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Posts tagged with Oklahoma

Monday Rewind - Oklahoma: Return of the running game a good step, but can KU keep it going?

Kansas running back Darrian Miller makes a cut against Oklahoma during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Darrian Miller makes a cut against Oklahoma during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It's hard to know if it can be trusted given the inconsistency of the offensive line, but it appears that the Kansas University football team has found its running game again.

During last Saturday's loss to 18th-ranked Oklahoma the Jayhawks came out on fire in the first quarter, with senior James Sims leading the way with 11 carries for 85 yards. Those numbers included Sims carrying the ball on seven of KU's first eight plays from scrimmage and eight of the first 10 en route to the 13th 100-yard rushing day of his career.

One of the great parts about getting Sims going again — sophomore Darrian Miller also looked sharp with 67 yards on 9 carries — is that this latest effort came against a legitimate defense. The 6-1 Sooners rank at or near the top of the Big 12 in almost every major defensive category and, for a quarter, the Jayhawks had their way with them, opening up huge holes, getting a great push from the offensive line and picking up double-digit clips of yardage over and over on the ground.

While that was beneficial for this team's chances in that game, the best part overall is that it likely restored this team's confidence in itself and its ability to run the ball again. You know the old theory, 'Hey, if we can do it against a team like OU, we can do it against anybody.'

While that may be true and certainly was the case in 2012, the key from here on out will be to keep the hunger and desperation that delivered the performance in the first place. This is no time to get complacent or feel too good about the job they did on the ground vs. Oklahoma. It still came in a losing effort and it was slowed down significantly from the first quarter on.

A couple of people I talked to about the game said that OU's coaches were very impressed with how KU came out and ran the ball. For one, they did not expect the Jayhawks' to be able to dominate up front like they did and, for two, a lot of the looks the Jayhawks showed in that first quarter rushing attack were new to the OU coaches and players. Credit KU coach Charlie Weis and his staff, once again, for coming up with clever ways to disguise the basics of what they do. Now, the key is to either figure out a way to do it for longer periods of time or make the necessary adjustments to prevent the offense from hitting the wall.

While last Saturday's effort was encouraging, it was much more about heart and being questioned as football players, men and competitors than anything else.

After Saturday's loss to the Sooners, which, like the Texas Tech loss before it, started out in such promising fashion, Weis was asked to determine how fragile his locker room was at this point in the season. It's one thing to lose games and have no chance in them, but it's another to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders and feeling sky high only to see that hot start turn into a sluggish finish and another loss. Such an up-and-down pattern can really mess with the mind, and these guys deserve credit for hanging in there, whether that includes this year, last year or their entire careers.

Weis has said time and time again that there are enough quality leaders and people who care in that locker room to keep the fragile mindset out of the equation. But the Jayhawks are not in this to keep from being too fragile; they're in it to win games and, even if it does make for a good soundbite, they really don't care about moral victories.

“That was the whole conversation I had after the game,” Weis said. “That was my whole message, about how you really have one of two ways to go when things don't go well. Especially half way through the year, you're sitting at 2-4, you could say, 'Ah, the hell with it, we're 2-4, that's just the way it's gonna go.' Or you could fight to do everything you can to be part of the answer.”

“That was basically the challenge to them,” he continued. “And this was an individual challenge, not a team challenge. It wasn't, 'What's the team gonna do?' it was, 'What are you gonna do?' Because, really the only one that you can control is you. So that was the question I posed to all of them.”

With high-powered Baylor on deck, things may get worse before they get better. But if the Jayhawks can hang in there in that one and continue to put forth the Oklahoma- and TCU-type efforts, things could start to look up down the stretch, when the schedule softens just a bit, believe it or not.

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

Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings is swarmed by Oklahoma defenders Tony Jefferson (1) Corey Nelson (7) and Chuka Ndulue (98) during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 at Memorial Stadium in Norman.

Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings is swarmed by Oklahoma defenders Tony Jefferson (1) Corey Nelson (7) and Chuka Ndulue (98) during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 at Memorial Stadium in Norman. by Nick Krug

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.

Stay tuned...

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Three & Out with Oklahoma…

• Kansas Jayhawks (1-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (4-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) •
— 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla. —

Opening Las Vegas Line: OU -35.5
Current Las Vegas Line: OU -35
Television: FSN

Three and out, with Oklahoma...

First down
As is the case during most years, the Oklahoma roster is packed with future pros, but this defense, which ranks 14th in the country and has seen its starters surrender just one touchdown in the past three weeks, is led by an usual group — its defensive backs. OU’s three leading tacklers start in the secondary, with safeties Tony Jefferson (37) and Javon Harris (30) joining cornerback Aaron Colvin (20) as the top tacklers on the team.

KU coach Charlie Weis said the trio of defensive backs leading the team in tackles is a product of the way the Sooners play defense. There’s not a lot of trickery and deceit and the defensive backfield often is divided into quarters, with each guy manning an area and all of the defensive linemen and linebackers funneling the action into those spots where the DBs often play close to the line of scrimmage and lower the boom on anybody that comes their way.

Odd-cornerback-out, Demontre Hurst is fifth on the team with 18 tackles.

Second down
While KU has started to look to red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings to bring a different a little different look — read: more mobile — to the Jayhawks’ offense, what Cummings does on the field pales in comparison to what the Sooners get from their change-of-pace quarterback, Wichita native Blake Bell.

Known simply as “The Belldozer,” OU’s back-up QB to Landry Jones stands 6-foot-6, 254 pounds and has one job and one job only.

“We know about the Belldozer,” Weis said. “We all got that one down. They put in this huge mountain of a man at quarterback when they get down close (to the goal line) and they run Jayhawk formation, they snap it to him and he runs it in and everyone knows he’s going to run it. We will probably stop him and he’ll probably throw a pass (this week). But when they put him in there, it is usually just to go ahead and muscle it in.”

OU coach Bob Stoops said they believed when they recruited Bell that he could add that kind of Tim Tebow look to the offense.

“We knew how big and strong he was,” Stoops said. “He was a good athlete in high school. We always recruit our quarterbacks first on if they can throw the football and if you can run with it, it gives you a little extra dimension.”

Third down
Putting too much emphasis on The Belldozer seems to be a dangerous idea considering the fact that the guy who starts at QB is the Sooners’ all-time leader in several statistical categories.

“It really all starts with Landry Jones,” Weis said. “He’s 6-foot-4, 218-pounds, has experience, a big arm and accurate. He throws for 270 a game. The things that you have to look for to stand out for good quarterbacks is touchdown-to-interception ratio and in this case it’s 3-1, which I think is always a magic number. He has nine touchdowns and three interceptions, which is a 3-1 ratio.”

Jones currently ranks as OU’s all-time leader in wins by a QB (33), passing yards (13,731), TD passes (102), completions (1,135) and pass attempts (1,813) and ranks fourth in completion percentage (.626).

Punt
Oklahoma leads the all-time series with Kansas, 69-27-6. The Sooners have won seven straight against the Jayhawks, including a 47-17, primetime victory last season in Lawrence, when the Sooners came in ranked first in the country.

Prior to that, KU had hung tough with the Sooners for a while during their last two meetings, losing 35-13 in 2009, and 45-31 in 2008. KU was ranked 24th and 16th in those games, respectively.

KU’s last win in the series came in 1997 in Lawrence, when Terry Allen’s first KU squad stunned the Sooners in front of a crowd of 43,500 at Memorial Stadium.

OU owns a 36-13-3 advantage in games played in Norman.

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