It won’t be easy for the Kansas football team to replicate last year’s turnover numbers in 2019. Yet it is of the utmost importance.
Earlier this week, KU senior safety Mike Lee said as such during the Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas. Last year, the Jayhawks forced a league-best 27 takeaways during a 3-9 campaign. It ranked eighth in the nation, trailing only programs that got the opportunity to play in more than 12 contests.
Kansas returns plenty of players responsible for those stellar numbers, particularly in the secondary. Forcing a similar number of turnovers could help the Jayhawks be competitive during Les Miles’ first year at the helm. More importantly, though, it would send a message.
“If we don't get these numbers this year, people (are) going to think that was a fluke last year,” Lee said. “I feel like most people say it is a fluke, but in our eyes we know that turnovers win games.”
A total of 14 players are back for another season after contributing to KU’s 27 takeaways in 2018. Hasan Defense, Bryce Torneden, Ricky Thomas, Elmore Hempstead Jr., Davon Ferguson, Jeremiah McCullough, Corione Harris and Lee combined for 10 of the team’s 16 interceptions.
That continuity in the secondary is what gives Lee so much confidence about having a similar showing this fall.
“We (are) experienced enough to be the best secondary in the nation,” Lee said. “We (are) experienced and we (are) getting bigger, stronger, faster, smarter. I think we (are) going to be the best in the nation."
Not only did the Jayhawks do a valiant job of forcing opposing teams into mistakes, but they also limited their own miscues on the offensive end.
KU’s offense lost a total of 11 turnovers last season, which came via seven fumbles and four interceptions. It marked the fewest turnovers committed by Kansas in a single season dating back to 2000.
The team’s +16 turnover margin was the second-best clip in the nation, trailing only Georgia Southern’s +22 turnover differential. But that is where the Jayhawks could struggle to repeat last year’s impressive showing in the turnover department.
KU’s offense figures to experience some transition, particularly with a new coaching staff and a new quarterback. Even if it weren’t for that, however, history would suggest that Kansas should cough up more turnovers.
In fact, Phil Steele wrote about exactly that in his preseason magazine. Teams that benefitted from double-digit turnovers typically fall back to the pack the following year. In the last 29 years, 440 teams have had plus double-digit turnovers in a single season.
From Steele’s magazine, here is a breakdown on what those 440 squads did the following year:
• Improved — 122 (28%)
• Weaker — 280 (64%)
• Same — 38 (9%)
Since it is safe to say that the Jayhawks will likely have more turnovers this season, that puts pressure on the defense to make up for it by stealing even more possessions. And Lee is confident that will be the case.
“We (are) going to get how many turnovers we can to turn our program around,” Lee said.
New is always better. At least that is the mindset during the honeymoon phase, which both members of the Sunflower Showdown are currently in.
Kansas head coach Les Miles and Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman are both entering their first season with their respective program. It marks the first year since 1986 that both Kansas and Kansas State will have a new head football coach in the same season.
The Big 12 preseason poll suggests that it will be a tough first year for both, as the Jayhawks were listed 10th and the Wildcats were picked to finish ninth as voted on by the media. Yet, for both programs, most of the Big 12 Media Days was spent discussing the positive impact of having a new coach.
It makes sense that players and even fans choose to focus on the positive differences when a new coach takes over. But it is also worth mentioning that there are some downsides to making a coaching transition, especially for the veterans of both teams.
During Big 12 Media Days, which took place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, I asked four players from each in-state school about the biggest advantage and biggest disadvantage to having a new coach. It was interesting to hear the different responses, so I decided to list the full quotes from all eight players.
Hakeem Adeniji, OL, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “I would say kind of a restart. Once you had a coach for awhile, there is certain players or people that have been there that may not listen to him as much. When there is a new guy, it is ‘Alright, we are going to listen to what you have to say.’”
Biggest disadvantage: “Unfamiliarity. Everything is new for all of us, so it can be harder for us veterans to help young guys out. We have to learn, it is a growing process.”
