In-season open practices are back at the Kansas University football complex and today was the first day for the media to go out and take a look at the way Clint Bowen runs things as the head coach.
To be fair, it's not that much of a departure from the way Bowen ran things before. It's just that now, Bowen is running the whole show and his impact on the entire team, and not just the defense, is evident.
His energy is contagious. His passion comes out in every drill. And, perhaps most importantly, his attention to detail and the demand that the players do it right or do it over has become the norm.
It's rubbed off on all of the assistant coaches, as well.
Because we haven't been able to attend in-season practices for a couple of years, and, because even when we did it was only for the first 20 minutes, it's hard to say how different or similar this is to what came before. But that hardly matters. All that matters is that it is being done and the players seem to be responding.
It won't mean much if the results on the field don't change on game days. But it definitely can't hurt.
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice, where we were able to observe for more than 45 minutes and, as far as I've been told, will be able to every Wednesday for the rest of the season.
• KU legend David Jaynes was in attendance to speak to the team before practice and he made no bones about what he thought should be expected out of a Kansas football team. Jaynes, a former KU quarterback and Kansas native who finished fourth in the 1973 Heisman Trophy voting, did not yell and scream and spit, but he was direct. He said practice should be harder than the games. He said he always asked that the KU DBs be right on his wide receivers during practices so he would have to be as accurate as possible. That way, when they reached Saturdays and the opposing DBs played a little off for fear of getting beat deep, the throws would be easier to make and the game would seem simple. The message was well received and Bowen, when he introduced Jaynes, made sure the team looked up to the to of the bowl at the north end of Memorial Stadium, where Jaynes name is plastered on the wall. Cool moment. I heard former KU lineman Keith Loneker spoke to the team at the end of Tuesday's practice.
• One cool thing about the way practice began today (and I assume this is how it begins every day now) was how the team took the field. Instead of players strolling out to the turf one-by-one or a few at a time, they all congregated by the bronze Jayhawk outside of the locker room and took the field together. Any guesses as to who led the way? Yep. Bowen.
• I mentioned that Bowen's energy seems to have rubbed off on everyone and that includes the assistant coaches. I think the Jayhawks started doing some more physical work a couple of weeks ago, so that part was not terribly new. But the intensity of it and the urgency they operated with seemed a bit amped up. Even the assistants ran from station to station and drill to drill. No wasted time by anyone.
• One of the best soundbites of the practice came from Bowen during a linebacker drill. It was simple and to the point, directed at one player but was probably a subtle message sent to the entire team. “Quit being soft,” he barked.
• Here's the thing about Bowen taking over and how he wants it all to go.... If you walked out to the field today to watch practice and did not know who the head coach was, you might not necessarily have picked Bowen first. That's not to say he wasn't in command or wasn't the one running the show, but it does indicate that he's not trying to tackle this thing alone. He's letting his coaches coach, he trusts them to do their jobs and wants this to be a team run by the coaches, players, fans, alums, administrators and anybody else who cares about Kansas football. It seems to me that Bowen only cares about two things and two things only out there on the practice field: Does it or does it not affect KU's chances of winning the next game? If it does, he'll deal with it. If it doesn't, he's not too concerned about it and it can wait.
• As for a detail about the whole urgency and working harder thing, I think it's important to note that it's not just the guys who aren't playing who have stepped it up. The front line guys have really led the way in this thing. Michael Reynolds, Ben Heeney, JaCorey Shepherd, Nick Harwell, guys like that have even turned their intensity up and doing so makes that the standard for practices now.
Say this for interim KU football coach Clint Bowen, the guy is going for it.
Not only does he seem prepared, ready and able to run the show, but he's also looked incredibly confident and been able to truly be himself during these past couple of days without having to worry about saying something that might upset his boss.
He's been respectful the whole way, but also flashed a lot of his true personality and, for lack of a better term, sense of humor. Never was that more evident than during Tuesday's regular meeting with the media when Bowen opened up by talking about West Virginia, this week's opponent for the Jayhawks.
Every college coach I've ever covered has opened these deals with a little bit about the team they're playing. They'll tell stories about how they know the opposing coach or how much they respect his staff and then they'll get into some of the highlights of their offense, defense and special teams.
