Spring football games are not real football games. And no one understands that better than Kansas defensive stalwarts Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Daniel Wise.
Saturday’s scrimmage at Memorial Stadium was about letting the fans get a peek at the 2017 Jayhawks, not giving away too many secrets or play-calling wrinkles along the way and keeping quarterbacks Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender healthy.
So juniors Armstrong and Wise, two of the program’s most marketable talents, who also happen to be massive defensive linemen, didn’t get to unleash their full array of skills.
The quarterbacks, receivers such as Daylon Charlot and Steven Sims Jr., running backs Taylor Martin and Khalil Herbert, defensive backs such as Mike Lee, Kyle Mayberry, Derrick Neal and Bryce Torneden, and linebackers Joe Dineen and Keith Loneker Jr., got to experience a lively, enjoyable afternoon scrimmage.
It just felt a little different for the big guys who hope to make a living in the NFL by chasing and demolishing QBs.
A 6-foot-4, 246-pound pass-rusher extraordinaire from Houston, Armstrong was credited with four total tackles and one sack. Wise, a 6-3, 290-pound versatile defensive lineman, had two tackles for loss and a sack. Not bad numbers, for sure, but also not true snapshots of how impactful they will be for David Beaty’s third Kansas football team, either.
It must have been difficult for them to exert their typical full game-day effort knowing they would have to pump the brakes if they created themselves a path to a QB, right? Sophomore safety Lee, who spoke with reporters after the open practice, confirmed as much.
“On the sideline, Dorance was really mad,” a grinning Lee reported. “He was like, ‘They keep holdin’ me! I can’t even get a sack!’ He was like, ‘I wish it was a real game, because I’d have a bunch of sacks.’ And D-Wise was just laughin’ at him, like, ‘It’s just the spring game, son.’”
The picture Lee painted gives you an idea of part of what makes Armstrong great: that competitive fire. But neither Armstrong nor Wise could show off at the spring game in the way Lee (six tackles and two crushing hits on receiver Ryan Schadler) or other defenders were able to do.
“It really was a defensive back game, because it’s the spring game,” Lee said. “They can’t touch the quarterback. The ball was being thrown a lot.”
Obviously the last thing any coach or player wants is to lose a quarterback due to a contact injury during a practice or scrimmage — it was only two years ago that a freak play at KU’s spring game prematurely ended Michael Cummings’ career. You’ve got to have those QBs in red jerseys and safe.
And, when you think about it, that’s probably what makes Saturdays in the fall so rewarding for standout defensive linemen like Armstrong and Wise. After months of not being able to do what you were born to do, you get to release those frustrations on an opposing quarterback.
Here’s an early bet that Armstrong and Wise this fall will improve upon their combined 13 sacks and 30 tackles for loss from 2016.
The Kansas football team is going all in on building up hype for this Saturday’s spring game at Memorial Stadium (1 p.m. kickoff).
David Beaty and company started off the week Monday by announcing the two sides for the scrimmage — Team Jayhawks and Team KU — and the coaches in charge of each. It will be Kansas associate head coach and running backs coach Tony Hull (Jayhawks) on one sideline and cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator Kenny Perry (KU) on the other, with Beaty observing the action in more of a neutral capacity.
How will the rosters be split up for the spring game? Well, that will be determined Wednesday afternoon with a draft.
Hull — who will be assisted by defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley and offensive line coach Zach Yenser — won the right to the No. 1 pick on Monday, when Perry — working with linebackers coach Todd Bradford, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and defensive line coach Jesse Williams — lost a coin toss by picking tails.
Second-year assistant Hull had the opportunity to take either the swagged-out home KU locker room or the No. 1 pick in the spring draft by winning the coin flip, and he rightfully went with the draft rights.
So who should Hull pick for this weekend’s family-friendly affair? We got together some of our KUsports.com staff members to find out which Jayhawk they think Hull will select — and who they would take No. 1 overall.
Let us know your picks in the comments section below.
Benton Smith’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Since Mr. Louisianimal himself landed the top choice, I think he will want an impact guy from “The Boot” to build his team around.
That means Hull will go with perhaps the most intriguing talent on the roster, former Alabama wide receiver Daylon Charlot, from Patterson, La. A 6-foot, 195-pound pass-catching and return threat, Charlot walked away from Nick Saban at Alabama when the most prominent head coach in all of college football tried to convince him to stay.
Teammates and coaches rave about Charlot’s athletic ability and how he can break open a play in the open field or with a deep catch. Charlot has been looking forward to playing for months after sitting out and he’ll want to make a splash in his unofficial KU debut.
