Kansas' kick return, punt teams struggling
Little doubt the biggest mystery surrounding the Kansas University football team has been the sudden disappearance of its kick-return game in general and Marcus Herford in particular.
One publication tapped Herford as a preseason All-American return specialist. And why not? Last year, Herford averaged 28.6 yards per return and bolted for two touchdowns. Two years ago, he averaged 26.1 yards.
Now, as a senior, Herford looks like he's running in cement. The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder is averaging a paltry 12.8 yards per return.
Saturday against Colorado, Herford was right on his average. He returned two kickoffs, each for 13 yards.
As a team, the Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff return. How bad is that? The worst. KU ranks 119th out of the 119 NCAA bowl subdivision teams.
Last year, KU ranked No. 7 nationally by averaging 25.21 yards every time it returned a kickoff.
If the Jayhawks are ever going to break out of the kickoff-return horse latitudes, this may be the Saturday. Oklahoma already has had two of its kickoffs returned for TDs.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks' punt-return game has been OK, but the punt coverage has been below par, mainly because opponents are returning too many of them.
KU has punted only 25 times in its six games, but 15 of those punts - more than any other Big 12 Conference school - have been returned. Kansas ranks 75th nationally in net punting.
More hang time on punter Alonso Rojas' kicks would help, but more speed among the punt coverers might be a bigger boon.
National title race of no interest to Mangino
As the national championship picture has begun to take shape loosely - Saturday marked the halfway point in the college football season - at least one Big 12 coach hasn't seemed to notice.
KU coach Mark Mangino said Monday that, despite his team's No. 16 ranking and its ability to potentially make a run at the Big 12 North title, he hasn't spent too terribly long working out national-championship scenarios in his head.
"In all due respect, right now, I haven't given a thought to who's going to play in the national championship game," said Mangino, whose team has remaining games against No. 1 Texas, No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 11 Missouri. "That is not something that I think about. What I'm preparing to do is to play an outstanding Oklahoma team."
Sharp handling workload well
Kansas running back Jake Sharp obviously had no problem producing in Saturday's victory over Colorado - he finished with a season-high 118 yards rushing and three TDs. What impressed Mangino was that Sharp was able to maintain his performance throughout the game.
"We like how he showed no signs of wearing down in the fourth quarter," Mangino said. "He was strong, he was running hard, he was blocking well, he was catching the ball. We just have faith in him. He's the type of guy that'll do whatever you want him to do."
In Kansas' past six quarters of play, Sharp has rushed 49 times for 188 yards and four touchdowns, while hauling in six passes for 120 yards and another score.
KU baseball coach Ritch Price named a player and pitcher of the week during the first month of fall workouts. The first week's honorees were outfielder Brian Heere, a Lawrence High product, and left-hander Travis Blankenship, a transfer from Johnson County CC who prepped at Free State High.
Also named players of the week were juco transfer shortstop David Narodowski, freshman outfielder Jason Brunansky and senior first baseman Preston Land. The remaining pitching honors went to freshman right-handers Lee Ridenhour and Kevin Burk, and soph right-hander T.J. Walz.
Happy Birthday, Fam
Don Fambrough, who coached KU's football team from 1971-74 and from 1979-1982, will turn 86 on Sunday.