Dugan Arnett’s KU football notebook

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jayhawks still struggling in first half

Whatever the reason for the Kansas University football team’s early-game struggles this season — unfamiliar defensive looks, turnovers, nerves — things need to improve.

And quickly.

That was the message coach Mark Mangino issued during his meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, three days after the Jayhawks were held to a season-low six first-half points in a 35-13 loss to then-No. 25 Oklahoma.

“We’re doing everything we can to prevent it,” said Mangino, whose team will take on Texas Tech at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Lubbock, Texas. “We’ve studied this thing inside and out. We’ve just got to make plays early in the game. There’s no reason for making as many mistakes early as we have early in the last couple ballgames.”

Despite featuring what is currently the nation’s 10th-ranked scoring offense, Kansas has managed just nine first-quarter points in three Big 12 Conference games this season.

A good deal of the trouble has been the offense’s struggle with turnovers. The Jayhawks have turned the ball over a combined five times in the first half of their last two games, including three against the Sooners that led to two OU touchdowns.

“We just have to avoid early mistakes that put our defense in tough situations,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “And that’s what’s really happened the past couple weeks, is some early mistakes that put us in tough situations defensively.”

At the same time, Mangino assured that Kansas wouldn’t significantly alter its approach going forward.

“I’m not going to make any drastic changes in anything that we do, because our offense has proven for the last few years that they can play well, they can put up numbers, win a lot of games,” Mangino said. “We’ve hit a couple rough spots here, that’s the way I see it."

Veteran players taking on lesser roles

In an attempt to correct some of the Jayhawks’ recent defensive woes, Kansas coaches have been forced to utilize players a little earlier than they might have liked.

Freshmen Lubbock Smith and D.J. Beshears have figured prominently into the team’s secondary rotation in recent weeks, and the result has been diminished roles for some of the program’s proven veterans, at least two of whom — defensive backs Justin Thornton and Daymond Patterson — have lost starting roles during the midseason reshuffling.

“We had some upperclassmen that we had counted on to be full-time players, and what we’re finding is maybe some of those upper-classmen are more effective as part-time players,” Mangino said. “And that’s what we’re seeing. Less reps, and it’s less thinking, more playing, not putting them in tough spots, not making it too difficult for them.”

Branstetter enjoying recent hot streak

Though the 57-yard field goal booted by KU placekicker Jacob Branstetter in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma might have raised Mangino’s eyebrows a bit, the coach has no intentions of making 60-yard attempts a regular occurrence.

“I’ve always had confidence in him, but I’m not going to budge that his range, when there’s no wind factor involved, is around 48, 49 yards,” he said. “But when you have a 15 mile-an-hour gust of wind behind you, I’ll give him another 10 (yards). He proved that he can do that.”

At the same time, the junior from Lawton, Okla., is currently locked into the best stretch of his college career. In the team’s past two games, he has connected on all five of his field-goal attempts, including kicks of 42, 43 and 57 yards — the last of which tied for the fourth-longest kick in school history.