Who I would take: He won’t have the same flash or fan attention as Charlot or one of KU’s top quarterbacks, but I’m taking a big man who can not only give my QB some time to make his reads, but also get out and create holes for the running backs (or speedy receivers on end arounds).
The pick is another Alabama transfer, junior offensive lineman Charles Baldwin.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound right tackle, like Charlot, will be eager to play after sitting out 2016 as a transfer. And he has the power and athleticism to try and limit the likes of Dorance Armstrong Jr. and/or Daniel Wise, should they end up on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Even if QB’s won’t be hit in the scrimmage, it would be nice to have a beast like Baldwin on your side as a starting point.
Matt Tait’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Junior DE Dorance Armstrong Jr.
For my money, Armstrong is the best player on the Kansas football team. As he showed last season, he’s a big-time pass-rusher at the Power 5 level and he’s only getting better.
Because it’s a spring game and the KU quarterbacks will be wearing red jerseys, you won’t see any of the bone-crushing hits that Armstrong is capable of delivering. But you might see him wreak havoc on KU’s offensive line, which, in a game that features players getting credited with sacks for just touching the quarterback, could make for a long day for the KU offense, especially if Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley aren’t getting the ball out quickly. Hull coaches offense so it won’t surprise me if he’s leaning toward picking a player from that side of the ball. For what it’s worth, I can’t see it being a running back. But with enough quality players at other positions available down his draft board, Hull can scoop those up later and take the difference-maker with the No. 1 overall selection.
Who I would take: Junior WR Steven Sims Jr.
Spring games have been known to showcase offensive firepower, and, at Kansas, wide receivers often have been the beneficiaries of that fact.
From Christian Matthews on a couple of occasions back in the day to LaQuvionte Gonzalez last season, the guys on the outside typically get a lot of space to work with and often can take advantage of being put in position to use their speed to score quickly and often, because they don’t have to worry about their teammates lighting them up. Once they catch the ball, especially in space, it becomes a foot race to the end zone and Sims, along with most of KU's wideouts, is faster than many of the defensive backs on this team and, perhaps most importantly, far more experienced.
Sims has been KU’s most consistent wide receiver during the past two seasons and I think he’s ready for an even bigger role now that he’s an upperclassman. I think that role begins Saturday and I'd gladly welcome him onto my team if I had the No. 1 pick.
He catches everything, knows how to get open and has proven to be a favorite target of quarterbacks because of his reliable hands and precise route running.
Give me Sims to start my team and I’ll build around him.
Bobby Nightengale’s prediction and pick
Who Hull will take: Joe Dineen.
When a coach or front office is making a pick at the top of the draft, it’s always important to consider all of the intangibles. That’s why I think Hull is going to pick junior middle linebacker Dineen, aka Local Boy, with his first pick.
Perhaps no player will be more excited to step on the field Saturday than Dineen, who missed nearly all of last season with a right hamstring injury. The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker was a captain for the defense and is essentially another coach on the field. People know what to expect out of him — a run-stopper capable of running sideline to sideline, and a good pass-rusher on blitzes.
Who I would take: Mike Lee.
With a young, inexperienced secondary, Kansas sophomore-to-be safety Lee stands out because of his talented freshman campaign. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder proved that he’s a threat to stop rushing attacks (70 solo tackles last year) and his big hits make receivers think twice on balls floating over the middle.
In the spring game, the key to slowing either quarterback, Stanley or Bender, will be strong coverage against top receivers Sims, Gonzalez, Charlot and others. Surrounded by young cornerbacks, Lee is the best weapon in the Jayhawks’ secondary and can provide leadership through his experience.
Plus, as a bonus, Lee isn’t going to shy away from the top moments. His interception in overtime against Texas helped seal Beaty’s first Big 12 victory in November, providing momentum into the offseason.
According to the most important numbers — the ones corresponding with wins and losses — 2016 didn’t look too remarkable for the University of Kansas football program, as the Jayhawks won two games and lost 10.
Using only those digits, the season seemed similar to the six before it for KU, during which three head coaches and one interim coach led the team. In a seven-year stretch from 2010 to 2016, Kansas never won more than three games in a season, and finished with an average record of 2-10.
So it’s easy to lump the latest campaign with the rest of the ugly falls that preceded it. However, doing so doesn’t take into account the context of watching David Beaty’s second KU football team far outperform his first in terms of competence and competitiveness. The numbers 2 and 10 don’t factor in the many talented players who improved this past season, positively impacting the product on the field and giving the fan base some signs of real progress
Here is a look at the 10 Jayhawks who made the biggest impact for KU football in 2016 — a year that could end up marking a turning point for a long-struggling program.
