• Recorded on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017
• Recorded Tuesday, June 6, 2017
It was almost as if Kansas football coach David Beaty checked Twitter or a couple of KU message boards before hitting the postgame press conference following Thursday night’s 55-19 loss at Texas Tech.
Without hesitating, and with a certain amount of conviction, Beaty came off a little defensive when asked about KU’s quarterback problems, which, at this point, are not in any way, shape or form a minor deal.
“Everybody thinks they know who should be our quarterback, but I’m with them every day in practice,” Beaty told reporters who asked about the ongoing, back-and-forth dance between fourth-year junior Montell Cozart and sophomore Ryan Willis. “We evaluate them every day. We make our decision based on what we see every day.”
That’s great. But for the third straight game, and what seems like the 1,000th consecutive season, the Jayhawks are not getting the production they need from that position.
Is there more to winning football games than quarterback play? You bet. The offensive line has to show up, running backs and receivers have to make plays, the defense has to get stops and you even have to catch a couple breaks here and there.
So, yeah, there’s more to winning football than what happens under center, and you can’t blame all of 1-3 KU’s problems on what’s happening at quarterback. But you’re also not going to fix very many of those problems if you can’t find a quarterback who can do better than what we’ve seen in recent weeks.
I’m not one to claim I know more than a man who has spent nearly his entire adult life coaching football. I’ve never coached it. I’ve never really played it either. And even though that’s often the role and the right of any sports fan, from the extremely casual to the most die-hard, I don’t think that’s the motivation of the angry Jayhawk supporters sounding off about KU’s poor quarterback play.
But here’s the problem with Beaty emphasizing that he’s with KU’s QBs every day: What he is seeing when he’s with those guys every day is not what the rest of us are seeing on game days. Not even close. And, sadly for Kansas, that’s when it counts.
I don’t doubt for a second that both Cozart and Willis, overall, look pretty good during KU’s practices. I’ve seen it. Just like I saw Dayne Crist throw darts back in 2011 and just like I saw Jake Heaps complete nearly everything at practice a year later.
But performance in practice, though an important part of the evaluation, does not get the job done on Saturdays. So maybe it’s time for Beaty and company to start putting more weight on what happens in live action against an actual opponent. Evaluate that. Base the decision about the position on what’s happening when it really counts.
Who looks better against the blitz? Which QB throws more accurate, catchable balls with the defense breathing down his neck? Which player inspires his teammates to play hardest, dig deepest and sell out for the team?
Answer those questions and then pick that guy to play quarterback the rest of the way.
Beaty likes to talk about the need for depth at quarterback and often has mentioned how many Big 12 teams needed more than one quarterback a season ago. Heck, Texas Tech needed two QBs on Thursday night.
But in almost all of those situations, the dynamic between starter and back-up had been clearly established and the second QB, as was the case on Thursday, came into the game when he was needed, not on a whim or as part of a predetermined two-QB system.
I don’t think Beaty wants to go with the two-quarterback system. But, for some reason, I don’t think he wants to decide on one player over the other either.
Losing games is one thing. It happens. It’s been happening. And it’s going to keep happening, at least for a little while.
But losing the fan base is something completely different, something far more dangerous and difficult to bounce back from.
And Beaty’s handling of the QB position four games into his second season in charge of the Jayhawks — that and that alone — has some of the biggest KU football fans I know checking out.
This is not the time to be stubborn or indecisive. It’s time to pick one and play on, win or lose, good or bad.
If you’ve followed Kansas football for any length of time — 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years — you’ve seen, or perhaps even been a part of, a fan base that has suffered through all kinds of frustration, dashed hopes and disappointment.
Few stretches have been as rough as the past seven seasons, though. Kansas has won just 13 games during the dreadful run from 2010-2016 and, every year it seems as if the fan base has had to endure a handful of games — sometimes two or three, sometimes six or seven — that factor into the conversation about the lowest points in recent memory.
One such game popped up last weekend, when the Jayhawks were rocked, 43-7, by Memphis and played a big part in helping the Tigers kick tail.
I’ve covered all but two games during this stretch and, therefore, have seen and heard it all from the fan base that somehow keeps coming back with hope and optimism each season, though in dwindling droves each year.
That’s why it qualified as notable, at least to me, when I watched, saw and heard the reaction to this latest dud. Whether you’re talking about losses to K-State, whippings by Oklahoma and Baylor or no-shows against Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State or a handful of non-conference foes, the anger and frustration coming from the fan base on Saturday was as bad as I can remember.
