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Monday Rewind - Texas Tech: KU O-Line in need of drastic improvement

The natives certainly became restless after Saturday's 54-16 slamming by 20th-ranked Texas Tech, and who could blame them?

What started in fantastic fashion and, at least for a bit, looked like it could bring an end to KU's 21-game Big 12 losing skid, quickly began to look a lot more like the embarrassments of the Turner Gill era than the handful of encouraging efforts Weis and the Jayhawks showed in 2012.

When thinking back about this game and, really, the entire season thus far, there are plenty of things that pop up in the suddenly stacked column of issues plaguing the Jayhawks.

But for my money, the one area of weakness that stands out above all others — and I don't think it's even close — is the sub-par play of the offensive line, which not only has struggled with to knock people off the ball but also can't seem to find any consistency both in terms of who's in the lineup and the performances they deliver from game to game, quarter to quarter, even play to play.

While talking to tight end Jimmay Mundine after Saturday's loss, I asked him if he thought we were all guilty of taking for granted just how good last year's line was. It's been well documented by now just how much experience Tanner Hawkinson, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli had logged in their KU careers. But maybe we focused too much on their years of service and overlooked their ability.

I know I'm guilty of that. I thought, with the size of attitude of these new guys the Jayhawks had brought in, it was merely a matter of them learning the offense and getting comfortable with one another and then the KU ground game could pick up where it left off, perhaps even be better.

Oops. Way off.

Not only has the play of the O-Line dropped off from last year, but the ground game has suffered, too. And worse than KU no longer having complete confidence that it can run the ball against anybody is the fact that the Jayhawks' opponents now think they can't at the same time. Yikes.

So here's the million-dollar question: What can the Jayhawks do about their O-Line issue? The answer will not be easy to find, but somebody has to find it, and quick, or else the next eight Saturdays are going to look awfully similar to the last one.

I've had plenty of conversations with people about this since Saturday's game — even threw out a few thoughts on Twitter — and I stand by my theory: If the line can't perform any better than it has, the play-calling hardly matters. I mean, what plays can you call that work when the line doesn't block?

The only ones I can think of are the ones we saw early in Saturday's loss to Texas Tech and late in the victory over Louisiana Tech. The ones where quarterback Jake Heaps was throwing a pass just milliseconds after receiving the snap. That takes the pressure off of the line, which is good, but it puts the pressure on Heaps and his receivers to be perfect and in sync, which hasn't exactly gone swimmingly so far this season either. Still, if it's me making the decisions, I'd rather have the onus on Heaps to make plays than ask the line to hold up.

Weis said on this morning's Big 12 football coaches teleconference that some serious changes were coming to the depth chart this week — we'll get a copy Tuesday — and he also indicated that the O-Line could look drastically different.

From what I could gather, it sounds like IQ and understanding the looks from opposing defenses has as much to do with the line's struggles as anything. Therefore, it stands to reason that, at least for this week, Weis will be plugging in the smartest guys he has up front to see if that helps.

Of course, the possibility exists that these guys can and will improve. Guards Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fusimalohi are new to the Big 12 and have had several good moments so far. Plus, they've got the mindset you're looking for — the kind that says, 'Yeah, I want to kick your butt and I don't care if I break my nose doing it.' KU needs more of that. KU needs more of that at every position, but the Jayhawks could especially use more of it in the trenches.

The opportunity is there for someone or some guys to step up. I don't care if your name is Gavin Howard or Riley Spencer and you're a senior who's been around a while and fallen down the depth chart, or if you're a true freshman like Joey Bloomfield, who ranks near the top of the roster on the list of guys who are excited to be here and would probably do anything for this program. The opportunity is there for guys to prove they can play mean, nasty, tough football. Heck, if I'm a defensive lineman who isn't playing much, I'd ask for a meeting with the coaches to see if I could switch positions. That worked out OK for Hawkinson.

Oops. There I go again, assuming anybody can do what Tanner did. That's my bad. I now know it's not that easy.

But getting angry, having some pride and playing a little pissed off is something anybody can do.

The question is, will they?

