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Lack of continuity in KU football lineup one of Jayhawks' many issues in 2020

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Texas Tech's Colin Schooler (17) pushes Kansas' Daniel Hishaw Jr. (20) out of bounds during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

Texas Tech's Colin Schooler (17) pushes Kansas' Daniel Hishaw Jr. (20) out of bounds during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson) by Associated Press

Assembling a conclusive list of all the factors that led to the Kansas football team going winless in 2020 would be time consuming. But one component that surged to the forefront was the staggering lack of continuity with the roster.

Back when this strange, pandemic shortened season began in September, with the Jayhawks taking on soon-to-be college football darling Coastal Carolina, KU’s starting lineup included quarterback Thomas MacVittie, running back Pooka Williams, linebackers Dru Prox and Denzel Feaster, safety Davon Ferguson, and offensive linemen Jacobi Lott and Chris Hughes. It only took a matter of weeks for some of them to become non-factors for KU, through injury or opt out or some other reason. And late in the season none of them were available to start anymore.

Shakeups to the depth chart became a recurring theme in head coach Les Miles’ second year running the program. During the course of the 0-9 campaign the offensive personnel rarely looked the same from week to week. KU started three different quarterbacks, four different centers, four different running backs, three different right tackles, three different right guards, two different left tackles and two different left guards.

At receiver, a perceived strength for KU entering the season, Stephon Robinson Jr. started three games early on, but barely played in any of them while dealing with injury issues. And then Robinson had season-ending surgery.

Even though the Jayhawks had solid depth at the running back spot, after Williams opted out four games into the schedule, new No. 1 rusher Velton Gardner only got to play two more games before his year came to a premature conclusion due to an undisclosed injury. Then freshman back Daniel Hishaw Jr. had to miss a game due to COVID protocols and freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson, the No. 4 running back when the season began, started a game.

KU’s defense didn’t have to deal with that extent of instability. But the loss of a playmaking linebacker in Prox to an opt out four games into the season proved to be brutal.

Only three players on the roster started all nine games for Kansas in 2020: freshman cornerback Karon Prunty, junior defensive lineman Caleb Sampson and senior offensive lineman Malik Clark (the first seven games at left tackle, before moving to left guard).

Four more Jayhawks started in eight games and played in all nine: senior linebacker Kyron Johnson, senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II, senior cornerback Elijah Jones and sophomore safety Kenny Logan Jr.

Four others started seven games, and one of those Jayhawks, senior receiver Andrew Parchment, basically started eight. Technically, Parchment didn’t start at Baylor, when KU opened the game on offense with two running backs and a tight end, but Parchment carried his typical workload in that game. Senior defensive tackle Sam Burt and sophomore tight end Mason Fairchild also started seven games. Sophomore left guard Jacobi Lott opted out after starting the first seven games.

Only four players started six games: true freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels, senior offensive lineman Hughes, senior safety Nate Betts and junior O-lineman Earl Bostick Jr.

By the time KU played what proved to be its 2020 finale at Texas Tech on Dec. 5, the starting lineup included several names almost no one would have projected as best case scenario starters for this year: junior quarterback Miles Kendrick, freshman receiver Steven McBride, running back Hishaw, freshman offensive linemen Armaj Adams-Reed and Bryce Cabeldue, freshman linebacker Taiwan Berryhill and defensive back Betts. The last starting lineup of the winless season also featured six more players who didn’t start in Week 1: tight end Fairchild, junior fullback Ben Miles, redshirt freshman defensive end Marcus Harris, sophomore linebacker Gavin Potter, safety Logan and cornerback Jones.

Injuries and opt outs proved to be issues for many college football programs in 2020. But such obstacles are even more challenging to navigate at a place like KU, where instability has been the norm for more than a decade now. Head coaches, position coaches and coordinators frequently coming and going has been one of the few consistent aspects of KU football since Mark Mangino was forced out following the 2009 season. Since then, administrators and KU football coaches alike have struggled to bring some semblance of stability to the program and its roster.

