The first three weeks of the Kansas University football season have been anything but a smooth ride, particularly for the offense. Young players have been put into prime-time roles, play-calls have been slow to get to the huddle and the offensive line has struggled to move together as one unit.
Every decision made by the KU coaching staff takes into consideration just how little college game experience red-shirt freshman quarterback Jordan Webb has. The staff’s attempt to compensate for Webb’s lack of live action puts an even greater premium on the communication chain that starts upstairs, moves to the sideline and ends on the field.
Clearly, the chain needs polishing.
“When you have a young quarterback, you try to take as much off of his plate as possible,” offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “As he grows, and as young guys grow in the system, they’ll be able to do more on their own. What we’re trying to do is take it off of them, in just about everything we do, and put it on us, which is why you see some slow pace at times and them looking back and getting calls and things of that nature.”
That’s not a knock on Webb or the rest of the KU offense. It’s just reality. In fact, Long, a former college quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist, said he was impressed with a number of things Webb had done in the early going. Long is excited to see more.
“We’re just trying to make it as simple as possible for him, being a first-year player in our system,” Long said. “As we get better, as we get older, then it gets faster. Things start to slow down, he’ll see it more. He’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, coach, I got it,’ and he’ll be able to take over those checks, those audibles, those recognition things. It’s just part of the process.”
Asked if focusing too much on simplifying things for Webb may have cost the Jayhawks during their most recent loss, Long whole-heartedly agreed.
“Looking back on it, we probably did,” he said. “I’m just trying to take as much off of his plate as possible and just let him perform, just let him play and put the calls on us.”
That’s what makes Webb’s start to the season all the more impressive. Though he has not set the college football world on fire with his numbers — 40-of-66 for 376 yards and four TDs in nine quarters — his inexperience has not cost his team. Despite facing serious pressure every week, Webb has turned the ball over just once, and that came on an interception that was bobbled by a KU receiver before being picked off.
“This is probably the first time I’ve been around a team that had a freshman quarterback and a freshman running back (and) was not turning the ball over,” Long said. “We went through the (Southern Miss) game with no turnovers and one penalty on offense, and that speaks well to their discipline and how they’re protecting the football.”
Long went on to say that taking care of the football tends to keep teams in games. Despite losing two of their first three, the Jayhawks have been in all three contests. Many players believe it’s just a matter of time before the wrinkles get ironed out for good.
“We’ll just have to get the plays in quicker and execute better,” sophomore wide receiver Bradley McDougald said. “The coaches felt we were a no-huddle offense last year and we would easily be able to transition to a no-huddle this year, but with just a little longer play titles and play calling it was a little tougher for the players to get used to. We’ll be better this week.”
Added Webb: “Once I play more, I’ll be more aware of the pocket. I think it’s just about getting the ball into my receiver’s hands a little quicker and making my reads a little faster and then we’ll be all right.”