A little more than a year has passed since Kansas football coach David Beaty introduced his 2017 recruiting class on National Signing Day.
The group, which featured a few starters, was ranked No. 57 in the nation by Rivals. Obviously, it didn’t translate to extra wins last season, but it likely will feature more than a few contributors to next year’s squad.
In last year’s recruiting class, the Jayhawks had nine players from the Juco ranks and 12 from high schools. Among the 21-player class, seven redshirted and Octavius Matthews was forced to end his career because of a heart condition.
From starters to redshirts, and everything in between, a breakdown of how the Class of 2017 looked at the end of its first season:
Peyton Bender, QB: From Itawamba CC, Bender earned the starting quarterback job out of fall camp. The 6-foot-1 signal caller lost his job after back-to-back shutouts against Iowa State and TCU. He returned as a starter in the team’s final game, ending the season with 1,609 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes.
Earl Bostick, OL/TE: Projected to be on the offensive line with his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Bostick made some appearances at tight end, a position he played in high school. Bostick caught an eight-yard touchdown in a loss to Texas, his only reception of the season.
Antonio Cole, CB: After playing at a pair of junior colleges in his first two collegiate seasons, Cole only played sparingly last season. He didn’t record any stats, participating in two losses when KU dealt with injuries.
Hasan Defense, CB: Starting in the secondary for the entire season, the 5-foot-11 Defense led the team with nine pass breakups. From Kilgore College in Texas, he had 42 tackles (34 solo) and two interceptions.
Jay Dineen, LB: The Lawrence native, out of Free State High, redshirted and couldn’t practice at the end of the season because of an injury.
Joey Gilbertson, OL: The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Gilbertson, from Wichita, redshirted in his first year in the program. Beaty highlighted his wrestling background during last year’s signing day.
Quan Hampton, WR: After shining throughout fall camp, the speedy 5-foot-8, 170-pound slot receiver quickly found a role on the offense. He had 21 catches for 145 yards in six games, missing the end of the season because of a season-ending injury. He returned two kickoffs for a total of 30 yards.
J.J. Holmes, DT: Out of Hutchinson CC, the 6-foot-3, 335-pound Holmes didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school. He became a starter at defensive tackle, recording 24 tackles (2 for loss), one sack and one quarterback hurry.
Kerr Johnson, WR: With injuries piling up at the end of the season, Johnson earned more playing time. The junior college transfer from California had eight catches for 92 yards.
Kyron Johnson, LB: A backup linebacker, Johnson graduated from high school early and participated in spring football last year. Listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Johnson had 17 tackles and one forced fumble.
Liam Jones, K: Handled kickoff duties but lost the field goal competition to Gabriel Rui during fall camp. He recorded 17 touchbacks in 48 kickoffs.
Travis Jordan, WR: From Landry Walker High in New Orleans, the same school as safety Mike Lee and incoming cornerback Corione Harris, the 6-foot-2 Jordan dealt with some “health issues,” according to Beaty, at the beginning of fall camp and redshirted.
Octavius Matthews, RB: It was announced in August that Matthews had a heart condition and his college football career was over. His mother, Kristy Bradford, died due to heart complications last year.
Willie McCaleb, DL: Once viewed as a player who could start at defensive end opposite of Dorance Armstrong, the junior college transfer didn’t play in a game last season.
Cooper Root, LB: Out of Wichita Collegiate, Root redshirted last season. Listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Beaty said at last year’s signing day that he could line up as an inside or outside linebacker.
KeyShaun Simmons, DL: By the end of the season, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Simmons emerged as a reliable contributor on the defensive line. From Pearl River CC, he finished the year with 19 tackles (4.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks.
Kenyon Tabor, WR: The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver from Derby (Kan.) sat out the entire season because of an injury. Before Tabor’s injury, Beaty described him as a “promising” receiver.
Shakial Taylor, CB: Taylor earned the starting nod out of fall camp and held the spot until he suffered a season-ending injury. The 6-foot, 175-pound junior college transfer made 22 tackles with three pass breakups.
Robert Topps, CB: Bigger than most players at his position, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from Chicago is expected to develop as a cornerback. He redshirted during the season, but defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said in fall camp, “We have to invest time in Robert.”
