Tale of the Tait
So here we are, a little more than 24 hours away from kickoff of this year’s Sunflower Showdown and a few things are starting to become pretty clear.
The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 24 hours? This is a huge game.
Before you chastise me for stating such an obvious fact, let me explain.
In addition to the usual bragging rights between families, feel-good moments for fans and general good vibe that goes along with beating your rival, this year's KU-K-State matchup has something a little extra to it.
Before the season, many who cover the Big 12 referred to the match-up between KU and K-State — 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Stadium — as a game with serious bowl implications. The winner, many thought, would go bowling, while the loser would fall short of reaching the six-win plateau and, therefore, remain home during bowl season.
With four wins already, K-State’s a lot closer than KU to reaching that magic number of six wins necessary to be bowl eligible, but the Wildcats might have a tougher road ahead. Games at Kansas and Baylor are up next and they’ll be followed by home dates against Oklahoma State — currently ranked 20th in the Top 25 — and Texas, along with a trip to No. 21 Missouri in consecutive weeks.
That makes Thursday’s game a bit of a must-win for the Wildcats.
But enough about them. What’s this mean for the Jayhawks? For starters, it’s also a must-win for Kansas. Let’s face it, if the Jayhawks fall to 2-4 overall (2-2 at home) and can’t knock off their very average in-state rival, they’re not going to a bowl this season.
However, if Turner Gill and Co. win this one, and move to 3-3 overall, things could get interesting. Here’s why.
Colorado just lost two key players from its squad, starting safety Anthony Perkins, who was among the team leaders in tackles and a rock in defending the pass defense and backup running back Brian Lockridge, who was more than competent in spelling starter Rodney Stewart. The loss of both players is a big blow for the Buffs and makes KU’s game against Colorado — at home on Nov. 6 — a lot more winnable.
The same goes for the prospects of winning the Iowa State game on Oct. 30 in Ames, Iowa, now that news of an injury to Cyclones running back Alexander Robinson has surfaced. Robinson, one of the top backs in the Big 12 a season ago, has a foot injury that likely will keep him out of this week’s game against Oklahoma.
Maybe with proper treatment and some time off, the injury will be a non-factor by the time the Jayhawks and Cyclones meet in two weeks. But, with running backs, foot injuries rarely are considered minor, so, at the very least, this might mean that Robinson will be less effective than he would have been when KU faces him. Add to this the potential lingering of a shoulder injury (non-throwing arm) to ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud and you’re looking at the potential to see a completely different Iowa State club on the day before Halloween.
Again, both players could be fine by the time they face the Jayhawks, but, if they’re not, it would be a huge advantage for Kansas.
I understand that five or six weeks into any college football season, teams are going to have bumps and bruises to deal with. Heck, KU has had its share of injuries this season, too. But if the Jayhawks remain healthy and the rest of the teams on their schedule continue to weaken, the odds increase, even if by just a little, that KU could pull out six wins.
The bottom line here, injury talk or no injury talk, is that the Jayhawks must win Thursday in order to hold on to any hope of becoming bowl eligible, something that still might be a longshot either way.
However, a win Thursday along with victories against Iowa State and Colorado would bring KU’s win total to five. With home dates against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, along with the always-wild Border War at Arrowhead still unaccounted for, anything’s possible at that point.
I’ve been covering football games, football teams and football players for 11 years now and in that time I’ve been fortunate enough to only see a couple of truly ugly injuries.
I’ve seen my share of twisted ankles, bum hamstrings and even broken bones. But in only a couple of instances have the injuries hampered a player for longer than a few weeks or even threatened their life.
One such injury occurred about six years ago when a young man named Michael Kowal injured his neck during a drill at a Mill Valley High School practice. The injury left Michael paralyzed and he remains in a wheelchair to this day. That one stuck with me. I was there in the hospital with Michael just days after his injury. I saw him fight through rehab. I became close with his family, such great people who made me feel like family. I watched as the community rose up to support Michael and his family, strangers and friends alike stepping up to perform acts many of them barely knew they were even capable of.
