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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Keegan

Column: QB Ryan Willis gives KU hope for down the road

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) throws during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

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During and after Baylor’s 66-7 rout of Kansas University in Memorial Stadium, Bears coach Art Briles and his players, not looking to embarrass the hosts on the scoreboard or with words, met their goals of winning, resting starters for much of the game and heading home healthy and fresh.

If the starters had played the whole way and the play-calling remained aggressive through all four quarters, 100 points would have been in play for the nation’s No. 3-ranked team.

The players, showing they follow coaches well, referred to Kansas as a “good football team.” Briles referenced Robert Griffin III’s near-loss to Kansas in 2011 and the Jayhawks’ near upset of TCU last season as reasons to take KU seriously.

Nice, classy things to say, even if some of the words were spoken with fingers crossed.

Yet, when asked for their impressions of KU’s true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, Briles and nickelback Travon Blanchard didn’t have to watch their words. All they had to do was speak the truth.

“I was really impressed with him,” Briles said with a little extra energy in his voice. “I thought he was really good. He made some really, really nice throws and kept his composure. If I was a Kansas Jayhawk, I’d be a little bit excited. I think the guy’s really good, looked real good today.”

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Postgame: David Beaty on Baylor blowout, Ryan Willis, punting

Following a 66-7 loss to Baylor, first-year Kansas football coach David Beaty meets the media to discuss the rout, the play of KU's true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, an early decision to punt and much more.

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When he took the field for his first snap as a starting quarterback, Willis already was behind on the scoreboard, 7-0.

The drive looked to be petering-out when Willis was sacked for a loss of seven yards, setting up a third-and-17 from the KU 42.

Then the true freshman QB threw consecutive beautiful throws to a pair of true freshmen. He hit debuting Jeremiah Booker for 22 yards to move KU to the Baylor 36. From there, Willis put a 36-yard TD throw right on the money to Steven Sims Jr.

Those two plays gave a hint of reality to the dream of a better future that Kansas football fans always carry around with them, and the scoreboard showed a 7-7 tie.

“Started good with our opening drive and then Kansas comes back and answers and then we’re thinking, ‘Here we go,’ because I’ve been here when it was ‘here you go,’” Briles said, referencing his team’s 31-30 victory at Kansas in 2011. 

First-year Kansas head coach David Beaty coached wide receivers on Turner Gill’s staff that season and gained a verbal commitment from quarterback Seth Russell. Gill successor Charlie Weis did not retain Russell, who bolted to Baylor. Russell completed 18 for 27 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns Saturday before heading to the bench for the second half, with Baylor up 52-7.

Weis gained a commitment from Willis and Beaty retained him. Willis played better than his statistics (20 for 36, 158 yards, one touchdown, one interception) in trying to lead undermanned KU vs. Baylor’s underrated defense.

“He performed nice, especially against a really good defense,” Blanchard said. “We knew that they had a true freshman quarterback and one of the receivers was out, so we were expecting a lot of quick passes, something to get his confidence going. I believe he performed really good against a really good defense.”

Listening to Briles explain how he is able to build huge, early leads and make the following week’s game the priority by resting players, shined a light on why Kansas is at the other end of lopsided games.

“When you’ve got guys who are old, and we’ve got a lot of those guys, fourth-and-fifth-year guys in critical positions, when those guys are sharp and they’re mentally right and they’re focused in and they’re determined, and they understand what’s at stake and they understand what it takes to compete at the high level, then you’ve got a good chance to win,” Briles said.

Kansas simply doesn’t have those guys, and the option of developing football players with a microwave approach simply doesn’t work. It will take a few consecutive high school-heavy recruiting classes loaded with hidden gems such as Sims and Booker, plus years of refining technique and shaping bodies for Kansas to become competitive. 

If Willis’ development continues on the right path, suddenly quarterback looks deeper than most positions on the team. Aside from Willis, Carter Stanley will be a red-shirt freshman next season and Michael Cummings potentially could be a sixth-year senior. Montell Cozart, sidelined with a sprained left shoulder, has the potential to play a prominent role for KU at more than just quarterback. He has the speed and size to be evaluated at wide receiver, cornerback and safety and a terrific team-first attitude that guarantees he’ll give it his best shot wherever the team needs him.

It sounds strange to say about a team that lost by 59 points, even though the opponent kept the foot on the brakes during a 14-0 second-half, but Saturday, two, three years down the road seemed a little less rocky than at any point this season.

Willis and the young receivers instilled a glimmer of hope.

“The thing with QB’s is the more starts they get and the more reps they get, it’s kind of like a guy getting ready to go in the NFL draft, everybody starts looking for what’s wrong with him, instead of what’s right,” Briles said when discussing Willis. “He certainly was right today. He was really, really sharp.”