No. 10: Running backs coach Tony Hull
For all the work assistant coach Hull put in during practices and with game preparation for the team’s running backs, he also quickly established himself as an important individual in KU’s recruiting strategy during his first year with the program.
A former high school coach in New Orleans, Hull’s ties to the region already have helped Kansas bring in talents such as safety Mike Lee, who became a key defensive starter, and quarterback Tyriek Starks, who took a redshirt season. Hull also served as lead recruiter on Class of 2017 commitments Takulve Williams (two-star receiver) and Travis Jordan (three-star athlete). Plus, his presence has helped the Jayhawks earn consideration from still available touted prospects, such as Brad Stewart, a four-star defensive back.
With Hull in place, Kansas seems in position to target quality recruits in a part of the country where it otherwise might not have been able to get involved.
No. 9: Offensive tackle D’Andre Banks
During his senior season at Kansas, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman played anywhere position coach Zach Yenser needed him. Banks began the year playing left tackle, because Jordan Shelley-Smith was injured and true freshman Hakeem Adeniji wasn’t ready yet. The Killeen, Texas, native even started a game at right guard at Memphis, as KU continued to tweak its O-line combinations.
The final eight games of the year, Banks returned to his rightful spot at right tackle, and down the stretch KU’s O-line became more effective, with the help of the senior leader.
No. 8: Quarterback Carter Stanley
True, the redshirt freshman quarterback only started three games for Kansas this past season, but Stanley’s presence on the field coincided with by far the best stretch of 2016 for the Jayhawks.
Stanley, of course, controlled the offense during the team’s overtime victory over Texas — KU’s lone Big 12 victory. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB actually had better individual numbers in KU losses against Iowa State (26-for-38, 171 yards, TD, interception) and at Kansas State (24-for-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).
With Stanley at QB, KU consistently competed, and that couldn’t be said for other stretches of the season.
No. 7: Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen
In 2015, the Kansas defense routinely blew tackles and coverages, contributing mightily to a woeful 0-12 campaign. A year later, Bowen and his assistants turned the Jayhawks’ defense into a strength.
In Big 12 play this past year, KU ranked first in the conference in third-down conversion defense (37.4 percent), second in pass defense (248.0 yards allowed a game), third in red-zone defense (78 percent), and fifth in interceptions (eight), sacks (22) and opponent first downs (24.2 a game).
The work Bowen, linebackers coach Todd Bradford, cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry and D-line coach Michael Slater did with their players set the tone for a season highlighted by headway.
No. 6: Safety Mike Lee
When the true freshman safety graduated early from high school and arrived on campus ready to play a year ahead of schedule, no one expected Lee to transform so quickly into a play-maker.
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound defensive back from New Orleans came off the bench in his first three appearances for Kansas and did not play at all in Week 2. But Lee’s hard hits became one of the consistent bright spots for Kansas, beginning with the team’s Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.
From that point on, while at times learning on the fly, the first-year safety started the final eight games. Lee, whose overtime interception versus Texas will be remembered for a long time at Memorial Stadium, finished second on the team in total tackles (77), while tying KU’s leader in that category, senior safety Fish Smithson, for the most solo tackles (70).
No. 5: Wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.
The Kansas offense often didn’t look pretty this past year, but when it peaked Sims often played a prominent role. The 5-foot-10, 176-pound wide receiver became someone opposing defensive coordinators had to game-plan to stop.
Sims’ breakout sophomore season included four games of 100-plus yards, as he led KU in receptions (72), yardage (859) and touchdowns (seven). His confidence and maturity showed on the field and off, as he worked to become an impact player as an underclassman while operating in a system that used three different starting quarterbacks and ranked eighth in passing (231.9 yards per game) and last in scoring (17.8 points a game) in Big 12 play.
No. 4: Head coach David Beaty
The head coach’s first season doubling as offensive coordinator might not have gone as well as he wanted, but ultimately the notable overall progress within the program happened under his watch, and Beaty deserves credit for the strides made by the players and in recruiting.
Beaty’s undying positivity trickles down throughout the team, and that showed during the final month of the season. Although the Jayhawks struggled much of the year, they finally began playing at a higher level in the final weeks, when players under a lesser leader could have mentally and physically checked out.
Day after day, Beaty found ways to win over players and prospects, building momentum for a 2017 with increased expectations.
No. 3: Safety Fish Smithson
Speaking of positivity, you won’t meet many more upbeat players than Smithson, a defensive captain and outgoing senior. Week after week for the past couple of seasons, the safety had to answer media questions about KU’s shortcomings, and never did he let it impact him negatively.
Smithson’s personality helped his production on the field, too. Even when he made a mistake on one snap, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety would come back the next ready to demand more of himself.