I’m happy to report that the last time I saw Mike — at a KU baseball game earlier this year — he was happier than ever and appeared in nearly every way to be a normal college kid. Michael could’ve given up. He could’ve quit on life and sulked and made the world around him feel like the hell he surely lived at times. But he didn’t.
And that brings me to my next story, one that hit even closer to home.
A couple weeks ago, during a McLouth High School football game in Wichita, a young man named Trevor Roberts broke his leg so badly that a rod had to be inserted into his leg from his knee to his ankle. Complications arose from the injury when Trevor experienced gangrene and, within hours of feeling his strong, 17-year-old bones break, the young man was fighting for his life.
Surgeries piled up one after the next and antibiotics fought off the infection. I’m sure many of you have read about this young man in our paper or seen his story on one of the many news stations that picked it up. I lived it. Trevor is my wife’s cousin and for days our family fought and prayed, hoped and cried, laughed and loved. It’s what they’re best at. And, thankfully, Trevor’s no different.
When all was said and done, Trevor’s life was spared. The prayers worked there. But his left leg was not. Because of the gangrene and the harsh toll the surgeries took on his body, Trevor’s leg had to be amputated just above the knee. One minute he’s a strong-as-an-ox young man, racking up touchdowns and yardarge in his No. 22 purple-and-gold Bulldogs jersey and the next he’s living a life no one could ever be prepared to live.
Just like with Michael Kowal, I’m happy to report that Trevor’s doing better than most people I know would be and certainly as well as could be expected. He’s got a fighter’s spirit and a wonderful outlook on the rest of his life.
Similar strength and substance has been shown by current members of the KU football team. Sophomore defensive end D.J. Marshall continues his fight against Hodgkin lymphoma. True freshman Jeremiah Edwards continues to be a Jayhawk despite being told, just before the season began, that a heart condition likely signaled the end his playing career.
The list goes on and on. Marshall and Edwards aren't the first Jayhawks to endure something like this. Unfortunately, they probably won't be the last either. Surely, those guys understand exactly what a guy like Trevor is going through right now.
As for the rest of us, we’d do well to take a lesson from Trevor and Michael and the countless others like them out there whose names we do not know.
Stories like these tend to tug at the heart strings momentarily only to be forgotten as the hours turn into days and the days turn into weeks. Don’t let this one slip away.
When things aren’t going your way, remember Trevor and think about how lucky you or your family or your sons and daughters are to have what they have. And when you’re down in the dumps about everyday life or something that maybe isn’t all that important, remember Trevor and how, even in the face of such a terrible personal tragedy, he’s found a way to smile, laugh and be the one who lifts his family’s spirits.
These usually hit the web site a little sooner than 3 p.m. but I have to be honest. There’s just not a lot to say about last week’s drubbing at the hands of Baylor.
Sure, I could point out all of the negatives that came out of the game. But haven’t we done enough of that already? The Jayhawks got whipped. They were whipped in every sense of the word and there’s nothing they can do about it until next Thursday, when they welcome Kansas State to town for the Sunflower Showdown.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. Even though they have a bye on Saturday, the Jayhawks will be able to practice this week and I’m sure their practices will be spirited at worst and downright nasty at best. If anything positive came out of the 55-7 loss to Baylor, it’s that the Jayhawks left Texas embarrassed. And being in such a state typically drives people to work harder, prepare longer, dream bigger and play meaner.
All of the above are necessary for this team to turn things around.
Alarmists will say the Waxing in Waco is the beginning of the end for this team. If they can’t beat — scratch that — if they can’t compete with Baylor then how in the heck are they going to find a way to beat or compete with anyone else in the Big 12? Colorado beat Georgia. Iowa State rocked Texas Tech. And Texas Tech’s not on the schedule this year.
No need to be alarmed though. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this Kansas team — and there may only be one thing — it’s that the Jayhawks respond favorably to losses. Lose to North Dakota State in Week 1, beat No. 15 Georgia Tech in Week 2. (Who cares if Tech may have been a tad over-rated). Lose to Southern Miss on the road in Week 3, drub New Mexico State at home in Week 4. That one was the Jayhawks’ most complete game of the season.