Bowen did all of that and, if you ask me, did it in a way that seemed a lot more like a buddy of yours just telling you about the team than a coach reading something he wrote down to make sure he had something to say. That's because that's who Bowen is. What he was saying up there wasn't rehearsed and he didn't have to think of things to jot down because those things already stuck in his head while he watched game film and tried to prepare a defensive game plan.
He talked about WVU QB Clint Trickett's 72 percent completion rate. And he explained how that didn't come on dink-and-dunk throws. He talked about a couple of WVU receivers who were good players and remembered what they did against Kansas last season. And he talked about the WVU O-Line having some nastiness to it. All good info. All pretty basic.
But before all of that, he slipped in a little of that sense of humor I just spoke about.
See, last week, West Virginia had a bye and was able to get healthy, regroup and get an extra jump on prepping for this week's 3 p.m. Saturday home game against Kansas. During his regular press conference last week, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was asked about last year's 31-19 loss at Kansas that ended a 27-game Big 12 losing streak for the Jayhawks and featured a KU team beating up the Mountaineers for much of the game.
Holgorsen cut to the chase and said exactly how he felt about it after explaining that he hoped his guys would be a little extra motivated to get some revenge for last year's loss.
“It was a miserable performance,” Holgorsen said. “I’ve been watching it for two straight days and it makes me want to puke.”
Fair enough. Nothing evil there. Just an honest assessment from a coach whose team is off to a 2-2 start but looks much better than it did a year ago and has hung in there big-time during losses to Alabama and Oklahoma, two of the top teams in the country.
Never one to let an opportunity for a joke pass, Bowen slipped in this gem about Holgorsen's "illness."
"I hope that this week his stomach has settled down a little bit, he's not so sick from last week, and he shows up in good health," Bowen said before moving on as if he had said nothing at all.
Nothing evil there, either. Just an honest assessment from a coach who believes in his team and believes it deserves respect. Good to see that all of the craziness and responsibility of the past few days hasn't overwhelmed Bowen and taken the bite out of his wit and humor.
Should be an interesting week.
The echo of applause from the Kansas University football players celebrating Sunday's announcement of Clint Bowen as their new interim head coach has barely silenced and the past 36 hours have been more about getting their feet under them than moving into the future.
So, no, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger has not spent a ton of time in the past two days worrying about the coaching search for which he'll have plenty of time during the coming months.
After pulling the trigger to dismiss the man he had hired for the job just under three years ago, Zenger took time out to breathe on Monday and thoroughly seemed to enjoy the reaction to Bowen's promotion, some of which was emotional and some a surprise.
There is still work to do for both Bowen and Zenger, but both deserved the chance to smile and celebrate on Monday.
Today, Bowen and the Jayhawks will dive full-speed into game prep for West Virginia — 3 p.m. Saturday in Morgantown — and Zenger will go back to his normal routine as well.
With that in mind, here are four things you should know about the KU coaching search, whenever it begins....
1. It has not started yet nor does Zenger already have “his guy” lined up and an agreement in place. Reports to the contrary are simply premature and a reach. It's far too early for that and, many of the most legitimate candidates on his wish list are busy coaching for other programs. Last time, when he hired Charlie Weis, Zenger hit the road right after the season ended and did not return home for almost three weeks. He had to hurry then. Recruiting hung in the balance and he needed a coach and staff to lead the Jayhawks into the offseason. The urgency is not as strong this time and so Zenger will take his time. He's got a clear idea of what he wants — and maybe more importantly what he doesn't — and will gladly talk to coaches who may be interested should they want to chat. But the heavy lifting in the search has yet to begin and may not start for some time.
2.Clint Bowen is absolutely, 100 percent a real candidate for the job. He would have been even without the interim tag and Monday's incredible reception. And that's because he's put in his time with this program, he has won at Kansas as a player and a coach and he, probably more than anyone on the planet, wants to make KU a winner again in a very bad way. You just don't overlook a guy like that, especially when it's one who is qualified, has proven himself to be a solid assistant coach and coordinator and is already sitting there under your nose.
