The Day After: A scary victory over SEMO
If you just watched the first quarter of KU's season-opening football victory over Southeast Missouri State, you probably came away pretty impressed.
And with good reason. That quarter, in which KU built a 24-0 lead by scoring on four straight possessions and not giving up a single first down, was without question one of the best quarters we've seen from a Kansas team in the past five years.
After that, however, things weren't as pretty and, if you're judging this team by how it finished the game instead of how it started, you probably came away a little worried. That, too, is understandable.
Regardless of which camp you're in, both sides have solid points and, after a game like that, in which the home team wins by six and is outscored 28-10 after such a blazing start, any and all questions are valid.
However you look at it, KU, which mixed a lot of young guys and newcomers in with a healthy dose of veterans, held on for the victory, improved to 1-0 and has another week of work and preparation in front of it before having to prove what it learned from the opener.
Put another way: Now's when the fun starts.
It wasn't all pretty, but a win's a win and that's the approach the Kansas University football team is taking into next week as it begins preparations for a huge game at Duke. Sophomore QB Montell Cozart turned in a solid debut as the team's starter. The wide receivers he threw to were equally as impressive. And newcomers De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery showed the running game is still in good hands. Surprisingly — especially after a stellar start — it was the KU pass defense that left me scratching my head. No way did I expect to emerge from the opener with a bunch of answers on offense and questions on defense, especially not from the secondary, which turned in a better-than-solid season in 2013 and returned all four starters. It wasn't the ideal opener the way it looked like it might be after the first quarter. Far from it, in fact. But now the Jayhawks know where the issues are and now the rest of us get to see how they go about addressing them.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – The Jayhawks are 1-0. As KU coach Charlie Weis said in his postgame comments, it's not like KU's had a hundred victories in the past few years. It's OK to enjoy them when they come. And that goes for the fans too. You can't get to 2-0 without being 1-0 first and that's where this team stands. Perhaps the best part about that is the reminder it provides that they are still just one week into the season. Plenty of time for improvement, plenty of time to iron out the wrinkles. A bunch of coaches believe teams make their biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2. If that's the case with this team, that bodes well for KU's chances at Duke next weekend.
2 – Montell Cozart is a real, live college quarterback. KU coach Charlie Weis said it best after the game when he said that Montell bailed out the KU offense with his legs and ability to move out of the pocket and throw on the run. What's more, he looked good doing it. Cozart wasn't perfect, but it was a pretty solid start. He looked confident, spread the ball around well and made some really nice throws. Like everybody except maybe for Dexter McDonald and Trevor Pardula, he'll need to improve on that performance in the coming weeks if KU wants to be competitive with tougher opponents, but, all things considered, you have to feel pretty good about what Cozart showed in Week 1.
3 – These Jayhawks have legit wide receivers. Nick Harwell is as good as advertised. Tony Pierson still has it. And Nigel King and Justin McCay are a couple of big targets who bring a lot in the passing game and running game. It's been a while since KU has had such a good looking crop of receivers and it was wildly entertaining to watch them deliver in the opener. If Cozart and company can tighten things up by an inch or two on those deep balls, this passing attack stands to be pretty explosive all season.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – What happened in the second half? Things looked so positive in the first quarter. The offense scored on all four possessions. The defense gave up just 42 yards and no first downs. And Kansas led 24-0. For a while, both at the game and on the Internet, the KU fan base actually was impressed by the product on the field. But then KU hit the brakes and managed just 10 points the rest of the way while somehow giving up 28. The crowd thinned out as it always does and several players said that disappointed them. It should. But they should also realize that the only guaranteed way they're going to bring the energy they need to compete is to find it within themselves and then make that the norm regardless if they're under the lights in front of 50,000 or in a driving rain on a dark day in front of 500. There were elements of the late stumble that could be chalked up to Week 1 rust. But there were others that qualify as major concerns if they don't take care of them quickly.
2 – Why does KU let QBs like Snyder get, look and feel comfortable? I've seen it the past couple of seasons and I've never understood it. I realize that these other teams have good athletes, tough kids and competitors, but there's no way that an opposing quarterback at an FCS school should ever get to the point where he's comfortable and controlling the game. SEMO's Kyle Snyder had that look in the fourth quarter and it wasn't good for Kansas. Snyder threw for 269 yards and 3 TDs and was sacked just once. Bottom line: KU has to find a way to get more pressure on these guys so the DBs don't have to cover for as long. Weis said SEMO's unbalanced sets made it tough to bring pressure. And I'm sure that's true. But at some point, pressure can still come from a guy in blue deciding he's going to beat the man standing in front of him on his way to making a play. There were a few of those moments. But not nearly enough.
3 – After going 3-of-4 on third down in the first quarter, KU picked up first downs in just two more such situations in 11 tries. Cozart and the offense looked much improved. But there were still too many times when the offense stalled and forced the defense to go back onto the field. Time of possession was about dead even (29:59-29:58 in favor of KU) but, in a game like this against an opponent like that, KU should have won the TOP battle by a much larger margin and, if they had, SEMO would never have come close to scoring 28 points.
One for the road:
KU's six-point survival against SEMO on Saturday:
• improved the program to 577-589-58 all-time.
• bumped KU's record to 71-47-7 in season openers.
• was the Jayhawks' fourth-straight season-opening win, giving head coach Charlie Weis a 3-0 record in the first week of a season while at Kansas.
• made KU 9-1 in its last 10 home openers.
• gave Kansas win No. 27 in 30 tries against non-conference foes at home dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
Kansas (1-0) will travel to Durham, North Carolina, to take on the Duke Blue Devils (2-0), in the return game of a home-and-home series that started with KU knocking off Duke 44-16 in September of 2009. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m., Central time.