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Originally published October 3, 2016 at 07:28p.m., updated October 3, 2016 at 09:05p.m.

Ryan Willis to start for KU against TCU

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) heaves a pass to the flat during the fourth quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) heaves a pass to the flat during the fourth quarter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

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The Kansas football team has a new starting quarterback.

KU coach David Beaty announced Monday night on his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show sophomore Ryan Willis will start this week, when the Jayhawks play host to TCU at Memorial Stadium (11 a.m. kickoff, ESPNU).

In KU’s first three games of the season, fourth-year junior Montell Cozart started at QB, and Willis played in relief.

However, coming off a 55-19 loss in which Cozart struggled (9-for-20, 97 yards, a TD and an interception) at Texas Tech, Beaty has decided to move on from starting the veteran, in favor of Willis, who started eight games in 2015, as a true freshman.

“You know, we’re gonna make some personnel changes,” Beaty said casually. “Number one: we’re going to start Ryan Willis at the quarterback this week.”

Through four games this season, Willis has completed 31 of 53 passes (58.5 percent) for 374 yards, three touchdowns and an interception as an often-utilized backup.

Cozart, as a starter sharing time in KU’s quarterback rotation, has completed 57 of his 91 throws (62.6 percent) for 581 yards and six touchdowns, with four interceptions.

“(Willis) has shown some real progress for us, you know, from fall camp moving along, in terms of how he’s studying and the way he’s starting to understand. And I think his efficiency has been a little bit better for us, even though Montell’s produced for us,” Beaty said.

“The thing I love about those two guys is they are for each other, man. Those guys on the sideline are working hand in hand, and today when we talked to both those guys, neither one of them batted an eye, and they’re ready to go,” the KU coach shared. “I mean, they’re team guys. I know Ryan’s excited about it, and we’re looking forward to seeing him take advantage of the opportunity.”

Beaty, who also serves as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, didn’t indicate whether he would stick with a two-quarterback approach. The head coach did say he hopes to see the offense run more efficiently with Willis at QB.

“For us to really utilize this offense the way it needs to be used, you’ve gotta be able to string first downs together,” Beaty said. “And that calls for accurate execution in all areas — not just at the quarterback, but up front and in all those areas. You know, we are getting closer. But close is for hand grenades, man. I mean, we’ve gotta execute, and it’s gotta be precise, and we know that. We understand that going in.”

All 11 players on offense, Beaty added, need to make things run more smoothly for KU (1-3 overall, 0-1 Big 12).

“You can not do it by yourself,” he said. “Those guys up front, they’ve gotta do a nice job. Those guys out wide have gotta do a great job of getting open and then they’ve gotta make the plays when it’s there. Even when they’re not supposed to make plays, they’ve gotta make plays.”

Comments

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

That's welcome news. I wish we didn't have to face TCU the week after their bitter loss to OU.

Chris Berge 5 years, 2 months ago

Glad a starter is named, one step in the right direction.

Doug Roberts 5 years, 2 months ago

Great! But being named the starter doesn't mean anything anymore. How many series will he play? The first two or three, and then hand it over to Cozart? This doesn't really change much unless he's allowed to play the whole game, good or bad.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

And given our offensive output so far, plus the opponent, how well do we expect it to go? This is why all of the wasted opportunity against URI, Ohio and Memphis was just that - wasted opportunity to build an offense, find a rhythm and work out the kinks.

Beaty needs to now relinquish the O.C. responsibilities and try to learn how to be a head coach before he loses his job.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

Beaty's decision making has got me worried. I pray to the football gods we have not yet again hired the wrong head coach.

Joe Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

Ryan Willis should keep the ball the whole game. Montell should come in only in the event of injury. If we were playing ISU or KState, Carter Stanley should have been the backup QB. But experience for the kid has been forfeited thus far, and so unfortunately Cozart will have to be the number 2. Beaty doesnt need to teach Cozart the receivers' routes, so Montell should get some reps with their group.

