Well, nobody expected that. At least, nobody around here.
But it happened and there’s nothing anybody can do about it but put it in the past and move on.
Sound familiar? It should. After two weeks of the college football season, many Jayhawk fans are scratching their heads about what has unfolded at Memorial Stadium.
First, the Jayhawks were stunned by a Div. I-AA team in the opener and, to many, the season looked loss. But then Saturday happened, the Jayhawks knocked off No. 15 Georgia Tech, 28-25, and now, many of the same people who believed 2010 would be one of the worst seasons in KU football history are starting to wonder if it might have some magic to it after all.
Winning, especially winning big games, has a way of hiding just about any negative aspects of a team’s performance. The Jayhawks were great on Saturday; they had to be to win. But there were still a few areas of concern and we’ll outline both the good and the bad in the following few paragraphs.
Let’s start with the good, of which there is plenty.
First, the Jayhawks have found their quarterback. Red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb was solid in the upset victory, playing with confidence, energy, poise and passion. He threw plenty of good balls, got the Jayhawks’ passing game into a rhythm and that helped KU find its running game, too. Webb’s strong arm and good instincts are a real asset to this team and he proved that he deserves the opportunity to be the starter from here on out.
Second, the Jayhawks may just have found their top running back, too. True freshman James Sims ran like a man possessed in this one, logging 101 yards and a TD on 17 carries while providing Kansas with the kind of consistency on the ground that it needs to make its passing game dangerous and effective.
Sims certainly did not do it alone. Credit the offensive line for responding to the season-opening debacle with a little anger and toughness. The wide-open passing game and occasional flashes of a hurry-up offense also helped the 6-foot, 206-pound back from Irving, Texas use his power and speed to cut through the Yellow Jackets defense.
What’s more, the presence of Sims and his ability to move the chains, helped make life easier for sixth-year senior Angus Quigley, who also was effective in Saturday’s win, rushing eight times for 46 yards.
Could we be nearing the point where Sims and Quigley line up in the same backfield, perhaps with Quigley at fullback in some packages?
The wide receivers — which Gill calls the strength of this team — also were fantastic in the win, giving Webb good targets and making plays after the catch. Bradley McDougald and Daymond Patterson appear to be on the verge of busting out and Johnathan Wilson seems to be settling into the role of old reliable.
Lastly, the linebackers were out of this world good. You don’t bottle up Georgia Tech’s running game without getting great play from your linebackers and the Jayhawks got monster days from all three. Justin Springer was good enough to be named the Big 12’s defensive player of the week, Steven Johnson was nearly just as good and Drew Dudley made some insanely critical tackles, as well. These guys were great on Saturday and it only further emphasized the point that they need to stay healthy for KU to stand a chance.
As for the negatives, only a few come to mind.
KU coach Turner Gill said during Monday’s Big 12 conference call that he would like to see his team improve in short yardage. There were a handful of third-and-one or third-and-two plays in which the Jayhawks couldn’t move the pile and were stopped. Part of that came from the predictability of the situations and the other part is inexperience. With time and some work, this area should be easy to overcome.
As good as Webb was in his first start, he still had moments when he held on to the ball too long and either was sacked or forced to make a bad throw. I’m sure it has to do with his inexperience out there, but he doesn’t always appear to sense when the pocket is collapsing or the rush is closing in on him. Again, with time, that will be ironed out but it was very much on display during Saturday’s game. The good news, though, is Webb looks comfortable in the pocket and I’d rather see that than a QB who is completely aware all the time. Like I said, the awareness he can work on. His comfort level’s a natural thing.
Lastly, the Jayhawks clearly still need to figure out how to finish games. If they had that trait in the opener, they would’ve beaten NDSU by three touchdowns, just by finishing the job in the fourth quarter. If they had it against Georgia Tech, there would’ve been no need to sweat out Tech’s last drive.
KU’s defense was really good in this department Saturday, save for the one long pass play for a touchdown that gave Tech life. But the offense needs to identify ways to keep moving the chains and chewing up the clock late in games in order for KU to keep adding to its win total.
All in all a really strong effort by the Jayhawks, one that will be talked about for quite some time. The question now is, can they capitalize on the good vibes that came with it by stringing together a couple more wins before Big 12 play arrives?