So, in a way, the loss at Baylor really doesn’t change much. The Bears were favored by 9 points. They were supposed to win. And the loss fits right in with the pattern of KU’s season thus far.
One problem. There were reasons to point to while explaining the loss to NDSU. The Southern Miss game had its reasons as well. There may be plenty of reasons (or are they excuses?) to explain the loss to Baylor but none of them explain why the Jayhawks were so thoroughly dominated in every aspect of the game.
The only way to answer the critics is to put this one in the past and move forward just as Turner Gill and the Jayhawks have done all season. It might be harder to do because of the magnitude of last Saturday’s beatdown, but look at it this way, if Gill and the Jayhawks do respond positively — yet again — then maybe there is hope for this season and beyond.
With the Big 12 portion of KU’s schedule now upon us, it should be substantially easier to find news from around the web about KU’s upcoming opponent.
Big 12 teams are covered a little more intensely than the North Dakota States and New Mexico States of the world and this week’s opponent — the Baylor Bears — is certainly no exception.
With news outlets throughout Texas keeping an eye on the Bears, as well as the fact that quarterback Robert Griffin gives Baylor some sort of national pull, there are plenty of articles to skim through while waiting for this week’s kickoff.
Below are some of the best.
One other note of interest that we’ll start adding to the “Around the Web in 7 Days” segment is that Baylor opened as a 5-point favorite in Las Vegas this week. That line already has ballooned to as high as nine-and-a-half points in some places, with most of the betting world jumping all over the Bears.
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a sample of what they’re saying about the Baylor Bears this week.
Week 5: Kansas Jayhawks (2-2) at Baylor Bears (3-1): 11 a.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas.
This entertaining feature on Robert Griffin was done during the preseason, as ESPN.com’s David Ubben looked at a day in the life of Baylor’s Big Man On Campus.
This Baylor Bears notebook from Dwain Price at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram outlines how the Bears are just three wins from bowl eligibility. It also briefly examines the BU running game.
Here’s a recap of Baylor’s 30-13 victory against Rice last week from Baylor’s school paper, The Lariat.
Here’s an early-September look at the Baylor defense from Baylor’s Rivals site, SicEmSports.com.
Bleacher Report says the Bears still are contenders.
Here’s a little info about the betting aspects of the game from an interesting site called Capperspicks.com. In addition to providing a quick breakdown of the matchup, it details each team’s trends against the spread.
* Note: The Waco Tribune’s web site is a pay site. There are different options for signing up to view their content, including a $1.99 day pass. If you’re interested in checking any of that out, visit their site here. I just didn’t want to post any stories from that site since not all of you would be able/willing to access them.
Well, after four games and one heck of a wacky ride, the Kansas University football team takes a 2-2 record into Big 12 Conference play.
It’s what most expected from this team when going over the schedule in the preseason, though it came in a different way than many projected.
For most, the thought was that the Jayhawks would be 2-2 right now with wins against North Dakota State and New Mexico State. Some saw 3-1 as a realistic goal, with KU knocking off Southern Miss on the road for win No. 3. And next to no one saw KU knocking off Georgia Tech.
But 2-2 it is. In some ways, it’s a shame because, with just a little better effort in the opener, KU would’ve won and the Jayhawks would sit at 3-1 right now, needing to win just three more games to become bowl eligible. Then again, there’s a good chance that this KU team needed that loss to NDSU to find the motivation and drive to pull off the upset against Georgia Tech (who also is 2-2 through four games).
The combined record of KU’s four opponents so far is 8-7, which doesn’t tell you much except that, against a bunch of mediocre teams, the Jayhawks have been pretty mediocre themselves to this point.
Some may point to Saturday’s 42-16 win against New Mexico State as a big win for this team. In some ways it was. They needed a game that was easy and they got it. They needed a game where the offense exploded and the defense was in control and both happened. They needed the game against the winless Aggies to not be close and it wasn’t.
So that’s all good news. But New Mexico State is not a good football team. They’re not big, fast, strong or experienced and they’re probably not going to win more than one game this season. So making any conclusions about the Jayhawks based on this game is a serious mistake.