As he walks away from the program, the Jayhawks will not only miss his 93 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, but also his leadership and ability to get his teammates in the right spots.
No. 2: Defensive tackle Daniel Wise
When the Kansas defense needed a stop, the man breaking through with a crucial push at the point of attack tended to be Wise, the powerful, 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle form Lewisville, Texas.
The talkative sophomore had the sills to back up any in-game (or pre-game) chatter he sent in the direction of the opposition, thanks to an offseason filled with work toward vastly improving his strength and technique. Playing a position where it can be difficult to accumulate much statistical proof of one’s worth, Wise finished seventh on the team in total tackles, with 38, while making 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and even blocking two extra points.
Wise’s presence made it easier for his teammates around him to do their jobs, too, as offenses game-planned to limit how the tackle could impact the line of scrimmage.
No. 1: Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.
In his sophomore season at KU, Armstrong transformed into one of the most feared defensive ends around, easily making him a consensus All-Big 12 first-teamer.
Fittingly, the 6-foot-4, 246-pound lineman from Houston’s most complete performance came in the Jayhawks’ victory over Texas — the program’s beacon of better things to come. Armstrong not only made 11 total tackles, but aded two sacks, three tackles for loss, while both forcing and recovering a fumble.
Armstrong’s 20 tackles for loss on the season made him the Big 12’s leader in that category, and he finished second in sacks (10) to Kansas State senior — and fellow all-league D-lineman — Jordan Willis (11.5).
If Kansas, under Beaty, can start climbing out of the ditch it has lived in since Mark Mangino left, Armstrong is the type of star player the coach needs to make it happen.
Now that the 2016 Big 12 football season is complete, all the numbers have been totaled and averaged and sorted nicely for consumption, and postseason honors are starting to get handed out.
So it’s a good time to review the league’s individual statistical leaders and see where Kansas football players landed among their peers.
As one might guess, the Jayhawks, who used three different starting quarterbacks, didn’t show up with this year’s passing leaders.
Perhaps head coach David Beaty will find a QB he can count on throughout 2017.
Still, KU had plenty of individuals stand out over the past few months, despite a 2-10 overall record and 1-8 mark in the Big 12.
What follows is a review of the categories in which Jayhawks ranked among the conference’s best, with a look at the numbers produced by the league-leader for context.
How did the Jayhawks stack up? Some of them finished higher than you might have guessed.
- Big 12 leader: D’Onta Foreman, Texas, 193.3 yards a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Ke’aun Kinner, 61.5 yards a game
The senior running back often shared rushing duties with teammates, but Kinner averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns for Kansas in 2016. He looked even stronger late in the season, when he produced a season-best 152 yards on the ground against Iowa State.
- Big 12 leader: KD Cannon, Baylor, 6.6 a game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Steven Sims Jr., 6.0 catches a game; 9th — LaQuvionte Gonzalez, 5.2
Sims emerged as the top target for Kansas quarterbacks this season, but Gonzalez was as solid a second option as the offense could hope for during another rebuilding season.
Sims scored seven touchdowns, with a long of 74 yards. And while a No. 4 ranking in this category is impressive, Sims fared even better within the conference. Looking only at league games, Sims led the Big 12 with 6.8 catches an outing. Even OU star Dede Westbrook only caught 6.3 a week against league foes.
On the season, Gonzalez tied for 9th with Oklahoma State’s James Washington (5.2 catches). Gonzalez reached the end zone three times as a junior, including a 95-yard score in the finale at K-State, thanks to a deep ball from redshirt freshman quarterback Carter Stanley.
- Big 12 leader: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, 122.1 yards a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Sims, 71.6 yards a game
During his breakout year, Sims, a 5-foot-10 receiver, hauled in 72 catches, averaging 11.9 yards a reception.
- Big 12 leader: LB Travin Howard, TCU, 10.4 a game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — S Fish Smithson, 7.8; 13th — S Mike Lee, 6.9; 30th — LB Courtney Arnick, 5.5; 47th — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 4.7; 47th — S Tevin Shaw, 4.7
As he did in 2015, Smithson led Kansas in tackles. The senior safety made 93 total stops. As the season progressed, Smithson's young apprentice in the secondary, true freshman Lee, developed into a presence, as well. After graduating high school early to join Kansas this season, Lee made 69 solo tackles (76 total) in 11 appearances and eight starts.
With Kansas missing key linebackers Joe Dineen Jr. and Marcquis Roberts, senior ’backer Arnick contributed 66 total tackles for the defense.
Both Armstrong, on the D-line, and Shaw, in the secondary, made 40 solo tackles apiece and 56 total.
