its non-football sports to the ACC has sent a large faction of Big 12 fans into a frenzy.
Although I understand why this is the case on the surface, I’m not so sure the announcement is worth getting worked up about.
For starters, it seems as if Notre Dame joining the Big 12, either entirely or as a partial member, was a longshot to begin with. There were talks and those talks were extensive, but I’ve been told that there was never a strong indication that the Fighting Irish, as things stand today, were ever really that interested in joining the Big 12.
The reasons for that are plentiful and include everything from academics and athletics to Notre Dame’s desire to maintain control.
As part of the agreement to join the ACC, Notre Dame will play five football games against ACC opponents annually but will continue to operate as an independent, which has been the school’s goal all along. That set-up is not a huge departure from what the Irish have done lately anyway. Just look at this year’s Notre Dame football schedule which includes Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest and Pitt, all schools that are in or will be in the ACC by the time Notre Dame joins.
In maintaining its independent status, the Irish not only will be able to continue their relationship with NBC, but also should be able to continue healthy rivalries with schools such as Navy, USC, Michigan State and others.
It’s a good move for the Irish and an even better move for the ACC. Looks like a win-win for both sides and, whenever that’s the case, it’s certainly hard to argue.
But enough about Notre Dame. What does all this mean for the Big 12?
In my mind, the answer to that is simple — the Big 12, as it has said for quite some time, will be staying at 10 teams for a long, long time.
There was some genuine interest in adding schools like Notre Dame or Florida State, but with those schools now off the table thanks to Notre Dame’s move to the ACC and the ACC’s simultaneous announcement that its exit fee would be increased to $50 million, those schools, along with Virginia Tech, Clemson and others now look to be off limits.
Quick sidenote: I can’t help but be mightily impressed by what the Big 12 and ACC have done in consecutive years in the face of uncertain and very dangerous futures. The Big 12 looked all but dead a year ago yet found a way to bounce back and flourish both in terms of its financial situation and its public image. Shortly after the Big 12 became more stable than ever, the ACC took its place on the chopping block and appeared to be equally as vulnerable, if not more so. Yet, here that conference is today, announcing the addition of Notre Dame and securing its future by agreeing to up its exit fee to an amount that no one would dare tangle with. Impressive.
And hopefully, just maybe, their moves can put an end to conference realignment for the foreseeable future. I won’t hold my breath on that, though.
The Big East, which has been in a tough spot all along, now becomes the most vulnerable league by far, with the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC all positioned to pick up any number of Big East defectors should it come to that. Maybe it won’t. But if the Big 12 were to make a move to expand, that’s likely where it would look.
Again, I don’t expect that to happen. I don’t think the remaining schools “out there” are impressive enough nor profitable enough for the Big 12 to want to bring them in to split the pie 12 ways instead of 10. It just doesn’t make sense to bring in schools for the sake of bringing them in when the schools you’re picking up don’t add much to the pot.
Louisville, UConn and even Rutgers all are intriguing options for various reasons, but neither of them is on par with the Notre Dames and Florida States of the world. And Big 12 leaders have said all along that it would take a special school for them to consider expanding. I don’t think the schools I mentioned above are considered special by anyone outside of their fan bases.
Adding any of those schools or a program like BYU (which isn’t happening) would not be a lucrative enough endeavor to make it worth the Big 12’s while.
I know the concept that bigger is better is tough for people to get past when it comes to realignment, but it’s important to remember that what’s good for one league isn’t necessarily what’s good for another.
The ACC now has 15 teams and the Big 12 has 10. Both appear to be stable and headed toward exciting and profitable futures. What’s wrong with that?
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) vs. No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs (1-0) •
11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
Opening Las Vegas Line: TCU -26.5
Current Las Vegas Line: TCU -21
Three and out, with TCU...
The Horned Frogs own the nation’s longest current winning streak at nine in a row. TCU also has won 24 consecutive conference games (albeit in a different conference), which also is tops in the country.
The Frogs have won 17 of their last 19 road games and won their last 12 road contests in the Mountain West, including a 36-35 victory at Boise State last season which snapped the Broncos’ 35-game home winning streak.
TCU is the only school in the nation to win at least 11 games in six of the last seven seasons, one of just four programs (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both the Associated Press and USA Today polls during the last four seasons, and one of just three schools (Florida and Utah) to win at least six bowl games in the last seven seasons.
TCU is 3-1-1 when playing its first game in a new conference.
According to the school’s records, TCU defeated Oklahoma A&M, 7-6, on Oct. 6, 1923, in its first game as a member of the Southwest Conference, knocked off Houston, 34-17, on Sept. 29, 2001 in its first ever Conference-USA game and upended Utah, 23-20 in overtime, in its first game in the Mountain West on Sept. 15, 2005.
TCU’s only loss in a conference debut came in 1996, when New Mexico spoiled TCU’s WAC debut, 27-7. As for the tie, TCU and Texas A&M played a scoreless game during the Frogs first TIAA conference contest.
