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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Back on track?

KU hoping to re-establish running game

Kansas running back Jake Sharp seeks the end zone after making a catch in a September 2009 game against Duke.

Kansas running back Jake Sharp seeks the end zone after making a catch in a September 2009 game against Duke.

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KU football prepping for Red Raiders

The KU football team is preparing to travel to Lubbock to face the high-octane Texas Tech offense.

Jake Sharp is tough.

Just about everyone associated with the Kansas University football team will tell you so. They will tell you this any time you ask about the speedy running back, and, often, when you don’t.

In fact, if you are a reporter covering the Jayhawks, and you have been doing your job for a year or more, you probably have been subjected to at least 37 stories about how much Sharp can lift or how many hits he can take or how much pain he can tolerate — the point of all these stories being: Jake Sharp is really, truly, a tough son of a gun.

So Tuesday, when the Jayhawks’ senior running back was asked whether he was still hampered by an undisclosed leg injury that kept him out of three games earlier this season, his response was not altogether surprising.

“No,” he said, seeming a little annoyed by the question. “By no means.”

Anyone who has watched Sharp since his return, however, undoubtedly has been struck by the fact that the Salina native has yet to return to his early-season form, and comments Sunday from KU coach Mark Mangino — who indicated the player still lacked his usual explosiveness — did nothing to dispel this theory.

In two games since returning from the injury, Sharp has looked far from his old self, rushing for a combined 51 yards on 20 carries —just 2.6 yards per carry — despite averaging 113.5 through the Jayhawks’ first two games this fall.

What’s more, as the team’s top running back has struggled to regain his old form, the team’s ground game has struggled right along with him.

The Jayhawks have managed just 73 combined rushing yards in back-to-back losses to Colorado and Oklahoma — including a minus-eight-yard performance against the Buffaloes — totals that have led the team’s coaching staff to make the ground game a high priority heading into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. road matchup with Texas Tech.

“We have to be who we are, and I think we have to continue to try to establish the run game and have some balance, because if you have some balance, good things happen for you,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “That doesn’t always happen —sometimes the defense will dictate whether you have balance or not. ... But we definitely have the mind-set where we need to run the ball effectively.”

While the lack of a 100-percent healthy Sharp certainly hasn’t helped, meanwhile, the team’s recent rushing troubles can be attributed to a number of factors.

In each of their past two games, for instance, the Jayhawks have been forced to play from behind after falling into a considerable scoring hole, causing them to stray from the run game in an effort to maximize the clock.

The team is still breaking in a young and relatively inexperienced offensive line, meanwhile, and despite Mangino’s assertion that “Jake on a bad leg is better than a lot of running backs on two good legs,” the absence of a fully healthy Sharp has forced coaches to alter certain aspects of the run game.

“Certainly, Jake has an element of speed that we like to have on the field,” said offensive-line coach/run-game coordinator John Reagan. “It’s not necessarily that (his health) has been a hindrance, but certainly we haven’t had that, so we’ve had to work different directions with it.”

Last week, the different direction was true freshman running back Toben Opurum, who recovered from a two-carry, three-yard performance against Colorado two weeks ago to rush for 59 yards on 13 carries against Oklahoma, turning in an impressive 4.5 yards-per-carry average against one of the nation’s top defenses.

Based on the unpredictable nature of the Big 12 Conference so far this fall, however, it’s hard to tell what to expect for this weekend’s game. The Red Raiders have had success against two of the conference’s top rushing team’s this season, holding Nebraska and Kansas State to a combined 186 yards on the ground, but last week gave up 321 run yards to Texas A&M;, a team that entered the game with an undistinguished ground attack.

What’s less questionable is this: For Kansas to put itself in position to battle for a spot in December’s Big 12 championship game, a substantial ground attack is a necessity.

“We need to go out there at the start of the game and get our offense established early,” Sharp said. “That’s a big thing, and once that happens, and if we can get our run game established, then things open up and things just start rolling for us.”

Comments

okjhok 10 years, 3 months ago

I don't know...Jake looked pretty good in the open field last week. The trouble was, he wasn't in the open field enough. You can't judge his worth against a defense like OU's. That said, I thought he looked like he was healthy. I look for him to have a good game on Saturday.

Brian Leiker 10 years, 3 months ago

I translate this into: KU goes down 7-0 early. Decides to shorten the game by establishing the run, TECH knows this already, so stops our first 2 plays forcing us into a 3rd and long. We don't convert on 3rd, punt, fall behind 14-0 and start pressing. I hate the old bullcrap notion that you have to run to open up the passing game when in fact KU should pass first, and it doesn't have to be deep route that gets picked. If we want to hang with Tech Saturday we need to hit them with quick slants and start using Sharp out of the backfield. There isn't a linebacker in the country that can cover him, yet we've thrown to him like twice this year.

cg1029 10 years, 3 months ago

This is a ridiculus notion that we need Jake to successfully run the ball. Jake has been a solid back for us, but by no means spectacular.
As an offense we would be better off this season getting Todd Oporum more carries. Take the Colorado game as an example: The whole game Col was dropping between 6-8 guys in coverage because they knew that we were not running the ball, and that if we did a LB was enough to cover Sharp (health could have been a factor, but if so he should not be in the game) Using TO changes they way the D has to play us. You have to keep an extra LB in and be wary of the running plays between the tackles which means that instead of dropping 6 into pass coverage you get maybe 5.