Everyone should expect a rough game for Willis, but we should press on anyhow. Agree Michael: this is good news despite the opponent we face.

Ashwin Rao 5 years, 2 months ago

I still feel that Stanley should be #2 moving forward (even in the TCU game)... what is the worst that can happen? We will lose? ;)

Micky Baker 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree. He's in just his second season. He can learn this offense and the staff can figure what his strengths are in real games. Then the play calling needs to e adjusted to his strengths as time goes by. That can only happen by sticking with him. I believe Cozart is a real good guy, but he isn't a good decision maker as the QB position.

This game might be a rough one, especially in the beginning, but if he get's a little confidence, who knows. It is right move for the program as long as it stays that way regardless of his struggles as he finds his way.l

Tom Keegan 5 years, 2 months ago

I can't imagine anything but an injury preventing Willis from playing the entire game. Then again, I thought that last week. My guess is Willis plays the whole game.

Joe Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

I hope he does. Willis is going to face a battle, and we should all expect that. He's largely inexperienced, unaccustomed to having the weight of the responsibility upon his shoulders (which, admittedly, could have been transitioned into much more smoothly), he finds himself with a weak offensive line with a team who has almost no winning experience, and facing a potent TCU team coming off a loss. In short, this is the perfect storm for a career bad day. But it's the future of the program that we need to consider more than anything else. I respect Cozart, and I hope he has a chance to find time with another unit to finish his career over the next couple of years. But he is certainly not the quarterback to turn the program around. Willis might be, and that's all the reason in the world right now to put the ball in the kid's hands. He needs to be given the same chance Cozart has been given to gain experience, and games like the one upcoming go with that territory for a program at the point that we are. This is a brave decision for Beaty, but one that was overdue.

John Joseph Gorski 5 years, 2 months ago

"He's largely inexperienced, unaccustomed to having the weight of the responsibility upon his shoulders (which, admittedly, could have been transitioned into much more smoothly)"

Didn't he start 6 or 7 games last year when Cozart was hurt and play the whole game in those starts? Id say he has enough game experience to carry the weight of responsibility to lead this team. Just need to see if he progressed enough to make a game out of it.

David A. Smith 5 years, 2 months ago

Lol...exactly. Odd thing to forget or discount.

Kerby Rice 5 years, 2 months ago

Excited for Saturday. KU has played TCU very tough the last 3 years with 10 points being the greatest margin of victory in 2013. Not calling an upset or anything but hopefully the trend can continue. As I was double checking the scores over the years I happened to see that last year we had 4 games decided by 14 pts or less: SD State, Rutgers, Tx Tech and TCU. Based on our remaining schedule, I will be shocked if we have 3 or more games decided by less than 2 touchdowns counting the RI win.

Is this a fair assessment of progress?! If applicable this indicates we are heading in the opposite direction from year 1 to year 2.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

Disappointing that it has taken a third of the season to decide on something that should have been obvious from the start. Wonder if the AD had anything to do with this.

Jack Joiner 5 years, 2 months ago

Who knows what HCDB has up his sleeves. I hope Willis does well so he will keep him in there.

Kenneth Hillman 5 years, 2 months ago

From one fan's perspective, a step in the right direction and I also think Stanley should be the backup. The Cozart QB solution needs to be our 3rd option as he has shown what he's capable of. Originally I thought we should move Cozart to WR with Stanley being the backup however after seeing Cozart play this season he's afraid of getting hit so that won't work at WR either, Cozart should be QB3. Stanley has got to start getting meaningful minutes this season so we can see how much of a gamer he is and so he can develop. And I'm only saying Stanley comes in if Willis can't go or if we are deep in the game and the offense hasn't done anything. I do hope Willis gets off to a fast start against TCU however if he doesn't, I hope HCDB shows patience. He has already messed with Willis' head/confidence enough this year. Showing confidence and patience in Willis on Saturday could help that. I saw some bright spots in the TT game and I hope we build off of that. As somebody mentioned above, the TCU game has been a close one in recent years and here's to breaking though this year and putting this one in the W column. Willis also played well and showed a lot of guts last year against TCU. No more spotting the opponent multiple scores before figuring out a solid defensive scheme and I think we have a chance.