Khalil Herbert, RB, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “Learning new things, it brings in a new type of (vocabulary) and different type of schemes that you haven’t run before. Just learning new stuff.”
Biggest disadvantage: “If you are not able to pick it up quick. During the spring, I feel like they did a good job of teaching us things. We were able to pick it up and apply it on the field.”
Mike Lee, S, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “Just adjusting to the system that he runs. Different coaches have different schemes that they want to run. They have different expectations for their teams. Coach Les Miles’ expectations, he wants us to come together as a whole brotherhood and go into each week looking to dominate each opponent.”
Biggest disadvantage: “The loyalty. If your coach doesn’t have loyalty in you, I feel like he wouldn’t put you on the field. The loyalty that coach Les Miles has, I love his loyalty. He’s loyal to me, loyal to the team. I’m going to be loyal to him.”
Bryce Torneden, S, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “The element of surprise. Not a lot of people know what kind of schemes you are going to running, things like that.”
Biggest disadvantage: “This is the first coaching change that I have ever had, I don’t see it as a disadvantage. I see it as an advantage from our side.”
Trey Dishon, DT, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “I would say, is having a little bit more say and ideas. Whether it is film, whether it has to do with the program, (or) things to help the players get better. I would say freedom and having a say. He’s going to listen to us, and take it into perspective.”
Biggest disadvantage: “This point in my career, I think the biggest disadvantage for me is it happening — I wouldn’t say the worst time because this has been a great thing — but just right before my senior season. I was a three-year starter for coach (Bill) Snyder, so I’ll be a redshirt senior this fall. Just having to adapt to a new scheme, new style of play and excelling at that just so I have hopes for a future.”
Wyatt Hubert, DE, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “Just getting a fresh start on things. Obviously with a new coach, new program, that just resets everything. New playbook, new program, just new experience to how everything is ran. I think we have had a great first start to it all and a great first impression.”
Biggest disadvantage: “Just carrying on that team chemistry. Getting a new coach and a new program, that is something that can sometimes interfere with what was being built before. When I think of an example, I think of just the chemistry of an offense and a defense. Just knowing the playbook so well and then scratching that, learning a complete new one. That is obviously just a part of the game. KU is going through that same process, same with West Virginia and Texas Tech. It is a part of college football, and they are all going through the same thing.”
Dalton Schoen, WR, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “I think it’s definitely all the energy that has come back into the program. I think a lot of guys were to the point where they were kind of dragging. Obviously we had a bad year, and people were down about that. I think it is a fresh start in a sense, just the amount of energy they brought into spring practice was huge. Building that personal relationship with coach Klieman has been incredible for me and a lot of guys on the team.”
Biggest disadvantage: “We have cleared it some as a team, but learning how they operate and how they run their practice. Obviously learning new offensive stuff, for me being a senior, I wasn’t super excited to learn a new offense. I haven’t had to study my playbook super hard since I was a freshman. To go, you have to review scripts, you have to go over plays and you have to do all this extra stuff. But I think it has made us better too, me especially. I couldn’t be like, ‘Oh, I know the plays.’ I had to go study, I had to go grind every single day. I think that helped. The only disadvantage is how we were in practice. It was a weird feeling, in that first practice, we were going through drills and I would be like, ‘I don’t even know if we are doing this right.’ We have already worked through all that, and we are comfortable with him now.”
Reggie Walker, DE, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “The biggest advantage to having a new coach is basically you start fresh. That’s probably one of the biggest advantages, and the second is getting to know each other. That’s probably the biggest two advantages.”
Biggest disadvantage: “When you first come in, try to learn a new playbook. You just have to stick with it.”
Arlington, Texas — Senior running back Khalil Herbert has always been enthralled with the superhero universe.
Herbert is a fan of both Marvel and DC, which has been the case for as long as he can remember. He has a collection of comic books and his walls are draped with posters in his room. And, of course, he has watched all the movies as well. Herbert’s favorite superhero is Flash.
