Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jayhawks focused on running game

Kansas running back Toben Opurum (35) finds some open space in the first half of the Kansas-Kansas State game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Manhattan.

Kansas running back Toben Opurum (35) finds some open space in the first half of the Kansas-Kansas State game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Manhattan.


Although most of the outside world is fixated on finding out which quarterback — red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb or sophomore Kale Pick — will win the starting job this fall for the Kansas University football team, the Jayhawks, for now, seem more interested in other areas.

During last Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage, the KU offense ran about 70 plays, according to offensive coordinator Chuck Long. Of those snaps, Long said about 50 were running plays.

“We had a big run emphasis in our scrimmage,” Long said. “We wanted to find out some things about run schemes and some of our players. We’re still trying to figure some things out as far as personnel.”

In all, the Jayhawks have at least six running backs to choose from when deciding how to split carries this fall.

Sixth-year senior Angus Quigley emerged from spring drills as the No. 1 back on the depth chart, and red-shirt freshman Deshaun Sands came in at No. 2.

Beyond those two, the Jayhawks also have returners Rell Lewis and Toben Opurum as well as true freshmen Brandon Bourbon and James Sims.

KU coach Turner Gill said Monday, at KU’s annual media day, that he would like to find one running back who could handle 20-25 carries a game.

“No doubt. No doubt,” Gill said. “If we don’t have it, we’ll find a way to still move the football and run the ball. But if I had to sit here and say exactly what I would like to have, it’s having somebody that would carry the ball 20-25 times.”

Long said the reason for the staff’s desire to find a true featured back is that running backs, like quarterbacks, often need time to get into the flow of a game.

“There’s a misconception out there with running backs that if they can run just give ’em the ball, it doesn’t matter if it’s one time or 25 times,” Long said. “That’s really not true. They need the rhythm just like a quarterback needs the rhythm, and people don’t realize that. Their rhythm is the timing with the offensive line, the timing of the play. Some plays are run at a slower pace than others, and that’s what they have to get used to. That’s why you want a guy to get 20-25 (carries) because some of your best production is from carry 15 to carry 25.”

“Are we there, can we say it definitively right now, no,” Long continued. “It’s still a work in progress. But, ideally, you’d like to get to that point.”

The general opinion is that bigger backs are better suited to handle that kind of workload. That school of thought would favor Quigley and Opurum, who both stand 6-foot-1 and weigh 221 and 240 pounds, respectively.

But Long said another way of looking at things could make a case for smaller backs like Sands, who measures 5-7, 190.

“The thing that helps Deshaun is he’s quick,” Long said. “He never gets hit, it’s just glancing blows. (NFL Hall of Famer) Barry Sanders is a guy that just never got hit square on, so he stayed healthy all the way through the year. The opposite (is often) true with those big guys who don’t have the quicks, it’s just pound, pound, pound.”

Regardless of the size or style of his stable of running backs, Gill said Monday he wants the same thing from all of them.

“I want them to be a physical runner, to be athletic, make people miss, and hopefully we have a home-run-hitter that has the speed and can go the distance,” he said. “We are still evaluating and trying to figure out the best fit for our running game. We won’t have a true answer until we are in game situations. But once we get into some games, we will be able to see what our guys can really do; who are the strong blockers and what guys can really get it done. There is not a leading guy at this point.”

Fan Appreciation Day set for Aug. 22

Jayhawk fans will get a chance to see the 2010 KU football team up close and personal at Fan Appreciation Day on Aug. 22.

The event will coincide with a KU practice, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. Gates will open at 4:30, and admission is free.

Following the workout, the entire team will be available for autographs. Fans are asked to limit autograph requests to one item per player or coach.

Round 2 for two-a-days

The Jayhawks will hit the practice field twice today for the second of three scheduled two-a-day practice sessions.

The first such workout came Tuesday, when the Jayhawks practiced once in the morning and again in the afternoon in temperatures that soared into triple digits. Today’s forecast calls for more heat as the high is expected to hit 102 degrees.

KU coach Turner Gill said Monday that he liked the fact that his team was able to practice in extreme conditions now because it better prepares them for the hot and humid days of the season.

Two-a-days for most Jayhawks begin with a big breakfast around 6:45 a.m. and end around 10 p.m. after an evening film session.

KU’s final two-a-day session of the preseason is scheduled for Monday.


Patrick Leiker 7 years, 9 months ago

Good article, thanks.

A request for you guys at the Journal World. Before running an article, please do a find and replace. Look for "Kansas University" and replace with "The University of Kansas". thank you.

Matt Tait 7 years, 9 months ago

pleiker - Thanks for the note!!!

This has come up several times throughout the years here but our style is to call it Kansas University so that the second reference of "KU" fits.