Rock Chalk

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

Part of the frustration of seeing Montell behind center is his coach’s insistence on utilizing his weaknesses instead of his attributes. He's got good wheels and yet he's always passing. Let him run the ball and keep the opposition guessing because there is no Big 12 defense that respects his arm.

Joe Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

If the over/under for Willis interceptions was 2.5, what would you take?

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

What would you set the O/U for first downs?

Ryan getting the nod has not moved the line. We are still 29 point underdogs.

Joe Ross 5 years, 2 months ago

KU is averaging 17 first downs per game, against TCU whose defense against allowing 1st downs ranks tied for 64th (very average). However, Kansas has played some very weak defensive teams already (Ohio, Rhode Island...even TT) so that stat number is not very impressive at all. But considering Ryan Willis' QB rating is higher than Cozart's, I think it would interesting to keep the number in the neighborhood of their average. How about 16?

Over or under?

Richard Duran 5 years, 2 months ago

Its about time! Beatty needs to dump the "Air Raid" and run the ball and go deep to Quiv and Sims.

Jack Hoff 5 years, 2 months ago

Great news! At the very least there will be some stability this week in terms of practice and the players will know who their guy is going into the game. I don't think he would have made the announcement if he didn't intend to play Ryan the whole game, barring an abysmal performance or injury. These seem like easy decisions but there is a reason we aren't coaching a football team and watching from the stands or our couches instead. I give these coaches the benefit of the doubt as they are around these guys almost everyday and I guarantee there is so much that goes on within a program that we don;t know about that can affect what we see on saturdays. I'm encouraged by the overall progress of the product on the field and the direction of the program as a whole, Hopefully this move can cause for additional improvement of the offense. Rock Chalk!

Doug Cramer 5 years, 2 months ago

The damage has already been done, and Beaty has lost credibility waiting until game 5 to make this decision.

Kevin Robert Fest 5 years, 2 months ago

To quote Warden Norton from the Shawshank Redemption "Oh Lord its a mircle" Well well well look who just got a clue I agree with the above comments Beaty lost credibility to wait till game 5 I understand he couldn't make a decision in the spring as Willis broke his wrist but I'm assuming during the summer and fall camps he could have figured it out pretty quickly and had a cohesive offensive unit from game. But he was too distracted ripping the OC duties from Likens and butting his nose into every other aspect of the game this was just one of many mistakes that he made. What's it going to be like next year Cozart will still be around and you have two other quarterbacks competing for the job in Stanley and the kid from Louisiana. At that rate maybe Beaty will rotate each quarterback each series and wait till game 10 to finally name a starter.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

This just in from Austin, Charlie Strong announced that Beaty will also take over the defensive coordinator duties at Texas. :)

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

“The thing I love about those two guys is they are for each other, man."

This is the problem with KU football right now.

Doug Wallace 5 years, 2 months ago

Smart move!

Ok but regardless of whoever the Hell starts the offensive line has to play better.

Also make Cozart Wr/Rb already!

John Fitzgerald 5 years, 2 months ago

There are a lot more issues with this team than the QB. Although Willis should be an upgrade to Cozart, I don't think it'll be significant. Before he can make that much of an impact our coaches need to call better plays, and plays that cater to his strengths. And they must allow him to throw down field. If we can't open up the field we'll be in the same boat as we were with Cozart. Short throws will not win games, especially short throws that you can't even complete. And stop with the bubble screens. They have done nothing. Either our players aren't smart enough to execute that play or they just don't have the skill set for it. At this point in the season play to win the game, don't' play to only lose by a few touchdowns.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

A smart coach, in charge of a downtrodden team, adjusts his plan to fit the talent that he has. If you are Bill Self, with a bench full of top-100 rated recruits, then you can stick to your system. When you are undermanned, though, it's vital to assess strengths and build on them.

