The most obvious improvement Kansas made in 2016 from winless 2015 came courtesy of its pass defense.
The Jayhawks ranked 124th in the FBS with 293.7 passing yards allowed and moved all the way to 55th in 2016 with an average of 219.8 passing yards allowed per game.
In 2015, KU opponents completed 66.4 percent of their passes and averaged 8.8 yards per pass atempt. In 2016, the numbers were 59.1 percent and 7.4 yards per pass attempt.
It all started up front for the Jayhawks, where they ranked 40th in the nation with 2.33 sacks per game, compared to a still-respectable 2.17 sacks, good for 64th, in 2015.
The maturation of sophomore defensive end Dorance Armstrong and senior cornerback Brandon Stewart played big parts in solidifying the pass defense. Stewart's pick six in the upset of Texas gave him a signature play for a career that followed the path of many talented junior-college cornerbacks in that he struggled making the adjustment to the big-time as a junior and came on strong as a senior.
Obviously, I'm not allowed in the defensive meetings, but I have a hunch the veteran presence of linebacker coach Todd Bradford, a former defensive coordinator, also played a big role in KU shoring up its pass defense. I base that on how genuinely impressed defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has been with Bradford's knowledge and experience from Day 1. Keeping Bradford on the staff is a must for Kansas carrying the momentum of an encouraging finish into next season.
It sometimes can take quite a while for Kansas basketball players to earn the trust of their demanding coach, Bill Self.
That’s what made something Self said Monday afternoon so interesting when asked how much importance he puts on the first play of the game.
“Not much,” Self said, “although probably for the last 10 years we’ve scripted the first five plays every game, until this year. We haven’t scripted really this year much at all. We script the first play, obviously, but after that we really haven’t scripted much.”
Interesting. Why the change?
“I’ve found the best way to play with guys that we presently have is to let them play, not to try to tell them how to play,” Self said. “I think that’s worked out better for us and maybe save the scripted plays for an ATO (after timeout).”
Self is the Larry Brown of his era in turning ATO’s into points.
His backing off on scripting in general says a lot. First, I think it says he trusts his guards, which makes sense since senior Frank Mason and junior Devonte Graham are so experienced and such smart players.
It also might say that he what he trusts most about them and fellow perimeter player freshman Josh Jackson is that they will play with unbridled aggressiveness. Scripting too much can lead to too much thinking, which can temper aggressiveness.
Graham, Jackson and Mason put so much pressure on teams at both ends and they seem to enjoy playing together to such an extent that they feed off of each other and fuel each other’s attacking style.
The trio is terrific at collapsing defenses with strong drives to the hoop and nearly as good at collapsing offenses with Mason and especially Graham pressuring the ball and Jackson sniping in the passing lanes better than any Kansas player since Mario Chalmers.
It really is quite a compliment to the players that Self has minimized scripting plays. So for the starting perimeter trio has made the coach look smart for doing so.
It's not a reach to project for 2017 the best quarterback play Kansas has had in the post-Todd Reesing years.
Redshirt freshman Carter Stanley, the third quarterback to start a game for Kansas during a 2-10 season, easily was the best.
It's no coincidence that the offensive line performed the best it has during David Beaty's two years as head coach once Stanley became the starter. O-lines always look better protecting a quarterback and opening holes for running backs when a decisive QB is at the controls of the offense. Having a running threat at quarterback also helps an offensive line and Stanley is a better scrambler and runner than the faster Montell Cozart and the slower Ryan Willis.
Stanley's statistics weren't mind-blowing by any stretch, but they clearly were better than his predecessors.
Statistical comparison for this season's 11 games vs. FBS competition:
Points per start: 1 - Stanley 22.3; 2 - Cozart 15.1; 3 - Willis 15.0.
Touchdowns/Interceptions: 1 - Stanley 5/6; 2 - Cozart 4/8; 3 - Willis 1/7.
Yards per attempt: 1 - Willis 6.18; 2 - Stanley 5.94; 3 - Cozart 5.31.
Passes attempted per sack: 1 - Cozart 63.3; 2 - Stanley 19.5; 3 - Willis 7.3.
Completion percentage: 1 - Willis 60.2; 2 - Stanley 59.2; 3 - Cozart 57.0.
Yards per rush attempt: 1 - Stanley 3.90; 2 - Cozart 3.08; 3 - Willis -0.83.
Stanley ranked first in 3 of 6 categories, second in the other three. Cozart ranked first in one category, second in three and third in two. Willis ranked first in two, third in four.
The emergence of Stanley alone ranks no better than second among reasons for a bullish 2017 outlook at quarterback.