Maybe 2021 will be the year that begins to change. The Jayhawks definitely could’ve benefited from Parchment and Robinson returning for a bonus senior season. But the vast majority of the players you would put on a perfect world two-deep (where injuries weren’t an issue) at the end of the year could return. Along with all the freshmen, sophomores and juniors who played key roles during an albeit difficult year, KU might be able to bring back seniors such as receiver Lassiter, offensive linemen Clark, Hughes and Adagio Lopeti, and safeties Thomas and Betts. Linebacker Johnson and nose tackle Burt already have shared they plan to take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver for an extra year of eligibility. And as long as we’re on the topic of ideal scenarios, some of those veterans could become key reserves instead of starters if KU’s coaches can develop the youngest players in the program.

Plus, of course, the Jayhawks will add the 2021 recruiting class, another group that could be comprised totally of high school recruits, just like Miles and his staff did with the 2020 class.

Some continuity might be coming to the KU football program in Miles’ third season in charge. And the Jayhawks need some of that first before they can start expecting to produce winning seasons again.

Comments

Dale Rogers 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Any word whether Prox will be back? I'm hoping Parchment and Robinson change their minds and decide to stay another year. Next year should show serious improvement and having thoe three back would be a major help.

Dirk Medema 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Given APs usage throughout the year, that ship has most definitely sailed.

It might be for the better. There isn’t a pretense of expectation. Just full commitment to developing the younger guys. Another year or two could be brutal but maybe there’s a chance of relevance as the young guys become more experienced. Maybe.

Dirk Medema 4 weeks, 1 day ago

After a couple games, the season seemed to take on a sense of a glorified multi teamed practice where everyone got a shot at playing. No one was really keeping score were they?

Andy Godwin 4 weeks ago

Dru Prox and Denzel Feaster opting out before the ISU game exposed one of KU's biggest weaknesses on defense, namely the linebacker position. At that time Prox was the most productive player on the defense and his absence was sorely missed. Unfortunately, Prox is unlikely to return and Feaster like many are using the transfer portal. I don't have a ton of confidence in their replacements, but maybe another year will help Potter, Dineen, Channel, etc. to get stronger, because it is time for the opposing running backs to be tackled going backwards.

https://247sports.com/college/kansas/Article/Kansas-football-LB-Dru-Prox-opting-out-of-2020-season-Les-Miles-says-153958898/

Jim Stauffer 4 weeks ago

I really wish the only players who return are those who could truly help in weak areas. OL was a farce this year. IMO more due to coaching failure than talent. Part of coaching failure for a team needing chemistry was a lack of Spring FB. If we get Clark, Hughes and Lopeti back it will put the overall picture of the OLine in perspective and with a Spring to get them set and ready, we might be able to see how good Daniels, Hishaw and Hickson really are. I thought our RB looked good when it was Hishaw and Hickson, even with our poor OL. We also saw definite improvement in the OL when Clark moved back to guard and Bostick and Cabeldue took over the tackle spots. Why on earth did it take all season to figure that out? All said, we have good pieces everywhere but they are green. Give us a good OL coach and Spring Ball and we can at least be competitive next year.

Dane Pratt 4 weeks ago

This is probably the worse KU team I've ever witnessed but given the circumstances there needs to be an asterisk next to the 2020 season.

Dane Pratt 4 weeks ago

It’s a close call. We went 0-12 in 2015 but played competitive games against Tech, TCU, Rutgers and SDSU. Except for the game against Tech we had little or no chance of defeating a single conference opponent.

Dane Pratt 4 weeks ago

But if we had played New Hampshire as scheduled, I think we would have won.

Adam Bengtson 3 weeks, 4 days ago

What is the obsession with Football on this website?? The attention of detail for a program that is 3-196 since Mangino is astonishing.

Brian Wilson 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Lack of continuity? Seriously? I don't think so!

Every team in the US is dealing with COVID and the same issues so I am not buying this one. If one player can't play his back up better be ready to step in, and that is the problem with KU. Fact is, KU's starters are not prepared to play and so when a 2nd stringer comes into the game it makes no difference whatsoever! It's all the same.

I find it hard to believe that all the teams we played this year didn't have to switch up personnel and deal with the COVID confusion. KU has recruited plenty of 3 star athletes in the past 4 years. So, I also find it hard to believe that every team we played was more talented or in better shape or that our younger players and 2nd stringers are less capable. What is happening is systemic and IMO Head Coach Miles this past year has corrected the roster and recruiting and has drained the swamp. Starting next year, KU is going to be showing signs of life heading toward 2022 and 2023.

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