- Big 12 leader: DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State, 0.96 a game (11.5 total)
- Ranked Jayhawks: 2nd — DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., 0.83 (10.0 total); 16th — LB Cameron Rosser, 0.33 (4.0)
With 10 quarterback takedowns behind the line of scrimmage, Armstrong produced all one-man sack attacks, without an assist, during his outstanding sophomore campaign.
Rosser, a senior who played a hybrid linebacker/end position, made all four of his sacks during a two-week span in the first couple of Big 12 games. Rosser made one at Texas Tech and three versus TCU.
Tackles For Loss
- Big 12 leader: DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas, 1.67 a game
- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 15th — Daniel Wise, 0.82 a game
Simply put, Armstrong was the Big 12’s best at creating chaos in the backfield. With 20 solo tackles for loss as a sophomore, Armstrong beat K-State’s Willis in this category by 3.5.
Although Wise didn’t have the numbers to match Armstrong, the defensive tackle had as much to do with the Jayhawks’ success on the defensive line as anyone. Wise made 9.0 stops behind the line, all solos, when he wasn’t disrupting offenses in other ways.
- Big 12 leader: D.J. Reed, Kansas State, 1.5 per game
- Ranked Jayhawks: 6th — Fish Smithson, 0.92 a game; 17th — Marnez Ogletree, 0.67
Not only did Smithson finish plays with tackles, the senior safety found his way to the ball when quarterbacks passed in his direction. While captaining the KU defense, Smithson broke up seven throws and came away with interceptions on four other occasions.
At corner, Ogletree, another senior, didn’t pick off any passes, but he broke up eight while defending the Big 12’s many talented receivers.
- Big 12 leader: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia, 0.67 a game (eight total)
- Ranked Jayhawks: 4th — Fish Smithson, 0.33 a game (four total); 10th — Brandon Stewart, 0.25 (three)
Averaging a pick every three games in 2016, Smithson took away four as a senior. But he actually vastly improved his average in November, with an interception apiece against Iowa State and Texas.
Stewart wasn’t far behind Smithson with three passing takeaways of his own during his senior season. Few of KU’s 10 picks on the year were as critical as Stewart’s 55-yard INT return for a touchdown during the Jayhawks’ upset victory over Texas.
- Big 12 leader: Five-way tie, three
Armstrong’s three forced fumbles on the season tied him with K-State’s Willis and Reggie Walker, Baylor’s Patrick Levels and Texas Tech’s Jah’Shawn Johnson for the top spot in the category.
- Another Ranked Jayhawk: 10th — Smithson, two
The other most active defender on the KU roster, Smithson knocked the ball out of an opponent’s grasp twice this season.
- Big 12 leader: Patrick Levels, Baylor, four
- Ranked Jayhawks: 5th — Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Damani Mosby, two
Twice this season, Armstrong, the Jayhawks’ most disruptive defender, found his way to a loose ball to recover it for Kansas. So did the man lining up on the other edge of the D-line, senior end Mosby.
- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 9.1 points a game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 9th — Matthew Wyman, 5.4 points a game
West Virginia’s Mike Molina and Texas kicker Trent Dominigue both missed seven field goals on the season — more than Wyman’s six — but, like most of the conference’s kickers, benefited from their teams reaching the end zone for far more extra-point opportunities than Kansas. Five of the league’s kickers, including top scorer Ben Grogan of Oklahoma State (55-for-56), got to kick at least 49 PATs. Wyman only had a crack at 26 kicks following a TD.
Kick Return Average
- Big 12 leader: Byron Pringle, Kansas State, 28.7 yards per return
- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 21.5 per return
Gonzalez proved a better kick returner than punt returner for Kansas. On 28 occasions during his junior season, the speedy receiver fielded a kickoff and decided to go and attempt to make something happen. Gonzalez totaled 601 return yards, and housed a 99-yarder against Ohio in Week 2.
- Big 12 leader: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma, 195.5 yards per game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 7th — Laquvionte Gonzalez, 109.2 yards per game
With his kick return yardage added to his 729 receiving yards, Gonzalez’s numbers ranked among the Big 12’s best, even though he finished the season with negative totals in punt returns (-10) and rushing (-9).
- Big 12 leader: Michael Dickson, Texas, 47.4 yards per punt
- Ranked Jayhawk: 4th — Cole Moos, 41.4 yards per punt
For KU junior punter Moos, 14 of his kicks traveled 50-plus yards, including the longest in the Big 12 this season, an 82-yarder at Baylor.