But when asked to assign a superhero to each of the three Kansas running backs, Herbert didn’t even give himself Flash. He assigned that to soon-to-be sophomore Pooka Williams Jr., who exploded for 1,660 all-purpose yards as a freshman last year.
“Pooka is definitely the Flash,” Herbert said. “Pooka is fast.”
Williams was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year last season after rushing for 1,125 yards and seven scores on 161 carries. It marked the second-most rushing yards by a KU freshman in a single season, and is tied for eight all-time in program history.
So who does Herbert think he is then? Iron Man, of course.
“He’s pretty balanced,” Herbert said. “He’s smart, strong, fast and moves pretty good.”
Last season, Herbert had the second-most rushing attempts with 113. Herbert turned that into 499 yards and five touchdowns. It was a complementary role due to the emergence of Pooka, though Herbert has shown he’s capable of leading a superhero cast.
In fact, Herbert ran for a career-best 291 yards against West Virginia in 2017, which ranks third on KU’s single-game rushing list. He will be the likely starter for the season opener, when Pooka serves his one-game suspension.
As for Dom Williams, Herbert gave the 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior back the title of Captain America.
“I’d say Dom is Captain America, because Dom is really strong (and has a) big chest,” Herbert said.
Dom Williams carried the ball 55 times for 231 yards as a sophomore last year. In his freshman campaign, Williams ran for 176 yards and three scores on 51 attempts. Herbert even gave a superhero title to head coach Les Miles, who will try to get the most out of KU’s backfield in 2019.
“Probably the Hulk,” Herbert said. “He’s cool, calm and collected. Something happens, and he can just flip the switch.”
Superheroes or not, the three-headed backfield figures to be the strength of KU’s offense during Miles’ first year at the helm. Given Miles’ history running the ball, it may just be the perfect match for the Jayhawks this year.
“I feel like we have the best RB unit in the nation,” Herbert said. “Me, Pooka and Dom. We got some young guys coming up too. There is no drop-off when one of us goes into the game.”
It won’t be much longer before the college football season is finally here.
I know this because the Big 12 conference released its preseason poll today, and Big 12 Media Days will take place next week. But also more betting information has become available as of late, which is always interesting to look at.
Last week, over/under win totals were released on FanDuel for most FBS teams.
Today, I looked at odds to win a conference title over at BetOnline.ag. The online sportsbook has several different conference title odds listed.
For now, though, let’s breakdown the 10-team conference that the Kansas football program belongs to.
I'll also offer up a few of my key takeaways, which includes the team with a line that's too good to pass up.
Odds to win Big 12 title — Via BetOnline.ag as of Wednesday afternoon
Iowa State: +1200
West Virginia: +1200
Oklahoma State: +1800
Texas Tech: +2000
Kansas State: +3300
KU is beyond a long shot
Let’s start with the obvious, Kansas was always going to be last on this list. On Wednesday, the league announced that the Jayhawks were voted last in this year’s preseason poll. It marks the ninth season in a row that KU has been voted at the bottom of the conference by the media.
Kansas is also dead last among Big 12 teams in win totals, as the team has an over/under of three victories for the 2019 season. All nine other squads in the league have an over/under of at least five victories, according to FanDuel’s online sportsbook.
That being said, it is surprising to see that large of a gap between KU and Kansas State. Both programs have new coaches at the helm, and last year’s Sunflower Showdown came down to the wire in an eventual 21-17 win by the Wildcats in Manhattan.
K-State also was the lowest scoring offense in the league last year, which marked the first time this decade that KU did not hold that title. It is not that I believe KU is better than Kansas State this year, but I do believe the gap is closer than these odds would indicate. As a result, I'd say the Jayhawks are a better bet than the Wildcats.
But don’t put money down on either. Please gamble responsibly.