3.Mark Mangino is not on our coaching search list and, barring the miracle of all miracles, he's not coming back. I understand the appeal. I get why people would love to have the big guy back. But it's not worth holding your breath over. Mangino may have been let go unfairly, but what's done is done and, fair or not, there was an investigation into his treatment of his players, there was a settlement reached between KU and Mangino, and attempting to bring him back could come with some significant risk for KU. In a perfect world, he might be the perfect candidate. But there are too many imperfect factors that make that very hard to see.
4.There's no doubt that making the move to fire Weis four games into the season gives Zenger some time to find his next head coach, but this move was not made for Zenger to have more time. It was not made for Bowen to get a hero's welcome. It was not even made just to move on without Weis in the head coach's office. It was made for the players. 100 percent, no questions asked. Zenger truly believes that this roster has talent and that the staff in place can lead them to better days. Now they get their chance on their terms. John Reagan can call whatever offense he wants and use whatever players he sees fit. Bowen can do things the Jayhawk way and the way he's always known to work. And the rest of the coaches will get a ton of freedom and support from Bowen to coach the way they coach as long as they're willing to work hard and within the framework of the blueprint Bowen talked about Monday. It's a tough deal to completely shift gears like this at this point in the season and Bowen knows that. That's why he's going to lean on his talented staff as much as possible to help make the transition as smooth as it can be.
It's a risky proposition to make too much of an introductory press conference, but the one that went down at the KU football complex today was at least enough different than all the others that came before to make me wonder if this day will go down as a turning point for Kansas football.
KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was introduced as the interim head coach this morning in Mrkonic Auditorium, and you could tell in 2 seconds what the moment meant to him.
Bowen was equal parts emotional, entertaining, witty and serious during the 20 minutes he spoke to the media, and he left many in the room believing that, at least for the next nine weeks, KU football was in pretty good hands.
Bowen's team — and make no mistake about it, this is Bowen's team for the rest of the 2014 season — will play tough, smart, energetic football and they'll have fun doing it. They'll represent KU the way Bowen has since he was a young boy sneaking into games at Memorial Stadium to watch some of his childhood idols, and Bowen will give everything he has to the program during his audition for the real deal. If he wins at all, he'll have a great chance at getting the interim tag removed. If not, well, he'll rest easy knowing he got his shot and gave it all he had.
Maybe that's what KU needs right now — a guy like Bowen, who will vow not to rest until things get better. Charlie Weis worked hard. And KU fans should forever be thankful for that, regardless of how things went on the field. But he wasn't a Kansas guy. KU didn't mean to Weis what it means to Bowen, and the same can be said about Turner Gill as well, save for the working hard part.
When Mark Mangino was forced out after one of the most successful stints in KU football history after the 2009 season, the Jayhawks paid a heavy price for the administration making the wrong move. Mangino did not deserve to be dismissed and, if you're one that believes in karma, it's easy to say that struggles and shellackings of the past four-plus seasons have been exactly that.
Maybe KU football was a little bit cursed. Maybe the Curse of the Mangino was to Kansas what the Curse of the Bambino was to the Boston Red Sox. But, instead of having to wait 86 years for the fog to be lifted, maybe Kansas only had to wait five.
Even if Bowen doesn't win and even if he's not the next full-time head coach at Kansas, it's possible that what he does during the next nine weeks will be enough to put the KU football train back on the right track.
In some ways, it seems like that's already happened. There's a different vibe around the building. Doors that were closed are now open. A larger portion of practice will be open to the media and the access to the players and coaches will be greater.
Beyond that, Bowen said he wanted to give the program back to the KU football family and emphasized that all former players are welcome in the building and at practice, no questions asked.
Those are all good first steps. Now all Bowen has to do is make the product on the field match the mood in the building and the vibe of the people close to the program. Only then will people entertain the idea that things might finally be different.
With Charlie Weis officially out as the Kansas University head coach after a little over two seasons in which the Jayhawks struggled to a 6-22 record, it's time to turn our attention to yet another coaching search, the program's third since 2009.
During the past two searches, bigger names and hot candidates dominated the days and weeks leading up to the hires of Weis and Turner Gill before him.
KU was oh-so-close to hiring Jim Harbaugh before former athletic director Lew Perkins handed Gill the job. And, when Perkins' successor, Sheahon Zenger, hit the trail to find Gill's replacement, Zenger criss-crossed the country and talked with dozens of candidates, known and unknown, before settling on Weis.