- Big 12 leader: Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State, 1.5 field goals per game
- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 1.08 per game
Wyman tied for 6th with Texas Tech’s Clayton Hatfield in field goals per outing. The Kansas senior made a season-high three versus Texas at Memorial Stadium, including the game-winner in overtime.
Field Goal Percentage
- Big 12 leader: Cole Netten, Iowa State, 94.1%
- Ranked Jayhawk: 6th — Matthew Wyman, 68.4%
Beaty sent Wyman out for 19 field-goal tries this year, and his kicker nailed 13 of them, including a season-best 50-yarder versus TCU.
PAT Kicking Percentage
- Big 12 leaders: Mike Molina, West Virginia; and Matthew Wyman, Kansas, 100%
When Kansas reached the end zone and called upon Wyman’s services, the trusted kicker never missed. Wyman went 26-for-26 on PAT’s.
David Beaty’s first fall as Kansas football coach went pretty miserably. Twelve games. Twelve losses. Minimal hope for the future for a frustrated fan base.
Only someone as positive as Beaty could come away from the 2015 campaign feeling optimistic, and, of course, he did.
So it came as no surprise this past weekend, upon the conclusion of Year 2 for Beaty, the man running the program sounded even more fired up entering the offseason. Asked to assess his second year compared to his first, Beaty didn’t reference the Jayhawks’ 2-10 overall record or 1-8 mark in the Big 12.
“One of the best things that we’ve done is I think we’ve developed the guys that we have in our program,” Beaty offered. “There’s two ways I think you get better: you recruit and you develop the one’s you’ve got. ’Cause you’re not gonna get any more — they’re not gonna give you any more. You have what you’ve got and then you get to go get 25 (in recruiting), is what you get to get.”
The progress Beaty alluded to showed up in 2016 thanks to freshmen and sophomores making significant on-field contributions.
A year ago, receiver Steven Sims Jr. caught 30 balls for 349 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. His production leapt to 72 receptions, 859 yards and seven touchdowns — all team-highs — as a sophomore.
A true freshman who graduated a year early to join KU football ahead of schedule, safety Mike Lee tied senior safety Fish Smithson for the team lead with 70 solo tackles. Lee’s 77 total tackles trailed only Smithson (93) and he didn’t become a starter until October.
Defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., while expected to play a key role for Clint Bowen’s defense, turned into one of the Big 12’s most disruptive forces. Armstrong likely will finish the year as the league’s top tackler for loss. His 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage lead Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis’ 15 — though the Wildcats’ end still has a Saturday date at TCU to try and catch up. Plus, Armstrong finished his second season with 10.0 sacks, currently second in the Big 12 to Willis’ 10.5.
Mostly playing as a replacement starter for Marcquis Roberts, who missed five games, sophomore linebacker Keith Loneker Jr., in his first season of FBS football, finished sixth among KU defenders in tackles, with 43, while also breaking up four passes.
Second-year defensive tackle Daniel Wise, who looked the part of a future impact interior lineman as a freshman, fulfilled that promise. Wise came through with 10 tackles for loss and 38 total stops playing a spot where it’s difficult to produce many statistics.
Redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over starting quarterback duties with three games left and Kansas experienced the best stretch of its season to close it. In his three starts, Stanley completed 71 of 124 passes (57.3 percent) for 693 yards, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Freshman defensive end Isaiah Bean, in limited playing time, finished with 3.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
“And the thing that I’m very proud of our strength staff, our coaches, is they develop those guys,” Beaty said of the program’s youngest talents. “They’re a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit faster. … They’re all very young, which they’re gettin' something we can’t give ’em, which is experience. Unfortunately sometimes it comes with growin’ pains when you’ve got a bunch of ’em out there at once. Maybe sometimes not so much when you’ve got one or two of ’em, but if you’ve got a bunch of ’em out there, there’s some growin' pains that come along with that.”
The hope for Kansas is less of those aches will show up in 2017, with Armstrong, Sims, Lee, Wise, Stanley and Loneker returning, with running backs Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin, and offensive linemen Hakeem Adeniji, Mesa Ribordy and Larry Hughes among the promising underclassmen.
Plus, upperclassmen such as receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, O-lineman Jayson Rhodes, defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis, linebacker Joe Dineen, cornerback Derrick Neal and safety Tyrone Miller Jr. will continue to play big parts in the Jayhawks' plans.
“But, man, I think the thing that I’m most impressed with is the way that we’re developing ’em,” Beaty said. “I think if we can continue to do that we’ll have a chance to be a very competitive ball club here in the future.”
The last time the University of Kansas football team won a Big 12 game, many of the men who occupy key roles on this year’s roster weren’t even involved with the program.