Dom Williams, RB: One of the most-hyped recruits in the class, Williams was a four-star prospect. Battling injuries, his playing time was inconsistent, but the McKinney, Texas native finished the year with 176 yards and three touchdowns on 51 attempts. He added seven catches for 49 yards.
Takulve Williams, WR: Another player in the New Orleans to KU pipeline, Williams redshirted last season.
In the box score, it’ll go down as a tackle and forced fumble in the Kansas football team’s 30-20 loss to Kansas State last weekend.
But it’s a play that will be replayed by KU coaches for a long time and another highlight to add to the college careers of star defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise.
During K-State’s first drive, quarterback Alex Delton rolled out to his right and completed a pass to speedy receiver Byron Pringle along the right sideline. With good footwork, Pringle juked past KU cornerback Hasan Defense and started to run in open field. Pringle was looking toward defenders on his left when Armstrong delivered a strong hit from behind to jar the ball loose. The ball rolled ahead another 10 yards before Wise was the first one to dive on the ball, eventually recovered by Tyrone Miller.
“That’s what we show our younger kids,” KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “There’s reason everyone talks about these two, it ain’t just because they have talent. It’s because they play harder than you other guys with less talent and they do. They set the bar. Those two are pretty special.”
When Delton released the pass, Armstrong was running parallel to him at the line of scrimmage, likely responsible if he tried to scramble. Wise was about five yards downfield because Delton rolled out to the opposite side of KU’s pass pressure, which shifted to the left side of the field on a fake run play.
Once Pringle secured the catch at the 35-yard line, Armstrong was about 10 yards behind him. Armstrong’s tackle was more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage and Wise sprinted nearly 35 yards for the fumble recovery, outracing several players to the ball.
“If I feel like I can catch them, I’m going to get them,” Armstrong said. “When I turned to see them where the ball was at, I felt like he was right there so I went and got him and made the play.”
Wise added of Armstrong: “That’s just what he does. He’s a guy with a high motor and always running to the ball. I just tried to be there to pick it up.”
Watching the play during film sessions afterward, Armstrong said it was a little different than how he saw it on the field. He didn’t think he ran as far as he did.
“It felt like a big play,” Armstrong said. “The moment I felt the ball come out and I saw my team get it, it was just a change of energy throughout the entire game.”
The turnover on K-State’s first possession wasn’t enough to help the Jayhawks earn their first Big 12 win of the season. But Armstrong and Wise both said they felt a different vibe on the sideline during the game, one week after Wise gave a speech in the locker room following a blowout loss to TCU.
“I wasn’t so much thinking about I have to back up what I say,” Wise said. “Just playing my heart out and that’s kind of what I told the guys, ‘Play your heart out, play hard, play tough and do what you’ve got to do.’”
If anyone found it hard to watch the Kansas football team play in a 43-0 road loss to TCU last weekend, you weren’t alone.
Playing in primetime for the first time since 2009 on a network television station, the Jayhawks produced only 21 yards of offense and trailed by 24 points at halftime. Most people avoided turning on the channel.
With a full slate of college football games in primetime, along with Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, KU’s game against TCU drew record-low viewership in primetime.
According to sportsmediawatch.com, Kansas-TCU had 1.2 million viewers and a 0.7 rating on FOX, down 50 percent from last year’s game between Oklahoma and Texas Tech in the same window.
The 0.7 rating was a record low for a college football game on primetime over-the-air TV. Previously, the record low belonged to Baylor-Iowa State on FOX in 2015.
Leading into the KU-TCU primetime game, FOX received strong ratings from its earlier games, including 3.0 million viewers and a 1.9 rating for Oklahoma-Kansas State.
Among the other primetime games last weekend, Michigan-Penn State delivered 6.95 million viewers and a 3.9 rating on ABC while USC-Notre Dame produced a 1.8 rating with 2.99 million viewers on NBC.
When a football team enters its bye week with a 1-3 record, there’s obviously plenty of areas that coaches will try to address with extra time in practice.