Beaty continually comments about the "system" and how proud he is of it. Both Mozart and Willis were recruited into a pro-style offense. Neither are what would be considered dual-threats. So....work with what you've got.

Willis showed last year that he could go downfield with the ball - which can open up a lot of other things. This sideline-to-sideline stuff does not work for this team.

David A. Smith 5 years, 2 months ago

Apart from the quarterbacks, who doesn't fit into the air raid? The line? The running backs? The receivers? If we are only basing this on the play of the QB's, we need to consider that the system shouldn't be adjusted solely for them. The entire offense is learning this system, and if the QB's are the only reason for reassessment, then the QB's should be replaced or focused on, not the entire scheme. Continuity is crucial, and this offense will work if given time and the right QB.

John Fitzgerald 5 years, 2 months ago

We do have 2 QB's specifically recruited for the Air Raid.. Starks and Stanley. Maybe we should give them a shot if Willis doesn't work out.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

David, I would disagree. It's the most important position on the entire team, let alone on the offensive side of the ball. And I'm not necessarily suggesting completely ditching it, but modifying it.

Let's flip it and say that you were the defensive coordinator who believed in the 3-4, but you had no athletic linebackers. Would you continue to try and run a defense that requires athletic linebackers? Only if you were either stubborn, egotistical or stupid.

Beaty is in love with his system. That's the problem.

David A. Smith 5 years, 2 months ago

I like your 3-4 analogy, but I'm not sure it works. Your comparison is four positions on defense vs one on offense. I also agree that a modification is needed, but IMHO, it would be in the plays that are called-not the system. You may be right about the system, but I think its too early to do that. We certainly shouldn't do that midseason.

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 2 months ago

Who says we're not relevant in football. This is actually one of the headlines on ESPN.com. It's not too late if you want to be the first one to post a comment.

Humpy Helsel 5 years, 2 months ago

OK, guys. Just get better. We won't beat TCU, but we can get better. Just get where we aren't a Bye in the Big XII to rest injured players and to see how 2nd and 3rd team players perform on Saturday. Let's have them playing their starters in the 4th quarter. The bar I just described is very low, but that is honestly where we are concerning KU football.

Randy Bombardier 5 years, 2 months ago

Great comments. I am relieved too that we finally have an official number one. Although he just said starter. We've seen what that means to him so I'm still worried.

Agree with comments about using our strengths and strengths of individual players. Yes, Cozart she old been better used in the qb designed run plays.

Someone had mentioned before the Veer formation for Cozart. I think that would have perhaps worked better for him. Is it my imagination or doesn't he seem more accurate on the run?

Also agree about the future, start Stanley no. 2.

Also agree that air-raid can wait. Maybe baby steps to get there incrementally. But having the same qb every week and the same receivers in each position and the same linemen might help our consistency.

Andy Tweedy 5 years, 2 months ago

Cozart looked okay against RI because he had time and didn't make stupid decisions. Willis' biggest problem last year was that he was beaten senseless. Both problems stem from the same issue. I agree that Willis appears to be the better option, but our offensive line seems to me to be the biggest issue on the team, not the QB. They have GOT to get better, and even Keegan spent the entire summer warning us this was going to happen. We get better on the line, we "should" get better at just about every position! I'm hopeful this happens while Beaty is here, so we can truly find out what he can do.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

The line is young, so it should improve if the kids can stay healthy. We have one OL recruit committed for 2017, so there might be a need for help there.

Andy Tweedy 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm really putting a lot of faith in this big dude from 'Bama...hopefully, it's not Charlie Weiss JUCO guy, part II!

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

Random thought....if the stories are true that Strong is out at Texas at the end of the season, we should do everything in our power to get him to Lawrence. I doubt that he'd take the job, he'll probably have better offers, but the guy's resume is super-strong. In fact, he might be back at Louisville if Petrino goes to LSU.

For us, he's spent the last three years building recruiting relationships in Texas, and he's already connected in Florida. It would be a homer hire.

