Breaking down the strengths of All-Big 12 DE Dorance Armstrong
On a team that posted a 2-10 record, it’s not easy to stand out for individual accomplishments.
But everybody took notice of Kansas sophomore defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., and he was recognized with first-team All-Big 12 honors Wednesday, the first unanimous selection since the Jayhawks joined the conference.
Armstrong filled statistical leaderboards with 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He added 56 tackles (40 solo), which are pretty high marks for a defensive lineman.
It’s important to remember that Armstrong started the season pretty slowly. There was a knee injury on the first day of fall camp that KU coach David Beaty thought was an ACL tear. The Jayhawks brought him along slowly — the smart decision — and he followed with a dominant stretch of eight sacks in six games.
At the beginning of the year, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound Houston native said he had a goal of six sacks this year. That shows how much improvement he made throughout the season.
What makes him such a talented player?
Here’s a breakdown of some of his top plays during KU’s 24-21 win over Texas. When Armstrong was asked after the game if it was his best of the season, he responded, “Definitely. Looking to have more though.”
In the first of six clips below, Armstrong is helped out with strong coverage downfield. Texas quarterback Shane Buechele rolls out to his right, but there’s nobody open. Armstrong makes the most of the play by using his speed to chase Buechele down.
If the first sack was a coverage sack, Armstrong’s second sack of the first half was thanks to his pass-rushing ability. Look how difficult he makes life for Texas junior tackle Brandon Hodges (6-4, 310). First, Hodges has to respect Armstrong’s speed on the perimeter to make sure Armstrong doesn’t just go right around him. Armstrong makes a couple of jukes to create separation and hit Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to force a fumble.
One of the bonuses of a player like Armstrong is that along with elite-level speed, he’s still pretty strong. That means the Jayhawks could afford to line him up all over the field. On this play, KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen calls up a play with Armstrong lined up over the middle and Texas’ left guard barely gets a hand on him on his way to the backfield.
For all of the talk about Armstrong’s pass rushes, he still deserves a lot of credit for his help in the run game. This is a short clip, but Armstrong is double-teamed by Hodges and tight end Caleb Bluiett. Look how well Armstrong holds his ground, stays in his gap and slows down D’Onta Freeman. Also if you note the score and time, Texas was five yards from a first down and kneeling the ball to seal a potential win.
Here’s another stop in the run game. Now KU defensive end Damani Mosby (#13) and defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis did the dirty work on this stop, filling the gap up the middle, on the first play of overtime. But Armstrong shows his speed getting to Freeman, refusing to let him bounce a run outside.
Then of course there was the play that won the game in overtime — Buechele’s interception to Mike Lee (setting up Matthew Wyman's game-winning kick). Armstrong forces Buechele to move around the pocket with a great bull rush around the edge. He couldn’t pull down Beuchele for the sack, but forcing the QB out of the pocket is one of the factors in the overthrow to Lee.
Those are just some of the many plays that Armstrong made, which helped KU make major strides of the defensive side of the ball this season and earned him first-team All-Big 12 recognition.
For a quick personal story, a few summers ago, I was waiting in line for a haircut and Armstrong was waiting on several teammates to finish up with their haircuts. I didn't know anything about Armstrong — this was the summer before his freshman year. But he addressed everybody with "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," which happens in barbershops as often as fistfights in churches.
A couple of days later, KUSports.com columnist Tom Keegan was talking about KU's top freshmen for the upcoming year and he mentioned that coaches were raving about Armstrong on the defensive line. I laughed. Armstrong weighed about 215 pounds when he arrived to campus, so I thought he was way too small for defensive end and Keegan must've mistaken Armstrong for somebody else.
Fast forward two years and Armstrong, with an extra 30 pounds or so, has proven to everybody that he's more than capable of playing on the defensive line.