For the Kansas football team, one area of concern is third down defense, which really hurt the Jayhawks in a 56-34 loss to West Virginia. Quarterback Will Grier helped the Mountaineers to 35 points in the first half, which included a 5-for-7 mark on third downs. On plays that were 3rd-and-8 or longer, Grier completed half of his passes.
The Jayhawks have a mostly inexperienced secondary, which is learning on the fly with junior college transfer cornerbacks Shak Taylor and Hasan Defense, along with sophomore safeties Mike Lee and Bryce Torneden. When meeting with the media, the group of defensive backs usually lament their communication or failing to stay true to their technique for some of the breakdowns.
But a young secondary hasn’t been helped by its pass rush. The Jayhawks only have three sacks through four games, and one of those was an intentional grounding penalty against Southeast Missouri State.
Those three sacks are tied for the second-lowest mark in the country, and it's extra disappointing for a defensive line group that entered the season with high expectations.
"It’s like we were watching the quarterback instead of actually beating the man in front of us," said junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong, who is still searching for his first sack. "It showed on film. You can actually see that happening on film.”
Armstrong, the Big 12's preseason defensive player of the year, entered the year hoping to challenge the program's single-season sack total. Against West Virginia, he believes he missed as many as four potential sacks.
"When you get the opportunity to get there, you have to cash those checks," said Armstrong, who has a team-high five quarterback hurries. "Lately, as a unit, we haven’t been doing that. We’ve been letting them get away with third down completions, fourth down completions. That’s just not us. We have to get back to making those plays."
Of course, with all of the accolades Armstrong received in the offseason, that's only added attention to him on the field. The Jayhawks have tried to line him up in different spots, including the interior, but opposing offenses always make sure they are aware of where he goes. At the end of last year, he was receiving mostly one-on-one matchups. Now he's facing double teams and even triple teams.
Armstrong remains confident that he he will solve any of the problems that have slowed him down. He compared himself to a defensive back with his eyes in the wrong place.
"I’m seeing too much," Armstrong said. "I see the slide coming my way. I see the back coming my way. I’m just trying to find other ways to get around it versus me just beating the man in front of me. That’s just my issue myself.
"It's tough. It's a good experience. It makes me a better player. It makes me a more humble player, more determined player."
In the third quarter against West Virginia, when KU's defense held the Mountaineers without any points, the Jayhawks had three stops on third down. For example, on a 3rd-and-8 play, Armstrong and fellow defensive end Isaiah Bean helped collapse the pocket on a four-man rush. Without much time to look downfield, Grier aims for his check down target, running back Kennedy McKoy.
Armstrong didn’t have enough time to reach Grier, but he put his hand up at the perfect time to tip the ball and force an incomplete pass. On the ensuing possession, the Jayhawks scored a touchdown and cut the score to 35-27.
But there were far too many breakdowns on the defensive line and secondary.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, West Virginia had 3rd-and-8 from its own 30. There was a decent pass rush created by Armstrong, but Grier had enough time in the pocket to deliver a pass to a wide-open Marcus Simms for a 25-yard gain.
Coming out of the bye week, with an opportunity to self-evaluate film more often, the defensive line is confident it can play closer to its preseason expectations against Texas Tech.
"After you see it for so many weeks in a row, you have to stop at some point," Armstrong said. "I think we found that point where it has to end."
After back-to-back losses to MAC teams, the Kansas football team is tasked with trying to slow down West Virginia’s offense in its Big 12 opener Saturday morning.
What was the first thing KU coach David Beaty noticed when he watched film of the Mountaineers?
“Speed, speed, speed,” Beaty said. “I mean, for years that university has been renowned for going down to Florida and getting a bunch of fast guys. They've continued to do that.”
The Mountaineers (2-1) are the first team outside of the Top 25 in both the AP and Coaches polls. They lost their season opener to Virginia Tech, 31-24, before picking up wins against East Carolina and Delaware State.
BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA:
After transferring from Florida, redshirt junior Will Grier (6-2, 214) hasn’t missed a beat under his new offense. In three games, Grier has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,027 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Grier, picked as the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year, has 20 rushing attempts for 80 yards. KU coach David Beaty said Grier is tough to play against because he can throw from a variety of arm angles. The Florida transfer is backed up by sophomore Chris Chugunov (6-1, 203), who has completed 10 of his 16 passes this year.