So forget the conclusions. We still have eight games to watch before we have to make any of those. Let’s examine a few trends that emerged from the NMSU game.
The biggest one, in my mind, was the continued excellent play of James Sims. The freshman running back showed that, if the line can give him creases, he can make things happen. We already knew that he could grind it out, pound ahead for short gains and move the chains. But now we know that if the holes are there he can hit them and then do some special things down the field. This guy is exciting and, again, he’s only going to get better. We’ve seen the complete package from Sims so far. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Next up is the emergence of D.J. Beshears as a serious playmaker (3 TDs, two rushing and one kickoff return). Junior wideout Daymond Patterson exploded onto the scene against Georgia Tech and KU’s next two opponents focused a big part of their defensive gameplans on taking DP out of the game. It worked. It won’t work much longer. With teams having to account for both Beshears and Patterson, it’s going to be a lot harder to bottle up the KU offense. Sure they might be able to limit the production of one of these two slot receivers each week. But holding both down will be tough. And let’s say for a minute that teams do, well, you’ve still got Johnathan Wilson down the field and, of course, Sims, too. The KU offense is in good shape right now and should continue to take steps forward each week.
Of course, how far and how fast the KU offense moves forward will be tied directly to how well the offensive line plays. Saturday, the line was spectacular and Sims and quarterback Jordan Webb reaped the benefits. Again, though, that was against New Mexico State. It’ll be interesting to see if the O-Line gained some confidence from this most recent outing and uses it to turn in a similarly strong effort at Baylor this weekend.
That’s where we’ll see what this KU team truly is made of — 11 a.m., Saturday, in Waco, Texas.
We’ll give them a pass for losing the Southern Miss game. It was the first road game for so many young guys and, as you may have read, there were a few external factors that hurt KU’s chances in that one. But playing on the road should be nothing new for these guys now and understanding the importance of each and every conference game should be something that’s easy to get.
If the Jayhawks bring the same kind of effort, energy and execution they showed Saturday against NMSU into every Big 12 game on their schedule, the four more wins necessary to become bowl eligible are out there for the taking. If they don’t, Turner Gill’s first bowl appearance with the Jayhawks will have to wait.
Although the loss to North Dakota State in the season opener might say otherwise, this week’s matchup with winless New Mexico State could be just what the Kansas University football team needs to cure its ails.
The Jayhawks may have limped into the 2010 season but all signs seem to indicate that they should have the upper hand in this one. NMSU is coming off of back-to-back blowout losses, is still searching for chemistry on both sides of the ball and is functioning with a head coach in just his second year in town and a quarterback starting for the first time.
While those factors seem to indicate that the Aggies are down, nothing does so as clearly as the program’s continued inclusion in ESPN.com’s “Bottom Ten.”
There’s not a ton of national news on the Aggies right now outside of that, and the Albuquerque newspaper’s web site is a pay site that most of you probably wouldn’t sign up for anyway.
So this week’s version of Around the Web in 7 Days features a couple of quirky national stories followed by a heavy dose of info from the Las Cruces Sun-News, which covers the Aggies as well as anyone.
Week 4: Kansas Jayhawks (1-2) vs. New Mexico State Aggies (0-2):
First, the national news:
NMSU checks in at No. 4 on this week’s Lynyrd Skynyrd-themed version of ESPN.com’s Bottom Ten.
Here’s an interesting article from The Associated Press about NMSU coach DeWayne Walker’s decision to ban his team from using Twitter during the 2010 season. I think this gives you a good look into the kind of person and coach Walker is.
Now, the goods from the beat writer who knows more than anyone about the Aggies:
Here’s a nice feature on NMSU quarterback Matt Christian from Teddy Feinberg, of the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Feinberg, of the Las Cruces Sun-News says that Aggies fans should expect more from the NMSU running game in the near future.
A look back at last week’s loss to UTEP from The Las Cruces Sun-News.
The Kansas University football team learned a few things about itself during Friday’s loss at Southern Miss. The question, however, is if the Jayhawks learned enough.