Stay away from West Virginia
Neither in-state school is the worst bet, however. West Virginia having the third-highest odds among these 10 teams does not make sense to me whatsoever. In fact, the Mountaineers are much closer to the bottom tier of the league than they are a title contender.
Last season, WVU came so close to playing for the Big 12 title game, but this year’s team is nowhere near that level at this point. The Mountaineers not only have to replace Will Grier at quarterback, but they are installing a whole new system under Neal Brown, who went 4-9 in his first year Troy.
West Virginia has the second-lowest win total (5.0), so there is no reason this team should have the same odds to win a league crown as Iowa State.
Put money on TCU
It is tough to bet against Oklahoma or even Texas, but TCU’s odds are rather intriguing. The Horned Frogs are coming off a 7-6 campaign, but were decimated with injuries last fall.
In addition, recent history would suggest they are primed for a bounce back. Following a 6-7 clip in 2016, Gary Patterson led TCU to an 11-win season. After going 4-8 in 2013, the Horned Frogs responded with a 12-1 record en route to a win in the Peach Bowl during the 2014 campaign.
Early win totals would suggest that TCU will be in the thick of it this year, and the program was just voted fourth in the preseason poll. In fact, the last two times the Horned Frogs were picked fourth or lower was 2014 and 2017. They won a Big 12 Championship in the former and played in the Big 12 Championship Game in the latter.
Keep in mind that you are currently getting 18/1 odds on the Horned Frogs. It is hard to find something better than that, and I'm more than willing to take my chances on Patterson and that TCU defense.
Only two teams will be bringing a quarterback to Big 12 Media Days next week.
Kansas obviously was not going to be one of those programs, though it is surprising to see how few signal callers will be in attendance. KU head coach Les Miles has yet to name a starter, and he does not have to commit to one player under center anytime soon.
At the conclusion of spring ball, however, Miles did admit that Thomas MacVittie has a slight lead in the battle to be KU’s starting quarterback.
"I think there is a real quality group there. I think MacVittie might have an edge. Carter Stanley is right there,” Miles said. “From that point forward, there are some good guys that can step in and play well in games. I'm not really ready to name anybody.”
A quarterback competition is nothing new with KU, especially during this decade. But understanding Miles’ historical background with signal callers might put fans at ease this time around.
Similar to what I did with the running back blog earlier this week, I went back to collect data from quarterbacks under Miles during his time at Oklahoma State and LSU. The thing that initially stood out to me was the lack of production backup quarterbacks have had under Miles.
In his last full season as a head coach, which was 2015, only one quarterback threw every single one of LSU’s 277 pass attempts. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a backup quarterback that threw more than 45 passes in a single season with Miles at the helm.
For comparison, KU’s backup quarterback has thrown more than 45 pass attempts in each of the previous seven seasons.
What does that mean exactly? Well, it appears that Miles will commit to his signal caller when he picks a winner of the starting quarterback competition. That alone could provide some much-needed stability to a program that has been the lowest scoring offense in the Big 12 in eight of the previous nine seasons.
The only year that KU did not finish last in the league in scoring this decade was actually 2018, when the team averaged 23.8 points per game. Peyton Bender played 11 games and threw 321 pass attempts, while Stanley threw just 47 attempts in four games.
Yet that could resemble what this year’s passing numbers look like, given how Miles has typically operated in his career.
During his 15 full seasons as a head coach, Miles has only had three backup quarterbacks throw at least 75 pass attempts in one year. The Jayhawks have had six such No. 2 signal callers do that in the previous nine seasons.
Miles’ backup quarterback has thrown an average of 43.5 pass attempts in a single season. Since 2010, KU’s No. 2 signal caller has recorded an average of 95.4 pass attempts each year.
All of this could be a pointless exercise, especially during the first year with Miles at the helm. He did not recruit Stanley or Miles Kendrick, and might not be as likely to give either of them a long leash if they emerged as the starter by August. Injuries could also play a factor at any point.
