Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting defensive: Kansas defense out to prove it’s improved

Kansas University linebacker Huldon Tharp grits his teeth as he takes off during pass protection drills on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 at the practice fields. At left is linebacker Ben Heeney.

Kansas University linebacker Huldon Tharp grits his teeth as he takes off during pass protection drills on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 at the practice fields. At left is linebacker Ben Heeney.


By now, the veterans on the Kansas University defense have heard just how bad the Jayhawks’ defense was during the past two seasons more times than they would care to remember.

With a new season — and, really, a second chance — just two days away, the gameplan for each of the guys who endured the rough times is simple.

“We definitely have something to prove,” said senior safety Bradley McDougald. “Prove that we’re not actually the worst defense in the country. We’re going to start there.”

Whichever way you slice it, KU’s 2011 season was historically bad. That was particularly true on defense, where the Jayhawks ranked dead last in Div. I college football in total defense and surrendered 516 yards per game, 68 touchdowns and nearly 6,200 yards during a 2-10 season.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said junior linebacker Huldon Tharp. “And that’s why this first game is huge for us. If we’re gonna be a good defense in the Big 12, we have to come out and dominate the teams we’re supposed to dominate.”

To a man, the Jayhawks believe that’s possible. Tharp was not the only defensive player who kicked around the word “dominate” this week, and others went as far as to say they believe KU’s 2012 defense could be among the nation’s best. Naturally, the players — and to a greater degree their coaches — want to see proof of that somewhere other than the practice field, but senior co-captain Toben Opurum said he did not think a huge opening week was required to put to bed the bad memories from the past two years.

“I believe we’re past it,” Opurum said. “The confidence on this team is kind of unreal, to be honest. You would think we’re coming off a championship-level season.”

Added junior cornerback Tyler Patmon: “It’s embarrassing, but, at the same time, it’s motivating because, in our minds, we feel like we’re not even close to the worst (defense) in football, and we want to send that message in this first game.”

The way they can do that is simple, according to Tharp.

“Keep their yardage down, three-and-outs, turnovers,” he said. “When it comes down to it, if our offense isn’t playing well, our defense should be able to keep us in the game. That’s what good defenses do.”

The Jayhawks know that because, at times, as rare as it might have been, they’ve seen it.

“We showed up,” McDougald said. “We made great plays. We made three-and-outs against the best. But then we gave up the worst plays at the worst times.”

While KU’s defensive leaders say the entire team is locked in on its new goals, the other common belief among them is that Saturday’s 6:06 p.m. kickoff against South Dakota State cannot get here fast enough. It’s time for sacks, interceptions and the scoreboard to stand in for sound-bites.

“Media make statements,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “We just worry about trying to win games. ... I’m really excited for our team, to see how they’re going to play, more than anything else. We’ve been talking about this stuff forever, and it’s time to play and get an opportunity to see where we are.”

It’s called ‘Jayhawk’

The former KU coaching staff never publicly settled on a name for it, but Weis already has. The offensive formation that incorporates a direct snap to someone other than the quarterback — known most places as “Wildcat” — will not go by its more popular name at Kansas.

“I call it ‘Jayhawk,’ for obvious reasons,” said Weis, when going over the scouting report for the SDSU offense Tuesday.

It remains to be seen how Kansas will incorporate the “Jayhawk” formation into its offense this season, but Weis has no shortage of options in the formation, as running backs Tony Pierson and James Sims, wide receiver Kale Pick and reserve QB Michael Cummings all could be the trigger man.

Pregame rituals?

Throughout the preseason, Weis clearly has stated his belief that Saturdays belong to the players. But that does not mean that he is devoid of a couple of his own pregame rituals.

“I point up to the box my wife is in so that I don’t get into any trouble,” he joked on Tuesday. “I find out where that is — I already have one person assigned to tell me where that is — so when I walk off the field I can point up to her. If I don’t point up to her; let’s just take it from there.”

Other than that, Weis said he typically tries to stay out of the way and lets the players get focused however they see fit.

“One thing I do try to do is try get to every player during the warm-ups to wish them good luck for the game,” he said.

Running back rotation

Expect three, perhaps four, running backs to receive carries in Saturday’s season opener. First-string tailback Tony Pierson figures to get the majority of the work, but Weis has been open about his desire to incorporate junior Taylor Cox, as well as sophomores Brandon Bourbon and Marquis Jackson when the opportunities present themselves.