Thanks for reading. - Matt

DevilHawk 7 years, 9 months ago


Thank you for the explanation.

However, KU is the short-form for the University of Kansas.

I know that on occasion, official KU articles refer to "Kansas University," but they are very rare.

As the Lawrence newspaper, the readership should know quite well that KU means "University of Kansas" and not "Kansas University." What actually tends to happen is that the reference to KU fits and makes sense to readers, but the reference to "Kansas University" does not.

It really would be appreciated if the paper would correct this issue in the style guide.

  • DevilHawk

Matt Tait 7 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's been this way here for years and I'm guessing it will continue to be so.

I'll bring it up again at the next staff meeting, but what we're doing is simply following AP Style and it's pretty tough to get newspapers to deviate from that.

Thanks again for the note.

Ben Kane 7 years, 9 months ago

I love getting so many opinions of the assistant coaches! definitely a refreshing change.

DevilHawk 7 years, 9 months ago

Agreed. Then again, we are talking about some very experienced assistants.

orbiter 7 years, 9 months ago

" Kansas University so that the second reference of "KU" fits."

--I know it is not your decision, this paper has been doing it for years, but that is a weak, weak reason (again, I'm sure it's not your decision). The university is called the University of Kansas with KU as the abbreviated form, that's just how it is. It is bizarre that the ljworld stubbornly keeps this up. How is being willfully inaccurate a "style"?

rolo2383 7 years, 9 months ago

We do have depth at running back, although most of it is young, so there are plenty of options. I would love it if Bourbon and Sims are able to redshirt.

OCJHAWK 7 years, 9 months ago

I agree that we will at least keep the option for one.

gojbirds 7 years, 9 months ago

I am curious how Opurum will fit into the scheme. He was very impressive last year before catching the injury bug. Will he be a 3rd down back? Will we see two-back sets? I am just surprised he's not in the top 2 on the depth chart.

Matt Tait 7 years, 9 months ago

Opurum was still coming back from his ankle injury throughout spring drills so the coaches weren't able to get a real good assessment of what he's capable of. At the same time, he wasn't really able to show them what he can do.

He's healthy now and definitely in the mix for carries. He won't be a third-down back — that, most likely will be Sands — but could split time with Quigley, could run out of two-back sets and could be the short-yardage and goal line guy.

Still a lot to get figured out with this position. Should be interesting to see how it plays out.

youowethehawks 7 years, 9 months ago

What are the chances of KU running out of the I-Form with Toben at FB? Have you even seen any "I" or "Power" sets at practice?

I know it's oldschool, but my mouth waters when I think about the potential for an option every now and then with Pick/TO/Sands. At least it will be cool to run in video games next year...

Matt Tait 7 years, 9 months ago

I'm pretty sure the option will be in the arsenal... Just not sure how often they'll run it. As with most everything it'll probably depend on how defenses scheme them.

As for the i with Opurum at FB, I don't expect that to happen. Gill will go with a fullback but I don't think he'll move Opurum to that spot.

jayhawkox 7 years, 9 months ago

I also salivate at the idea of a two-back set inside the 10 that has both Opurum and Quigs in the backfield. Either could block for the other, and would make the point of attack a lot less obvious, especially if its out of a pro-set backfield.

hawk316 7 years, 9 months ago

Hall of Famer Walter Payton attributed his success to "God and my offensive line." I like our running backs, but the big boys up front have to create some space. Our running game last year was not very successful most of the time, but I think our o-line is better than that. Here's hoping that they step it up a notch this year and make us proud.

KCHawk81 7 years, 9 months ago

Have to disagree--I always found the spread gimmicky. Too Texas Tech-y to translate to sustained success. Boring, conventional football sounds more to me like great defense, which is great to watch. Besides, I think Coach Gill said they'd mix in some spread offense this year--they certainly have the receivers to do it. I could never tell whether Mangino really wanted to run the spread, or just defaulted to that when we had a sub-par offensive line. If the guys up front can move bodies around, you can run whatever offense you want--and if that's the case, why not milk some clock?

We did not lose an incredible coach. We lost a good coach who'd gone about as far as he could with this program. Have to agree with jayhawkox--thanks to MM for a great few seasons, but he's as much to blame for the uncertainty this year as anyone. It's obvious to us--now--that Todd Reesing was injured for several games last year, and it's a head coach's job to recognize that. Kale Pick could have gotten some valuable experience during that skid. Todd didn't look healthy to me until the Nebraska game. Jake Sharp, too, was asked to play through injury when Rell Lewis--who seemed very capable against mizzou--might have gotten a few more carries. I know it's easy to make those judgments after the fact, but they were Mangino's decisions, and our record last year is an indication of how he did with them. Now we're left with very inexperienced players AND a dismal previous season.

