Notre Dame viewed Toben Opurum as a fullback, not a featured back. Others grew excited at the prospect of him playing linebacker. Kansas University told him he could be a running back.
Ohio State was interested in Bradley McDougald as a safety. Kansas told him he could be a receiver and compete immediately for the spot vacated by Dexton Fields. Things couldn’t have worked out better for McDougald, who is on the field when KU uses four receivers and leaves the tight end on the bench.
Winning those two recruiting battles hints at how the current imbalance on a Kansas football team that is so good offensively, so shaky on defense, could grow to this extent.
Kansas is at the point it’s starting to go against heavyweights in recruiting, and to win the battles the players must find something they like better about what Kansas offers than about what the school with a longer football tradition offers.
Very often, that means the chance to play on offense, viewed by many young players as more exciting, especially the way Kansas plays it.
The quality of recruiting has inched up each year during Mark Mangino’s reign, but it still hasn’t reached the point of recruiting a deep pool of starter-quality defensive players. The margin for error in recruiting decisions remains too small, and clearly some mistakes were made.
Iowa State’s massive offensive line exposed KU’s front seven in a way that raised the question of whether the defense has Big 12 agility and strength and a nasty-enough demeanor. Devising a scheme to stop from getting burned on wide receiver screens will help, but talent is such a big part of the issue.
“We know what the issues are, and we have to get them corrected on the practice field,” Mangino said after Saturday’s 41-36 survival against Iowa State. “I think our defense as a unit has really got to toughen up a little bit. We really just have to toughen up and really get a little bit of a mental edge to us.”
The sort of mental focus and edge displayed by true freshman Opurum, a battering ram of a running back and pass-blocker?
“You bet,” Mangino said.
Opurum doesn’t quite have the speed to turn the corner to become a serious break-away threat, but other than that, he has the whole package.
He’s smart, mature, focused, physical, powerful and sure-handed.
He picked up Iowa State blitzers in a most physical manner.
“You can’t show that you’re intimidated,” he said afterward. “If you deliver the blow instead of taking it, it leaves them intimidated. They’re not going to want to come in as hard as they did before. It definitely helps that you can send a message as a blocker.”
Even with Jake Sharp out, the offense is humming, and it’s a good thing it is.
“You don’t like to win that way,” Mangino said. “You like to have balance to your team. ... I prefer not to have shootouts, but if we’ve got to shoot it out, we’ve got to shoot it out.”