As coaches tend to following any game — win or lose — Kansas football coordinators Doug Meacham and Clint Bowen saw both the positives and negatives of the Jayhawks’ season-opening victory over Southeast Missouri State when they reviewed footage after the fact.
Both spoke with media members Thursday, revealing their evaluations of a 38-16 victory.
Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Meacham began by going into the details of a solid, albeit imperfect, debut from junior quarterback Peyton Bender.
After first offering his opinion that Bender — 23-for-37 passing, 364 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions — looked “good,” Meacham immediately turned to his quarterback’s second-quarter interception as his first talking point.
“It was a great decision. That’s where his eyes should’ve been. That’s really the biggest part of all of it is him being on the right guy and triggering the right guy,” Meacham began, on Bender’s first pick, targeted for Jeremiah Booker. “He triggered the right guy and it was just a horrendous throw, which is unusual for him, because he hits the bull’s eye pretty good. He’s pretty accurate for the most part, throws a pretty nice deep ball. I don’t have an explanation for that. He just threw it way behind the guy.”
Other than that blunder, Meacham thought Bender played well, and said redshirt sophomore receiver Chase Harrell could have done a better job preventing the second interception, in the fourth quarter.
“Our receiver didn’t go up and play strong with the ball, so that was on him. But you look at the stat line and you see two picks,” Meacham said. “I think we left some points out there.”
The first-year KU coordinator went on to give examples of some other mistakes that prevented the Jayhawks from steamrolling SEMO.
“Ben (Johnson) dropped that one, had a chance to go to the crib right there. No. 3 (Harrell) makes, it’s No. 3 on ESPN,” Meacham said of Harrell’s one-handed TD grab in the first half, “and then he drops one that hits him straight in the bread basket. I don’t know what to tell you. So there’s probably another 100 yards of receiving and two more touchdowns.”
On another play, Meacham said Bender overthrew Ryan Schadler on a seam read, because the slot receiver ran a hook when he should’ve continued on a deep pattern.
“It looks like Peyton is making another bad throw when in actuality the receiver hosed him. He didn’t run a correct route. If he stays high on that route there’s another touchdown,” Meacham said. “We were close to having a better game, but it’s just a couple things. You always have four or five plays every week, even if you win or lose, there’s always that handful of plays you wish you had back.”
The former TCU and Oklahoma State assistant went on to explain passing game misfires get “magnified” but other problems inevitably show up on video, too.
“(Fans) don’t see a right guard miss a nose guard on an inside run. They see the other part, though,” Meacham said. “But I thought (Bender) played pretty good in terms of operating and having his eyes in the right spot and checks and all of that stuff. Did good.”
Kansas only rushed for 73 yards (2.9 a carry) on 25 attempts versus SEMO in its debut.
But Meacham said he wasn’t worried about KU’s progress in that aspect of the offense.
“I would have a problem with our run game if I was running into a nine-man box all day long. Then I would be upset. It’s just like, Would you get a canoe and go upstream?
“And I get it. People do it,” Meacham added. “But that’s what they do. Ohio State and LSU, that’s what they do. They’re gonna pound it and force-feed it and that’s what they do. That’s not necessarily what we do. I’m not concerned about it, no.”
First look at KU’s new cornerbacks
Week 1 also marked the KU debuts for starting cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Shakial Taylor, both of whom played at the junior college level in 2016.
Bowen wasn’t ready to thoroughly praise them, though, after Defense made five solo tackles and broke up two passes and Taylor contributed two solo stops and a pair of pass breakups.
“They did OK. We’re obviously going to face a lot better competition, though. No discredit to SEMO,” Bowen said. “But they didn’t get in there and panic. They held in there and competed and were assignment-sound. I don’t know that they were 100 percent technique-sound, but they did challenge and they did compete.”
The Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. didn’t have a monster statistical day by his standards in the opener. The all-league pass-rusher came away with three total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
Of course, much of SEMO’s offensive game plan revolved around preventing Armstrong from wreaking havoc.
Bowen said he began seeing KU opponents give that much attention to the star D-lineman during his sophomore season.