My guess is juco transfer and former Washington State quarterback Peyton Bender will win the job in the spring. For one thing, Bender has the arm strength to put more zip on the sideline passes that are a big part of Beaty's Air Raid offense.
Those familiar with the extremely entertaining, insightful Netflix docu-series "Last Chance U," know that East Mississippi Community College plays big-time football. Well, Bender, playing for Itawamba, threw for 566 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-42 loss to Buddy Stephens' talented squad. Bender completed 39 of 59 passes and did not throw a single interception.
The addition of Bender and emergence of Stanley gives Tyriek Starks more time to add seasoning. A dual-threat QB from New Orleans, Starks has four seasons of eligibility remaining. Unlike Stanley and Bender, Starks had no experience in an Air Raid offense before coming to Kansas. Bender played in Air Raid attacks in high school, at Washington State and at Itawamba. Stanley's high school ran the Air Raid as well. No point in rushing Starks, who needs more seasoning.
1 - Frank Mason: Led the Jayhawks in scoring for the fourth time in five games with 19 points. He made 2 of 4 free throws and put the pressure on Georgia's defense until tiring late in the game and mixed it up well enough to grab five rebounds. Also had three assists and three steals. He disrupted Georgia's plans at both ends, even though it wasn't one of his cleanest nights, as evidenced by his five turnovers. Earned all-tournament honors.
2 - Josh Jackson: Named CBE Classic MVP after another big night. Totaled 15 points with a game-high 11 rebounds, did a nice job passing from the high post, showed extremely quick hands on a blocked shot and moved fast in both directions in transition. Rebounds like a big man, but is not equipped to defend the post. He does slide his feet well enough to guard a point guard, if needed. Jackson understands the value of good ball movement and does his part to promote it by keeping the ball moving most of the time. For a man who can do such amazing things at such high speeds and altitudes, has trouble when standing still in a quiet arena. Has made just 11 of 23 free throws.
3 - Devonte Graham: Did a nice job of shutting down high-scoring Georgia guard (two points, nearly 17 below his average) until Kansas went to a zone, which was for about 30 minutes of the game. Didn't stay hot from outside after coming out on fire Monday night. Made 3 of 9 three-pointers. Scored 14 points with two assists and four steals and had just one turnover in 36 minutes.
4 - Lagerald Vick: Has made just 1 of 11 three-point shots, which might be a disguised blessing because it will force him to look first for the drive, a good way for him to go because he's so quick. Had his second eight-rebound game to go with nine points in 24 minutes.
5 - Dwight Coleby: Foul trouble forced him into the game and responded well playing, "by far," the best of KU's bigs, coach Bill Self said. Coleby blocked four shots, had four rebounds and two points before fouling out after 20 minutes of action. He said his leg is almost all the way back, but he still does not run as if his surgically repaired knee is at full strength yet.
6 - Svi Mykhailiuk: Georgia had quick defenders in its zone and Svi tends toward shooting worse against quick defenders. Made 1 of 6 three-pointers, picked up three rebounds, an assist and a steal without turning it over.
7 - Udoka Azubuike: Self explained that he only played five minutes because he has not had enough practice playing in a zone defense.
8 - Carlton Bragg: I don't understand why Self played him 10 minutes and by that I mean I don't understand why he played him that much. Yante Maten had his way down low with 30 points and 13 rebounds and Bragg was not able to help out to make life more difficult for him. Bragg had just three points and one rebound, which came at the offensive end.
9 - Landen Lucas: Might his foot, which requires him to wear a boot, be hindering him more than he's letting on? Played 10 scoreless minutes, had more turnovers (three) than rebounds (two) and fouled out. He hasn't looked like the same player who played such a key role in helping Kansas advance to the Elite Eight last season.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Georgia
- Perimeter-oriented attack carries KU past Georgia
- Keegan: Mason outplays height once again
- Notebook: Coleby steps up to contribute inside
- Report Card: KU 65, UGA 54
- Coleby surprises father with nice gift — playing time
- Keegan Ratings: Mason delivers another big night
Say something nice about Kansas football: Dorance Armstrong deserves to be in running for All-American honors
In writing about Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong after the potentially program-turning upset of Texas, I left off the final sentence of a string of superlatives that safety Fish Smithson said about Armstrong until I could research it.
"Statistically," Smithson said, "I think his stats will match up with any defensive end in the country."
Smithson not only knows his stuff on the field in making the calls for the defense, he knows his national statistics. Since All-Americans need numbers to back them up and Armstrong has them, that makes him a bona fide All-American candidate.