It’s not so much that the fans can’t handle losing. If anything, they’ve become experts on how to do that. And, for the most part, I don’t think any of them are expecting a reversal of fortunes immediately. What they are expecting, however, is progress. And, whether it’s there during the offseason and practice or not, it’s not showing up on Saturdays and that is creating quite a problem when it comes to support.
I’ve heard countless times from some of the most die-hard fans that losing is something they can handle as long as the losing comes with great effort, sound coaching and solid play. The Jayhawks are there in the effort department. Trust me. These guys — at least the great majority of them — are working and playing their butts off. But too often they’re beating themselves, imploding at the worst times and making life way, way, way too easy for their opponents.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to gauge the mindset of the fan base on Twitter a few hours after KU’s latest loss. As I expected, I received responses that included a lot of anger and frustration and even saw more than a few fans who were already willing to write off the season.
Not the “Don’t worry guys, it’s almost basketball season,” crew. They never go away. I’m talking about true blue KU football fans who seem to be incredibly frustrated about everything from the plays that are called and decisions that are made to the outcome of games and the apparent lack of growth and development.
Here’s a sampling of the variety of the opinions I encountered over the weekend, moving from the I’m done crowd to the I’m still with them folks. I realize Twitter is not the end-all, be-all platform for true sports fans, but it is the easiest place to tap into a wide variety of people and opinions. Beyond these posts, I saw similar frustration surface on message boards, Facebook and even heard quite a bit in person.
As you’ll see, it’s feelings like these that put second-year head coach David Beaty and the entire program in very dangerous and unsettled waters.
When the ball bounced off of LaQuvionte Gonzalez’s shoulder pads late the second quarter of last week’s loss to Ohio, the sneaking suspicion I had at the time was that the muffed punt came because Gonzalez was dying to take another kick back to the house.
Just one kick earlier — that time on a kickoff — the Texas A&M transfer sparked the struggling Jayhawks with a 99-yard kickoff return that put Kansas on the board and back in the game.
So there he was, with those heroics fresh in his mind, ready to receive a punt and hoping to do something similar after a stop by the Kansas defense on the next Ohio possession.
It never happened, though. Gonzalez either took his eyes off the ball, did not get in proper position to field the kick, or possibly even both, and the Jayhawks paid dearly for it.
KU coach David Beaty confirmed the suspicion that I and many others had about that muff on Tuesday, when looking back at Quiv’s miscue.
“I think the thing is he wants to make a play every time the ball is in the air and I think that's what happened to him,” Beaty said.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that mentality. Kansas wants and needs more players with that mindset. But only if those players can have that mindset while still playing smart football.
Gonzalez messed that up not once but twice and by doing so completely negated any advantage that killer instinct might have provided.
Gonzalez will get his opportunity to redeem himself. Heck, he’ll probably get plenty of opportunities to do so. Both Beaty and special teams coach Joe DeForest said they were not worried about his ability move on from the mistakes he made against Ohio.
“I talked earlier about not having Quiv do too much,” Beaty said. “And that's where we have to be very careful about making sure that we don't put too much on him, and really, talking to him about, ‘Hey, man, listen, you don't have to win the game for us. All you've got to do is exactly what we tell you to do.’”
Added DeForest: “We believe in Quiv, we believe in his ability.... You gotta be fearless as a punt returner and I think Quiv is. He just made a technique error and it’s our job, as coaches, to clean it up and get him ready for the next one.”
Prior to last weekend’s loss, Gonzalez elected not to speak to the media for the rest of the season. So it’s up to the coaches and his teammates to speak on his behalf. Although it would be better to hear thoughts directly from the horse’s mouth, those guys who spoke about Gonzalez following Saturday’s loss and again on Tuesday did a nice job of examining the reality of the whole situation.
“I don't think he's scared of anything to be honest with you,” Beaty said of Gonzalez. “He’s not. There are some really good punters in Division I, and the majority of the kicks are going to be fair catches. You've got to wait for them to make a mistake and, when they make a mistake, you've got to capitalize on it. But when you start being selfish and you do things off-schedule, that's where dangerous things happen. We saw it happen to our opponent (Week 1), and it happened to us (last) week.”
What happens from here will tell us a lot both about Gonzalez and Beaty and his coaching staff.
The start of preseason football camp always comes with a lot of routine, more than a little excitement and a vibe that speaks to both the promise and the pressure of the fast approaching season.