“That was kind of the norm from what we were seeing out of him last year,” Bowen said of double-teams and schemes designed to limit Armstrong. “By Week 7 or 8 last year, it wasn’t too hard to figure out he was pretty good by then. What we got on Saturday was pretty much what we got all of last season.”
While sometimes SEMO simply called rushing plays away from Armstrong’s position, Bowen said there was more to the relatively small statistical output than that.
“We didn’t get a lot of drop-back pass game. We hardly got any, and when we did there was attention paid to him,” Bowen said. “That was kind of SEMO, their plan anyway. I think they did a nice job of understanding what their strengths are, and sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball downfield wasn’t going to be one of their strengths going into that game, so they didn’t do it. If you’re not good at it, don’t do it.”
No one expected Peyton Bender’s Kansas football debut to be a flawless one. Aside from perfectionist Peyton Bender. For all the positive plays the program’s new starting quarterback made during his introductory performance, as he prepares for his second game Bender is most concerned with his shortcomings — and fixing them.
By the end of a four-touchdown, 364-yard outing against Southeast Missouri State, the former Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.) QB had thrown 14 incompletions and two interceptions — one in each half.
Those are the plays he’ll study and learn from most frequently in KU’s quarterbacks room this week; not the TD passes to Steven Sims Jr., Chase Harrell and Ben Johnson.
On Bender’s first turnover, in the second quarter, with the Jayhawks aiming to improve upon a 14-7 lead, he looked for junior receiver Jeremiah Booker, who had lined up wide right, and began breaking toward the middle of the field roughly 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The ball went behind Booker, and into the hands of SEMO corner Shabari Davis.
[Check out Scott Chasen’s video breakdown of Bender’s debut at the conclusion of the blog.]
“On the first one,” Bender said Tuesday of his first major mistake with the Jayhawks, “I tried to throw it a little bit too early and didn’t let Booker get into his route long enough.”
Not that he was perfect for the ensuing two quarters, but Bender’s next costly blunder came on a throw in the fourth quarter, with the Jayhawks in position to officially put SEMO out of reach.
The QB looked deep down the left sideline for long, agile wideout Chase Harrell. Bender should have put the ball out farther in front of his target, because Harrell had no one in front of him and the speed to beat his man in a foot race to the end zone on a longer throw. Instead, Bender left it short, Harrell tried to slow down and make a play, but lost a tug-of-war for the ball to SEMO’s Al Young.
“Then on the second one I just under-threw Chase,” Bender admitted. “Those are fixable. My eyes are in the right spot on both of them. I just didn’t make the best throw.”
KU’s head coach was more forgiving of his quarterback in his assessment. David Beaty thought Bender “did a really nice job” throughout the KU win, the two interceptions notwithstanding.
“As we go back and look at the first pick that he throws, I think we were a little deep on that route, which that will affect the timing sometimes,” Beaty said. “It's just got a chance to keep you off of being on the same page when you're not at the right depth. So we've got to be better there.”
Among Bender’s 14 incompletions, Beaty admitted some balls looked under- or over-thrown as he watched from the sideline. But the coach said when he reviewed the game footage on video, missed assignments often were to blame.
“The guy just misread what was going on with the safety, and (Bender) put it right where it was supposed to be,” the coach said of his general takeaway on perceived off-the-mark passes. “If he'd have been there (a receiver read a route option correctly), it would have been a big play.”
Outside of his two give-aways, which Bender and his coaches vow to learn from, Bender felt encouraged by the offense’s 437-yard night in the first game for both the quarterback and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham.
“I thought we converted on all of our third-and-mediums, but we put ourselves in bad position on third-and-long, so we have to do a better job on first and second downs. So that’s an emphasis going into this week,” Bender said ahead of Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Central Michigan. “We just want to clean up what we can do on first and second down and make it easier for us on those third downs.”
The lack of consistency stood out to the quarterback when he went back and reviewed the video, a sign he’s striving for perfection, even after putting up the best numbers from a KU quarterback since the days of Todd Reesing.
“I think we did a lot of things well as an offense, but we also have a ton to improve on, which is a good thing,” Bender said. “I think overall we just saw glimpses of how good and explosive we can be.”