The Mountaineers’ rushing attack starts with senior Justin Crawford (6-0, 200), an all-Big 12 preseason selection. Crawford a Northwest Mississippi CC transfer, has impressed during the first three weeks, accumulating 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging a league-best 7.6 yards per carry. In each game, he’s reached the 100-yard mark. Sophomores Kennedy McKoy (6-0, 201) and Martell Pettaway, along with freshman Tevin Bush (5-6, 174, from same HS as KU safety Mike Lee), all have at least 14 carries for 70 yards.
Grier has no shortage of targets in the passing game, highlighted by junior receivers David Sills V (6-4, 203) and Gary Jennings Jr. (6-1, 210). Sills, who left to play quarterback at El Camino College last year, has 18 catches for 266 yards and a team-high five touchdowns, while Jennings leads WVU with 23 catches and 363 receiving yards. Senior Ka’Raun White (6-2, 216) has 14 catches for 173 yards and two scores, and sophomore Marcus Simms (6-0, 196) has five receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
WVU’s offensive line is filled with experience. LT Yodny Cajuste (6-5, 308), LG Kyle Bosch (6-5, 298) and RT Colton McKivitz (6-7, 306) have all started at least 10 games in their careers. Cajuste, a junior, missed all of last season with a knee injury. C Matt Jones (6-3, 318) and RG Josh Sills (6-6, 315) are the other starters.
In a base 3-3-5 stack alignment, the Mountaineers have a lot of responsibilities on their sophomore defensive ends Adam Schuler II (6-4, 268) and Reese Donahue (6-4, 263) and senior nose tackle Xavier Pegues (6-2, 292). None of them have recorded any sacks, but Schuler and Donahue have combined for 17 total tackles.
With a mostly inexperienced group of defensive linemen, the Mountaineers are led by senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (6-1, 238). Benton leads WVU with 24 tackles (five for loss), including 13 solo. Xavier Preston (6-2, 240) is the team’s strongside outside linebacker and redshirt freshman Dyle Tonkery (6-2, 222) covers the weakside. Tonkery, a strong pass rusher, has 12 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and one sack. Preston has recorded nine tackles.
Senior safety Kyzir White (6-2, 216), the younger brother of former WVU star receiver Kevin White, highlights the team’s stable of defensive backs with 18 tackles in three games, including two interceptions. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry (6-0, 200) has one interception and 13 tackles. True freshman cornerback Kenny Robinson (6-0, 202) had six tackles last week and senior corner Mike Daniels Jr. (5-11, 203) has recorded four pass breakups. Safety Marvin Gross Jr. (6-3, 205) is the other starter in the secondary.
Junior punter Billy Kinney ranks fifth in the Big 12, averaging 39.5 yards per punt. Six of his 16 punts have pinned the opponent inside of its own 20 yard line. Senior kicker Mike Molina has converted on 2 of his 4 field goal attempts this season with a long of 34 yards. Molina, who has a career long of 50 yards, is 18-of-18 on extra point kicks. Receiver Marcus Simms is the primary returner, which included an 80-yard kick return last week.
WVU quarterback Will Grier is considered the third-most popular son in his family. He’s the older brother of teenagers Nash and Hayes Grier, both considered among the most influential people on the Internet for their videos on social media platforms (including more than 15 million followers combined on Instagram).
West Virginia by 21.5. The over/under is set at 71.
Until KU’s defense proves it’s capable of slowing down quarterbacks with its pass rush or secondary, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks keeping up with the Mountaineers’ strong passing offense.
Among FBS schools, the Jayhawks rank 113th in passing defense, giving up 297 yards per game and 8.74 yards per attempt.
After losing by multiple touchdowns last week, along with problems protecting the ball, the Kansas football team is hoping it can turn around its season Saturday in Athens, Ohio. On the other sideline, the Ohio Bobcats have the same thoughts.
“Ironically, I have a feeling both teams are going to be working on some of the very same stuff this week,” KU coach David Beaty said Tuesday.