And while that often means a lot of the same for the players who have been through it before, every once in a while there’s something new that pops up.
The Jayhawks received a special treat at the beginning of this year’s camp on Wednesday, when KU basketball coach Bill Self addressed the team on Day 1.
I haven’t seen or heard much about the specifics of Self’s talk, but, judging by the first-hand accounts that popped up on Twitter, it seems like the 14th-year hoops coach emphasized the importance of the Jayhawk family and winning.
The football program, as you know, has not done much of the latter in the past several years. But Self on the other hand certainly has.
Obviously there is a dramatic difference between what it takes to win a game of basketball and what it takes to win a game of football, but the concept of promoting a winning culture can be strikingly similar no matter what program you’re talking about.
I’m guessing that was the focal point of Self’s speech and that he promoted things like attitude, character, effort, pride and passion and shared how he believed all of those elements, along with things like attention to detail, sound fundamentals and high standards, can impact a program.
With 385 wins against just 83 losses in his first 13 seasons at KU, few are as qualified as Self to talk about winning. And the fact that he took time out to address David Beaty’s football program says a great deal about the camaraderie and family vibe that currently exists in the KU athletic department.
Self has long been a strong supporter of Kansas football and has never shied away from sharing his beliefs about how important having a winning program is to both the university and the basketball program.
It’s cool to see him take an active role in trying to help create that instead of just expecting someone else to handle it and waiting for it to happen.
Thursday’s news that former KU baseball standout Matt Baty had been hired to lead the Williams Education Fund included one key quote from athletic director Sheahon Zenger that figures to have a huge impact on the future of Kansas football.
“It’s now time to focus on Memorial Stadium,” Zenger said.
No, Baty will not be the man in charge of remodeling, renovating or even conceptualizing what will go down when KU finally gets around to upgrading its football venue. Heck, most of that is already done as it is, though we’re still not anywhere close to targeting a date or perhaps even a year when that might begin.
But Baty will play a crucial role in organizing some of that and also will handle a lot of the day-to-day goings on within the Williams Fund that will make it possible for Zenger to hire another fund-raiser who will be specifically assigned to football and the Memorial Stadium facelift.
Talk about clearing the deck. It’s a phrase that Zenger has used often during the idle chatter concerning what will happen with Memorial Stadium. First came Rock Chalk Park, then the construction of the McCarthy Hall basketball dorm and the DeBruce Center, which houses James Naismith's original rules of basketball. All were crucial moves that, as Zenger liked to say, cleared the deck for more focus to be put on football.
And, in a sense, the hire of Baty and the coinciding announcement of a national search for a football-specific fund-raiser further clears the deck for real progress to be made.
For starters, there’s so much that goes into running the Williams Fund that it’s difficult for any one person to be committed exclusively to any one task. That often made things difficult because of the importance of men’s basketball but also the great many needs that football is facing. Now, with Baty in place, he will be able to run the ship and offer his expertise in many areas and this new person, whomever it is and whenever he or she may be hired, will be given the freedom to pin his or her ears back and attack the football challenge with ferocious intensity.
I’ve heard that this will not be a small hire and that some of the interested parties form an impressive list. That alone brings an element of excitement to the future of football at KU, which, as you all know, is vital for the long-term success and profitability of the athletic department and, in many ways, the university.
However, clearing the deck — in all senses of that phrase — is only one step on the road to football renovations. Zenger, Baty and whomever this new hire winds up being still will need some help from the football program itself.
Momentum has been another key word popping up around the conversations regarding stadium renovations during the past few years. And while these hires and other moves made by the athletic department have helped pave the way, nothing is likely to be done until that momentum is secured.
And momentum, though officially defined as the impetus of a body resulting from its motion, as well as driving power or strength, may as well be synonymous, at least in this case, with victories. Because without wins there can be no momentum within Kansas football and that’s what makes the upcoming season so important for KU.
Second-year coach David Beaty and the Jayhawks do not have to go 6-6 this year to get things rolling. It would help. But it’s not realistic and not even necessary. They do, however, have to win. And more than once. Last year’s 0-12 season, though difficult for many, was hardly a surprise. But following that up with another dud will not be a good sign for the future nor will it make this new football fund-raiser’s job one worth bragging about.
Win three or four games, however, and then things get interesting. Momentum starts to build and that job becomes not only one to be excited about but also one that might actually produce results.