Reesings best year was when we had a big power back in B Mack and we could run the ball and force the D to play us straight up. When you either refuse to run the ball, or can't run the ball you allow the D to make plays like the 85 yard pick 6 OU had last week. No running game means no play action, and more pressure on the recievers since you have no real chance to surprise the D.

d_prowess 10 years, 3 months ago

When Sharp got caught from behind during the OU game, I knew he wasn't 100%. If he is as fast as they say he is and healthy, he should have never been caught on that play.

KUFan90 10 years, 3 months ago

Agree 100% cg1029.

"Toben Opurum, who recovered from a two-carry, three-yard performance against Colorado"

"Recovered"?? One of the 2 carries was a one yard TD run. Recovered makes it sound like he had a bad game. If the coaches won't play him not much he can do about it. Ignoring TO vs Colorado was the first mistake that got us into this mess.

I was happy to see the increased role for Opurum last week and want to see it continue.

Eliott Reeder 10 years, 3 months ago

Mangino LOVES Jake Sharp. Loves his work ethic. Loves his demeanor. Loves that he is a senior and tough as nails. Apparently this blinds him to the obvious fact that Opurum should be getting 80% of the carries (if not more). Sit Sharp. Run the T.O. railroad up their gut for goodness sakes!!! Bring Sharp in to run their little shovel pass play and anything else that can get him the ball in the open field, far from any would-be tacklers. Sharp can SUPPOSEDLY run what, a sub 4.3 forty? That is what they've been saying all these years. Which is why I was very surprised to see him get caught from behind on that long run last week. OU must have some extremely fast DBs...

Brad Avery 10 years, 3 months ago

The advantage of a the spread offense between the 20s is that the defense is stretched in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the field. The defense can't effectively guard all the space available and it therefore has to give up something. This advantage is largely eliminated in the red zone because the field has shrunk. A more effective red zone offense that utilizes an extra blocker(s) instead of the spread would help the running game. Also running the tight end with quick drags underneath the wides or using the TE on corner routes against the safety or linebacker in the red zone with play action would create matchup problems.

dcmander 10 years, 3 months ago

Most safetys can catch running backs after a big gain. Running backs can accelerate quickly but tire quickly on 40yd+ rushes.

number1jayhawker 10 years, 3 months ago

cg1029, good points.

As far as Jake being caught from behind, if you watch the play again you can see when he reaches an OU player, he has to take a step to the side and this is what allowed the OU DB to catch him.

Ted Toulouse 10 years, 3 months ago

Why does it take a unit performing poorly to prompt making something at practice a "high priority?" I sick of hearing "well, that unit stunk last week so we're going to make it a high priority this week."

If the coaching staff is actually spending more time on one unit vs. another, won't that affect the other units? Why don't they just keep the intensity up during the whole practice so that maybe we can have a day where ALL units perform well?

Maybe this is the difference between the have and have-not programs.

gojbirds 10 years, 3 months ago

Opurum is hoping to "bounce back" from the CU performance? One of his 2 rushes was a TD. He should have been a more important part of the office since it was clear that Sharp wasn't 100% in that game. Not giving Opurum a chance to get established cost us that game.

Clarence Haynes 10 years, 3 months ago

You are correct gojbirds. It cost us a special season! This is not an indictment against Jake, but if you are not 100% and you have someone like Opurum to step in to run and provide pass protection, you beat CU and you go into the OU game with a different psyche!

Michael Leiker 10 years, 3 months ago

The sentiment seems to be pretty consistent here and I agree. I appreciate a tough kid from Central Kansas as much as anyone but Toben is just such a nice change up for our offense that it kills me to not see him get the ball a ton. Having a hard straight ahead runner to compliment our passing game just seems like such an obvious benefit that you have to have the blinders on to not see it.

Steve Brown 10 years, 3 months ago

CJ1029 well said.

Sharpe should get 20% not 90% of carries if he is weakened, MM is letting emotions over rule logic.

David Robinett 10 years, 3 months ago

cg1029 & kookkeith, leikness, lighthawk, right on.

TO has got to be the man. Just sprinkle some Jake in for change of pace, and RB out of the backfield. I really believe that going with Jake over TO cost us the CU game, and set us back in the OU game.

So, is Reesing just not right this year (mucho picks, compared to near-zero in 2007) OR is it that we lack the ground game (balance) of that year? Methinks 'yea'.

I think teams are also beginning to anticipate the Todd-Scramble a bit better - see OU sacks.

cg1029 10 years, 3 months ago

Speaking of TO and his 2 carries at Colorado... Potentially he would not have gotten the second or the TD if the refs had not called for a review of the spot on the previous play. When the refs called for the replay Reesing was under center and sharp was the back... when they came back from the replay TO was in the game.

Kenneth Hillman 10 years, 3 months ago

Keep these comments rolling because it is exactly what I have been thinking and saying. There is a loyalty from HCMM to Sharp that needs to end...now! Mas TO please HCMM. I think a TO 80% and Sharp 20% split sounds good. This is not a knock on Sharp and I don't think he is 100% healthy either.

I hope Reesing can recover from these last two games. He needs to forget about it and move on. He has what it takes.

The defense looked better against OU and I will give props when they're due. But please work on defending the hitch. Wow we are getting killed on that. Since speed isn't something we can get overnight, we need better fundamentals on defending that play. TT will murder us with short passes if we can't perform better there.

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