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.”