Time will tell how things play out. But bringing Baty back to KU was a good first step in what figures to be a very interesting big-picture process.
We've reached the Top 2 spots in our summer countdown and one of them comes from the offense and the other comes from the defense.
In all, our list of the Top 25 most crucial Jayhawks for the 2016 season includes 13 offensive players and 12 defensive players, which speaks to the balance needed for the Jayhawks to become competitive, but also to the fact that it's the offense that has a little farther to go and the most room for improvement.
No player on the roster should help with that as much as the No. 2 athlete on our board. And his positioning near the top of this list clearly illustrates his importance.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.
This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.
Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.
Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we’ll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.
2. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Jr. Wide Receiver
There have been a few exciting play makers come through the Kansas football program during recent years, even though KU’s rough record during that time may have overshadowed their talent.
Tony Pierson was electric, lightning fast and a threat to score every time he touched the ball. Nick Harwell, though only eligible for one season, had a knack for making plays all over the field. Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears also both played bigger on the field and in the highlights than their frames suggested they would.
But if everything we’re hearing is true, it’s possible that all of them will pale in comparison to finally-eligible Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who figures to be both the focal point and one of the leaders of the Kansas offense in 2016.
Gonzalez, as has now been well documented, carries a couple of nicknames that hint at his top skill — Speedy Gonzalez and The Streakin’ Puerto Rican. And it’s those nicknames and that skill that have the KU coaching staff dreaming up all kinds of different ways for Gonzalez to touch the ball on offense this season.
You name it, he’ll probably do it. And that’s not giving anything away to opposing defenses because, with all of that versatility, no one will ever know exactly how and when KU plans to utilize Gonzalez.
From lining him up out wide to putting him in the slot, he’s a threat at several receiver positions. From those same spots, Gonzalez can — and likely will — come in motion and take direct snaps or run reverses. The possibility even exists that he’ll actually line up in the backfield and take some direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation and/or possibly even look to throw while streaking out to the edge after getting the ball.
His usage is limitless and he’s in such good shape — mentally and physically — that it’s easy to expect and predict him to be on the field as often as humanly possible.
The key to all this, of course, will be finding the right quarterback to get him the ball and, perhaps more importantly, finding an offensive line that can protect that QB. If those two positions hold up even just reasonably well, Gonzalez should have a terrific opportunity to put up some big time stats. Opposing defenses clearly will have something to say about it, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to see a scenario in which Quiv — that’s another of his nicknames — touches the ball on average 10-12 times per game this season.
He showed in the spring game, beyond a shadow of the doubt, what he is capable of, turning a seemingly easy and harmless completion into a big play. And he'll be asked to do a lot more of that when the Jayhawks line up against the 12 teams on their 2016 schedule this fall.
Some within the program have called him the most dynamic player in a KU uniform since Aqib Talib and Gonzalez’s ability to impact the game as a kick returner as well, puts him in position to have a dual-impact much the way Talib did during his days as a Jayhawk.
It’s hard to know exactly where to set the bar of expectations for Gonzalez, but this much is clear: KU’s offense needs him to be as good as advertised in order for the whole thing to click. Because if he is, that puts all of the other wideouts on the roster in a better position to make plays and also takes some of the burden off of the QBs and opens up the running game, as well.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:
If you’ve followed any of the Big 12 expansion talk, whether in the past few years or just the past few days, you’ve probably heard it all.
From which universities are most likely to join the conference to which are the best fit and whether those who already are in the conference are planning to stay there, you’ve likely heard it all.
Of course, a good chunk of that time was spent deciphering whether the Big 12 was even going to expand at all. And, although we still do not know with 100 percent certainty that that is going to happen, the conference’s recent vote that authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to strongly dissect the pros and cons of all interested parties leads many to believe that Big 12 expansion is coming.
We may know more as soon as September and the big questions now are this: Who’s joining and will the Big 12 expand to 12 or 14?
Hindsight many years from now may tell us otherwise, but as things stand today, it does not seem like expansion will be a bad thing for KU. There’s the fear by some that the revenue split will go down, which certainly would be bad for KU, but if the TV contracts are renegotiated then the bottom line number may not drop that much and could even go up.
With that element of this whole situation understood and still as vague as it can be, let’s take a quick look at what the addition of each rumored contender would mean for Kansas.