Hope must start somewhere. If that happens to be during a 66-7 loss, well, hope beats hopeless nonetheless.

— See what people were saying about the game during the KUsports.com live blog.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. No. 3 Baylor


Comments

Michael Lorraine 4 years, 4 months ago

The absence of Kinner and Parmalee definitely hurt the offense but I like what I saw in Willis. I don’t want to jinx the curse but has the curse of the Mangino been lifted? It’s taken the injuries of 3 QB’s to get him in the starting lineup but the last one was against Mangino’s team. I think Cozart has lost his starting job and hopefully we have found our future QB.

Brett McCabe 4 years, 4 months ago

Mangino and Beaty seem to both be afflicted with the inability to pick the best quarterback on their own rosters. Injury saved them both. Anyone who watched the fall scrimmage and couldn't see that Willis was clearly the best QB on the field, just wasn't paying attention.

Sometimes, you don't need metrics, or reps or percentages. Sometimes, you just gotta be able to identify guys who can play.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 4 months ago

That's a pretty good observation regarding Willis. He did look good in the Spring Game.

Regardless of the score, I was ecstatic what the Hawks showed offensively today and believe our football program is on the right track. It looks like we are in good shape at QB, RB and Receivers. If we develop an O-line, we will have a competitive offense. Defensively, I'm not seeing a whole lot to be optimistic about our future over the next couple of years.

A big recruiting class can put us right where we need to be.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 4 months ago

Baylor has a very good defense which we got 250 yards against.

Willis completed 20 passes to 9 different receivers, 6 had multiple catches. Additionally, he had several passes that were drops or near misses. Amongst the most impressive were a couple of incompletions on out patterns with the DB jumping the route and still made great throws. It's just one game, but something to be excited about.

Also, our best RB DNP.

Aaron Paisley 4 years, 4 months ago

I'm pretty sure the original plan was to redshirt Willis because of how bad KU was going to be.

Tom Keegan 4 years, 4 months ago

Brett,

The coaches considered him the best as well. But he was facing a poor defense in the scrimmage and didn't have the offense and ability to read good defenses down well enough to throw him into the lion's den. We'll never know if he would have defeated SD State, but this much seems obvious now: If Willis can stay on his feet and adjust well to teams adjusting to what they see of him on film, Cozart can help team at WR, CB or S when he returns from shoulder injury. Will that be this year? Don't know.

Brett McCabe 4 years, 4 months ago

The switch worked pretty well for Mr. Meier, maybe for Montell, too!

Ashwin Rao 4 years, 4 months ago

I too hope (I have nothing against Cozart) that Willis is our go-to guy at the QB position this year.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 4 months ago

"Gill successor Charlie Weis did not retain Russell, who bolted to Baylor."

Yet another reason to think Charlie for his glorious stewardship of our program.

"Willis played better than his statistics (20 for 36, 158 yards, one touchdown, one interception) in trying to lead undermanned KU vs. Baylor’s underrated offense."

Tom, you obviously mean Baylor's underrated DEFENSE.

Notwithstanding the above, nice article, and I agree with the sentiments about Willis. As I was watching him, I was thinking back further than Todd Reesing, to Bill Whittemore. I remember watching Whittemore's first game, and although his stats were nothing to jump up and down about, there was something about the way that he carried himself that made me excited for the future. He just had that "it" factor, that leadership quality that seemed to carry through. I had that same feeling while watching Willis, and I look forward to seeing him develop.

Tom Keegan 4 years, 4 months ago

Sure did mean defense, Len. Thanks. Baylor's offense rated properly, by that I mean No. 1.

Lloyd Kinnison 4 years, 4 months ago

Willis is able to read the defense quickly and make the play. He is more skilled that QBs 1 and 2 in ability to read the D. I was so pleased watching what hopefully will become KU's future QB, even with the score.

Austin Lopez 4 years, 4 months ago

Back when Montell was a senior coming out of high school I was excited about him at QB and thought he could change all our problems, I fell more in love with his speed rather than his ability to throw, thought he was the next poor mans RG3, but this year I still stuck by the kid than out the blue I went back to his senior year tape and noticed nothing really jumped out about Montell, most of his WR made him look good because they was fast and had the ability to make defenders miss. Montell should of been playing WR for KU a long time ago, I am very excited about Willis and was happy we were able to land him over KState. The future looks bright just remember rome wasn't built in a day my Jayhawk fans out there.

Michael Lorraine 4 years, 4 months ago

Montell is a good athlete so hopefully they can find a way to get him in the game.

Jim Stauffer 4 years, 4 months ago

I have to ask if we just swung and missed on D.J. Williams. We have no D-Line at all and this kid is on the sidelines waving a towel.

Surely he can play at least to rest the starters. Someone should dig into his status and find out what is holding him back. He was considered to be one of the gems of his recruiting class.

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