Most of what KU learned was stuff we already suspected. The offensive line is struggling; the quarterback, though tough as nails, is still very, very young, and this team can’t make mistakes and expect to win.
Shortcomings in all three of those area really hurt the Jayhawks in Hattiesburg, Miss., and turned a winnable game into another long night. The offensive line could not protect QB Jordan Webb and KU coach Turner Gill and the Jayhawks are going to have to find a way to change that if they hope to progress at all on offense this year. If that means keeping more men in to block — be it an extra tight end or an added running back — then so be it. If that means changing personnel or even blocking schemes, that’s fine, too. Whatever Gill and company believe is right is what they need to do in order to allow an offense packed with potential to take the next step forward.
Same goes for the special teams, which, in just three games already has given up two blocked punts. That’s a lot for a season, let alone a few weeks. If it’s personnel, that’s easy to fix. Every team has guys willing to step up and take on a little more responsibility for the good of the team. Former KU coach Mark Mangino always believed in putting his best players on special teams because he deemed the third phase of the game to be so critical night after night. Maybe it’s time the new coaching staff follows suit.
As for Webb, just a red-shirt freshman, he played a gutsy game on Friday, most of which was spent running for his life. But that doesn’t excuse all of his poor throws or the fact that, at times, he still seems unaware of when the pocket is closing in around him and holds the ball too long. He knows that. The coaches know it, too. And the only thing that can eliminate it is time. Webb is simply too inexperienced to look like a polished quarterback out there. As long as he’s taking steps forward each week instead of moving in the opposite direction, he’ll be fine.
Speaking of Webb, he also was a big part of what went right for the Jayhawks in this one. Finally, after three games, we know that Webb is the Jayhawks’ starting QB. If he weren’t, Gill would’ve surely gone to backup Kale Pick for a spark on Friday night. But Pick never set foot on the field, which means the coaches are willing to let Webb develop and are comfortable calling him “the guy.” That will only help the rest of the team, which now can move forward knowing which voice they’ll be hearing in the huddle all season.
Like Webb, freshman running back James Sims further cemented himself as this team’s top back. Though his numbers were not jaw-dropping and his runs not nearly as effective as the week before, Sims looked very solid yet again on Friday night, carrying the ball 20 times for 74 yards. He was patient when he needed to be, hit the holes hard when he could and showed that does have enough speed to make defenses pay when he gets to the second level. Watching Sims improve each week — not to mention become more comfortable — is going to be a joy no matter what things look like on the scoreboard.
Defensively, the Jayhawks talked an awful lot about feeling good about their positioning on Friday. Many KU defenders believed they were in the right spots most of the night but that poor tackling and a general inability to rise to the occasion and make a play when one was needed was what cost them. Save for Phillip Strozier’s impressive interception, that’s a very accurate assessment of things. But them being in the right places and in position to make plays is a good sign. If they can keep that up, the rest will come because actually making the play is more about attitude than anything else.
Not the best effort Friday night but not one worthy of working yourselves into a frenzy. The bottom line is this: Had the Jayhawks not lost the opener to NDSU, this loss wouldn’t have looked as bad. Since they did, though, the loss instantly brought back the sour memories of that season-opening shocker.
But KU played hard and took a couple of steps forward on both offense and defense. They were just beaten by a better team. It happens.
Now, it’s time for the Jayhawks to be the better team and handle a New Mexico State squad that’s also going to be playing hard this Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
After one week of the 2010 season, the Kansas University football program had fallen out of the national spotlight, thanks to a heartbreaking home loss to Div. I-AA foe North Dakota State in the opener.
Many folks throughout the state of Kansas — and the nation — had jumped off the Jayhawks’ bandwagon and were ready to dismiss the season as another disappointing year in the program’s history.
But now, after last week’s shocking victory against No. 15 Georgia Tech, the Jayhawks are back on the map and people around the country are talking about KU being relevant once again.
Nowhere is that talk more prevalent than in Mississippi, where the those who cover the Southern Miss Eagles — KU’s foe this Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN — are taking a closer look at Kansas than they might have expected.
