As his Kansas football team prepares this week for its Big 12 opener, head coach Lance Leipold thinks some special teams miscues from the Jayhawks’ loss at Coastal Carolina in Week 2 are repairable.
Few plays during the Friday night loss in Conway, S.C., stood out as much as a KU punt that the Chanticleers not only blocked, but also turned into a special teams touchdown with a recovery in the end zone.
Coastal safety Alex Spillum raced untouched from the line of scrimmage to punter Reis Vernon, smacked his punt out of the air and then jumped on the loose ball in the end zone, turning a one-score game into a 21-9 CCU advantage near the midway point of the second quarter.
Leipold said Monday during his weekly press conference, ahead of KU’s Saturday home game versus Baylor (2:30 p.m., ESPN+), that there was a check made on the punt protection and one player made an assignment error.
“We let a guy go free, cut loose a guy who was in a good position to get there,” Leipold said of Spillum. “It’s correctable,” the coach added.
The Jayhawks also incurred a delay of game penalty just before the critical special teams gaffe. Leipold, reiterating what he stated on Friday night after the 49-22 loss, said the penalty was his fault, as he was hoping to run some extra seconds off the clock before the punt. When a check had to be made, the punt team couldn’t get back set to get the punt off before the play clock ran out.
“It’s two separate issues but it looks like it’s all tying in together. We’ve got to do a better job,” Leipold said.
That play marked the second time at CCU that the Jayhawks (1-1) got a kick blocked on special teams. The first instance came late in the first quarter. After freshman running back Devin Neal’s short touchdown run put KU ahead, 9-7, the margin didn’t become 10-7 as expected.
CCU redshirt senior Jeffrey Gunter already was in the backfield when he skied upward to swat Jacob Borcila’s extra point attempt. To make it happen, Gunter first leapt past long snapper Luke Hosford and offensive lineman Joseph Gilbertson once the ball was snapped.
Leipold said the Jayhawks had a couple of “operational communications” in that instance.
“More importantly the issue was just technique wise of getting too low and causing a gap,” the coach said. “We’ve got to protect the gaps a little bit bigger and stay bigger. I think we’ll get that solved, as well.”
Although it ended up getting negated by a penalty, the Jayhawks had another kick blocked — this time on a long field goal try — in the third quarter.
Trying to cut the CCU lead to 10 with more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, KU sent Borcila onto the field for a 56-yard field goal attempt. The pressure didn’t come from up the middle like it had on the blocked extra point earlier, but Spillum raced in off the edge to get his hands on the kick.
CCU cornerback Jacob Proche lined up in the neutral zone, drawing a flag that wiped the blocked kick from the record books. But it was another instance of a KU special teams breakdown, as tight end Trevor Kardell was left trying to block both Spillum and Proche at once.
KU’s field goal team found success on its first appearance of the night at CCU, when Borcila capped the opening drive with a 46-yard field goal. Borcila also sent an extra point through the uprights on his only other try following a KU TD.
The Jayhawks attempted just two punts in the road loss, both coming in the second quarter. The one Vernon had time to get off traveled 38 yards.
Leipold called Coastal’s blocked punt and TD a “huge momentum shifter” in the defeat, his first as KU’s head coach.
“We lost by 27 points and we punted twice and we didn’t turn the ball over,” Leipold said of the odd combination of events. “Think about that. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game like that.”
Long-suffering Kansas football fans didn’t need Las Vegas’ input to know the Jayhawks aren’t expected to win the Big 12 this fall, in new head coach Lance Leipold’s first season.
While various sports books and websites have continued this summer to roll out some exceedingly long odds for KU football, some new over/under bets posted this week by SportsBettingDime.com figure to be more compelling for those who follow the Jayhawks.
First of all, SBD, which posted regular season statistical over/unders for every Power Five program, landed on 1.0 wins for KU football’s over/under total in 2021. Basically, the Jayhawks are expected to open the Leipold era with a victory over South Dakota on Sept. 3, but play the familiar role of underdog in every other game on the schedule.
Do you think KU can pull off an upset on the road at Coastal Carolina or Duke early in the season? Or beat — just one of — any of the other nine Big 12 programs? If you do, well, you may consider this over/under a source of some easy money.
The most eye-grabbing portion of SBD’s over/under offerings, though, had to do with KU’s personnel. The site is essentially predicting that former North Texas starter Jason Bean will emerge as the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback for 2021.
The online sports book placed the over/under for Bean’s passing yards during his first season in a KU uniform at 1,415.5, and gave the incoming transfer QB an over/under passing touchdowns total of 12.5.
And if you really want to go crazy, SBD has odds for Bean winning the Heisman Trophy at +200,000.
In 2020, Bean was involved in a QB competition with the Mean Green throughout much of the season. Bean threw for 1,131 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight appearances. He went 79-for-145 through the air, with five interceptions and finished with a 54.5% completion percentage.
All of that being said, there’s also a chance Bean could end up as a backup QB for KU. Remember: the Jayhawks haven’t even practiced under Leipold yet, and the QB race truly will be determined during preseason camp, when Leipold and his staff finally get to evaluate all of the QBs live and in person.
The betting experts at SBD also have over/unders for KU’s potential leading rusher and receiver. The sports book zeroed in on No. 0, Velton Gardner, as the likely top runner. Gardner’s over/under for total rushing yards this fall was set at 650.5.
Headed into his third season with the Jayhawks, Gardner is coming off an injury-shortened sophomore campaign, during which the 5-foot-9, 195-pound back from Dallas played in six games but still led the team in rushing. Gardner ran for 325 yards and two TDs in 2020, when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
The running back room, though, appears to be crowded this year, with Daniel Hishaw Jr. and Amauri Pesek-Hickson returning and standout Lawrence High product Devin Neal joining the group.
Who will be the Jayhawks’ top passing target? If SBD’s projections are right, it will be the same man who led the receiving unit last year, Kwamie Lassiter II. A super-senior with more college game experience than the other wideouts in the group, Lassiter was given an over/under of 687.5 total receiving yards.
That number would be a new career high for Lassiter, who in eight starts and one appearance as a reserve in 2020 led KU with 458 receiving yards and 43 receptions.
Other potential leading receivers for the Jayhawks this season include former Buffalo receiver Trevor Wilson, sophomore Luke Grimm, redshirt freshman Lawrence Arnold and sophomore Steven McBride.
Oh, yeah. Back to those Big 12 odds. SBD has the Jayhawks at +25,000 just to make the conference title game. Of course, winning the Big 12 is even more of a long shot, at +75,000.
2021 KU football schedule
Sept. 3 — South Dakota, 7 p.m. (ESPN+)
Sept. 10 — at Coastal Carolina, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sept. 18 — Baylor, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Sept. 25 — at Duke
Oct. 2 — at Iowa State
Oct. 9 — Bye week
Oct. 16 — Texas Tech
Oct. 23 — Oklahoma
Oct. 30 — at Oklahoma State
Nov. 6 — Kansas State
Nov. 13 — at Texas
Nov. 20 — at TCU
Nov. 27 — West Virginia