Still, Miles’ track record would suggest he’s more likely to stick with one quarterback. Considering these last several years, that mindset could be a step in the right direction for this football program.
Since taking over the Kansas football program, Les Miles has not revealed many details about his offensive scheme during any of his press settings.
There is a reason for that, of course. Miles, like most head football coaches, would like an element of surprise for his 2019 opponents. That is probably something even more important for a coach that has been out of the game since 2016.
In early March, Miles was asked about his offensive philosophy during the start of spring ball.
"The ability to throw bubbles and RPOs and have the ability to throw the ball down the field certainly would be things that we would start with,” Miles said. “The ability to rush the football and control the ball when time would suggest that you can win the game by running out the clock.”
While that particular quote suggests Miles is embracing more of a modern offense, it is worth noting his track record during his 15-plus seasons as a head coach would suggest otherwise. After all, history might be the best indicator of what is to come for the Jayhawks with Miles at the helm.
For this exercise, I looked at data from all the way back to Miles’ first year as a head coach in 2001 with Oklahoma State. I kept track of percentage of offensive plays that ended up being a rushing attempt as well as what the team’s top running back accomplished in that particular season during Miles’ tenure at Oklahoma State and LSU.
For comparison, I also looked at the same statistical categories for Kansas during this decade when the team has had multiple different head coaches.
Right away, the biggest thing that stood out was the run percentage. The Jayhawks have run the ball at least 58% of the time on three different occasions since 2010. A Miles-led team has done that 10 different times, including each of his previous six full seasons.
Since 2010, KU’s top running back has only eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark three times. Miles, meanwhile, has had nine different campaigns — and four this decade — where his top running back ran for over 1,000 yards.
Miles has had a number of talented backs, which has led to that level of rushing production. But he’s also shown the ability to feed his guy the rock. With Miles at the helm, the top running back has averaged 196 carries per season. KU’s top running back has only amassed 196 carries twice and averaged 166.8 carries per season since 2010.
(Side note: If you remove 2006 from the pool, when Jacob Hester led the team with 94 carries, Miles’ top running back has averaged just over 203 carries per season.)
All of this is obviously good for sophomore running back Pooka Williams, who recently rejoined the team after a strong freshman campaign. Williams will serve a one-game suspension, but figures to be an important part of Kansas’ offense when he returns.
But this could also be a favorable system for running backs Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams as well. Both could see a significant uptick in carries if the Jayhawks run the ball more than last year’s mark of 35.2 rushing attempts per game.
Even offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s track record would suggest that will be the case.
Koenning’s most-recent stop was UAB in 2017, when the team ran the ball 60.7 percent of the time and Spencer Brown led the team with 1,329 yards on 250 carries. Koenning’s top rusher has averaged 184 attempts per season during his time at Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and UAB.
Sure, the Big 12 tends to be more pass-happy and more teams are utilizing a spread-style offense in today’s game. KU also won’t likely have the luxury of playing with the lead, which usually warrants more passing attempts.
But if the history of the new coaching staff is any indication — as well as the talent on the 2019 roster — then KU should expect a significant bump in the rushing production this fall.
On the surface, Kansas might have an easier schedule than normal. At least as easy as it can be for a power five football team trying to finish higher than last in the Big 12 for the first time since 2014.
A common response from a blog about KU’s win total was the fact that the team will play three new head coaches in the Big 12 this season, all three of which will take place in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
There could be some truth to that, seeing how rare it is that four coaches of the 10 teams in the conference are in their first year at their respective programs. It gives off a perception that those select teams — West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State and Kansas — might be on the same playing field.
Perhaps that is the case, and it allows Les Miles to lead the Jayhawks to four or more wins for the first time since 2009. KU will face WVU on Sept. 21 to kick off the conference slate, looking to end a nine-game skid in Big 12 openers. Kansas will also play host to Texas Tech (Oct. 26) and Kansas State (Nov. 2) on back-to-back weeks.
