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Seven steps to a 3-0 start for Kansas football

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Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) drops back to pass during practice on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, as Carter Stanley (9) observes.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) drops back to pass during practice on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, as Carter Stanley (9) observes. by Nick Krug

The three-game, nonconference portion of the Kansas football schedule features no fewer than three must-watch games, each one packed with the potential to be decided on the final drive.

Think about it: Which of the three games can you say with any degree of conviction that Kansas will win with relative ease? None, if you’re being brutally honest with yourself.

Now, which of the three can you say with any degree of certainty the Jayhawks will lose? None, if you’re forgetting all the years of empty promises and looking at this season in a vacuum.

Given those parameters it’s well within reason to think that fourth-year Kansas coach David Beaty can win as many games in the first three weeks of 2018 as he won in his first three seasons combined.

That’s right, it’s possible Beaty could win as many games (three) in his next three games as he won in his first 36 games.

But it won’t be easy.

A look at seven factors that, if they all break right for KU, would make it reasonable to expect the Jayhawks to knock off Nicholls State, Central Michigan (on the road) and Rutgers in succession:

Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick drops back to throw as he is protected by Kansas offensive lineman Antione Frazier (75) and Kansas offensive lineman Larry Hughes (73) during an open practice on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick drops back to throw as he is protected by Kansas offensive lineman Antione Frazier (75) and Kansas offensive lineman Larry Hughes (73) during an open practice on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

1 - Quick winner in quarterback competition: If it drags on it could be because of any number of factors, none of them good. It could mean that none of the three candidates is performing well enough to make it obvious he needs to be the leader of the offense. Or it could mean that offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and head coach David Beaty don’t agree on either what the QB needs to show or who is looking the best. Either way, that disharmony would be counterproductive to developing a winning chemistry.

The sooner one of the quarterbacks — listed alphabetically Peyton Bender, Miles Kendrick, Carter Stanley — wins the job, the better.

2 - A commitment to slowing the tempo and emphasizing the run: Meacham tried to bring the fast tempo Air Raid offense he taught elsewhere to KU but the personnel to execute it wasn’t there and the faster the offense tried to get off snaps, the quicker the gassed defense had to return to the field. He pulled the reins on the hurry-up, but still didn't use as much of the play clock as could have been used. The more incomplete passes KU threw, the slower the clock moved, which enabled the opposition to run more plays.

KU has three talented running backs in Khalil Herbert, Pooka Williams and Dom Williams. Let them eat yards and clock and let the defense breathe.

3 - The development of a solid interior offensive line trio: All it would take for a bar owner to know he wants to hire new offensive line coach A.J. Ricker to serve as bouncer is to take one look at the man. Listen to him talk football and it’s obvious he loves linemen who lead with their faces, grunt a lot and love run-blocking. Ricker’s predecessor, Zach Yenser, had more experience with pass-happy Air Raid offenses.

Now the challenge for Ricker becomes finding competent blockers. If he can identify three interior O-linemen and coach them up in time for the Sept. 1 season opener, a running game that moves the chains might be on deck.

The three keys to making that happen: Guards Chris Hughes, a sophomore, and junior Andru Tovi, and center Alex Fontana, a senior graduate transfer from University of Houston. They're the leading candidates to nail down those positions and guard Malik Clark will try to win a job too. Hughes, who missed the final two games of his redshirt freshman season with an injury, showed enough potential to indicate he might have the best career of any O-lineman currently in the program.

Kansas wide receiver Evan Fairs (19) celebrates a completion during first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (TFV Media via AP)

Kansas wide receiver Evan Fairs (19) celebrates a completion during first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (TFV Media via AP)

4 - Evan Fairs emerges as tall target: At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Fairs brings more size than top receiver Steven Sims, and he’s no slow poke either. Son of former Houston Oilers linebacker Eric Fairs, Evan showed enough in a few road games last season to suggest he’ll be a big part of the offense this season.

He had three catches for 77 yards at Ohio, seven for 104 yards at Texas, and two for 44 yards and a touchdown in the season finale at Oklahoma State.

5 - Elijah Jones doesn’t need an adjustment period: Cornerbacks, even very talented ones, can arrive from junior college lacking in fundamentals and need time to tighten up their games. Every once in a while, a corner is ready to go right away. Jones, agile and fast, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, would have been recruited by perennial powerhouses if he had cleared earlier all of the academic hurdles that created doubt in the minds of recruiters. As it was, he committed to UCF, then switched to Kansas, rejecting an offer from Iowa State. He could make a huge difference if he’s ready immediately for the move up in competition.