BYU – Adding the Cougars does not really do anything for Kansas that it doesn’t do for the rest of the conference. If anything, it would bring another tough football program that KU will have to contend with as it attempts to climb out of the Big 12 basement and rebuild its football program into something respectable. BYU’s national brand would bring a few more eyeballs and television sets to Lawrence, Kansas, but not so much that it makes the BYU addition a reason to celebrate.
CINCINNATI - Cincy’s a much bigger city — 65th largest city in the US, 34th largest TV market — than the rest of the Big 12 home bases, which are described as college towns and not metropolitan areas, and adding the Bearcats would bring respectable football of late, a historically solid basketball program and inroads into a strong football recruiting base. That recruiting door sliding open — both for football and basketball — would probably be the most noteworthy aspect of this addition for Kansas.
COLORADO STATE - Kansas is already used to this trip, having partnered with Colorado in the Big 8 and Big 12 for years, so expansion to its neighbor to the west would not be as big of a transition for KU as it would for others. At least today, KU has a bigger athletic department budget than CSU and would be well positioned to stay ahead of the Rams in the Big 12 pecking order. But CSU is in the process of bringing to Fort Collins a $200-million on-campus football stadium and, under former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, who is more than a little familiar with Kansas basketball, has enjoyed a strong and somewhat silent stretch of basketball during the past few seasons. Clearly, this is a program on the rise and, if what I’ve heard about their campaign for Big 12 inclusion is accurate, this is going to be one of the more aggressive schools out there when it comes to bidding for a Big 12 spot.
HOUSTON - I’m a big fan of what Houston is doing right now, but I’m not sure Kansas should be. Houston, in many ways, is a bit of a sleeping giant and could really blow up if it lands under the Big 12 umbrella. That would not necessarily be good news for Kansas, especially the football program. Right now, KU football can go into Houston and get some of those athletes who do not choose to sign with Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Baylor, occasionally even beating out UH for some of the same recruits. But if the Cougars are added to the conference, KU’s edge of being in a Power 5 conference goes away and it would make sense to assume that more than a few of those athletes would decide to stay home.
MEMPHIS - That high-dollar FedEx sponsorship that has been promised, should Memphis get in, would be a great thing for the Big 12 Conference and every single school in the league would benefit big time from that. From a competition perspective, it doesn’t seem like the Tigers would be too much of a threat to what KU can do. We’ll find out more about that in mid-September, when the Jayhawks head to Memphis for their third football game of the season. If anything, adding the Tigers would be a boost for the KU basketball program, provided that new head coach, Tubby Smith, can do in Memphis what he was starting to do at Texas Tech, giving KU an even greater strength of schedule than it already would have and another quality component to battle with in the weeks leading up to the Big Dance.
TULANE - Like the addition of Houston, this would be another blow to KU football, given KU’s recent success in recruiting the New Orleans area. If Tulane gets in, it joins LSU in becoming the only other Power 5 program in the state. That would do wonders for the Tulane football program, which, after inclusion, would have a lot more to offer all of that in-state talent that now is looking elsewhere for its college football needs. There are two sides to every coin, though, so as much as adding Tulane could hurt, it also could help make the mileage gap between Lawrence and Louisiana seem a little smaller given the conference brotherhood.
UCF – Orlando’s a big time market and there’s a lot to gain for the entire conference, should the Big 12 brass believe that now is the time to expand its footprint into Florida. The guess here is that it won’t be, but UCF recently has upgraded its coaching by bringing in Johnny Dawkins (of Stanford and Duke fame) to coach hoops and Scott Frost (of Nebraska and Oregon fame) to coach football. If that doesn’t tell you how serious the Knights are about upgrading their athletic department, nothing will. Adding a Florida-based program would be a bigger lift for KU football than KU hoops. Right now, Bill Self can go anywhere on the planet to recruit an athlete, while KU football has a more focused recruiting region. Adding UCF to the Big 12 would probably be the push KU needed to start exploring with a little more regularity what it can do in the Sunshine State.
UCONN – By far the biggest basketball program on the list that would add buzz to the Big 12, bringing UConn in would give Kansas its first truly elite conference partner in the college basketball world. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas during the past decade or so all have been big time in the college basketball world. But those three combined can’t touch what UConn has done on the college basketball landscapre. National titles — both men’s and women’s — and Hall of Fame coaches are commonplace in Storrs, Connecticut. Add to that the fact that the UConn campus is less than an hour from ESPN headquarters in Bristol. The travel hit here would be significant. Storrs is 524 miles east of West Virginia (think Lawrence to Dallas), but the advantages seem to far outweigh the disadvantages.