Don't expect the same type of high-profile names to dominate this search. In fact, don't be surprised if this one has a significant KU flare to it, both in the form of several of the top candidates to replace Weis having ties to Kansas, and, in the form of Zenger using all of his Kansas football resources, from current staff members, both in the administration and on the coaching staff, to Jayhawk legends, a la John Hadl, and former Jayhawks, like Darrell Stuckey and Banks Floodman.
That's not to say Zenger won't reach out and at least talk to some of the hotter up-and-coming coaches out there — particularly younger guys with great energy — but all signs point to the initial list being packed with names very familiar to KU fans.
With that in mind, here's our first stab at a list of possible Weis replacements. If you're looking for the Chris Petersens, Kevin Sumlins and Jim Harbaughs of the world, you might be better served to follow a coaching search at a different school.
• DAVID BEATY, 43, Texas A&M University wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Made $359,500 in 2013
Why it makes sense: A Texas native and former high school coach in the Lone Star State, Beaty's ties to recruiting in Texas are as good as any coach in America and he's worked under and learned from some big-time coaches, including former KU coach Mark Mangino and current A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. His previous stints at Kansas (2008-09 and 2011) made him very familiar with what it takes to succeed at Kansas and his relationships with several current members of the KU staff would present an opportunity for Kansas to maintain some stability while making a transition at the top.
Why it might not happen: Beaty's name will come up elsewhere, with the open job at SMU potentially being the biggest competitor for his services. It's possible that he'd like his first stab at being the head coach to be at a place where winning is more manageable than it is right now at Kansas in the ultra-tough Big 12 Conference.
• ED WARINNER, 53, Ohio State University co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Made $370,800 in 2013
Why it makes sense: Warinner is ready. After working for Mark Mangino (Kansas), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Urban Meyer (Ohio State) at his past three stops, the Strasburg, Ohio, native who, in 2012, was named by Rivals.com as one of the nation's 20 hottest assistants, is ready to take a stab at running his own program. In addition, a return to Kansas likely would energize a fan base that associates Warinner with KU's recent glory days led by Todd Reesing and KU's high-powered offense.
Why it might not happen: Although he's worked at some big-time programs and for some big-time head coaches, Warinner does not have head coaching experience and some believe that could hurt him given the magnitude of the rebuilding project at KU.
• JOHN REAGAN, 43, KU offensive coordinator
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: $250,000-$275,000 per year
Why it makes sense: It's only a matter of time before Reagan becomes a head coach and there are many people out there who believe part of his return to KU was with that in mind. Well versed in running the spread offense that dominates college football and mentored by a couple of incredibly successful coaches (former KU coach Mark Mangino and Rice's David Baliffe), Reagan has been around winning, knows what it takes at Kansas and has strong recruiting ties in Texas.
Why it might not happen: A lack of head coaching experience could hurt given the timing of this hire and, with KU's offense struggling so far this season — even though blame for that goes well beyond Reagan — naming Reagan the head coach could be a tougher sell than it would have been if the Jayhawks were flying high and lighting up scoreboards.
• CLINT BOWEN, 42, KU defensive coordinator
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: $200,000
Why it makes sense: There are few people on the planet who care as much about this program as Bowen, who grew up cheering for the Jayhawks, later played safety at Memorial Stadium and has coached at KU under four different head coaches. There's no question that he'd be willing to put the time, effort and energy into rebuilding the program and his familiarity with the Big 12 would be huge. The fact that he inherited the interim tag for the rest of the season could be viewed as a first step in an audition for the real thing.
Why it might not happen: No head coaching experience hurts and Bowen's still a little young for such a position. There's some belief that his turn in the head coach's office at KU might still be a hire away.
• TIM BECK, 48, Nebraska offensive coordinator
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Made $700,000 in 2013
Why it makes sense: Beck’s Nebraska offense ranks fifth in the country with 594.3 yards per game. When Ed Warinner was brought back to Kansas by Mark Mangino to run a spread offense, Tim Beck, then the wide receivers coach for Mangino, played a key role in helping Warinner to install it because Beck had more experience with the offense. He worked two years as a graduate assistant under Bill Snyder, so he has known the Kansas landscape for a long time. He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, a famous coaching cradle on the opposite side of the state line from Mangino. Beck knows offense, knows Kansas and knows the Big 12. He also knows how to bring a football program back from the depths. In his first assignment as a head coach, at Saguaro High in Scottsdale, Arizona, Beck inherited a program that had gone 5-43 in the previous five years. In his third year at Saguaro, the school won the state title and his record at the school was 23-4.
