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'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.
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).
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.
Computer rankings for any sport are inherently flawed, as is constantly proven with the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament selection committee’s overuse of the Ratings Percentage Index, more commonly known as RPI.
But as computer rankings go, the Jeff Sagarin Ratings, carried by USA Today, are better than most for both basketball and football.
Sagarin does not tell a pretty tale for Kansas football, which enters Saturday’s contest at Memorial Stadium 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Big 12, same as Iowa State’s, but not the same when given a deeper look.
Iowa State’s average margin of defeat in Big 12 play is 11 points, compared to 30 points for Kansas.
“They are a lot better than 1-8,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. “They are the best 1-8 team in the country, maybe one of the best 1-8 teams you ever have seen.”
Sagarin lumps all 128 FBS schools with the lower-division 125 FCS schools and Kansas does not fare well.
Sagarin has Kansas ranked 140th, one spot ahead of Liberty University, coached by Turner Gill, formerly of KU.
In contrast, Iowa State is ranked 79th, one spot ahead of Army, one spot behind Colorado State.
KU’s ranking is the lowest among schools from power-five conferences. Big Ten member Purdue, ranked No. 112 by Sagarin, is the next-lowest.
To get a feel for what schools Sagarin’s computer formula considers to be of similar strength, consider that the 10 ranked ahead of Kansas, from 130 through 139: Idaho, Wofford, Cal Poly-SLO, North Texas, Nevada, North Dakota, Charleston Southern, San Jose State, Princeton, Massachusetts.
Beaty seeks his firs Big 12 win Saturday, which would tie him in that category with Gill, Charlie Weis and Clint Bowen, interim head coach for the final eight games of 2014.
If Kansas head football coach David Beaty rides the wave Carter Stanely created with an encouraging second-half performance in Morgantown, W.V., and hands him the football Saturday for the 11 p.m. kickoff against Iowa State, Stanley will become the 10th quarterback to start a game for Kansas since Todd Reesing took his skills to the business world.
If Stanley can lead the Jayhawks to an upset of Iowa State, which opened as an 11.5-point favorite, he will move into a four-way tie for first in victories against Big 12 competition during the post-Mark Mangino years.
Here’s how I would rank the post-Reesing starting quarterbacks at Kansas, keeping in mind that the three statistical categories are numbers compiled in games played for the Jayhawks:
1 - Michael Cummings: Short and not a very fast runner, Cummings compensated for his shortcomings with smarts, toughness, decisiveness and leadership ability. In his first game in place of fired Charlie Weis, interim head coach Clint Bowen turned to Cummings at halftime in Morgantown, W.V., and kept him in place for the rest of the season. Cummings didn’t always make the right decision, but his lack of hesitation injected the offense with missing peppiness. He led KU to a 34-14 victory against Iowa State, throwing for 278 yards and a touchdown. His career ended in the spring exhibition of 2016 when in the heat of battle, a teammate tackled him, a no-no for a QB wearing a red jersey, and blew out his ACL. The one chance at a happy Kansas QB story for this decade ended sadly.
Yards per attempt: 6.5.
2 - Jordan Webb: He wasn’t big or fast or exceptionally accurate, but he was extremely tough. Took so many punishing hits and kept getting back on his feet. Including 38 times in his one season at Colorado, Webb was sacked 90 times during his three seasons as a college quarterback.
Yards per attempt: 6.2.
3 - Quinn Mecham: The most accurate passer on this list, but also had the weakest arm. It didn’t take defenses long to figure that out and once they did, he returned to the bench. Also lacked mobility. Still, he is only one of three post-Reesing field generals to lead Jayhawks to victory in a Big 12 game. Completed 23 of 28 passes for 252 yards in 52-45 comeback triumph vs. Colorado.
Yards per attempt: 5.6.
4 - Jake Heaps: Bad fit. It got to where it almost appeared as if Heaps began ducking for cover the instant he finished the snap count. Performed so well in practice, but didn’t have the ability to make something out of nothing. Beat out at BYU, he transferred to Kansas. Beat out at Kansas, he transferred to Miami, where he was unable to secure the starting job.
Yards per attempt: 5.4.
5 - Montell Cozart: Doesn’t have a natural feel for when to tuck it and run, which is a shame because he's so fast. Has a strong arm, but has struggled with accuracy throughout his career. His lone Big 12 victory, 31-19 against West Virginia came when he threw for 61 yards and rushed for 60 as a freshman.