Take a look at how Armstrong stacks up in two key statistical categories for defensive ends, sacks and tackles for loss:
PLAYER (POS.) School G Sacks;
1 - Hunter Dimick (DE) Utah 11 14.0;
2 - DeMarcus Walker (DE) FSU 11 13.0;
3 - Harold Landry (DE) BC 11 12.0;
3 - Jaylon Ferguson (DE) LaTech 11 12.0;
5 - Ejuan Price (DE) Pitt 11 11.0;
5 - Derek Barnett (DE) Tenn 11 11.0;
5 - Shaquem Griffin (LB) UCF 11 11.0;
8 - Arden Key (DE) LSU 10 10.0;
8 - Dorance Armstrong(DE) KU 11 10.0;
8 - Takkarist McKinley(DE) UCLA 11 10.0;
8 - Jimmie Gilbert (LB) Col. 11 10.0;
PLAYER (POS.) SCHOOL G TFL;
1 - Haason Reddick(DE) Temple 11 20.0;
2 - Hunter Dimick (DE) Utah 11 19.5;
2 - Bradley Chubb (DE) NC State 11 19.5;
4 - Ejuan Price (DE) Pitt 11 19.0;
4 - Ed Oliver (DT) Houston 11 19.0;
6 - McKinley (DE) UCLA 10 18.0;
7 - Armstrong (DE) KU 11 17.0;
7 - Barnett (DE) Tenn 11 17.0;
7 - Carroll Phillips (DE) Ill. 11 17.0;
7 - Tanzel Smart (DT) Tulane 11 17.0;
7 - Woody Baron (DT) Va. Tech 11 17.0;
Armstrong ranks tied for seventh in the FBS in sacks and, as you can see, only four other players, all defensive ends, are listed in the top 10 in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss: Utah's Dimick, Pitt's Price, UCLA's McKinley and Tennessee's Barnett.
That doesn't mean Armstrong will be named All-American. KU's 2-9 record, which could fall to 2-10 Saturday in Manhattan, won't help his cause. His stats do mean he's a bona fide All-American candidate.
I called Kale Pick to congratulate him and write a story about his promotion to head football coach at Fort Scott Community College. I came away with a bonus.
Pick forever will be linked to the great Todd Reesing because he was his successor, although he lasted only three quarters before Turner Gill turned to Jordan Webb. Now, Pick himself brought up a link to Reesing without any prompting from me. (I have been accused of writing too often about Reesing and just wanted to make it clear it’s Pick’s fault this time).
Pick was Fort Scott’s offensive coordinator this past season and he gives most of the credit for the school’s monumental offensive improvement in one season to freshman quarterback Nathan Rourke, a 6-foot-3, 209-pound scrambler.
“He was one vote shy of player of the year in the Jayhawk Conference, which a lot of people say is the SEC of junior college,” Pick said. “Our offensive line was probably the worst in the conference, our receivers were pretty mediocre and he led every passing category. This kid is special.”
“I’m the last one to ever make comparisons,” Pick said, which meant he was about to make one, “but if you watch his HUDL (highlight tape), he reminds me a lot of Todd Reesing.”
Those words made me sit up straight and move to the edge of my recliner.
Tell me more. Tell me more. He told me more, but first, have a look at Rourke’s video.
He really does call to mind Reesing, scrambling in every direction, yet forever keeping his eyes downfield.
Rourke moved from Canada for his senior year of high school, which he spent at Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Ala. Rourke threw 59 touchdown passes and three interceptions for Edgewood. He completed 75 percent of his passes and averaged 15.4 yards per completion.
Pick said that out of high school Rourke received offers from FCS schools, but wanted to gain exposure at a junior college for a year in hopes of landing at an FBS school. Iowa State and Baylor are interested, according to Pick. Note the positioning of the field goal posts from his highlight video from his junior season Holy Trinity Catholic High in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
Kansas has strong-armed, former Washington State quarterback and current Mississippi juco standout Peyton Bender in for a visit this weekend. Bender's a potential game-changer for a KU offense that has been stuck in the mud so long I'm starting to wonder if it's actually quicksand. I like KU's chances of landing him, but if not, Rourke is definitely worth a long, hard look. Running for his life, he still managed to throw for 2,367 yards and 18 touchdown passes (13 interceptions).
Kansas opened the second half of Tuesday night's 77-75 victory against top-ranked Duke by going on a 17-5 tear. Junior guard Devonte Graham did not think the timing of the team's best stretch of the night was a coincidence. He sent credit the way of the coach.
"The halftime speech," Graham said of Kansas coming out of the locker room in such energetic fashion. "Coach was a little upset with us."
When an athlete shares that his coach was "a little upset," what he usually means is the coach was livid and didn't hold back.
"(We were) taking contested threes and we weren't making them," Graham said. "I think we were 1 of 12 at halftime, so he just got on us about our speed and quickness, (and said) just to get in the lane."