;

Comments

jay_cheese 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt Tait: Just wanted to wish you the best of luck covering the Jayhawks going forward. It appears the LJW has changed it's commenting policy and is now affiliating itself via Facebook. Best of luck getting all of those sophisticated facebook users for your new comment crowd. I'm still very dissappointed that you tried to label those that have different opinions as not fans. While I expect for you to hope for the best for school, please understand that not everybody sees things the same. The results (current and past) speak largely but I'm sure we all would agree it's one giant work in progress...just disagree on personnel, time, and leadership. Rockchalk

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moose1 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Let me first say I am not impressed with what Weis has done as a coach. His play calling has been questionable at best over the course of his tenure here. Be that as it may I am not calling for him to get fired. I don't think the school can afford it. I am not saying that things would be turned around either. However, I am not seeing substantial improvement. The defense is a little better, but the offense is worse. It seems like KU is solving one side of a Rubics cube. They solve one side and then solve another, but mess up the side that was correct. Jay_Cheese talks about the Dutchman with his finger in the dike is very appropriate. I have and will never tear down the kids. I won't do the same to the coaches, but I do think it is more than ok to question what they are doing. I am and alum and I was in the stadium on Saturday, and it was painful to watch. It was like watching a loved one get beat up, and you can't do anything about it. I'll admit it I left early. I just couldn't take it anymore.

I guess my question is for the optimists commenting here, is what do you point to give me fans hope? Overall I don't see any net improvements to the program. I think KU is going to get blown out a number of times over the rest of the season. So what is the hope, and do NOT say time. I agree it takes time to totally rebuild a program, however it does not take that much time to see measurable improvement. Especially on offense where Coach Weis is supposed to be an expert. I'll ask it again what as KU fans do we place our hope on?

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Magicman76 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, I enjoy reading your articles. I think you do a great job covering KU football. I agree with you that the play calling is not the problem. I've coached football for 30 years, half of it at the college level. I've been a huge KU fan for many years and would love to see them start winning. We have a lot of "fans" that are obviously ignorant when it comes to football and what it takes to win at this level. If any of you thought that Weis would have it turned around already, you were dreaming. Let the coaches do their jobs and try supporting the team. I'm sure that Weis and staff are 1000x the coaches that any of you are. I stayed at the game until the last snap Saturday and listened to all of the negative whining and griping. I hate losing too, but let Weis have a chance to get it turned around. Some of you, obviously, don't like Weis. At least support the program and the school. If you don't think we're making any progress from the Gill years, then you don't really watch the games. Do we still have a lot of problems? YES!!

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gorilla10 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, this is off topic and I'm not sure whether you read this deep into the message boards but what do you think about scheduling? With such a struggling football program why aren't we scheduling three non-conference home games? This should be a no brainer if you ask me. 1. Builds confidence 2. Better bowl odds 3. MOMENTUM if we take care of business

Snyder took this approach for years and KU should be doing the same thing. I believe that confidence could take this team a loooong ways!!! Even though to most we're in the "cupcake" category but we need to be taking the "cupcake" non conference approach if you ask me.....

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Rivethead 6 months, 2 weeks ago

We have pretty good running backs. I think we can all agree with that.

Yet rarely do we use them. How many times during the Tech game did we go with empty backfield?

That makes no sense to me. Weis is purposely leaving some of his best players on the sidelines. Who would you rather have on the field: Sims or Embree? Miller or Coleman?

I can't think of a single play this season where we used a lead blocker (another RB or even our FB) for another RB.

While I agree we have issues with our OL, it's only a symptom of other issues.

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shufly 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Rebuilding is a process, that's whats happening on Saturdays. We've come a long way from Gill's product. Mangino had a couple of years but the program was headed down. His best year was with two of the better OCs/DCs, a gem of a quarterback, another savior quarterback that converted to one of the best wide recievers and playing a novel offense (spread) that the powers hadn't recruited for. We got the quarterback because nobody was recruiting him, a fluke. The program slid down with the departure of coaches, recruiting and lack of flukes. Charlie is building the program (will succeed) but having difficulties doing a four year job in two. Rock Chalk

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Cora Smith 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Mangino was able to win without All Americans on the offensive line because he had a mobile quarterback. Our line is not good enough to have a pocket passer as its' quarterback. Reesing was able to see the big picture all the time and nimble enough to keep going until someone got open. Heaps can not do that and we will have no success until we get the right quarterback who can take a beating. Winning will bring a better offensive line and allow us the luxury of a pocket passer.