— Bender breakdown video from Scott Chasen:
Tom Keegan and I collaborated on a list of 25 potential difference-makers for the Kansas football team in 2017 and will release one each weekday leading up to the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. SEMO, at Memorial Stadium. We will list them in reverse order of how indispensable/potentially impactful they are for KU's hopes of having a more competitive season.
The first Saturday of the Kansas football season is upon us, and so, too, is the highly anticipated KU debut of junior quarterback Peyton Bender.
Expected to be the kind of QB the program has lacked for years, Bender, a 6-foot-1 former Mike Leach protégé at Washington State, where he spent his first two seasons, has the familiarity with the Air Raid offense to not just hit the ground running, but hit the turf throwing.
Although the hundreds of quick reads and releases he has made at KU practices through the spring, summer seven-on-sevens and preseason have come almost exclusively behind closed gates, fans and everyone else who cares enough to follow the Jayhawks closely will finally see what Bender can do to invigorate a long-stumbling offense this weekend, versus Southeast Missouri State (6 p.m. kickoff, Memorial Stadium).
Third-year head coach David Beaty hasn’t said as much publicly, but Bender is the inevitable starter entering the season, and is poised to take off with the help of first-year KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a deep receiving corps and what Beaty extols as a much-improved offensive line.
No one is proclaiming Bender as a program-altering talent, but Beaty, Meacham and his teammates often during the past several weeks have referenced the ball security displayed during practices and scrimmages.
“The thing that has stuck out to me is just management of a team, and management is a lot of things,” Beaty said of what encouraged him during camp about Bender and redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley. “The number one thing is taking care of the football, not putting the ball in jeopardy and seeing us really focus on an area that we were not very good at last year, which was throwing the ball to the other team.”
And while Bender so often is characterized as a smart read-and-react pocket passer, his position coach, Garrett Riley, says the aspiring Air Raid expert can do more than put the ball on the money.
“I’ll tell you what, Bender can really make some plays with his feet, as well,” Riley said of the former juco standout’s ability outside of the pocket.”
Bender won’t be asked to play like a young Peyton Manning, but he will be charged with distributing the ball expediently to a variety of targets.
Expect to see more moving chains and scoring drives out of a KU offense than you have in nearly a decade — if you’ve bothered keeping up that long.
The Peyton Bender era is here, and for a change, the Kansas offense shouldn’t be unbearable to watch.
KU football's top 25 difference-makers
When David Beaty leaves a preseason practice, it’s difficult for the upbeat Kansas football coach to limit the best plays he saw to one or two.
So when asked Friday morning following the Jayhawks’ scrimmage what stood out on both sides of the Ball, Beaty proceeded to identify more than a dozen players who pleased him with their contributions.
Beaty said KU emphasized a lot of situational work during the morning session, and highlighted the following athletes as standouts from his perspective.
• Travis Jordan, fr. WR: “Stuck out to me a lot. He had several targets that came at him and he had some health issues early in camp, and he’s coming back off that and he made several plays today, which were really nice plays — required strong hands and powerful attempts at the ball with guys hanging all over him. That was impressive.”
• J.J. Holmes, jr. DT: “Made a couple really nice plays in there today.”
• KU’s defense as a whole: “We were down on the goal line a few times today, and watching Joe Dineen, Mike Lee, Osaze Ogbebor, (Keith) Loneker … Daniel Wise made a couple great plays today. Those guys up front, it seems like the tighter we got down the better they played.”
• KU’s secondary: “Defensively, we’ve got to get more turnovers. But Shak Taylor still continues to show out to me, and Tyrone Miller was running around knocking people out today. Enjoyed watching him play.”
• Taylor Martin, jr. RB: “Has played really well over the last week-and-a-half. He’s been explosive. He had a couple of unbelievable runs today. Another one in that stable of backs that really is doing a good job for us.”
• KU quarterbacks: “I thought all three quarterbacks played pretty good today, made good decisions. We’ve had one interception in the last three scrimmages, and it was by a brand-new guy. It wasn’t by Peyton (Bender) or Carter (Stanley). So they’re taking care of the ball, which is something (offensive coordinator Doug Meacham) has done a great job of stressing.”