“We’ll start out the game with two,” said Weis, referring to Pierson and Cox. “But (will) definitely (use) three and maybe four as the game goes on.”

Just win, baby

The new bottom line of KU football is a single simple word that has just three letters — win. But that does not mean the Jayhawks will not have other goals throughout the course of each game. Weis said the offense, defense and special teams all have boards posted with 10 weekly goals designated for each

“The No. 1 goal for all three is winning,” Weis said.

Beyond that, the boards track goals such as yardage totals, points scored and points allowed, penalties and turnovers — both for and against. In that last category, the KU offense’s goal always will be to finish a game with no turnovers.

“Why would any offensive coach set a goal for turnovers higher than zero,” Weis said.


jayhawk1991 5 years, 8 months ago

I think there will be a lot of improvement for our defense this season. With a competent coaching staff and some confidence, they should surely make big strides towards improvement. ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!

Benjamin Piehler 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm also an optimist (despite this post), but sometimes I'm not sure if a "Competent coaching staff and some confidence" will suffice for "strength", "endurance", "talent", or even "potential".

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

"strength" - Holsopple says check

"endurance" - Holsopple also says check

"talent" - we've got three 4 star guys, 5 borderline 4 star guys 2 of whom were former Nebraska commitments, 1 who chose KU over Florida and about a dozen other BCS schools, and another 1 who chose KU over teams like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas A&M, T-Tech etc. and another couple of 3 star guys who had offers from teams like Okie St., TCU, West Virginia, and Arkansas all currently on the 2-deep on D. I'd say "check" for talent level as well. Sure, it could always be better, but I'd say it's better than the majority of other BCS schools.

potential - We've got 3 newcomers, 4 Sophomore, and 5 Freshman on the current 2-deep on D also, so again I'd say "check" on the potential talent as several of these guys were the highly recruited guys I mentioned in the "talent" part.

In short, yes, I think bad coaching and bad defensive schemes (i.e. last year) can make a D look a ton worse than the talent on that D really is.

KGphoto 5 years, 8 months ago

And you even short-changed us a little. You forgot our 5 star QB and a few more 4 star guys.

5 star: Dayne Crist.

4 star: Opurum, McDougald, Pierson, Bourbon, Kande, Ragone, McDonald.

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, I was only counting the guys on the D.

Dillon Davis 5 years, 8 months ago

Just no more blowouts, I think that's a reasonable goal.

nuleafjhawk 5 years, 8 months ago

Maybe this year we could try

K-N-O-W !

Kansas Needs Our Weis !

Oseashawk 5 years, 8 months ago

Go Team...a winning start this weekend!! All the best ..


nuleafjhawk 5 years, 8 months ago

“Why would any offensive coach set a goal for turnovers higher than zero,” Weis said.

I love this dude.

David A. Smith 5 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, that says a lot about why we should be fine with optimism.

eastcoasthawk 5 years, 8 months ago

Ready for this season to start! Play hard, play smart and be relentless! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

ccarp 5 years, 8 months ago

Did Newell post some bulletin board material yesterday or what?

Mike Hart 5 years, 8 months ago

Kman_blue: thanks for the laughter. I really needed that:

"I'd say "check" for talent level as well. Sure, it could always be better, but I'd say it's better than the majority of other BCS schools".

Really? The majority? Wow what a remarkable turnaround for 6 different faces on defense.

KGphoto 5 years, 8 months ago

A 5-star QB.

Seven 4-star players on the two-deep, including 5 starters. Yeah, that's more than most by a long shot.

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

My statement wasn't hyperbole. Though I did originally mean Div-1 schools (not only BCS schools), but after looking at Rivals, they agree with my original statement. There's 69 BCS schools and KU has more talent (again according to Rivals rankings) on D than about 42 of them. In my opinion KU has more talent on D than at least 40 of them.

Just because the performance on the field last year was abysmal in every aspect (and it was), doesn't mean our talent was abysmal. Look at Texas for example. They're loaded with talent every year, but they had a very mediocre season 2 years ago when they went 5-7 and missed a bowl game. I don't think anyone could credibly argue their talent level isn't in the top 10 or at least top 15 in the country virtually every year, yet they were about a middle of the pack team in 2010 (out of 120 teams in Div-1). Talent doesn't always equal performance.