During its season-opening victory against Grambling State last week, TCU played 13 true freshman and several other red-shirt freshmen and sophomores. Although it’s clear that Patterson trusts them enough to put them out there, the TCU coach acknowledges that it’s still an uneasy feeling.
“Freshmen in their first game are always scared to death and it’s hard for them to focus on the task at hand,” Patterson said. “When you play (13) true freshmen, every day’s a new experience right now. Most people don’t want to play three of them. So we’ve just really gotta keep working on attention to detail and keep getting better at what we do.”
Patterson conjured up an old quote from legendary hoops coach John Wooden, of all people, to express how he thought his young guys played in the opener.
“There’s an old saying in the John Wooden book that says, ‘You need to be quick but you don’t need to look like you’re in a hurry,’” Patterson said. “And a lot of our younger players looked like they were in a hurry.”
One of TCU’s most impressive freshman was punt returner Deante’ Gray, who was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week. Gray set a TCU single-game punt return record with 160 yards on five attempts. He ripped off a 70-yard touchdown on his first collegiate touch and also had a 61-yard punt return in the second half.
TCU holds a 16-8-4 all-time advantage in the series vs. Kansas, which dates back to 1942. The Frogs are 9-6 all-time in Lawrence and 7-2-2 against the Jayhawks in Fort Worth, Texas.
TCU and Kansas are meeting for the first time on the gridiron since a 17-10 KU victory in Lawrence in 1997, the year before Gary Patterson arrived at TCU as defensive coordinator.
All eyes — at least both of mine — at Tuesday’s practice were on Kansas University quarterback Dayne Crist, who, earlier in the day, told reporters that, after a Monday evening chat with KU coach Charlie Weis, he vowed to have more fun starting today.
It’s tough to see evidence of that during the portion of practice that we get to watch, but there were a few signs.
For the most part, we watched Crist go through warm-ups and then work with the rest of the quarterbacks during individual drills. During each, he bounced his head to the music and clowned around with teammates Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings, Turner Baty and Blake Jablonski.
It wasn’t the kind of banter that would make you say, “Whoa; where did the funny guy come from?” But it was enough to show that Crist, as he said he was, seemed a little looser than during the previous few weeks.
The only place it will really matter is Memorial Stadium on Saturday, when Crist and the Jayhawks try to bounce back from last week’s loss to Rice with a match-up against No. 16 TCU at 11 a.m. But Tuesday seemed like a good start.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice:
• As promised by Weis earlier in the day, Kale Pick, Lubbock Smith and Brandon Bourbon were nowhere to be seen on the practice field. All three are nursing injuries they suffered against Rice and each was getting treatment during the early portion of practice. Weis said the injured trio was “day-to-day” and added that if they had to play today they probably would not go. We’ll keep an eye on their progress throughout the week.
• Freshman offensive lineman Sean Connolly spent the early portion of practice riding the exercise bike, but the good news there was that he was alone. No Anthony McDonald. No Nick Sizemore. Not only were both of those guys off the bikes, they also both were back on the depth chart, as Sizemore was listed second-string at the F position, behind Trent Smiley, and McDonald was listed second-string at Will linebacker behind Huldon Tharp. Weis said McDonald, in fact, was “ready to play.”
• Just a quick note regarding the tempo and tone of practice... I didn’t notice a whole lot of moping. Guys looked energized and seemed to be working just as hard as they had each of the other times we’d been out to practice. Might not mean much, but might also be a good sign. We’ll see.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Living Proof” by Bruce Springsteen.
A friend and fellow reporter floated an interesting question my way shortly after the Kansas University football team somehow lost to Rice despite having a decent grip on things for most of the game last Saturday.
The question: Did KU’s 25-24, last-second loss to Rice rank as one of the Top 5 most disappointing losses of the past three seasons?
My answer: No.
There’s no doubt that Saturday’s loss left a lot of KU fans scratching their heads and perhaps forced some to consider whether they’d be back any time soon. But, to my ears, the most common reaction among the fans exiting Memorial Stadium sounded a lot more like “Well, well, well,” than “What the hell?”
This latest loss, though surely tough for KU fans to swallow, also is tough to evaluate. The Jayhawks should not have lost. Everyone understands that from the players to KU coach Charlie Weis, who went out of his way to inform us that he clearly pointed out to his team that losing games was not acceptable.
If you’re an excuse maker, your list is long after this one. It’s still early. There are a lot of guys still shaking off the rust. It’s a completely new team running a completely new system with a bunch of players still searching for their chemistry. Like I said, the list is long. But here’s the worst part — even if you’re not interested in making excuses, all of that remains true.
Before moving on, let me tell you, briefly, why I don’t think the loss to a team from Conference USA ranks in the Top 5 most disappointing losses in the past few seasons. For one, the Jayhawks weren’t embarrassed. They fought and played with fire but came up short. For two, they didn’t quit. For three, they didn’t brush off the loss as no big deal when it was over. It was clear that they were upset about letting this one slip away and even more clear that they plan to do something about it.