Why would he come? Probably wouldn't but here's the only pitch we have: cement your legacy by bringing a program from the depths to the top of the hill. He'd be a great fit here and would compliment Self so well.

Andy Tweedy 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't have the numbers in front of me, but wouldn't he immediately command more money to be the DC than either of our co-head coaches make combined?

Jack Hoff 5 years, 2 months ago

If he couldn't do anything big in 3 years at a resource rich school like Texas, what makes you think he could move the needle at Kansas? By firing Beaty now KU would set the program back another 3-5 years, might as well have patience and give the man time to build his program.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

Jack, check out his resume at Louisville. They got better every year. I think the "Don't Mess with Texas" thing has been convoluted to "Texas, We Mess with Coaches". His entire coaching resume suggests success, until Texas started messing with him (basically Day One).

It's kind of irrelevant, cause I think that he'll be offered a bigger, better job within a week of being fired (if, in fact, he is fired).

John Fitzgerald 5 years, 2 months ago

I get what you're saying and he's a lot more experienced than Beaty, but three things:

1.) He failed at the best job in college football. No reason Texas shouldn't compete for a national championship every year. And he's right in the middle of the most fruitful recruiting grounds.

2.) We need some stability before we get rid of Beaty. He's still barely into his second year. He's made some questionable decisions and his play calling is very concerning, but he's shown the willingness to learn from his mistakes. If we let him go before the 5 years, it will be incredibly difficult to get anyone to commit to us if we can't commit to a coach. Also to note, the last successful coach we had was forced out.

3.) We only have one thing that would entice any big name to coach here and that's the basketball program. If he's a big basketball fan, then maybe we'd have a shot. If not, then we really don't have much to offer at the moment.

Like you, I'm getting impatient and would love the idea of a Briles, Miles, or Strong coaching our program, but for the sake of our football program I think we have to wait out this Beaty hire, unless he royally screws up. But judging by his demeanor and passion I don't see that happening.

Jack Hoff 5 years, 2 months ago

It's funny whatever happens on Saturday in regards to Willis, it's gonna be Beaty to blame in the eyes of the fan. If Willis plays well we are gonna say " see we told you Willis should've been starting from Game 1" and if he plays poorly we'll say " Beaty messed up his confidence by not playing him from game 1" Lose Lose for Beath regardless. Interested to see how this unfolds.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 2 months ago

Jack, that won't be me, but Beaty has botched this very badly, so he has no one to blame but himself.

Micky Baker 5 years, 2 months ago

Brett, I'm not really putting it all on Beaty yet. Everyone knows we are short a bunch of scholarship players and that is not Beaty's fault. It will take at least 2 seasons before we are at full strength regarding scholarship players on the roster.

It was impressive what our defense did for much of the game the other night, then the backup came in and Tech ran a completely different set of plays for that guy and there was not film for that guy. We had sacks, we caused some big losses when the big starter was in. We were within 9 points when he went down, then it just went south after the back up came in.

Micky Baker 5 years, 2 months ago

The air raid isn't just sideline to sideline throws. It can be underneath of the middle, which can be quite successful if TCU feels like they can send a couple of extra guys every time. If the blitz is coming, just dump it right where the defender was and make sure to call plays where there will be a route ran right there. I have more confidence in Willis in making decisions than I do with Cozart. Cozart looked like he was afraid to make a decision against TTU. We have a lot of depth of WR and a couple of guys with speed. Use that to our advantage with quick slants maybe or up and slants about 10 yards down the field, especially if the linebacker on one side or the other blitzes.

Ryan Willis needs to be the guy right now.

Lance Cheney 5 years, 2 months ago

The one problem with Willis is his foot speed. If the pass rush is too heavy, he can't escape it as well as Cozart can. Texas Tech was able to just tee off on him, and that's how they shut us down in the 4th quarter. And that's where we run the risk of him fumbling it by doing too much. If our line can give him some time, he can make the passes. Something to watch...

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