Plus KU added a 4 star LB from ND, a 4 star DE from Nebraska who originally hails from the state of Texas and had offers from every Texas school including UT out of HS, a 4 star LB out of the state of Florida, and 3 big athletic JUCO DL. That's an upgrade from the talent we already had which wasn't anywhere nearly as bad as the performance on the field was.

KU has got the talent to have a good D. Let's just hope they show it on the field this year.

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

Nothing negative taken at all from your comment. I just meant to clarify my original statement really.

And yes, I am PUMPED for the beginning of the season!

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

And actually looking at the current 2 deep compared to last year, there's 14 new faces on the D this year.

7 newcomers to the team (8 when McDonald comes off injury), 4 guys who only played special teams last year or were buried on the depth chart beyond the 2-deep by the previous staff so never saw any meaningful minutes on D, 2 RS Freshman coming off their RS year, and 1 guy coming off injury. That's a lot of change in personnel.

Kman_blue 5 years, 8 months ago

Talent doesn't always equal performance on the field. Do you honestly believe KU's talent on defense last year was worse than any FBS team out there or some of the other BCS teams that believe it or not had worse records than KU's last year? Did OU have the 55th most talented D last year, because that's where their D ended up ranked in total D? How about did KU have the 4th most talented D in 2007, because that's where our D ended up ranked that year? I'd say no way to all of those questions.

Also, I didn't say our overall talent last year on D was better than most BCS schools either, but rather this year. If D's were ranked according to talent alone, which of course they aren't, I'd say we would have been ranked around #50 or #60 in terms of overall talent. A combination of really bad coaching and playing in a conference with 7 top 35 scoring offenses, including 4 in the top 10, made our D look and perform a lot worse than their talent level was.

The fact that there's 14 new faces on the 2-deep (that's more than 60% of the D is NEW this year!) which includes several highly talented (and rated) guys (according to Rivals and others) means according to Rivals and my own opinion KU does have more overall talent on D than most BCS schools. That doesn't mean KU will play exactly at where it's overall talent level is as most teams don't and even if it did that would only put KU's D at about #40th best D in the nation as there would still be 30 or so BCS teams and a few FBS teams ahead of KU in terms of overall talent on D.

Guys constantly being way out of position and confused making it seem like they're all slow is a clear sign of bad coaching. 14 new faces on D is more than a few better players (again, it's 60% of the D!). Who knows how all of that will play itself out on the field this year, but a lack of overall talent wasn't the major problem last year and it certainly won't be this year either.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 8 months ago

Can't say this enough, "COACHING MATTERS!"

The Big 12 was WAY over Turner Gil's head! In addition, his defensive staff was a train wreck. This staff is a huge upgrade to last years clowns. That'll make a huge difference right there. In addition, we'll start SIX transfers and get solid contributions from others.

Last year's history!

TheSportsDon 5 years, 8 months ago

I would expect the defense to be improved. Last year dead last in most statistical categories? It doesn't take a Dave Campo to improve on that! All I can suggest to the defense this year: tackle someone, anyone.

clevelandjayhawker 5 years, 8 months ago

The D should be better in part due to the fact that Chuck 3rd and Long is gone. If Dayne can get a first down 30% of the drives our Def wont be on the feild as much, with a couple of breathers and everything else that is going on we will see improvement in the number of yards allowed. Is it saturday yet?

texashawk10 5 years, 8 months ago

I hope our offense can get a first down far more than 30%I of the time. That's probably pretty close to what they did last year. The offense needs be at least double that to give the defense sufficient rest so they aren't sucking wind before the 4th quarter.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 8 months ago

Keys to an improved defense [not rocket science here]::

  • Simplified scheme to insure that everyone is clear on their assignments.
  • Swarm to the ball and tackle, tackle, tackle
  • Hit hard...make them pay for every block, yard or catch
  • Substitute freely to maintain stamina to compensate for talent shortages
  • Field position...make them go 70 yards, not 30.
  • And the single most guaranteed solution...ball control. Have the offense keep the ball out of the opponents hands.

Obviously, these goals will be challenging but it is truly the blueprint for long term success. Afterall, the only direction for the Jayhawk defense is UP!!!!

Tony Bandle 5 years, 8 months ago

HMMM..good point on the aggressive gamble part. That is the high risk, high reward avenue but certainly valid...and it would be very entertaining from a fan standpoint. Gotta give you that one.

Oh, I got to pudding is boiling over on the wood stove.