And "fun, fun to watch, even when we lost"?? Not possible. Would you say the same about Coach Self's kids? I don't get the "win or lose, we'll still booze" mentality at all. Turner Gill, I believe, is preparing to do some very impressive things with this football program. I am excited to support it.

KCHawk81 7 years, 9 months ago

Nah--the numbers don't support that argument. Mangino's record against Texas, from '09 back:

L 51-20 L 35-7 L 66-14 L 27-23

And against OU:

L 35-13 L 45-31 L 19-3 L 41-10

Here are Terry Allen's records. I'm no defender of Allen, but he ran a much more balanced offense with much less talented players:


L 59-0 L 51-16 L 45-31


L 38-10 L 34-16 W 20-17

We all agree Mangino was a much better coach than Allen and a much better recruiter than Allen. But against the "big dogs," he did not have a bit more success than Terry Allen. It's noteworthy, I think, that in 2004 (when we nearly upset Texas at home), we had a couple of talented running backs in John Randle and Clark Green. In 2007, the Orange Bowl season, we actually had more rushing attempts than passing attempts--although those numbers are probably inflated by Reesing's scrambles. The point, I think, is that the spread works fine if you can protect it with a good running game when you need to. We couldn't do that last year, and defenses knew it--ask gary pinkel. Turner Gill has made it clear he wants to recruit big guys up front. This will pay off.

Randy Bombardier 7 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, Hutch, don't see what you are seeing. I see us doing the times, when it suits our purpose. Coach said as much. Then, when it suits our purpose, we slow it down and grind it out which gives D a rest, takes Mo from opposing spread O and gives us control. I like the spread too. But what I like more is a well-reasoned strategy and game-plan, as opposed to just doing what you do. Teams that win championships have game plans, they don't just "play their game". Coaches who preach that are like what Gen. Geo. Patton said about fixed fortifications, a monument to the stupidity of man.

jayhawkox 7 years, 9 months ago

OMG STOP ALREADY--Yes, Mangino did some great things for this program, but he is gone now, and it is by and large his own inability to understand the differences in leeway granted to coaches working professional and amateur athletes that led to his undoing. We have a new coach now, who was run versions of the spread offense his entire time coaching (as has his offensive coordinator) and I'm sure there will still be elements of that in the game plan.

It is also PAINFULLY evident that defenses have figured out how to stop the spread, and if you do not have an effective and well-established ground game when defenses have figured out how to make it hard to pass, you will lose games. I for one think winning by smashing the other team in the mouth is a heckuva lot more fun than losing by throwing the ball (aka, last year's Border War). As far as bashing Gill for his camera presence... I have never heard one other person on either side of the Mangino situation claim that Gill is not a competent talker and motivator.

My goodness, the man hasn't coached one game and was targeted in recent openings at NU and Auburn, almost leading to Auburn's alums revolting when he wasn't hired. I think he's good enough for KU football which, despite any of illusions otherwise, as only reached the heights of being considered a middling program on the national scale.

The Mangino situation is over and done with. Let it die.

Mike Kendall 7 years, 9 months ago

Hey, Jayhawk Nation---- Gill is on "The Hill;" Mangino is in Florida playing Keno! Let's move on, shall we?

Can't wait to see how successful our running backs will be this season!

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk--Go KU!

yovoy 7 years, 9 months ago

Anyone remember when we had Cornish? We ran the ball well, and when B-Mac was around we ran it pretty well. If we were inside the opponent's 5, B-Mac would get the ball, and lots of times we'd have a first down around the 15-yard line. Cornish and B-Mac would combine for a decent amount of yardage sometimes.

I like the spread (okay, I love the chance it gave us to win), AND I like to see a good running game. I'm hoping that Angus and Opurum just go crazy (they might be my favorite players on the team). I hope we can bring Sands in to do the same. I don't like having a "feature" back. I don't think our team will change as much as many of you seem to FEAR. We should see some balance like we had 2 or 3 years ago - at least on 'O'.

Can't wait for the 1st game!

jaydee909 7 years, 9 months ago

If you are unhappy with going away from the spread, I suggest you head east out of Lawrence on I-70 for about 165 miles and relocate there. There you can have all the spread you want. This is Gill's team and I trust him and his experienced staff that they know what they are doing. They will get my support.

Cal Bender 7 years, 9 months ago

They have my support also, inspite of the dismal records of both Gill and Long. Everyone is entitled to a second chance. Let's support the team and coaches and hope for the best. Hopefully, at the end of the season, we'll send our congratulations to the coaches and the team for a fine season..

Sparko 7 years, 9 months ago

The running back position is stronger than its been in decades. This bodes well.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.