When Kansas University freshman quarterback Michael Cummings joined the Jayhawks last summer, he had no idea he would play such a large role in helping KU’s defense prepare for games.
Week after week, Cummings, a 6-foot, 196-pounder from Killeen, Texas, changes his jersey number, learns a new offense and tries his best to impersonate the starting quarterback for the opposing team. This week, with Heisman Trophy candidate Robert Griffin III, of Baylor, taking snaps on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Cummings encountered his toughest challenge yet.
“I don’t think we have anybody who is going to directly simulate (Griffin),” KU coach Turner Gill said. “But we do it to the best of our ability. Michael Cummings is a dual-threat type of guy that can run and can throw. He’s giving us a pretty good picture, but obviously it’s not going to be exactly the same.”
If it were, Cummings probably would be starting for the Jayhawks instead of taking snaps with the scout team.
As the Jayhawks (2-7 overall, 0-6 Big 12) spent the week preparing for today’s 1 p.m. kickoff with one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, there were no shortage of compliments for Griffin coming from the Anderson Family Football Complex.
“I think he’s the best quarterback that I’ve seen this year,” offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “He’s a special player. He really is. He’s one of those guys that (comes around) every once in a while, every 10 years. He reminds me a lot of (former Texas QB) Vince Young.”
Added defensive coordinator Vic Shealy: “I can’t imagine there being a better football player in the nation than him right now.”
With that in mind, preparing a game plan to stop RG3 became a little intimidating. Last year, the KU coaching staff focused so much on containing Griffin the rusher that it opened the door for Griffin the passer to torch the KU secondary for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-7 rout in Waco, Texas. Both were career highs at the time.
“Oh, I remember all too well,” Shealy said. “That was the first time our players, and even our coaches, other than Buddy Wyatt, had played against him. I don’t know if you can prepare your kids for just how explosive he can be. He is so fast.”
Like his coaches, sophomore cornerback Tyler Patmon acknowledged that Griffin was one of the best in the country.
But Patmon said just because Griffin seems to play as if he’s wearing a Superman cape does not change the objective for opposing defenses.
“You just gotta play smart,” Patmon said. “The guy’s a smart player, and he knows what he’s doing out there at all times, so you just have to use the right technique and do what you’re supposed to on every play. We all know who Robert Griffin is and what he can do. He’s a leader. A natural born leader.”
Preparation for today’s game began Sunday, with Gill and his staff briefly going over Griffin’s primary strengths. They spent Sunday night and part of the day Monday watching as much film as they could. Gill and Shealy both said they watched last year’s game film for a refresher, but spent the bulk of the week looking at Griffin’s body of work from this season.
“Each coach has a different phase, as far as breaking down the runs, passes, third downs, red-zone area,” Gill said. “Everybody has some responsibilities, and then each guy shares whatever his report is, and then we come together with the whole defensive staff and talk about how we’re going to be able to attack the things that they’re doing.”
During the four seasons and 36 games in which Griffin has played, Baylor coach Art Briles said he has seen defenses try just about everything against his star quarterback.
“We’ve seen spies and everything you would expect,” Briles said. “But really nothing out of the ordinary. Everybody we’ve played is well schemed and well schooled and has a good plan.”
For the Jayhawks, that plan includes a heavy dose of the same thing they strive for each week. Shealy said knowing where Griffin is going to be a few strides down the field often is as important as recognizing where he is at any given moment.
“It’s all about playing with great speed,” Shealy said. “And so much of it is taking great angles versus him. Sometimes you can’t necessarily go to where he is, it’s where he’s gonna be.”
Although Long doesn’t spend much time looking at opposing offenses each week, he does know a thing or two about playing quarterback from his days as a standout and Heisman runner-up at Iowa. When asked about Griffin’s strengths, Long spoke to RG3’s ability to improvise.
“You can just tell that they don’t really mind blitzes,” Long said. “They just say, ‘Go ahead and do it and he’ll get us out of it.’ He just gets out of it and makes a play. If you break down the passing game, it’s about 20-30 percent scramble. A lot of times with scrambles, with most quarterbacks, you’re throwing the ball away or trying to get back to the line of scrimmage. He buys time and still throws it down the field. He just makes things happen.”
Asked what watching film of Griffin looked like this week, Patmon shrugged.
“It’s play after play,” he said. “He’s either throwing the fade ball or scrambling for 50 yards. He’s a tough player to defend.”
So tough, in fact, that Griffin’s teammate, senior wide receiver Kendall Wright, said he was happy to be in the same huddle with Griffin and not scheming against him.
“If I was a D-coordinator, I don’t know how I would prepare for him,” Wright said. “A lot of teams has done a lot of different stuff. But he’s seen it all and he knows what to expect.”
Regardless of how they prepared for him or what they discovered was the best way to neutralize him, the Jayhawks are looking forward to the chance to atone for last year’s dismal effort.
“After not playing well down there last year, the competitor’s side in you comes out and you want to go play him again and show that we can play better than what we did,” Shealy said.
Added Gill: “It is going to be a tremendous challenge. We are not going to stop him, we might slow him down a play or two here and there, but we have to make sure that we contain him.”