Yards per attempt: 5.7.
6 - Ryan Willis: Too many sacks and too many turnovers in two weeks as starter earlier this season resulted in him bypassing second string on his way down.
Yards per attempt: 5.9.
7 - Dayne Crist: Billed as the second coming by Charlie Weis, who had recruited him to Notre Dame, it turned out Crist couldn’t walk on water, or even pass on chalked grass very well.
Yards per attempt: 6.1.
8 - Kale Pick: "I," as in incomplete, is the only fair grade to give him because he lost his starting job three quarters into the 2010 season-opener, a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State. But this isn’t a letter-grade, rather a number ranking. Had a solid career as a receiver and now is coaching quarterbacks at Fort Scott Community College.
Yards per attempt: 5.2.
9 - Deondre Ford: Pressed into starting duty at Rutgers in 2015, Ford was injured, missed the rest of the season, and has not reappeared in a game. He threw more picks than touchdowns at Dodge City Community College.
Yards per attempt: 5.7.
Finally, a little intrigue spices the stagnant-so-long air hovering over another dismal Kansas football season.
Thank redshirt freshman quarterback Carter Stanley for supplying it by running the offense more sharply than any KU quarterback has in quite some time Saturday in a 48-21 loss at West Virginia in a game that Kansas trailed 31-0 at the half.
Beaty used Stanley as his second-string QB for the second consecutive week, a promotion from third-string status. Not all of Stanley’s work in Morgantown came against the second string. He entered in the third quarter after starter Montell Cozart was shaken up and according to head coach David Beaty showed some concussion symptoms.
Stanley’s statistics — he completed 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns with one interception — were impressive, but more than that, he looked like he knew what he was doing running the offense. He looked decisive, scanned the entire field looking for receivers, made the defense respect his running ability, and other than on an interception in the end zone on which his throw was wide left, to the side where the tightest coverage on LaQuvionte Gonzalez was located, he was pretty accurate.
Stanley’s threat as a runner made a defender freeze for a second, which enabled speedy running back Taylor Martin to run right past the defender to open space, where Stanley found Martin with a short pass that KU’s fastest runner turned into a 42-yard touchdown.
Less than half of one game does not a quarterback drought cure and questions remain about Stanley — arm strength, the swiftness of his release, two interceptions in 32 throws — but his encouraging performance at least gave KU football fans a reason to watch the Iowa State game Saturday. No point in not turning the offense over to Stanley for the final three weeks to see if he is a legitimate candidate to join a spring football competition that will include Tyriek Starks, a New Orleans high school recruit spending his first year at Kansas as a redshirt, plus in all likelihood a junior college or graduate transfer not yet in the Kansas program.
A forgotten man as recently as a few days ago, Stanley is back in the QB conversation. Even so, he has a long way to go before becoming as famous as a musician who entertained so many before his life came to a tragic end.
Kansas football coach David Beaty seems to remember everything he ever has heard from head coaches who have engineered successful rebuilding projects. He shared one of those pointers Tuesday.
"He talked a lot about how he wants to make each room a little bit better each year," Beaty said.
Even the quarterback room?
"We'll look at anything and everything to make our rooms better, including quarterback," Beaty said.
Beaty went into the season figuring that red-shirting quarterback Tyriek Starks was all the insurance the team needs at quarterback. Coaches always have to keep an open mind to recruiting needs changing and the quarterback spot again has left much lacking. There is no guarantee Starks will be ready to take over next fall and it's always wise to have insurance against injuries.
Cozart and Deondre Ford are juniors, Ryan Willis a sophomore, Carter Stanley a freshman.
Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen, out with a hamstring injury, will miss the remainder of the season, head coach David Beaty announced at his weekly Tuesday press conference.
Dineen suffered the injury in the Memphis game the third week of the season, which means that he is eligible for a medical redshirt, which will keep the junior in the program through the 2018 season.
“He’s been working feverishly to get back," Beaty said. "He cannot stand his life without football right now.”
Each time Dineen thought he made progress, he suffered a setback.
Beaty said that freshman running back Khalil Herbert (toe injury) is questionable and added that center Joe Gibson, who missed the Oklahoma game with a recurring neck injury, "is progressing pretty good."
Defensive end Dorance Armstrong, who missed fall camp after on the first day going down with an injury that Beaty called, "a partially torn ACL." Beaty said that Armstrong tells him he does not feel anything wrong with the knee now and the coach said he does not anticipate him needing offseason surgery.