Why it might not happen: Beck’s only head-coaching experience has come at the high school level. He does not have high name recognition with the average KU football fan, so his teams will have to draw crowds the old-fashioned way, by steadily improving and playing competitive football, even in losses.
• ERIC KIESAU, 41, KU wide receivers coach
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Made $400,004 in 2013 at Washington, likely makes between $150,000 and $200,000 at KU.
Why it makes sense: Although he is in just his first season with the Jayhawks, Kiesau's past experience make him a viable candidate for just about any opening in the country. His time at offensive coordinator at Colorado and Washington make him familiar with two very important regions — Big 12 and Pac-12 country — and his track record of developing top-notch wide receivers everywhere he's been speaks for itself. Kiesau, who by all accounts is as humble as they come, is highly intelligent, loves to study the game and knows how to motivate his athletes to perform at their peak ability.
Why it might not happen: One season at Kansas — under Weis, no less — might not have enough juice behind it to get him the job. Had he still been the offensive coordinator at Washington or Colorado, Kiesau would likely be a sought-after commodity for several openings. But does his handful of months in Kansas as a position coach position him well enough for a jump to the top of the ladder?
• DAVE DOEREN, 42, North Carolina State University head coach
Record at school: 3-9 in first season, 4-1 this season
Current salary: $2.55 million
Why it makes sense: Doeren spent time at KU under Mangino and grew up in Kansas City. He knows what it takes to win at Kansas and he understands the culture. Was a huge player in recruiting a good chunk of KU’s 2007 Orange Bowl team and also has been praised by many as one of the bright, young defensive minds in the game based on his highly successful stint as Wisconsin’s co-defensive coordinator.
Why it might not happen: Because it won't.
• JIM LEAVITT, 57, Linebackers coach San Francisco 49ers
Record at school: 95-57 in 13 seasons at South Florida
Current salary: Not available
Why it makes sense: Leavitt and Zenger are close, having spent time at Kansas State and South Florida together and Zenger has long been a fan of Leavitt's toughness and ability to build a program. With the future of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh on unstable ground, Leavitt could be looking to make a move sooner rather than later.
Why it might not happen: Dismissed from USF for improper treatment of players, Leavitt's past may be too closely tied to Mangino's for the KU administration to pull the trigger. It's also probably worth noting that Leavitt played his college football and started his coaching career at Missouri.
• JIM HARBAUGH, 50, Head coach San Francisco 49ers
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: $5 million per season
Why it makes sense: Depending upon what you believe, Harbaugh was this close to becoming KU's coach before the Jayhawks hired Turner Gill. Things fell apart at the last minute and he moved on to San Francisco, where, despite making an appearance in the 2013 Super Bowl, Harbaugh and the 49ers are no longer in such bliss. Disagreements exist between the head coach and front office over Harbaugh's decisions and the way the team is being run and there are plenty who believe that Harbaugh will not return to the Bay Area after this season. Beyond that, a big selling point last team was the ability to return his wife and family to the Kansas City area, where his wife grew up. Maybe the timing is right this time?
Why it might not happen: All of the rumors and speculation out there surrounding how close Harbaugh came to being hired the last time could be a major distraction and it's possible that even if he were interested the fit just would not seem right. In addition, there's always the Michigan angle and there are web sites out there that already are tracking Harbaugh Watch and the former Wolverine quarterback's potential return to his alma mater.
• CHAD MORRIS, 46, Clemson University offensive coordinator
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Made $1.3 million in 2013
Why it makes sense: Clemson's offenses have been one of the most explosive attacks in the country under Morris, who took over in 2011 after one season as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Before that, Morris coached high school football in Texas for 15 seasons, including a stint at Lake Travis High, which produced former Jayhawk great Todd Reesing. The ties to Texas and his college success make him as good a candidate as exists for just about any job in the country. The pluses beyond that include his age, energy and huger to prove himself as a head coach.