The Jayhawks, with interim coach Clint Bowen leading them, defeated Iowa State on Nov. 8, 2014.
KU had dropped every Big 12 game since, and the conference skid hit 16 this past weekend, against Oklahoma State. Kansas (1-6 overall, 0-4 Big 12) came within a missed field goal of upsetting TCU a couple weeks ago and entered the second half Saturday against the Cowboys trailing by only four points.
The longer Kansas goes without knocking off a conference foe, the harder it is for the players — and, surely, the program’s supporters. Still, for play-makers such as sophomore Steven Sims Jr., who’ve only experienced league losses, the stigma that accompanies the program’s Big 12 troubles only makes them hungrier.
“Starving,” Sims clarified. “We want to get that win so bad in the Big 12. Because the win over Rhode Island (55-6 in the season opener), it was a win, but we just felt like we want to beat a team in our conference to prove to everybody that we can’t only beat a (FCS) team.”
KU’S BIG 12 LOSING STREAK
34-30 L vs. TCU
44-7 L at Oklahoma
51-13 L at Kansas State
38-13 L at Iowa State
66-7 L vs. Baylor
30-20 L vs. Texas Tech
58-10 L at Oklahoma State
62-7 L vs. Oklahoma
59-20 L at Texas
23-17 L at TCU
49-0 L vs. West Virginia
45-14 L vs. Kansas State
55-19 L at Texas Tech
24-23 L vs. TCU
49-7 L at Baylor
44-20 L vs. Oklahoma State
It seems highly unlikely the streak will end this week or next, with KU traveling to No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 10 West Virginia. But severing it as soon as possible definitely remains a high priority for Kansas players.
“It’s very important,” said sophomore Dorance Armstrong Jr., another crucial Kansas cog yearning for the better days he believes are ahead. “No one wants to go four years with having a losing streak. Every game that we don’t come out with the victory, it eats at us. It should strive us to go harder. For the most part we’ve got to keep doin' what we’re doin’ and get better at most of the things we’re doin’, as well.”
Against OSU, the Jayhawks trailed 24-20 with six-plus minute to play in the third quarter before suffering yet another conference setback.
“There’s a little bit of positive out of that,” Armstrong said, given the context of a relatively better showing than KU had a week earlier in a 49-7 blowout at Baylor. “We take the positives out of every game that we have, but for the most part that’s not how we play. That’s not the type of game we need to play — ever,” he added of the 44-20 defeat versus OSU. “For us to be that close at halftime and then for the final score to be that, it’s not acceptable. We’ve just got to keep working and get the positives out of all of it.”
Now a senior, safety Fish Smithson is one of the few current players who can say he has experienced a conference victory — almost two full years ago. Like many of his teammates, he left the field Saturday dissatisfied, and said players are eager to put an end to the streak.
“That’s tough. Because that’s why we all came to the University of Kansas, to get Big 12 wins and play in bowl games — stuff like that,” Smithson said. “The wins not coming in Big 12 play, that’s kind of tough, but at the same time we can’t get down. We just gotta keep fightin’.”
At this point, a Nov. 12 home game against Iowa State (1-6, 0-4) looks like KU’s next shot to put an end to the misery.
As for the program’s 41-game losing streak away from Lawrence … that’s another story (or blog).
A third of the way through the season, the Kansas football team’s defense has had its share of slow starts. Though the unit tends to regroup quickly, it also eventually wears down over the course of games as a result of frequent ineffective drives by the offense.
Regardless, coordinator Clint Bowen’s crew truly has been one of the scant bright spots of a 1-3 start.
In fact, in one particular category, KU’s defense has proven just as effective as some of the more recognizable brands in college football. When it comes to tackles for loss, the Jayhawks are operating in the same neighborhood as Miami (FL), Texas A&M, Clemson and Michigan.
In three consecutive games — home versus Ohio, and on the road at Memphis and Texas Tech — Kansas has tackled opponents behind the line of scrimmage at least 10 times.
Oddly enough, the Jayhawks only came away with 5 tackles for loss in a drubbing of FCS opponent Rhode Island in the season opener. Still, their season average of 9.9 tackles for loss a game ranks the squad third in the nation.
TOP 10 TFL TEAMS IN FBS
No. 1 - Miami (FL), 12.0
No. 2 - Texas A&M, 10.0
No. 3 - Kansas, 9.8
No. 4 - Clemson, 9.6
No. 5 - Michigan, 9.4
No. 6 - Illinois, 9.3
No. 7 (tie) - Akron / Southern Miss, 9.2
No. 9 - Ball State, 9.0
No. 10 (tie) - Minnesota / Toledo / Boise State, 8.8
Now with 39 tackles for loss this season, Kansas has posted the most in any four-game stretch for the program since the glory days of 2007, when the eventual Orange Bowl championship team opened the season with 44 TFL’s in its first four games.