The Wildcats are under the leadership of Chris Klieman, who moves up to the power five level after claiming four national titles at North Dakota State. Matt Wells takes over for the Red Raiders after posting a 44-34 record at Utah State. West Virginia tabbed Neal Brown as its head coach after he went 36-16 at Troy.
All four new coaches, including Miles, were ultimately ranked at the bottom of the coaching power rankings by CBS Sports in May. While no other year has seen as much coaching turnover, I thought it would be interesting to see how Kansas has fared against new Big 12 coaches to see if there is reason for optimism after all.
I went back to 2000, which is a sample that includes teams that are no longer in the Big 12 conference. It is worth stating the obvious that Kansas has went a total of 6-42 in the first year under four different coaches since 2000. Turner Gill’s 3-10 clip in 2010 is the best record of a group that includes Mark Mangino (2-10 in 2002), Charlie Weis (1-11 in 2012), and David Beaty (0-12 in 2015).
That being said, this is about KU’s record against coaches in their first year with their respective program during their time in the Big 12 conference. Since 2000, Kansas has an overall record of 5-12 against such coaches. The last time the Jayhawks defeated a first-year head coach was against Paul Rhoads of Iowa State in 2009, which was a 41-36 home win on Oct. 10.
For this blog, I threw out Bill Snyder’s return season from the sample. But KU did record a 39-20 victory against Kansas State, which was coached by Ron Prince, on Nov. 18, 2006. It is the only time KU has faced a new coach in the Sunflower Showdown since 2000.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, has had three different coaches post winning records in their first season at the helm. The Red Raiders have never lost to the Jayhawks with a new coach during that span. This will be West Virginia’s first year facing Kansas with a new coach since joining the conference.
Now, of course, there is some truth to the notion that Kansas is fortunate to get all three teams at home in 2019. All five of KU’s wins against new coaches have come at home, including a 4-8 record against teams currently in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have wins over Kansas State (2006), Iowa State (2007 and 2009), Baylor (2003) and Colorado (2006).
For comparison, Kansas is 0-6 against new coaches on the road. KU’s average margin of victory in its five wins is 14.8 compared to an average margin of defeat of 19.2 in the 12 losses against new coaches.
What all does this mean exactly? Well, to be honest, not a lot. I just thought it would be interesting to see if history was on KU’s side in these situations. Kansas has never defeated a new Big 12 coach with its own new coach, but the program also hasn’t had someone like Miles at the helm.
Why is FanDuel giving away money?
That was my first thought when FanDuel Sportsbook released 2019 win totals for a majority of the FBS teams on Tuesday. I immediately scrolled to the team I cover to see what the number was. And, I must admit, I was shocked.
Kansas opened with a 3.5 over/under win total for the 2019 season, which marks the first year under Les Miles. It has since been dropped to 3.0, as the under is +102 and the over is -120.
I’m less confident that FanDuel is giving away money with the updated odds, because a push with three wins is a likely outcome. If a bettor got the original odds, however, then the under seemed far too easy.
With Miles at the helm, there is undoubtedly more buzz around the program than in recent memory.
But buzz doesn’t always mean success, especially not at first. Based on the current roster, and historical data, it is hard to imagine the Jayhawks winning four or more games. At the very least, it would be tough to put a significant amount of money on them doing so.
For starters, KU hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2009 when the team went 5-7. That is nine consecutive seasons of the Jayhawks winning three or fewer games, so it would be tough to bet on any coach breaking that trend in his first year.
Miles won four games in his first year at Oklahoma State in 2001, but the team had just three consecutive losing seasons before he took over. The Cowboys only lost more than six games once in those three years as well.
To top it off, Kansas will have more roster turnover than last season. The Jayhawks return just 10 starters, five on each side of the ball. As a result, a pair of prominent college football insiders predicted that KU would match its win total from 2018.
In his preseason magazine, Phil Steele projected Kansas to finish 10th in the Big 12 with a 3-9 record. Steele ranked the Kansas running backs as the team’s best unit, which was listed sixth out of 10 teams. No other positional group is ranked higher than eighth by Steele.