The Bobcats (1-1) had a disastrous second quarter in a 44-21 road loss to Purdue last week. Their defense gave up 558 yards and allowed a few big plays.
Ohio was picked to win the East Division in the MAC preseason poll, but is adjusting to a pair of new quarterbacks and several new faces in big roles on defense.
BREAKING DOWN OHIO:
The Bobcats are expected to mix two QBs against KU. Sophomore Nathan Rourke (6-2, 209), a transfer from Fort Scott CC, is a dual-threat signal caller. He’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 283 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. On the ground, Rourke has rushed for 86 yards and three scores on 15 attempts. Redshirt sophomore Quinton Maxwell (6-3, 224) is more of a pocket passer but has only completed 8 of his 15 attempts for 112 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Maxwell started the first two games.
A.J. Ouellette (5-9, 205) only played in one game last year before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc tear in his foot. The redshirt junior Ouellette, a former walk-on, has gained 101 yards through the first two games with one touchdown in 23 attempts. He was the team’s leading rusher in 2015. Freshman Julian Ross (5-9, 186) and senior Dorian Brown (5-11, 208) share the backfield with Ouellette. Ross, from Kansas City, Mo., has 82 yards and three scores on 20 carries. Brown had 122 yards against KU last year.
Even with two quarterbacks, the Bobcats feature a pair of big-play threat receivers in junior Papi White (5-9, 168) and freshman Cameron Odom (6-1, 188). White, who previously played running back, has 10 catches for 138 yards and one touchdown. He scored a rushing touchdown against Kansas last season. Odom has 121 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. No other receiver has more than three catches through the first two games.
Ohio returned three starters on the offensive line: junior left tackle Joe Lowery (6-7, 305), center senior Jake Pruehs (6-1, 316) and senior right guard Durrell Wood (6-3, 294). Pruehs, a third-team all-MAC pick last year, has landed on a couple of preseason watch lists. Junior left guard Joe Anderson (6-6, 340) and senior right tackle Jared McCray (6-5, 340) fill out the rest of the line.
Ohio’s defensive line set a school record with 44 sacks last year and ranked fifth nationally against the run. Some players in the current group made spot starts last year, including defensive tackle Tony Porter (6-1, 278), nose tackle Cleon Aloese (6-0, 295) and defensive end Kevin Robbins (6-4, 250). Porter and Robbins have both recorded 0.5 sacks through the first two games. Senior defensive end Trent Smart (6-4, 260) is another starter.
One of the most experienced position groups, the Bobcats returned all two of their linebackers: MLB Quentin Poling (6-0, 235) and strong side linebacker Chad Moore (6-0, 222). Poling was a first-team all-MAC selection last season and he’s recorded eight tackles (one for loss) and one pass breakup in the first two games. Moore is third on the team with nine tackles. Weakside linebacker Evan Croutch (6-0, 227) leads Ohio with 11 tackles and two sacks.
The Bobcats gave up several big plays through the air in their loss to Purdue last week. Cornerbacks Bradd Ellis (5-10, 177) and Jalen Fox (5-11, 186) both played a little bit last year, but are essentially new starters. Free safety Kylan Nelson (5-10, 192), a returning starter, has seven tackles and one pass breakup. Strong safety Javon Hagan (6-0, 207) started seven games last season and has recorded six tackles through the first two weeks.
Sophomore kicker Louie Zervos earned freshman All-America honors last season, setting an NCAA freshman record with 29 made field goals. His career long is 51 yards, but he’s only attempted a 38-yarder this season. Punter Michael Farkas has averaged 38.6 yards per punt, downing five of his eight punts inside of the opponent’s 20. Papi White returns punts, while Kylan Nelson is the team’s leading kick returner.
Solich, in his 13th season, is the third-longest tenured head coach in the NCAA behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and TCU’s Gary Patterson. Solich owns a 7-0 record vs. Kansas.
Ohio by 7.5. The over/under is set at 58.5.
After KU’s loss against Central Michigan last week, the Jayhawks likely won’t be favored for the remainder of the season. But Saturday’s game against Ohio is one of their more winnable games on the road.
A key will be Ohio’s rushing attack, which had some success against Purdue, against the Jayhawks. Ohio ran for 329 yards versus KU last year.