This week’s “Around the Web in 7 Days” takes us south, where a trio of papers near Brett Favre’s hometown have tossed out their early looks at the KU-USM matchup.
Week 1: Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) vs.Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1-1):
Southern Miss now looking at Kansas, from The Hattiesburg American. It’s interesting to note that the Eagles were off on Monday, while the Jayhawks hit it hard.
Also from the Hattiesburg American, here’s a quick injury update from the Southern Miss camp.
This report, from the Biloxi Sun-Herald, indicates that the Southern Miss coaches see a lot of similarities between USM and KU when looking at the Jayhawks.
The Eagles are searching for continued improvement on defense and this report, from The Mississippi Press, outlines exactly what areas the USM coaches are watching.
Lastly, in a quick look back at last week’s win against Prairie View A&M, this Hattiesburg American article focuses on a couple of No. 7’s who played especially well in Week 2.
Well, nobody expected that. At least, nobody around here.
But it happened and there’s nothing anybody can do about it but put it in the past and move on.
Sound familiar? It should. After two weeks of the college football season, many Jayhawk fans are scratching their heads about what has unfolded at Memorial Stadium.
First, the Jayhawks were stunned by a Div. I-AA team in the opener and, to many, the season looked loss. But then Saturday happened, the Jayhawks knocked off No. 15 Georgia Tech, 28-25, and now, many of the same people who believed 2010 would be one of the worst seasons in KU football history are starting to wonder if it might have some magic to it after all.
Winning, especially winning big games, has a way of hiding just about any negative aspects of a team’s performance. The Jayhawks were great on Saturday; they had to be to win. But there were still a few areas of concern and we’ll outline both the good and the bad in the following few paragraphs.
Let’s start with the good, of which there is plenty.
First, the Jayhawks have found their quarterback. Red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb was solid in the upset victory, playing with confidence, energy, poise and passion. He threw plenty of good balls, got the Jayhawks’ passing game into a rhythm and that helped KU find its running game, too. Webb’s strong arm and good instincts are a real asset to this team and he proved that he deserves the opportunity to be the starter from here on out.
Second, the Jayhawks may just have found their top running back, too. True freshman James Sims ran like a man possessed in this one, logging 101 yards and a TD on 17 carries while providing Kansas with the kind of consistency on the ground that it needs to make its passing game dangerous and effective.
Sims certainly did not do it alone. Credit the offensive line for responding to the season-opening debacle with a little anger and toughness. The wide-open passing game and occasional flashes of a hurry-up offense also helped the 6-foot, 206-pound back from Irving, Texas use his power and speed to cut through the Yellow Jackets defense.
What’s more, the presence of Sims and his ability to move the chains, helped make life easier for sixth-year senior Angus Quigley, who also was effective in Saturday’s win, rushing eight times for 46 yards.
Could we be nearing the point where Sims and Quigley line up in the same backfield, perhaps with Quigley at fullback in some packages?
The wide receivers — which Gill calls the strength of this team — also were fantastic in the win, giving Webb good targets and making plays after the catch. Bradley McDougald and Daymond Patterson appear to be on the verge of busting out and Johnathan Wilson seems to be settling into the role of old reliable.
Lastly, the linebackers were out of this world good. You don’t bottle up Georgia Tech’s running game without getting great play from your linebackers and the Jayhawks got monster days from all three. Justin Springer was good enough to be named the Big 12’s defensive player of the week, Steven Johnson was nearly just as good and Drew Dudley made some insanely critical tackles, as well. These guys were great on Saturday and it only further emphasized the point that they need to stay healthy for KU to stand a chance.
As for the negatives, only a few come to mind.
KU coach Turner Gill said during Monday’s Big 12 conference call that he would like to see his team improve in short yardage. There were a handful of third-and-one or third-and-two plays in which the Jayhawks couldn’t move the pile and were stopped. Part of that came from the predictability of the situations and the other part is inexperience. With time and some work, this area should be easy to overcome.