• Kerr Johnson Jr., jr. WR: “Everything gets quiet and the next thing you know he’s making a play.”
• Quan Hampton, fr. WR: “Just the little Mighty Mouse. Number six, Quan Hampton. That dude is fast,” Beaty said, mid-chuckle, “as all get-out. He is quick and he is strong. I saw him stiff-arm somebody — I’m not going to mention him, because they’ll wear him out over it. But that little dude is strong. He is really fun to watch, man. I’m excited to see what Coach Meacham does with that guy.”
• Steven Sims Jr., jr. WR: “Another one. Really good, talented guy.”
• Dom Williams, fr. RB: “Man, he had a couple of really good runs today. He’s hard to tackle now. … It was early in the scrimmage and I basically put a big challenge in front of our defense about, ‘Are you gonna be able to get this guy down? Really. I mean, he’s a freshman. Can you get him down?’ And they hit him later,” Beaty said, with a laugh. “They got him one good time, knocked the breath out of him. But that dude, he can run.”
Players’ scrimmage perspective
After Beaty spoke, a few KU players offered their thoughts on the most memorable plays from the morning’s scrimmage.
Dorance Armstrong Jr., jr. DE
“The big stops in the red zone,” the Big 12’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year said. “The offense was at the five-yard line or closer and then we would come out with two or three stops like that. I think that was the most impressive thing.”
As Beaty alluded to, Armstrong thinks the defense has a tendency to respond when the players’ backs are against the wall.
“I think that’s how we’ve been for a while,” Armstrong added. “We need it to be like that every down — not just in the red zone. I like how we’ve come together. We’re like a brick wall, nothing gets through us.”
Peyton Bender, jr. QB
“There was a third down in the red zone where we just had four verticals called,” Bender shared, “and we converted that. That kind of stood out to me that everyone was dialed in, and it was good converting on third.”
On the vertical, Bender hit redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell, listed at 6-foot-4.
“It was Cover-2 and he got a good release,” Bender said. “Hit him at about the three-yard line and he just kind of reached out his arm and got it in.”
According to the junior transfer QB, Meacham called more rushing plays than usual Friday morning, to involve running backs.
“Taylor (Martin) had a really nice run on an inside zone that he took for probably 45 or 50 yards,” Bender revealed. “So I’d say out of all the plays those two kind of stood out to me.”
Carter Stanley, soph. QB
“I haven’t watched the film yet so I can’t think of one in particular, but we had some great situations,” Stanley began. “We had our first four-minute situation of camp today, which is when the offense is up and you’re just trying to run out the clock at that point and win the game.”
In that period, Stanley said he was encouraged by the consistency of the offensive linemen in front of him.
“I don’t think we had any busts up front,” the QB explained. “We ran the ball and we converted on third down, which is nice. Got the ball out to Bobby Hartzog for some first downs, so that extended the drive.”
Now in the eighth month of their competition to become the Kansas football team’s starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley and junior transfer Peyton Bender haven’t allowed the stress or length of the process get to them.
One of these days (or weeks) one of them will be named the team’s starter and the other will become a backup. Still, both say their similar personalities have allowed them to push and challenge each other on the field while also coexisting peaceably — under the same roof, no less.
Both Stanley and Bender were prep quarterbacks in Florida, and similar interests helped strengthen their bond over the past several months. Bender said they’re both into water sports and KU linebacker Joe Dineen took them and other teammates out on his boat this summer.
It’s not that the two KU quarterbacks disparage competition. Even video game sessions at their house can turn fierce. They simply both know when to turn it on and when to tone it down.
“I think when it comes to football time, as far as practice and seven-on-seven and those sort of things, we’re all-out competing,” Bender said. “We’re going head-to-head. But off the field we have similar interests and like similar things. I think that just created a friendship. And we know on the field we’re competing, but off the field we can still be friends.”
That friendship, Stanley added, allows them to work well together on and off the field as they pursue the same end goal.
“We definitely work hard together and encourage each other to improve, because we know whoever it is — who knows, shoot, it might be both of us — but just for the betterment of the team we have to be at our best so this team can be at its best,” Stanley said.
