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Monday Rewind - Texas Tech: KU O-Line in need of drastic improvement
The natives certainly became restless after Saturday's 54-16 slamming by 20th-ranked Texas Tech, and who could blame them?
What started in fantastic fashion and, at least for a bit, looked like it could bring an end to KU's 21-game Big 12 losing skid, quickly began to look a lot more like the embarrassments of the Turner Gill era than the handful of encouraging efforts Weis and the Jayhawks showed in 2012.
When thinking back about this game and, really, the entire season thus far, there are plenty of things that pop up in the suddenly stacked column of issues plaguing the Jayhawks.
But for my money, the one area of weakness that stands out above all others — and I don't think it's even close — is the sub-par play of the offensive line, which not only has struggled with to knock people off the ball but also can't seem to find any consistency both in terms of who's in the lineup and the performances they deliver from game to game, quarter to quarter, even play to play.
While talking to tight end Jimmay Mundine after Saturday's loss, I asked him if he thought we were all guilty of taking for granted just how good last year's line was. It's been well documented by now just how much experience Tanner Hawkinson, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli had logged in their KU careers. But maybe we focused too much on their years of service and overlooked their ability.
I know I'm guilty of that. I thought, with the size of attitude of these new guys the Jayhawks had brought in, it was merely a matter of them learning the offense and getting comfortable with one another and then the KU ground game could pick up where it left off, perhaps even be better.
Oops. Way off.
Not only has the play of the O-Line dropped off from last year, but the ground game has suffered, too. And worse than KU no longer having complete confidence that it can run the ball against anybody is the fact that the Jayhawks' opponents now think they can't at the same time. Yikes.
So here's the million-dollar question: What can the Jayhawks do about their O-Line issue? The answer will not be easy to find, but somebody has to find it, and quick, or else the next eight Saturdays are going to look awfully similar to the last one.
I've had plenty of conversations with people about this since Saturday's game — even threw out a few thoughts on Twitter — and I stand by my theory: If the line can't perform any better than it has, the play-calling hardly matters. I mean, what plays can you call that work when the line doesn't block?
The only ones I can think of are the ones we saw early in Saturday's loss to Texas Tech and late in the victory over Louisiana Tech. The ones where quarterback Jake Heaps was throwing a pass just milliseconds after receiving the snap. That takes the pressure off of the line, which is good, but it puts the pressure on Heaps and his receivers to be perfect and in sync, which hasn't exactly gone swimmingly so far this season either. Still, if it's me making the decisions, I'd rather have the onus on Heaps to make plays than ask the line to hold up.
Weis said on this morning's Big 12 football coaches teleconference that some serious changes were coming to the depth chart this week — we'll get a copy Tuesday — and he also indicated that the O-Line could look drastically different.
From what I could gather, it sounds like IQ and understanding the looks from opposing defenses has as much to do with the line's struggles as anything. Therefore, it stands to reason that, at least for this week, Weis will be plugging in the smartest guys he has up front to see if that helps.
Of course, the possibility exists that these guys can and will improve. Guards Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi are new to the Big 12 and have had several good moments so far. Plus, they've got the mindset you're looking for — the kind that says, 'Yeah, I want to kick your butt and I don't care if I break my nose doing it.' KU needs more of that. KU needs more of that at every position, but the Jayhawks could especially use more of it in the trenches.
The opportunity is there for someone or some guys to step up. I don't care if your name is Gavin Howard or Riley Spencer and you're a senior who's been around a while and fallen down the depth chart, or if you're a true freshman like Joey Bloomfield, who ranks near the top of the roster on the list of guys who are excited to be here and would probably do anything for this program. The opportunity is there for guys to prove they can play mean, nasty, tough football. Heck, if I'm a defensive lineman who isn't playing much, I'd ask for a meeting with the coaches to see if I could switch positions. That worked out OK for Hawkinson.
Oops. There I go again, assuming anybody can do what Tanner did. That's my bad. I now know it's not that easy.
But getting angry, having some pride and playing a little pissed off is something anybody can do.
The question is, will they?