As good as Webb was in his first start, he still had moments when he held on to the ball too long and either was sacked or forced to make a bad throw. I’m sure it has to do with his inexperience out there, but he doesn’t always appear to sense when the pocket is collapsing or the rush is closing in on him. Again, with time, that will be ironed out but it was very much on display during Saturday’s game. The good news, though, is Webb looks comfortable in the pocket and I’d rather see that than a QB who is completely aware all the time. Like I said, the awareness he can work on. His comfort level’s a natural thing.
Lastly, the Jayhawks clearly still need to figure out how to finish games. If they had that trait in the opener, they would’ve beaten NDSU by three touchdowns, just by finishing the job in the fourth quarter. If they had it against Georgia Tech, there would’ve been no need to sweat out Tech’s last drive.
KU’s defense was really good in this department Saturday, save for the one long pass play for a touchdown that gave Tech life. But the offense needs to identify ways to keep moving the chains and chewing up the clock late in games in order for KU to keep adding to its win total.
All in all a really strong effort by the Jayhawks, one that will be talked about for quite some time. The question now is, can they capitalize on the good vibes that came with it by stringing together a couple more wins before Big 12 play arrives?
Kansas University football coach Turner Gill announced Wednesday that red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb would start at quarterback during Saturday’s game against No. 15 Georgia Tech.
This, less than three weeks after announcing near the end of preseason practice that sophomore Kale Pick was the starting QB for the season opener.
Interesting, to be sure. But not completely out of nowhere. The obvious question here is, “Why Webb?”
Did he show enough in limited time last Saturday to make Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long believe he is — all of a sudden — the right guy for this offense? Did he do enough in the practices that followed Saturday’s debacle to warrant getting a real chance to be this team’s QB?
In a word, yes. But the question still remains, “Why Webb?”
Although I backed the selection of Kale Pick as the starter three weeks ago (and I stand by that today), I’m not overly concerned with Gill making the move to Webb. At least not in the way it affects the quarterback position specifically.
How it impacts the team as a whole, what message it sends to KU supporters across the country, and, most importantly, what message it sends to Pick and any future QBs wanting to play for Gill, is a whole different deal. But putting Webb under center is not a bad move.
Gill said at Tuesday’s news conference that the strength of this team was its wide receivers. Not the experienced offensive line, not the linebackers, not the deep-but-unproven batch of running backs and not the secondary. KU’s receivers — Daymond Patterson, Bradley McDougald, Johnathan Wilson, D.J. Beshears, Chris Omigie, Christian Matthews and Erick McGriff, among others — are the most talented group on this team and, Saturday, in a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State, the only time they were able to show that was when they were given the ball on running plays. That won’t cut it.
So the change became necessary.
I’m not saying Pick could not have made this group of receivers a set of stars. Heck, I picked him as my offensive player of the year in a preseason deal we did on our Conference Chatter blog, and, with the way things are going, he still could be the guy.
But it’s been well-documented that Webb has the better arm of the two KU QBs and it’s also quite clear that the offensive line is better suited to pass blocking than run blocking. So instead of trying to force the square peg into the round hole, it’s time for Gill to find the pieces that fit and take the field with those. If he doesn’t, this season will be one of the worst in school history. He can worry about the shapes he wants to play with in the coming years.
That means more throwing. That means Webb. And that could mean good news for the Jayhawks, who have to show better against Georgia Tech on offense, even if they don’t win the game.
I’ve talked to some guys who have said that the coaching staff has wanted Webb to be the guy all along but that Pick did not do enough wrong to justify taking the job away from him. The interception in the end zone last Saturday along with the eye-popping “3” on the scoreboard, appeared to be enough to make the change.
When Gill and company named Pick the starter in August, they did so because they liked his intangibles and because he took care of the ball. Shaken confidence (whether it was his fault or not) hurt Pick’s intangibles and the costly interception hurt Pick’s reputation as a safe quarterback.
Right now, it’s Webb who has the confidence and, at least until Saturday, Webb who has taken better care of the ball.
Gill said both quarterbacks could play again Saturday. And what that tells me is that this thing’s far from settled.
My advice to the fans out there is to expect this thing to last the entire non-conference portion of the schedule. After all, next week at Southern Miss is KU’s first road game and neither of these guys has truly played in one of those either.