Kansas quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley doesn’t know that their sound working relationship impacts the competition positively or negatively, but he sees them out at preseason practices constantly challenging each other. Plus, their position coach is pleased to see them taking on a team-first mentality above all.
“You would think maybe it’s unnatural for them to be as close as they are. But I think we talked about it a bunch in our room and job number one is to make everybody else around you better,” Riley said. “Job number two is being a great teammate. That’s in our position room and that’s with the rest of the team, and I think they’ve really embraced that and kind of bonded off the field socially.”
The quarterbacks, of course, feel their battle intensifying of late.
Said Stanley: “I think it’s amplified a little bit, just being fall camp, just knowing you’re that much closer to the season and the potential of a decision being made.”
According to Bender their competition has been escalating since the team returned from a brief July 4 holiday.
“There’s no more breaks. We’re here until the season’s over,” Bender said, explaining that’s it hit him last month that the Sept. 2 opener versus Southeast Missouri State is right around the corner. “It’s really time to start getting serious and really get down to business.”
Their head coach has noticed at August practices both quarterbacks doing all they can to reach the top of the depth chart. David Beaty said during live segments of camp both handled game-like situations well.
“Watching those guys have to play out there by themselves with blitzes coming, and understanding, recognizing coverages, different fronts that were getting thrown at them, I thought they did a really nice job of getting into the correct checks when they needed to,” Beaty said, “getting us into the right calls, and just quite honestly taking what the defense was giving you.”
As David Beaty embarks on his third preseason camp as head coach of the Kansas football program, some areas of the roster are far more solid than others.
While Beaty should be able to operate with much greater optimism in 2017 than he did entering his first fall in Lawrence, thanks to the gradual improvements to personnel and culture brought about by he and his staff, some questions remain entering Tuesday’s first practice.
Everyone knows how impactful veteran talents such as Dorance Armstrong Jr., Daniel Wise and Steven Sims Jr. can be in the months ahead.
But, as is the case with any rebuilding program, the abilities of just a handful of players won’t allow KU to make further progress in Year 3 for Beaty.
Before the practices begin, here is one key question for every position group.
Some answers could be revealed during preseason camp. Others might take months — and wins and losses — to resolve.
Who is KU’s starting QB?
This is the biggest and most obvious question entering camp. Will incumbent redshirt sophomore Carter Stanley, who helped Kansas beat Texas late last season, beat out former Washington State QB Peyton Bender? Or will, Bender’s Air Raid background and quick release send him to the top of the depth chart?
The battle figures to be decided during the hot August practices ahead.
“Both of them are very talented,” Beaty said recently. “A little bit more similar than you’d think. Both of them move really well.
“I think that both of them are play-makers in a sense,” the coach continued, “which is something that you like to see. Neither one of them are robotic, which is something I’m really excited about.”
Who knows how many hundreds of throws Bender and Stanley will make in preseason camp. But every one will be charted and examined by Beaty, new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley, because KU needs a far more effective offense this fall.
Will Kansas have a No. 1 RB or use a committee?
You could make an argument that any of the following running backs would lead the team in rushing this season, and I’d at least listen.
The candidates are sophomore Khalil Herbert, junior Taylor Martin, true freshman Dom Williams and junior transfer Octavius Matthews.
Herbert and Martin have an edge in the experience department and both, unlike Williams and Matthews, were able to spend spring taking reps within Meacham’s offense. Both looked more powerful and polished as ball-carriers during March and April, too.
On the other hand, Williams is a versatile back whose 28 total touchdowns and 1,922 rushing yards as a senior at Class 5A Independence High (Frisco, Texas) earned him a four-star recruiting ranking from Rivals. He has enough talent and moves that he might be difficult to keep off the field.
Matthew is the wild card. At 6-foot-1, he’s the biggest back of the group. Plus, he spent 2016 in the same backfield as Bender, at Itawamba Community College (Miss.), so getting acclimated to the Air Raid won’t be an issue.
Which receivers will help Sims and Charlot open up the passing attack?
It’s been clear for some time now third-year wideout Steven Sims Jr. and sophomore transfer Daylon Charlot (formerly of Alabama) are the two best receivers on the roster. The race for No. 3 became wide open with the dismissal of would-be senior LaQuvionte Gonzalez.