Bill Connelly recently moved to ESPN from SB Nation. His final story for SB Nation was a preview for KU, in which he projected a 3-9 clip with an 107th overall S&P+ ranking.
According to S&P+, the Jayhawks have a 72% win probability against Indiana State and a 64% win probability against Coastal Carolina. KU’s next-highest win probability is against Kansas State, and that is just 23%.
Both Connelly and Steele tend to know they are talking about, so I’d trust them when it comes to putting down any sort of money on win totals. With the updated odds, I’d prefer to stay away completely since three wins seems reasonable.
If I had to bet, though, I’d take the under.
Big 12 win totals
Oklahoma: 10.5 (Over -130, Under +112)
Texas: 9.5 (Over +102, Under -120)
Iowa State: 8 (Over +106, Under -124)
TCU: 7.5 (Over -120, Under +102)
Baylor: 7 (Over -156, Under +132)
Oklahoma State: 6.5 (Over -130, Under +110)
Texas Tech: 6.5 (Over +116, Under -136)
Kansas State: 5.5 (Over -108, Under -108)
West Virginia: 5 (Over -146, Under +124)
Kansas: 3 (Over -120, Under +102)
The odds were always going to be stacked against the defense during Saturday’s spring game at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
After all, it took a defensive score off a turnover to get the “white” team on the scoreboard. The offense, which was considered the blue team for the event, abused this loophole by scoring 45 unanswered points en route to a 45-7 win in the first spring game of the Les Miles era.
Sophomore safety Davon Ferguson gifted the defense its only points of the night with less than seven minutes remaining. After a tip at the line by senior safety Shaquille Richmond, the ball ended up in Ferguson’s hands. He was off to the races after that, scoring on a 74-yard pick six to get his unit on the scoreboard.
It was a fitting finish for a group that proved it could be KU’s best unit for the 2019 season.
Ninety-six. That’s the number of total games that the first-team secondary of Bryce Torneden, Mike Lee, Hasan Defense, Corione Harris and Ferguson have played in during their KU career. The five players have accumulated a combined 507 tackles for the Jayhawks.
That experience was on display in multiple key moments Saturday night, even though the final score didn’t reflect it.
KU quarterbacks were not afraid to test the secondary with deep throws for much of the night. Most of the time, the Jayhawks’ secondary came out on the right end of those matchups.
Ferguson deflected a pass at the 7:35 mark in the first quarter, while Elmore Hempstead Jr. provided good coverage on the following play. Ricky Thomas broke up a sure-reception midway through the second quarter, and Elijah Jones deflected a deep pass the following play.
Torneden, who settled in at his nickel back position last fall, made multiple stops in the open field during the first quarter. With five-plus minutes remaining in the opening period, Torneden forced a third-and-long attempt after shutting down an outside rush. He kept the edge, making the solo tackle in open space.
Later in that same drive, Torneden tallied a similar stop on the other side of the field on a run that looked destined for a score. Once again, Torneden held the edge and made the tackle after a teammate whiffed on his own attempt.
Other than Torneden’s two stops behind the line in the first quarter, KU’s defensive unit struggled to contain the rushing attack.
The Jayhawks rushed for 454 yards, as four different players recorded a run of at least 38 yards. Takulve Williams, who is listed as a receiver, scored on a 70-yard run. Running backs Dom Williams and Khalil Herbert had runs of 52 and 61 yards, respectively.
But, more often than not, the defense won the battle through the air. KU’s secondary was physical with the larger receivers, playing more aggressive on the line.
In total, the Kansas secondary finished with 14 pass breakups. The Jayhawks recorded 10 in the first half when a majority of members from the two-deep roster competed. Ferguson led the way with three such breakups. Thomas and Torneden each notched two pass breakups.
Not a bad day for a team that knew it was going to lose before the spring game even started.