Self has a way of pumping up players' confidence when yelling at them by stressing what they do so well and blasting them for not doing it.
"He tells us nobody can guard us and stay in front of us," Graham said. "They have to put their hands on us or foul us. Either we're going to get in the lane and score or get fouled or drop off to a big man, so he got after us about driving the ball."
And after he did, the Jayhawks' perimeter players relentlessly drove to the hoop and turned a five-point halftime deficit into a 12-point lead with 8:03 remaining.
Self really does know how to get his players to respond to him, a gift partially responsible for Kansas defeating the No. 1 team in the nation, despite shooting .118 on three-pointers and .474 from the line.
— See what people were saying about KU's matchup against Duke during KUsports.com’s live coverage.
More news and notes from the win against Duke
- Fearless Frank: Mason drills game-winning shot for 77-75 win over No. 1 Duke
- Tom Keegan: KU’s bench delivers big punch during win against Duke
- Notebook: Jackson ‘sparked’ Jayhawks in second half; KU-Stanford create series
- Duke’s Krzyzewski on Kansas: ‘They’re really good’
- The Keegan Ratings
- Matt Tait's postgame Report Card
Kansas made it to the Elite Eight in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, where eventual national-champion Villanova bounced the Jayhawks in a close game.
Duke exited the tournament in the Sweet 16 in a 14-point loss to Oregon.
Kansas has added the No. 1 recruit in the nation, according to Rivals rankings, and Duke's three highest-rated recruits, Nos. 2, 3 and 11, are expected to be sidelined tonight because of injuries.
Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden were not selected in the NBA draft. Duke's Brandon Ingram was the second overall selection.
So why is Duke favored by 2.5 points? Good question and one that is not without legitimate answers.
The experience factor — Duke has 7,779 minutes of Div. I play in its rotation, Kansas 7,449 — is virtually equal.
As for hot-shot recruits, Josh Jackson will start for Kansas and Harry Giles (knee), Jayson Tatum (foot) and Marques Bolden (lower leg) are sidelined. Even though he was ranked fourth among Duke's recruits, guard Frank Jackson was ranked 12th in the nation and is off to a great start (19.5 points per game) as sixth man.
Another key factor in why Duke is better than when it was bounced from the tourney: Post player Amile Jefferson, limited to nine games by injury last season, is back, giving Duke 4 of 5 double-figures scorers back from last season, compared to 2 of 4 for Kansas (Frank Mason and Devonte Graham), which lost its top two scorers, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.
Duke's current starting five combined last season for 57.1 points per game, led by leading national player of the year candidate Grayson Allen's 21.6 scoring average. The four returning players in KU's starting five last season averaged 39.2 points.
All of those numbers speak only to scoring. Kansas will need to play its signature tough man-to-man defense to make Duke take contested, hurried shots. It's a lot to ask this early in the season, but it can be done.
That's one key. The other is that someone other than Allen will need to be the best player in the game tonight, the way Graham was the best player in the game last February in Norman.
Senior running back Ke’aun Kinner is having a terrific senior year.
Kinner has had two huge games, rushing for 145 yards on 14 carries vs. Oklahoma State and 152 yards on 18 carries Saturday against Iowa State.
He’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry, up from 4.2 last season, and already has surpassed last season’s 566 rushing yards with 644, even though he has 23 fewer carries than in 2015. His season rushing total is the highest by a Kansas running back since James Sims rushed for 1,110 yards in 2013.
Kinner would need to rush for an average of 178 yards in his final two games to reach the 1,000-yard milestone. That's an impossibility, as good as he looked Saturday, but not likely either.
KU head coach David Beaty sounded as if he’l be looking to call Kinner’s name more often, provided he recovers sufficiently from a rib injury that limited him in the fourth quarter.
KU’s increased use of Michael Zunica as a blocking has brought out the best in Kinner and improving Taylor Martin, the fastest player on the roster.
Khalil Herbert, sidelined by a toe injury, is a good-looking back as well.
Barring a shocker against either Texas in Lawrence or Kansas State in Manhattan, Kinner will end his KU career with a 1-23 record, not at all an accurate reflection of the sort of career he's had for the Jayhawks.
Former University of Kansas golfer Gary Woodland is the leader in the clubhouse after firing a 65 in Friday's second round of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to move to 13-under par.
Webb Simpson shot 65-65 to head into the third round in second place, one stroke behind Woodland.
Golf Channel announcers playing up Woodland's recent putting session with instructor Butch Harmon in Las Vegas seems to working for him.
Woodland tees off Saturday at 11:10 a.m. with Simpson and Scott Piercy, who is two strokes off the pace at 11-under.