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Monday Rewind: Oklahoma & a closer look at QB Michael Cummings
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.