Matt Tait: Don’t look now, but the Kansas football offense is a whole lot of fun again
photo by: Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
That’s two weeks in a row where the Kansas football team fell into a 14-0 hole to open the game but managed to crawl out of it to win on the road.
Pro tip: Stop doing that.
There’s no doubt that the Jayhawks felt some measure of comfort after going down to Houston 14-0 during Saturday’s 48-30 Kansas victory.
After all, much like the Kansas men’s basketball team relied on the memory of its its comeback from a big deficit at Kansas State when they were trailing by 15 at halftime of the national title game, these Jayhawks had been there before and knew they could overcome it.
In general, though, being down by two scores anywhere — especially on the road — is not a real comfortable place to be. And if the Jayhawks truly do have bowl aspirations this season, which all of a sudden seems way less laughable and way more realistic, they’ll need to figure out a way to get off to better starts.
The way things have gone so far for Lance Leipold’s club, I have no doubt they’ll clean that up. When was the last time anyone was that convinced that KU football would do the right thing and do it quickly?
OK, now that we got that out of the way, there’s just one other question we need to ask.
To quote the late, great Vince Lombardi: What the hell’s going on out here?
The Kansas football program has an offense again. More than that, the Kansas football program has an offensive coordinator again.
His name is Andy Kotelnicki and he has called a nearly perfect first three games for the Jayhawks during this improbable 3-0 start.
You have to go all the way back to the Ed Warinner days to recall a Kansas offense that looked like this and played with this much fun and freedom.
Through the first three weeks of the season, it has looked as if the Jayhawks have known that the opposing defenses could not stop them, so they hit them with anything they wanted and did it all with a smile.
No one has had a bigger smile than quarterback Jalon Daniels — 281 yards of total offense and five TDs on Saturday — but that’s just because you can see the KU QB’s grin glowing through his facemask on the field. If the cameras showed the booth as often as they show the quarterback, you might see a pretty electric smile coming from Kotelnicki, too.
Kotelnicki’s on one heck of a heater. Just think about what he dialed up during Saturday’s win, which featured a third consecutive game of KU’s offensive line not giving up a sack.
There was more QB run game, which led to Daniels rushing for a career-high 123 yards and two touchdowns. There was the reverse to Quentin Skinner on a critical fourth-and-short in the third quarter. There was the direct snap to Devin Neal, who handed it to Daniels so he could fake a reverse and throw a touchdown to Jared Casey. And there was the easy pitch and catch from Daniels to Luke Grimm on the first play out of the locker room after the weather delay that Kotelnicki had an hour to call and his players needed mere seconds to execute to perfection.
Nevermind the way Kotelnicki shows off his mastery of offensive play-calling by creatively using Casey, Torry Locklin and KU’s stable of running backs whenever, wherever and however he wants.
This stuff is imaginative, electric and a whole lot of fun. More importantly, it is all designed to do the one thing that Kotelnicki has emphasized as the most important job of an offense — put stress on the defense.
KU’s OC has talked about that a lot since he arrived in Lawrence. Each time, he has pointed to the importance of creating in-game stress, as in forcing defenders to read and react or make tough decisions in space.
The way things have gone so far, though, it’s safe to assume that KU’s first three victims — and future Kansas opponents, as well — have experienced their share of mid-week and game day mental stress, too.
Don’t get me wrong, the Kansas defense is making plays, too. But you might even credit the offense for some of those.
After all, confidence can spread throughout an entire team and in that way these three wins have been complete team efforts.
Beyond that, when your offense is cooking like Kansas’ has been so far this season, it can inspire a defense to dig a little deeper to make the plays that give the ball back to your offense.
But this wild start, which only figures to get wilder next week when the Jayhawks return home to face unbeaten Duke, has been all about the offense.
The Jayhawks entered Week 3 leading the nation in scoring at 55.5 points per game. They threw up 48 points against the Cougars’ defense and now the question isn’t so much whether the Jayhawks can keep it up but rather who can stop them.
Get this: Next week, one of the biggest storylines of the Jayhawks’ Week 4 contest will be Coach K against Duke. Buckle up.