For the Kansas football team to take the next step on offense, it will likely start with an improvement on the offensive line. In last week’s loss to Central Michigan, there were too many pass protection breakdowns and busted plays to consistently move the ball down the field.
After watching film, KU sophomore left tackle Hakeem Adeniji said there were “spurts” of good plays by the offensive line, but it wasn’t as consistent as the Jayhawks wanted.
“I think for sure it’s all correctable,” Adeniji said. “I think we have a good group of guys. I think we have a great coach. I think it’s all about just putting that together.”
KU sophomore right tackle Antione Frazier had a particularly rough outing, committing a false start when the Jayhawks had second-and-goal from the 1-yard line and other problems in pass protection.
Adeniji said the false start near the goal line are the type of plays that “you can’t make,” but he trusts Frazier will only grow from the experience. Adeniji added that he wants to take Frazier under his wing.
“You pat him on the back and you tell him to keep going,” Adeniji said. “That’s Antione’s second start and we know he’s going to make mistakes. I trust him and I’m going to keep working with him. More than just a teammate, that’s family to me. We know how talented he is and what he can do, so we’re just going to keep on pushing until he gets to that point.”
Frazier and freshman right guard Chris Hughes, who redshirted last season, are brand new to the offensive line and had trouble keeping the pocket clean for quarterback Peyton Bender.
Adeniji said one of the big keys for the offensive line is doing a better job of blocking on first and second downs. Against Central Michigan, the Jayhawks were 5 of 18 on third downs (28 percent). That included a 1-of-8 mark when KU had 3rd-and-9 or longer.
“Obviously we have a lot of young guys, especially on the right side of the O-line,” Adeniji said. “It’s probably going to take them a little time to get to the flow of things, but I trust they can do it, for sure.”
In the run game, Adeniji thought the offensive line made some strides from Week 1 to Week 2. The Jayhawks averaged 4.3 yards per rush on 34 carries, including four runs longer than 10 yards.
But the Jayhawks (1-1) did have some problems turning their long drives into touchdowns. Three possessions inside of the red zone ended in field goal attempts.
“The biggest part of it is staying mentally composed throughout the whole game,” Adeniji said. “I feel like we had spurts here and there where we did a good job, but we didn’t do a great job of keeping it consistent the whole game. I think being a leader of the O-line, I have to do a better a job of keeping our guys on the right track.”
Heading into Saturday’s matchup against Ohio, Adeniji said he’s seen KU players focus more in practice and film sessions, and he’s hopeful that will show up on the field.
“Me personally, I never like to be embarrassed, you know,” Adeniji said. “I always want to go out there and do my thing. You have someone you don’t feel is capable and shouldn’t beat you like that, and they come into your home and do what they did, it just tunes you in. It makes you hungry for the next (game).”
Throughout all of last season, the defense was the strength of the Kansas football team, usually by a large margin over the offense.
But when the offense scored two touchdowns at the beginning of the third quarter, giving the Jayhawks some life on their comeback bid, the defense gave up scores on CMU’s next three possessions.
As I introduced last week, this will be a weekly breakdown where we’ll take a look at a few plays that might not be included in the main highlights, but they had a big impact on the outcome of the game:
Shane Morris remains calm under pressure
The tide of momentum was starting to shift at the beginning of the third quarter Saturday, when the Jayhawks scored touchdowns on their first two possessions.
After watching their lead drop and a three-and-out punt to open the second half, the Chippewas needed a response. On 2nd-and-6 from their own 31-yard line, Central Michigan senior quarterback Shane Morris dropped back and immediately felt pressure from KU defensive tackle Isi Holani, who blew past sophomore offensive lineman Logan Slaughter.
Morris moved up in the pocket, slipping a potential sack from Holani, and kept his eyes downfield. With only a split-second to release the ball ahead of a charging Daniel Wise, Morris fired a pass toward his left and connected with senior receiver Corey Willis for a first down. Willis broke a tackle after his catch, pushing the ball all the way up to the 50-yard line.
If Holani or Wise complete the sack against Morris, the Chippewas are starting at 3rd-and-very-long deep into their own territory. If the Jayhawks force a punt, they have the ball with a chance to retake the lead.