Why it might not happen: Morris entered 2013 as the highest paid college football assistant in the country and there is talk that the Jayhawks are not looking to pay nearly as much as they have with the past two guys this time around. Would Morris take the same money he makes now to take over the risky position of being the KU head coach or would he wait for a better, higher-paying opportunity?
• BUTCH DAVIS, 62, Former NFL and college football coach
Record at school: N/A
Current salary: Not available
Why it makes sense: With strong ties to important KU recruiting territories of Oklahoma and Texas, Davis would bring instant credibility and a big name to the position. His track record — college head coach at Miami (Florida) and North Carolina and NFL head coach with Cleveland — gives him more experience than anybody on this list and his time prior to becoming a head coach was spent at the high school and college ranks in Big 12 country. Davis' name surfaced briefly during each of the past two searches at Kansas, so maybe the third time would be the charm?
Why it might not happen: It's possible that the Oklahoma native just might not be interested. He's been out of the coaching spotlight since 2010 and, at 62, may be on the older side for what KU needs and is looking for.
The Kansas University football team has navigated its way through the non-conference portion of its schedule — some moments good, some moments bad — and is now headed into Big 12 play for the rest of the season.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at where the Jayhawks rank nationally in a few dozen different statistical categories.
Keep in mind that, because of their Week 1 bye, the Jayhawks have played just three games while much of the rest of the country already has played four games. That fact impacts most categories in at least some small way and is worth remembering.
I was surprised to see that KU has nearly just as many decent rankings on the offensive side of the ball as on defense, though not all of them are the most critical stats. Overall, KU currently ranks in the Top 50 (of 125 FBS teams) in three offensive categories and six defensive categories.
Here's a look at where the 2-1 Jayhawks stand in the most popular categories on offense defense, special teams and miscellaneous.
Kansas opens Big 12 play at 3 p.m. Saturday against 1-2 Texas at Memorial Stadium.
Total offense – Tied for 90th (374.3 ypg)
Scoring offense – Tied for 107th (20.3 ppg)
Rushing offense – 41st (200.3 ypg)
Passing offense – 106th (174 ypg)
Completion percentage – 99th .552 (48-for-87)
3rd-down conversion percentage – 96th .353 (18-for-51)
4th-down conversion percentage – 101st .250 (1-for-4)
First downs offense – 118th (52 1st downs)
Fumbles lost – Tied for 1st (0)
Interceptions thrown – Tied for 59th (3)
Red zone offense – Tied for 97th .750 (6-for-8)
Sacks allowed – Tied for 66th (2 spg)
Tackles for loss allowed – Tied for 57th (5.3 per game)
Team passing efficiency – 92nd (117.6 rating; Oregon ranks first at 211.3)
Turnovers lost – Tied for 18th (3)
Total defense – Tied for 78th (403.7 ypg)
Rushing defense – 92nd (185.3 ypg)
Scoring defense – 81st (26.3 ppg)
3rd-down conversion defense – 36th .326 (14-for-43)
4th-down conversion defense – 110th .800 (4-for-5)
First downs defense – Tied for 20th (55 opponent 1st downs)
Fumbles recovered – Tied for 58th (2)
Passes intercepted – Tied for 32nd (4)
Passing yards allowed – Tied for 49th (218.3)
Passing yards per completion – 88th (10.88)
Red zone defense – Tied for 33rd .750 (6-for-8)
Team passing efficiency defense – 79th (130.4; Oregon State ranks first at 67.02)
Team sacks – Tied for 95th (1.33 spg)
Team tackles for loss – Tied for 56th (6 per game)
Turnovers gained – Tied for 47th (6)
Blocked kicks – None
Blocked kicks allowed – Tied for 84th (1)
Blocked punts – None
Blocked punts allowed – Tied for 1st (0)
Kickoff return defense – Tied for 86th (22 ypr)
Kickoff returns – 22nd (25.3 ypr)
Net punting – 19th (41.4 ypp)
Punt return defense – 68th (7.9 ypr)
Punt returns – 17th (17.3 ypr)
Fewest penalties – Tied for 77th (24)
Fewest penalties per game – Tied for 103rd (8)
Fewest penalty yards – 84th (219)
Fewest penalty yards per game – 104th (73)
Time of possession – 50th (30 mpg)
• Kansas Jayhawks (2-1) vs. Texas Longhorns (1-2)
3:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas
Three and out, with the Texas Longhorns...