Some of KU’s other receivers will have to convince opposing secondaries not to send double coverage toward Sims and/or Charlot on every throwing down.
There’s a chance junior Ryan Schadler, a former running back, could do that from the slot. And 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell gives KU quarterbacks a long, agile target.
Still, with the help of their new position coach, Meacham, any number of other receivers could emerge. It’s impossible at this point to count out senior Bobby Hartzog, junior Jeremiah Booker, or junior transfer Kerr Johnson Jr. What’s more, true freshmen Quan Hampton, Kenyon Tabor, Takulve Williams and Travis Jordan will try to prove they’re worthy of the 2-deep.
And while senior Ben Johnson ins’t technically a receiver, you have to think Meacham will find ways to get the 6-foot-5 tight end way more involved than a year ago, when Johnson only caught 10 passes.
Is Charles Baldwin who Kansas thought he was?
Just like Charlot, former Alabama offensive lineman Charles Baldwin’s debut has been anticipated for almost a year now. We’ll soon find out if the projected starting right tackle, listed at 6-5 and 305 pounds, can turn KU’s offensive line into a Big 12-level unit.
Both left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and center Mesa Ribordy learned and grew as blockers while starting as freshmen (Ribordy red-shirted in 2015) a year ago.
If Baldwin lives up to the hype of his one-time five-star juco ranking at ASA College (N.Y), the offense will have an easier time staying on the field and putting together scoring drives.
Adeniji and Ribordy are the O-line’s leaders. They need Baldwin following their example and work ethic, because according to evaluators he should have the talent and size to be the best blocker in coach Zach Yenser’s group.
Which D-line co-stars will step into the spotlight?
We know preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Dorance Armstrong Jr. will find ways to dominate as a defensive end and junior tackle Daniel Wise’s combination of power and speed make him a problem wherever he lines up. But the opportunity exists for a lesser-known role player to shine, too.
Armstrong and Wise will be the focal points of every scouting report. Any number of defensive linemen — if they dedicated themselves thoroughly this offseason — could surface by making some big tackles for loss of their own this fall.
At end, junior Josh Ehambe, sophomores Isaiah Bean and Maciah Long and junior transfer Willie McCaleb are among the candidates to break out.
At tackle, seniors Isi Holani and DeeIsaac Davis have experience to build upon, while junior college transfers J.J. Holmes and KeyShaun Simmons aim to contribute, as well.
Can a true freshman become an effective Big 12 linebacker?
Junior linebackers Joe Dineen, Keith Loneker Jr., Denzel Feaster and Osaze Ogbebor likely enter preseason camp occupying the four available spots on the 2-deep. But it’s possible a true freshman could knock one of them from their slots before the season concludes.
When the name Kyron Johnson comes up in conversations with players and coaches, only positive evaluations follow.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound first-year linebacker might be undersized at this point (and we should discover soon if he’s put more weight on his frame this summer) but his speed and instincts could get him on the field ahead of schedule.
Johnson graduated from Arlington Lamar High (Texas) early in order to enroll at KU in the spring, so he’s more experienced than most freshmen already. We’ll see if he can fast-forward his development enough in practices to leapfrog his way to substantial playing time.
Other than Mike Lee, who are these defensive backs?
Actually, we know their names. We just don’t yet know what to expect out of their games.
KU’s secondary is the least-experienced group on the roster. And those are words no football coach or fan ever wants to read or hear.
Hard-hitting sophomore safety Mike Lee is the only sure talent among the defensive backs. The rest of the backfield has everything to prove.
Both starting cornerback jobs are up for grabs. Transfers Hasan Defense (sophomore) and Shakial Taylor (junior) have a chance to win them, as do sophomores Kyle Mayberry and Julian Chandler. The names of redshirt freshman Shola Ayinde and sophomore Julian Chandler also came up in corner discussions this past spring.
Lee will play more than anyone in the secondary, but it’s unclear at this point who, other than senior Derrick Neal, is most likely to earn the Saturday snaps to play back there with him at the other safety spot and/or as a nickelback. Juniors Tyrone Miller Jr. and Emmanuel Moore, sophomores Bryce Torneden and Shaq Richmond, and junior transfer Antonio Cole all seem to have a shot.