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DanR 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, I look forward to your analysis of the wide receiver situation and just maybe how their non-existence is affecting the performance of the offense and how defenses are stacking up against us.

Can't get open on a pass route over five yards, can't catch the ball, and they don't block downfield. The best quarterback and offensive line in the world can't make up for all of that.

Shuffling the depth chart on the offensive line isn't going to make a bit of difference.

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KU 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Spread it. Four wide, one back. Use jet sweeps and play action/misdirection off of jet sweeps 2/3 of the time to keep the d-line and linebackers honest. Heaps needs to deliver the ball within 2 seconds to avoid the rush.

As bad as our offensive line play has been, the chances of success are better getting the ball quickly to the perimeter where it's 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 with skill position players. It's a much higher probability of breaking a play throwing the ball wide than handing off to a running back behind this line.

If Heaps is really a good QB, we need to lean on him to raise the level of play of those around him. That's what great QB's do. Reesing did it. I haven't seen anything out of Heaps to lead me to believe he is a great QB, but the chances of riding him to success are a lot greater than riding the offensive line to success.

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KGphoto 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I feel bad for James Sims. Any chance he had of becoming the Jayhawks' all-time leading rusher flew out the window last week. I think he’ll be lucky if he gets into 3rd at this point.

Tell you one guy who’s probably glad he’s red-shirting. Taylor Cox.

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Dickless Head 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't want to see anymore football articles from Tait until he writes a story apologizing for pumping sunshine up our butts all spring and summer, AND admits he knows nothing about analyzing talent. All spring and summer I read nothing but how great we looked, how so many things had improved even more from last season....all positives and no negatives.

Turns out they were ALL wrong. Tait needs to stop writing football articles. He knows nothing about it. And I'll sure as hell remember that next spring and summer when he's doing it again. Son of a....

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AZJHWK 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree with the need for an OC, few successful at being HC and OC, Gundy for example, he would be sitting with the QB while the defense was on the field. I don't agree with the musical chairs at O-line. Haven't the coaches had since spring to see who the best are? I always hear about chemistry and the O-line, there can't be any if there is always a new face or two. If you look at the Tech QB, he basically took the snap and threw the ball, of course his receivers were generally wide open. When he did hold the ball, we got pressure on him, but with the D-backs playing 5-10 yards off, he had a lot of easy completions. Heaps holds the ball, he even ran out of bounds for a loss a couple of times rather than throw it away, is that poor coaching or just panic? I'd prefer to see us focus on the run game, they say O linemen prefer to run block, try 2 tight ends and a fullback/Hback and take the air out of the ball.

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Robert Brown 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt- Just curious, why do you refer to blow-outs during the Turner Gill era and while not acknowledging similar blow outs last year. The last two games last year against Iowa State and West Virginia were as bad as any during Gill's time and these were some of the worst teams in the conference.

There seems to be a lot of people who are giving this current staff a pass because of what they inherited from Turner Gill even though the cupboard was bare when Gill took over. I realize that Turner Gill was a bad hire, but continuing to bring him up seems to serve as an excuse for the unsatisfactory progress being made during the Weis regime.

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Lance Cheney 6 months, 2 weeks ago

To go along with nwhawk's comment above (I posted this on Jesse's article yesterday, and got no response, so hopefully Matt has an answer for us):

Matt, have any reporters (LJW or other writers) asked Weis at his press conferences about hiring an offensive coordinator? It seems like a question that gets asked on this site more and more every week, and I feel like it's one that needs to be asked to the man himself. I actually figured it would get asked Saturday, after that stinker of an offensive performance.

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nwhawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

At what point does Weis need to admit that, despite his efforts with the offense, he needs some help? I don't doubt that Weis is giving it his all. But part of taking responsibility is admitting when you don't have the answers, and finding someone who does.

Weis took Dayne Crist, who was good enough that he competed for an NFL job, and coached him into the bottom of the QBR ratings. He's doing the same to former 5 star Jake Heaps. He's got a stable of running backs who everyone thought was among the best in the conference, and he's failed to put them in a position for success.