Instead, Morris helps CMU finish the drive with a touchdown and the Jayhawks never were closer than 11 points for the remainder of the night.
CMU finds success on the same play
It was immediately noticed by Fox Sports Net’s broadcast crew of Brendan Burke and David Anderson, but the Chippewas scored two of their touchdowns in the second quarter on virtually the same play.
The play design was out of a four-receiver set. The inside slot receivers on both sides zag to the outside, while the outside receivers run to the inside, creating a twist. Many NFL teams use the play to set up picks, freeing a receiver if the referees don’t call offensive pass interference.
On the first touchdown, Morris finds Mark Chapman wide open for a 14-yard score once KU cornerback Derrick Neal is caught over the top of his coverage.
The second score was at the end of the first half, with only 11 seconds remaining at the 6-yard line. Neal takes a much quicker route to the ball, but he’s about one second late in trying to break up the pass to Willis, who reached out over the goal line.
“I don't think we did a very good job handling those twist routes down by the goal line,” Beaty said afterward. “Seems like they were making those throws fairly easy. We weren't jumping through those pick plays down there. Their credit, they didn't pick us. They played the way they were supposed to and executed. We didn't get coverage on it.”
Offensive line has trouble protecting Peyton Bender
During a Week 1 victory against Southeast Missouri State, Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender operated in a mostly-clean pocket throughout the game and it was a big reason why Bender had so much success through the air.
Against Central Michigan, Bender didn’t have the same level of protection and it showed in a couple of his wild throws. Bender was sacked twice and the Chippewas recorded three quarterback hurries.
When he threw his first interception, Bender was blitzed off of the left edge and hurried a pass over the middle that was easily picked off.
Two drives later, Bender looked over the middle and his first option wasn’t open. By the time Bender looked for his next option, he was brought down by a pair of CMU defenders from both sides of the offensive line.
Beaty said Bender didn’t help the offensive line by holding the ball too long in some situations, but on plays like the clip above, he wasn’t afforded much time at all to run either.
After a 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan on Saturday, Kansas football coach David Beaty discussed his team's turnovers and problems stopping Central Michigan's passing attack.
Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris completed 28 of his 37 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns.
"I didn't think we did a great job communicating on the back end," Beaty said. "When you don't do that, and you're in two different coverages, the ball is going to find you, particularly when you're playing a guy that has the experience like Shane Morris does."
When the Kansas football team takes the field against Central Michigan on Saturday, the Jayhawks will be attempting to win back-to-back games for the first time since the start of the 2011 season.
Central Michigan opened the season with a thrilling 30-27 home victory over Rhode Island in triple overtime. The Chippewas raced out to a 13-0 lead at halftime and recorded six interceptions, but were forced into overtime after a couple of URI touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Chippewas certainly committed their share of mistakes, which aided Rhode Island’s comeback bid, but KU coach David Beaty was impressed by CMU’s ability to keep focus on the next play.
“The thing that sticks out to me is even when a team is facing some adversity throughout a game and it doesn’t look like things are going their way that team kept playing,” Beaty said.
The Chippewas were picked to finish fifth in the MAC West in the preseason media poll. When the two schools met in 2014, the Jayhawks earned a 24-10 win.
BREAKING DOWN CENTRAL MICHIGAN:
Shane Morris (6-3, 210), a graduate transfer from Michigan, earned the starting nod last week — the third start of his collegiate career. The hard-throwing left-hander was 25 of 49 against Rhode Island last week for 226 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Morris added 32 rushing yards on seven attempts. Redshirt freshman Tony Poljan (6-7, 237) backs up Morris and will likely see time on the field in certain packages. Poljan was 3 of 5 last week for 27 yards, adding one rush for 11 yards.
The Chippewas averaged 4.9 yards per carry against Rhode Island with strong performances from sophomore Jonathan Ward (6-0, 194) and senior Devon Spalding (5-11, 210). Ward had 19 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, setting career highs in attempts and yards. Ward only had 200 yards and two scores during his true freshman season. Spalding, the team’s lead back last year, had 20 carries for 70 yards and a score last week. CMU is 5-0 in games where Spalding, a team captain, reaches 100 rushing yards.