In total, 19 different Jayhawks have played a part in KU’s tackles for loss, with the front seven doing most of the damage.
DE Dorance Armstrong Jr. - 6
LB Marcquis Roberts - 5.5
DT Daniel Wise - 4
DE Damani Mosby - 3.5
DE Cameron Rosser - 3
LB Joe Dineen - 3
DB Tevin Shaw - 2.5
LB Courtney Arnick - 2
DT D.J. Williams - 1
DT DeeIsaac Davis - 1
DE Anthony Olobia - 1
DE Isaiah Bean - 1
S Bazie Bates IV - 1
WR Emmanuel Moore - 1 (special teams)
CB Marnez Ogletree - 1
S Tyrone Miller Jr. - 1
S Fish Smithson - 0.5
DB Chevy Graham - 0.5
LB Keith Loneker Jr. - 0.5
Bowen likes to see that type of production out of his defense, and said tackles for loss are a topic of discussion for his group. He has no interest in KU taking a passive, wait-and-see approach against the pass-happy offenses of the Big 12.
“We want to be aggressive, we want to challenge receivers on the outside, we want to move around and bring pressure and do different things on the inside,” Bowen said. “And I think tackles for loss are kind of a byproduct of our kids moving and playing with an aggressive style.”
Obviously the defense is nowhere near perfect — see: opponents average 35.2 points a game (tied for 104th in FBS with Oklahoma) and 432.5 yards of total offense (90th). But effective pressure behind the line of scrimmage is a nice place to start, defensively, while attempting to rebuild within a losing program.
When the Kansas football team takes the field for the first time this season on Saturday night against Rhode Island, expect to see a new-and-improved Dorance Armstrong Jr.
When head coach David Beaty describes the sophomore defensive end as a “big rascal,” he isn’t joking. Listed at 225 pounds when he first arrived in Lawrence a little more than a year ago, the 6-foot-4 Armstrong has put on more than 20 pounds since. In Beaty’s terminology, the lineman no longer looks like a stick.
“He’s gonna be something to contend with,” Beaty predicted.
Armstrong certainly previewed his potential at times a year ago. In his first career start, against Oklahoma, he established personal freshman-season bests in tackles (six) and sacks (two). But there were plenty of games before and after that (he played in all 12) when Armstrong didn’t make as much of an impact.
“I loved it,” the Houston native said of of starting KU’s final five games of 2015. “It made me a better player. As I watch film on last year, what I did, I’m able to critique my game and focus on better things, what I can do to make myself better.”
While preparing to become more of a force as a sophomore, Armstrong realized this past offseason he needs to use his speed more against the “bigger dudes” on opposing offensive lines and stay communicating with his defensive teammates to make sure they’re all on the same page when the ball is snapped.
Armed with that knowledge and a full offseason under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson, the second-year defensive end from Houston feels much more equipped to help his team.
“I’m way stronger than I was when I first came here,” Armstrong said. “I’m able to do a lot more than what I was doing at first.”
Although a slight injury to his right leg inspired KU’s coaches and medical staff to keep him out of several early preseason practices in August, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said the coaches never worried the time off would impact the start of Armstrong’s season.
“He’s a naturally gifted kid. He’s physically fit. He’s not a get-out-of-shape-and-get-fat kind of guy,” Bowen said. “Once he was able to start getting some reps back in he picked it up pretty quick. He had all those reps in the spring time, so learning’s not an issue for him. He was able to bounce back and get going strong again.”
In fact, Armstrong said that stretch of watching practice from the sidelines didn’t hold him back in the weight room.
“I hate I wasn’t able to play with the rest of the team for a few,” he said, “but as I was out I was with Coach Jackson. He made me do a lot of extra weight-lifting. I kind of gained something from it.”
As Armstrong rushes URI starting quarterback Wesley McKoy and goes after the Rams’ running backs near the line of scrimmage, he’ll do so with a larger repertoire of moves and higher expectations for himself.
Bowen, too, strongly believes KU’s talented defensive end will stand out throughout the season. In the coach’s opinion, Armstrong is the type of lineman capable of turning into the defense’s most valuable player.
“He has a very well rounded skill set for a defensive end. He has a pass-rush ability. He’s strong. He can play the run. He’s a legitimate Big 12 defensive end,” Bowen said. “He’s not just a one-trick guy. Last year early on that’s about what he was — he could rush the QB. But he’s built his his body up and the strength up now that he hangs in three and he can play all the techniques and play them well.”