GET SOME HELP! GET AN OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR!

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texashawk10 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, any chance Weis just decides to start playing some of the younger OLinemen to start building their chemistry and getting them game experience for the future since the OLine can't really get much worse than it is now.

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kujayhawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Playing "pissed off" does nothing in college. It's about being mentally tough and executing the play.

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AzHawk97 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Come on Matt, "What started in fantastic fashion and, at least for a bit, looked like it could bring an end to KU's 21-game Big 12 losing skid, quickly began to look a lot more like the embarrassments of the Turner Gill era than the handful of encouraging efforts Weis and the Jayhawks showed in 2012."

The ISU and WVU games last season did nothing to build momentum going into 2013. And those were the last two games of the season. You can't gloss over the fact that those games exist, and that they may be more relevant than those handful of close games to which you refer. It would be like writing an entire article about the first quarter of Saturday's game.

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Stephan123 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Well written article that makes a valid point. The coaches are more than competent and given time they will improve this team to where it can compete. Recruiting may become more difficult with each embarrassing loss but it was also difficult starting from zero in the post Gill era. The O- line has not lived up to expectations but I see improvement in other units. Heaps is a good quarterback but maybe for this year we can use the backup QB and revert to the old "wishbone" offense and hope for the best.

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Pbbut 6 months, 2 weeks ago

My definition of a "tough guy" is not someone who goes out and wins every fight, but goes out and fights anyway, knowing he might lose.
There are several issues with the line that can be taught in terms of technique and physical training, but the thing I never thought I'd see from a Weis/Grunhard line is not playing with an attitude and toughness, and that appears to be the case.

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Terry Lee 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Grunhard is CLEARLY the weak link on this team, then Ianello, then Powlus......and what's the connection? Notre Dame...just like Dane. ND is NOT the fball powerhouse they think they are. I say we stay away from Jesus U and clean house there.....

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jay_cheese 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Trying? That's what we need to be content with? Well excuse me but the bar was a touch bit higher 2 coaches ago. I'm not trying to tear down my alma mater or not support. I've never once personally attacked any of the kids that play. There have been a couple BAD coaching decisions made over the past 5 years (starting with letting MM go....). We can wait around and realize this or call it what it is today. Either way the current leadership is not showing any results but I will keep hoping they can win a game.

I believe another fitting cliche is the "Dutchman and the dike". Plug one hole or crack and another opens up....

You are a journalist, not a school cheerleader. Most adults can handle the results....no need to try and sugarcoat or label others that don't agree. I know how CW handles the media and I truly wouldn't want your job. Best of luck and let's hope this thing get turned around. No money left in the safe for football so be prepared to sit this stuff out for another few years....

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namohcan_99 6 months, 2 weeks ago

If we are changing the line only now, we are done for this season. These things should have been solved prior to the start of the season. Apparently these things are either not showing up in practice or the staff is ignoring them in the hopes that suddenly everything clicks.

Is this the offensive genius that is Charlie Weis? Com'on. Maybe if Grunhard is in over his head, and I'm just speculating that he may be, wouldn't an Offensive Coordinator help, maybe someone who could also help coach the line? That's my suggestion on a fix. I know it won't happen until next year, now.

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gorilla10 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, I know the line isn't doing its job but it didn't look bad in the first quarter. I think you're right though. This football team needs more physical and mental toughness all around. That might be the toughest thing to "teach" these players especially in this program that has been down for quite some time. The ability to face adversity during a game also stands out to me. If one thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong and I've seen it happen to KU far too many times. Remember the 17-0 lead we had against Tech a few years back? That one I will always remember. Anyways, I think we need to be smarter and a lot tougher all over the field. I don't believe that our talent is that far behind some of these other Big12, yes Big12 programs. Tech had a great team last year and excellent qb yet we took them to overtime with a one dimensional offense because they could EXECUTE!!! Take Kstate for instance, they have mental toughness and can face adversity during a game. 5 turnovers and terrible qb play and they still almost upset OSU on the road. Weis has a tough job to try and turn this attitude around at KU but I still believe in these players AND coaches and hope they get it turned around. My two cents for the day! ROCK CHALK!!!

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