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Monday Rewind - TCU: Further examination of KU football's offensive struggles
I've spent a lot of time these past three or four weeks asking various members of the Kansas University football team to explain what exactly is causing so many problems for the Jayhawks' offense.
From the head coach and quarterback to the pass catchers and starting and back-up offensive linemen, nearly a dozen different players have had an opportunity to pinpoint why the KU offense has struggled so badly.
Small problem: It doesn't seem like any of them can do it.
OK, so maybe that's actually more like a HUGE problem, but the one thing that keeps coming up no matter who I talk to is the word execution.
“We need to do a better job of executing,” one player will say.
“We're just not executing,” another will say in a somber tone.
“We have to execute the small things so we can get on a roll,” says yet another.
Yes, yes and yes.
So do it. I know that's a simple way of looking at things, but it's really the only thing you can say at this point. If it truly is just a matter of taking the right step here, picking up the right block there or making the right read at the right time elsewhere, do that. Don't just say you need to and then continue to go out there and misfire.
I'm not trying to make light of the situation, nor do I think going out there and executing while the defensive players are trying to kill you is easy. But it's time for KU's offensive players, many of whom have talent and ability, to get on the same page and stay there. Think about it. For two games, the quarterback was sharp, made good throws and ran the offense the way it's supposed to be run. And his receivers dropped balls. And here lately, just when the receivers (a few of them, at least) have figured out how to hang onto the ball, the quarterback has started to lose a little of his accuracy, which was supposed to be by far his biggest strength.
Trying to figure out plays that work with an offensive line that's struggling is hard enough. But doing it without knowing whether your quarterback and receivers will be on the same page from play to play is a nightmare. And that's a huge reason for the Jayhawks' offensive struggles of late.
To demonstrate this, let's look at back-to-back plays in the third quarter of Saturday's game.
On first-and-10 from the TCU 27 yard line, one play after the Horned Frogs gave KU life by muffing a punt, the Jayhawks, who trailed 24-10, took to the air for one of the day's few throws that traveled down the field and looked bad in doing it. As tight end Jimmay Mundine cut to the inside down the seam, quarterback Jake Heaps threw behind him, low and to the outside.
When I asked Heaps about the throw after the game, he said it was 100 percent on him and then went on to talk about working as hard as he could to make every play succeed and get this offense going. On the very next play, he proved that was possible, as he lobbed a nice ball to Mundine on a corner route near the 5 yard line and Mundine rose up, snatched it out of the air like a man possessed and then stomped into the end zone. It was as good a ball as Heaps had thrown all day and maybe as good as the Jayhawks had looked in their down-the-field passing game all year.
The point is this: On one play, they looked awful, out of sync and in complete disarray. On the very next, they looked like a competent offense, like the Jake Heaps and Jimmay Mundine many expected to see all season.
So, what gives?
The players and coaches have said that inexperience is not an excuse. By now, they say, these guys have all been out there enough to be able to step up when their numbers are called. In addition, they insist that they do execute all the time during practice and they believe if they can do it in practice they should be able to and expected to do it during games on Saturdays. They're right.
Frustrated fans have tossed out all kinds of solutions for this offensive mess, some of which make sense and some of which are just not possible, at least not during the middle of the season.
I've spent my fair share of time trying to analyze what's happening here, too, and the only thing I can think of that can actually happen is that these guys can step up and become gamers.
Sounds easy, but it's really not. Either you are or you aren't. James Sims is a gamer. Justin McCay may not be. The rest are probably somewhere in between. But it's time to find out who falls where.
With seven games left and the defense and special teams playing at a high level, this season is not a lost cause. KU's not going bowling, but only a small percentage of KU fans actually thought that was a possibility before the season began anyway, so that's not breaking news. There is time, though, to win a couple more games, pick up some momentum heading into Year 3 of the Charlie Weis era and give these fans something worth watching when the KU offense is on the field. Todd Reesing to Dezmon Briscoe it will not be. But it doesn't have to be the 2005 KU offense either. Remember them? The group that struggled to score and sustain drives week after week while the defense played out of its mind and plenty well enough to win. (I'm specifically thinking of that 19-3 loss to Oklahoma at Arrowhead Stadium right now). That's kind of what we have going right now and the only guys that can do anything about it know who they are.
This is the roster for 2013. There is no free agency, there are no out-of-work veterans waiting for a phone call at home. This is it. So this is the group that has to get it done.
If that means they need to execute more or better or more consistently, then do it.