PS Just how old are you anyway, if you don't mind telling.

KGphoto 5 years, 8 months ago

If his avatar pic is recent I'd say he's a very rough 34.

KGphoto 5 years, 8 months ago

Be disruptive!

It's what we were doing in '05, '06 with even less talent, and we were smothering teams. You simply could not run on those defenses, and we lived in the opponents backfield.

The disruptive stat is the key, and that probably will require some risk taking. Young is doing the same thing at Okie St. right now. They gave up some yards last year, but they also wreaked havoc.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 8 months ago

The Orange Bowl team was unbelievably disciplined - they almost NEVER missed an assignment! Last year was a clinic on stupid football plays.

Sean Payton has left one message for his Saints team, "DO YOUR JOB!" It's also a perfect message for the Jayhawks.

Do your job banner:

clevelandjayhawker 5 years, 8 months ago

Do they still do the Enter Sandman video with the F-15 Jayhawk blowing up the oppents helmet?

Matt Herrera 5 years, 8 months ago

Last year they were still running out to Enter Sandman, however the F-15 video hasn't been shown since 2008 season.

ksjayhawker3791 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm trying to remember, did KU throw out of the "wildcat" formation once last year?

Jeff Coffman 5 years, 8 months ago

Yep in the Missouri was moving the ball, and then TG made a classic adjustment...stopped using it and we stopped get first downs.

The third best Tiger team in the SEC ended up coming back and winning.

go figure.

KGphoto 5 years, 8 months ago

Actually they didn't. Matthews came in and ran a zone-option-read after KU was down 24-10. It's the same thing Franklin was running for most of the game against us. Matthews was killing it too. The one time he passed was a play action roll-out.

We only ran the wildcat 3-4 times and it was Sims or Lewis who ran it.

Randy Bombardier 5 years, 8 months ago

Glad to see a lot of you fellas recognize our talent. Speaking of which I was watching high school highlights of Montel Cozart and was noticing this receiver, no. 5 and was thinking, wow, that guy is a play-maker. It turns out that the play-maker was none other than our Triple Play Trey Parmalee. I believe we have some serious talent on this team. I may have to spring for the All-access channel again. Maybe I can find a good wifi location with adequate streaming capability.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 8 months ago

From where we've been the last three seasons, that looks pretty good!!

Tony Bandle 5 years, 8 months ago

What the heck??!! The day before the first game of a new era in Kansas Football and no story??!!.....come on, LJW, you're better than that!!!

Tony Bandle 5 years, 8 months ago

I retract this post...I see Tait The Great will be having a chat today......nevermind!! :)

kunavyjayhawk 5 years, 8 months ago

Anyone who has watched a lot of KU football cannot dispute the fact that for years the preparation of our athletes in the strength and conditioning front has been behind the top programs in the country. Even during the 2007 season we were largely undersized but had a fortunate schedule and the team got on a roll and played with reckless abandon. We had the benefit of a shutdown cornerback and a fairly speedy group of linebackers to make up for the lack of sheer physical presence. The athletic department recognized the deficiency and built a world class strength facility, however the results in the athletes were not realized because no facility in the world will make a difference without the hard work of motivating guys to use it and also having the expertise to tailor the strength program to not only individual positions but also to individual athletes. One only has to look across campus to Coach Hudy to see the results of that type of strength training. Based on all of the reports it finally looks like the football program has a strength coach who has the expertise, the passion, and the personality to drive athletes to maximize all of the physical tools they have been gifted with and utilize the world class facilities they are fortunate enough to train in. Perhaps in football more than any other sport the attitude that athletes step off the bus with is huge. A big portion of that attitude comes from how they have been prepared physically to compete. Some call it confidence, or some call it swagger, but the bottom line is a football player has to feel like he is the baddest dude on the field and he can physically dominate the guy lined up across from him. Coach Holsopple has put our players in that position. As much as I love coach Weis as a hire and I think he is a great football mind who will win us a couple of games this year based simply on his x's and o's. I think coach Holsopple and his staff's contributions will be just a huge for the Jayhawks this year.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 8 months ago

You're new to the comment section, so I'll cut you some slack. You've fallen into the "words are good" trap when actually, succinct comments will better help you make your point. For instance:

We've had puny, weak athletes for years. Hiring Holsopple is going to make a huge difference! Maybe as much as hiring Weis!

Same point - less words. Good advice for everyone!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.