KUsports.com football beat writer Benton Smith joined KLWN's Nick Schwerdt on Rock Chalk Sports Talk Tuesday to discuss the Jayhawks' potential for the upcoming season.
In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.
Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.
Since Todd Reesing’s college eligibility ran out at the conclusion of the 2009 season, various Kansas football coaches have hoped the quarterback they put on the field could breathe some life into the offense and the program. In the seven seasons since Reesing’s final snap at KU, the Jayhawks have averaged just two victories a year.
Finally, in 2017, it appears Kansas should have a Big 12-level QB lining up behind center, giving the beleaguered program an offense capable of — at the very least — arousing the interest of the fan base and making David Beaty’s Jayhawks more consistently competitive.
We don’t know yet if the title of QB1 will go next to the name Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley, but whomever wins the job in August has a chance to be remembered as the first functional Kansas quarterback in close to a decade.
For the purposes of this entry, we’ll focus on Bender (and take a look at Stanley in a blog to come).
It’s out of character for Beaty to set aside his “earn it” mentality and label someone as a potential starter before that player has even arrived on campus. But that’s what the third-year coach did with Bender, saying the day the former Washington State QB signed with the Jayhawks he expected Bender to come in and compete with Stanley for the most visible job on the team.
A 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior who spent 2016 averaging 304 passing yards a game for Itawamba Community College (Miss.), Bender made his first Memorial Stadium appearance as KU’s quarterback at the spring game and orchestrated two of the three scoring drives during the open scrimmage.
His first TD pass in Lawrence not thrown behind the closed gates of a practice session came in the second quarter of the exhibition on a simple play. With KU’s top receiver, Steven Sims Jr., lined up on the left side 11 yards away from the end zone, Bender spotted soft coverage and took a couple steps back upon receiving the snap, while watching for slot receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez to position himself as a soon-to-be blocker.
Perfectly in rhythm, Sims caught Bender’s pass and Gonzalez set him up for some yards after catch by blocking cornerback DeAnte Ford. Sims swiftly cut back to the right to make safety Mike Lee miss and KU had its first Bender-to-Sims touchdown.
Quick reads and timing, staples of the Air Raid, played a part in Bender’s success on other occasions, too. And a later Sims reception during the scrimmage played out in similar fashion, with Bender getting the ball in his receiver’s hands just in time for Gonzalez to block, setting up an eight-yard gain.
One of Bender’s longest completions during his 11-for-15 outing (143 yards, two touchdowns) came in the fourth quarter with the scrimmage tied. Lined up at the 30-yard line on a second-and-two, the QB gave a little play-fake in the backfield before beginning to survey the field, with his eyes focused on the left side. Bender then turned his head to the middle of the field, where he saw receiver Ryan Schadler breaking open between the 20- and 15-yard-lines.
It might have been a little bit easier than in a game-day situation to stand in the pocket and make the throw with a defensive lineman closing in, knowing the spring game rules revolve around not getting a QB injured, but Bender put the ball on target. He threw it over the reaching arms of linebacker Osaze Ogbebor and into Schadler’s bread basket for a 25-yard completion before Lee had a chance at breaking up the play in the secondary.
Two plays later, out of the pistol, Bender went with another play-fake before making a scrimmage-winning TD throw to Daylon Charlot on a slant. The QB wasted no time on the connection, and got Charlot the ball coming toward the middle of the field before Lee could get into the throwing lane or make a play at knocking the pass to the turf.
KU spent most of the 2016 season without a quarterback suited to run the offense successfully. Now that Bender is on campus and Stanley has important game experience to go with his two seasons in the offense and growing confidence, the Jayhawks should head into the fall with a QB who can extend drives and direct the offense into the end zone.
Kansas only averaged 359.5 yards a game (last in the Big 12) a year ago and scored just 27 touchdowns on offense during a 2-10 season. Whether it’s Bender or Stanley taking the snaps, the Jayhawks should easily beat those woeful bottom-of-the-league numbers in 2017, leading to at least a couple more victories and far more Saturdays of competitive football.
More signs of life:
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.