So what now?
Well, I realize it would be easy for most to revert back to the old “When does basketball season begin” line that we’ve heard around here for oh so long. And if that’s your thing, I won’t hold it against you.
But I still think there are plenty of good things going for this football program and I’m willing to let things play out before calling this season a bust.
Let’s take a look at a few positives and a few of the negatives.
1. I think the defense has improved. They’re more active up front, they cover better in the secondary (even if they’re still not all that aggressive) and they’ve thrown up more three-and-outs in the first two games of the 2012 season than I can remember coming in 2010 and 2011 combined. What’s more, I think this is a group that, as long as it remains confident, will continue to improve each week.
2. The running game looks good. Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox make for a nice one-two punch, and, in seven days we can start to talk about James Sims again. If KU can continue to run the ball as effectively as it has during the first couple of weeks — and that’s definitely a decent-sized if with the schedule stiffening — the Jayhawks should have a shot at being competitive in the Big 12.
3. KU is forcing turnovers. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said it just the other day and hundreds of coaches before him have said it, too: Turnover margin is the most important stat in football. If the Jayhawks continue to get takeaways at the current rate, things eventually will tip in their favor. What’s more, turnovers are contagious, and once you get a few, you start taking the field believing you’re going to get more. That’s huge.
1. Dayne Crist hasn’t been very good. You know it. I know it. He knows it. So it’s no big secret. But I can promise you one thing: He hasn’t delivered back-to-back sub-par performances by choice. The guy’s trying. And he deserves some more time to get it figured out. As long as he remains healthy, he’s still the guy that gives KU the best shot to win each week. But he’s got to perform better quickly so the rest of the team is still willing to follow him.
2. There does not seem to be a killer instinct with this team yet. Stop me if you’ve heard this one... Getting fired up for games does not seem to be a problem for the Jayhawks, but staying juiced throughout does. When your energy drops, your focus drops and when your focus drops, bad things happen. I’m not sure if it’s a case of these guys expecting too much and then being a little dazed when they don’t deliver, or if it’s just a familiarity thing and that old cliche about bad habits being hard to break. Whatever it is, though, this team needs to avoid that second half lull at whatever cost.
3. KU lacks playmakers on offense. Outside of Tony Pierson, who has flashed big-play ability in both games, the Jayhawks have not had another player step into that role yet. Senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson has the potential, but a lot of his work thus far has come in a possession-type role. DJ Beshears also has the potential, but he’s looked out of sync in both games. Someone else needs to step up. The tight ends have looked good and Crist appears to trust them, but you don’t always think of tight ends as playmakers. Maybe it’s time for Andrew Turzilli or Josh Ford to embrace the moment. Or maybe it’s up to Crist.
Time to see which list gets longer.
Wednesday’s Kansas University football practice was moved inside to Anschutz Sports Pavilion, which offered a little bit of relief from the heat, but mostly in the way of shielding the Jayhawks from the sun and not in overall temperature.
As thermostats outside continued to push the 100-degree mark, the temperature inside Anschutz, which basically functioned like a hot box, could not have been much lower than 90.
It’s not that KU coach Charlie Weis was afraid of a little heat, more that Weis likes to be ultra-prepared, and when your gametime conditions are expected to be in the mid-70s, as they are for this weekend’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Rice, it makes more sense to run your guys through practice in a cooler venue than to conduct a scorcher on the practice fields.
It should be noted that nobody confirmed that the move was because of the heat. That's just my best guess as to why they changed venues today.
While the move inside made things a little more manageable in the temperature department, it also made it a lot louder. Not only were the pre-practice tunes blaring off the walls of the old fieldhouse, but it was so loud in there that coaches could only be seen yelling and not heard.
Here’s a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wednesday’s practice:
• Nowhere was that picture of a coach’s screaming being seen but not heard more evident than with the wide receivers and coach Rob Ianello. After a rather lackluster warm-up session in which his group ran through a couple of rounds of the gauntlet drill, Ianello quickly became irked by the effort and energy and immediately ordered a dozen or so up-downs. While I’m sure the KU receivers did not enjoy the punishment, it seemed to work as the individual drills that followed were more crisp and had a greater sense of urgency. Senior wideout Kale Pick also was visibly upset with his group during the ealry portion of practice and, being the leader and upperclassman he is, Pick continually barked at his teammates to pick it up.
• One positive thing I saw from the receivers on Wednesday came from No. 8, juco transfer Josh Ford, who made a name for himself on special teams last weekend and appears to have taken quite a bit of confidence from that performance into his position. Tuesday, Ianello said that those types of performances on special teams are noticed by position coaches and can go a long way toward upping your reps with your main position. He wasn’t lying. Ford ran some drills with the second unit on Wednesday, a clear indication that his stock is on the rise considerig he was not listed on KU’s latest depth chart.
• Finally, the Coach Weis song of the day was “Get Ready” by Bon Jovi.