West Virginia wide receiver Gary Jennings (12) is drilled by Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) after a deep catch during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

West Virginia wide receiver Gary Jennings (12) is drilled by Kansas safety Mike Lee (11) after a deep catch during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

6 - Mike Lee turns experience into polish: There is a value to having a safety who rocks receivers and running backs so hard he pitches a tent in the backs of their minds, but Lee’s value at times has been curtailed by not always being in the right place at the right time. If this is the year he becomes as sound as he is exciting, that will toughen up the defense against the run and pass.

7 - An edge rusher shows a knack for sacks: A maniacal quarterback hunter is a secondary’s best friend. Kansas needs someone to show he has that capability early in order to occupy special attention from opposing offenses. Could it be sophomore outside linebacker Kyron Johnson? One of the junior-college defensive ends: Foster Dixson, Azur Kamara, Najee Stevens-McKenzie? Plenty of candidates to believe at least one will become a force.

Comments

Bryson Stricker 1 week, 5 days ago

Hopefully TK has identity theft protection cuz someone pretending to be here and posting articles under his name.

Owens Smithson 1 week, 5 days ago

Well! As long as Bryson Stricker approves! Lol.

Good keys to success this year, I agree. OL has to come together. Good thing Fontana has 2 years of eligibility according to Bryson. His initials aren't "BS" for nothing!

John Fitzgerald 1 week, 5 days ago

I made some bold predictions on Hawk Jock and a lot of them are pretty comical, but to be realistic I could see KU going 3-0 in non-conference play as easily as I can see them going 0-12 on the year. That's how much I'm up in the air about this team. I do hope Beaty can show some success though even if I don't think he's the right guy.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 5 days ago

Nice analysis TK.

While the 3 RBs listed are the traditional scholarship athletes, at least one of the players recognized Deron as a possible contributor in the backfield. My guess is that by the middle of the season we will need a 4th RB. It seems that many of our past problems correlate with the quality of our depth chart.

Tom Keegan 1 week, 5 days ago

Yes, coaches consistently have liked Deron Thompson, and players were really impressed with Kezelee Flomo during the spring. Kendall Morris also could get some carries. Interestingly, freshman Ryan Malbrough is at running back. Redshirt? I figured he was going to be a linebacker.

Mike Hart 1 week, 5 days ago

Tom Keegan: Thank you for an article like this one. First 3 games are clearly key to the season... and Beaty.

David Kemp 1 week, 5 days ago

Number 3 above all will be the key. Establishing qb right up there, and the rest will sort itself

Tom Keegan 1 week, 5 days ago

The first three games are akin to the QB competition. I wouldn't be surprised to see Kansas win or lose any of the three games, just as I wouldn't be surprised to see any of the three QBs win or lose the competition.

Al Martin 1 week, 2 days ago

Nope. Not even close. The offensive line is the key, and has been the constant disappointment in this Decade of Despair. If the OL can't keep the QB upright, it doesn't matter who wins the QB competition.

Nick Kramer 1 week, 5 days ago

It's certainly an advantage and a luxury to have one great starting QB. There are exceptions however. In the two years of 2005 and 2006, no less than 5 quarterbacks combined to help KU go 7-5 and 6-6; Jason Swanson, Brian Luke, Adam Barmann, Kerry Meier, and Todd Reesing. Helps to have a good defense, offensive weapons, and some non-top-30 teams in your conference.

Dee Shaw 1 week, 4 days ago

I have a better chance winning the lottery than KU football starting this season off at 3-0. No chance.

Mike Bennett 1 week, 4 days ago

For once I agree with TK. Talent wise, the first 3 are all in play. However, I've got little to no confidence this staff can coach the players up to where they can win all three. We've seen nothing but undisciplined play, poor line play (both lines) and DBs that play so loose that receivers are often in a different zip code than the defender when the catch is made. What makes anyone think that is going to change.

Chris Condren 1 week, 4 days ago

Listing all of the QBs starting games during the Decade of Despair would be a monument task. It would also point out the program is in the state that it now in is due to gross mismanagement from the entire KUAD. From the AD, then Coaches, ticker sellers and stadium concessionairee the rot and decay within the KUAD is all encompassing. We can only that new AD Long can clean out the bad and rebuild the department in some reasonable timeframe.

Andy Godwin 1 week, 2 days ago

Finally agree with Mr. Keegan regarding "slowing the tempo and emphasizing the run". When you are limited on talent and depth as KU has displayed for too many years to count, shortening the game (number of overall snaps) gives one a better chance to at least compete and keep games close - providing opportunities for an upset. You avoid blowouts (which we have seen too many of) if you can get a few first downs and flip the field (need a good punter) and make your opponent constantly drive the length of the field (more chance for them to make a mistake). This hurry up offense has to be primarily reserved for the end of halves not from the first snap. I hope we are done seeing 3 and outs in under a minute. The offensive line must be substantially improved so that KU can control tempo with the run and that KU's punter can put the other team in poor field position more often.

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