One of Central Michigan’s top offensive weapons is senior receiver Corey Willis (5-10, 172), who has recorded a catch in 18 straight games. In the opener last week, Willis had a team-high eight receptions for 43 yards. Senior receiver Mark Chapman (6-0, 181), sophomore Brandon Childress (6-2, 195) and junior tight end Logan Hessbrook (6-3, 239) all had at least four catches last week including a TD by Childress. Chapman, who has recorded more than 500 yards in each of the last two years, had five catches for 88 yards. Tight end Tyler Conklin (6-4, 240), an NFL prospect, is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his foot last month.
The Chippewas have plenty of experience on their offensive line through four returning senior starters: LT Joe Austin (6-6, 290), LG J.P. Quinn (6-4, 295), C Austin Doan (6-4, 294) and RT Derek Edwards (6-5, 305). Junior RG Shakir Carr (6-4, 320) started nine games last season on the offensive line. CMU ranked last in the MAC in rushing offense last year (115.9 yards per game) and 26th in the country in passing offense (276.1 yards per game).
Under first-year offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky, a former head coach at Northern Michigan, the Chippewas operate in a spread offense out of the shotgun with a goal of “stretching the field horizontally and vertically,” according to his team bio. Against Rhode Island, their offense ran 104 plays, accumulating 24 first downs and 499 total yards.
Senior defensive end Joe Ostman (6-3, 259) highlights CMU’s defensive line with his stellar pass-rushing skills. Ostman, who had eight sacks last year and earned all-MAC honors, had one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry against Rhode Island. On the other side of Ostman is junior defensive end Mitch Stanitzek (6-4, 246), who missed most of last season because of injury. Senior defensive tackle Chris Kantzavelos (6-3, 285) highlights the interior after registering four tackles (one for loss) last week alongside sophomore defensive tackle D’Andre Dill (6-1, 310).
Malik Fountain (6-2, 240), a junior all-MAC selection, was one of the top linebackers in the conference last season after finishing with 92 tackles. He’s already off to a strong start with 10 tackles in the team’s opener versus Rhode Island. Junior linebacker Alex Briones (6-2, 226) set career highs last week with 11 tackles and his first career interception. Another linebacker, sophomore Carlos Clark (6-0, 225), had two tackles last week.
The Chippewas tied a program record last week, snagging six interceptions. That includes two picks each from senior safety Josh Cox (5-11, 197) and senior cornerback Amari Coleman (5-11, 188). Along with creating turnovers, Cox had eight tackles, three passes defended and one pass breakup last week. Coleman, an all-MAC pick, had four interceptions last year, returning two for scores. Senior safety Darwyn Kelly (6-0, 208) added an interception while sophomore Sean Bunting (6-1, 178) lines up at cornerback opposite of Coleman.
Under defensive coordinator Greg Colby, the Chippewas line up mostly out of their base 4-3 defense. Their cornerbacks aren’t afraid to play press coverage, although that hurt them against Rhode Island, allowing a couple of long pass plays. In 2016, CMU allowed 391.9 yards per game, which ranked fifth in the MAC.
Junior punter Jack Sheldon averaged 41.9 yards on his nine punts in last week’s opener vs. Rhode Island, including a long of 65. He had four punts pinned inside of the 20. Senior kicker Michael Armstrong went 3-of-4, missing on his only attempt longer than 40 yards. Senior Berkley Edwards (5-9, 195) returned the majority of kickoffs last week, while Amari Coleman returns punts.
The Chippewas ranked eighth in the country in 2016 with four defensive touchdowns, all from interceptions.
Kansas by 5.5. The over/under is set at 58.
At first glance, I thought the Jayhawks should’ve been a bigger favorite based on how KU won in a blowout over Rhode Island last year. Of course, the Jayhawks didn’t play perfect in their 38-16 win over SEMO, but I thought the offense showed its potential on some drives and the defense was solid.
Perhaps the biggest matchup to watch will be KU quarterback Peyton Bender against CMU’s secondary, which isn’t afraid to jump routes looking for interceptions.