Column: Mann, Avery provide hope

Monday, September 8, 2014

The way De’Andre Mann was making tacklers miss and eating up yards, the scoreboard appeared headed for 50-something, and he was bound to run off the field with thousands giving him a new nickname: Yuda. De’Andre “Yuda” Mann.

Through no fault of Mann’s, Kansas had to settle for a 34-28 victory against an athletically inferior Southeast Missouri State football team that went 3-9 in the FCS Ohio Valley Conference a year ago.

Is KU a better football team than the score indicated? Mann’s eyes widened with disbelief at that question put to him after he rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries (8.1 yards per carry) in his first game in a Kansas uniform.

“Most definitely,” said Mann, a junior-college transfer. “Most definitely. We’ve just got to finish. We’ll be OK, but you’ve got to finish. You’ve got to finish every snap.”

Every snap for the remaining 11 games will come against teams stocked with bigger, faster players than the ones Kansas faced in its opener. SEMO didn’t have the athletes to match the likes of Mann, fellow running back Corey Avery, receivers Nick Harwell and Tony Pierson, middle linebacker Ben Heeney and deluxe cornerback Dexter McDonald. Still, the Redhawks won the fourth quarter, 21-0. Not good.

Avery, the true freshman who at various stages of high school turned down scholarship offers from Nebraska, Ohio State and Texas, looked good running the ball as well, rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. No surprise there.

“Corey’s really wise for his age, very composed,” Mann said. “I already knew Corey was going to do a great job. Nobody was worried about if Corey was going to do a good job. We all knew he was going to do a great job.”

Mann repeatedly went out of his way to praise the offensive linemen for opening holes The yards will be tougher to come by for several reasons, not all of them relating to the improved quality of the opposition.

Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart clearly has improved in several areas. His timing on pitching the ball is much better. He made some beautiful passes when rolling out and threw three touchdown passes without tossing an interception.

But unless Cozart can develop a better touch throwing deep balls, defenses will feel safe loading up against the run and short-passing game. Harwell was gracious in taking the blame for a couple of non-catches in the end zone because he’s a great teammate, but if a receiver can’t catch up to an overthrown ball, he can’t catch it.

Mann and Avery showed what they can do when given room to run. Provided they stay healthy and others on the offense can perform their jobs well enough to keep the defense from keying on the running backs, KU will survive the unfortunate, season-ending injuries to Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox on consecutive days during training camp. Mann and Avery are big-time athletes.