After a year of putting up numbers on a nightly basis, redshirt junior Dedric Lawson has declared for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Kansas fans may not have fully appreciated what Lawson accomplished this season, especially given the fact the team was unable to make it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Lawson, who was a consensus third team All-American, averaged 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
It was evident from his debut that Lawson had an uncanny ability to get his numbers. He dropped 31 points and 15 rebounds in 23 minutes during the exhibition opener against Emporia State, and Kansas coach Bill Self called it “the ugliest 31 he’s ever seen.” Lawson agreed.
Lawson failed to hit double figures in just two of his 36 games as a Jayhawk. He recorded 22 double-doubles en route to earning 2019 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and unanimous all-Big 12 First Team honors.
To not appreciate that absurd level of consistency would be foolish. With that, let’s look back on some of Lawson’s top moments in his lone season with the Jayhawks.
He made a shot from hit butt
It was so long ago that I thought we’d start with arguably his most ridiculous bucket. By the way, this was within the first two minutes of the game against Louisiana.
Lawson drove through the lane to attempt a tough shot near the rim, falling to the ground as he did. The ball bounced back to Lawson, who immediately fired up the shot and made it from his position on the floor.
It gave Kansas a 5-0 lead in an eventual 89-76 win over Louisiana at Allen Fieldhouse. Seriously, imagine being a member of the visiting team and knowing how hard it is to defeat KU in Allen Fieldhouse. Then the Jayhawks start off with a basket like that. It is just mean.
Overtime slams against Tennessee
Another early-season feat by Lawson is worthy of a mention.
Lawson, who was often described as having an old-man game by broadcasters, showed the ability to get up during an overtime win against Tennessee. Lawson recorded his first slam off an alley-oop pass from Lagerald Vick. He later flushed the ball in transition to put the finishing touches on an 87-81 win.
Not counting the exhibition games, or the ones that didn’t count, those two dunks were the only slams by Lawson of his brief Kansas career. That’s why the second one, where Lawson had to beat everyone down the court in transition, seemed so significant at the time.
Impressive dime against Kentucky
Before Lawson even stepped on the court, Self lauded the Memphis native for his passing ability.
KU fans didn’t get a good chance to see Lawson’s passing prowess, because he was forced to move inside after Udoka Azubuike was sidelined. Lawson became the focal point of the offense, and that prevented him from having very many chances to show off his ability as a set-up man.
Still, his assist against Kentucky was a nice glimpse of what could have been. Lawson, who was under the basket, somehow threaded a pass around multiple Kentucky defenders to freshman Ochai Agbaji in the corner.
Best performance as a Jayhawk?
According to Torvik, Lawson’s best single-game performance via offensive rating was against Villanova.
Lawson posted an offensive rating of 157.4 in 38 minutes during the 74-71 home win against the 2018 national champs. He recorded a 25.3 percent usage rate for the game, which was below his 28.5 usage rate on the season. It marked his second game as KU’s center, as Lawson scored 28 points and collected 12 rebounds. He was 10-for-15 from the floor.
In terms of points, Lawson only had three better games. He scored a personal-best 31 points to go along with 14 rebounds against TCU on Jan. 9. He took 19 shots to do so, however. Perhaps there were better games than his showing against Villanova, but that was the first real look at what life would be like without Azubuike for the Jayhawks.
NCAA Tournament debut
Lawson made the most of his first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, helping Kansas quickly remove any concern of a possible upset against 13th-seeded Northeastern in the first round.
The Jayhawks thrashed the Huskies by an 87-53 margin behind a combined 38 points, 14 rebounds from Dedric Lawson and his brother K.J. Lawson, who has elected to transfer. Dedric Lawson scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also drilled a trio of 3-pointers in his first and only win in the NCAA Tournament.
After the game, Lawson admitted to reporters that he went to bed early because he was so excited for the game. And he ultimately delivered, just as he did so many other times throughout his one season with the Jayhawks.