You've probably heard a lot about Texas' stout defense already this week, and with good reason. The Longhorns are among the nation's leaders in several defensive categories, with their 13 sacks in three games (4.3 per game) ranking sixth in the country and their 322 yards against total ranking 26th.
Eleven different Longhorns have recorded a sack – compared with just four for Kansas — and defensive tackle Malcom Brown, whom KU coach Charlie Weis called one of the best players he's seen, period, leads the way with 3.5 sacks. Hassan Ridgeway is right there behind Brown with 3 sacks on the season.
This week will mark the Big 12 opener for first-year UT coach Charlie Strong, who took over for Mack Brown in the offseason. Texas is 15-3 in Big 12 openers, with the only losses coming to Oklahoma State in 1997 and Kansas State in both 1998 and 2007. The first of those K-State losses came on the road, while the 2007 setback came in Austin, Texas.
UT is 6-2 all-time in Big 12 openers on the road.
Kansas, meanwhile, is 5-12 all-time in Big 12 openers, including a 3-4 mark in Big 12 openers at home.
It's interesting to note that Strong was one of several names on the hot list for KU back in 2009 when the Jayhawks were looking for a replacement for Mark Mangino.
Then a defensive coordinator at Florida, Strong became one of the nation's hottest names because of the toughness and production shown by his Gator defenses in the SEC.
KU hired Turner Gill and Strong was hired Louisville that same offseason. With the Cardinals, Strong racked up an impressive 37-15 record, while guiding Louisville to four consecutive winning seasons and four consecutive bowl appearances.
After going 7-6 and 7-6 in his first two seasons, Strong won 23 of his final 26 games with the Cardinals, going 11-2 in 2012 and 12-1 in 2013. He was hired by Texas last January after a long and highly publicize search to replace Brown.
Like KU coach Charlie Weis when he took over at Kansas, Strong has endured some bumps and bruises in the early going and dismissed nine players from the team while suspending a few others. Weis said earlier this week that, while a coaching transition always has some similarities, the task that Strong is saddled with is significantly different.
“It's always tough to follow a legend,” Weis said. “When you go to Texas, following Mack Brown, what do you do? Are you going to come in and say, here's all the things Mack Brown was doing wrong? I mean, it's kind of tough to do that. I think that Charlie is doing it his way, and I think he feels comfortable doing it his way, and I believe that he believes that that's the only way to get it done the way he wants to get it done.”
Saturday's meeting will be the 14th all-time between these two programs, with the Longhorns owning an 11-2 advantage.
UT has won 11 straight in the series, a streak that includes every match-up as Big 12 foes and KU's lone victories over UT came in 1901 and 1938.
The Jayhawks had the Longhorns on the ropes two years ago in Lawrence, but a touchdown inside the game's final 20 seconds allowed Texas to escape Lawrence with a victory. It was a cool day in Lawrence that day, but not one anyone other than the Texas football staff would consider overly cold. The Longhorns shipped in their own heated benches for that game and then proceeded to watch James Sims and the Jayhawks run all over them before sneaking out of town with the victory.
In addition to owning a clear advantage in total victories, the Longhorns' average score in games against Kansas has been 43-14, and Texas is 5-2 in games played in Lawrence.
Here's a quick look back at a few grades from Saturday's 24-10 victory over Central Michigan....
Cozart completed 70 percent of his passes and pretty much did everything that was asked of him. He threw two touchdown passes and one interception (which wasn't his fault) and helped give the KU offense much better flow and rhythm than it had the week before against Duke. His performance didn't wow anybody, but, he executed the game plan well, got multiple receivers involved and made a couple of key throws when he had to. Given the conservative nature of the game plan, he played a solid game.
What can you say about this guy that does him any justice? Quiet. Under the radar. Hard worker. Not interested in headlines. All he does is go out there and play as hard as he can and make plays. Never was that more obvious than when he used his terrific instincts to blow up two CMU screen plays late in the game and, moments earlier, beat the would-be block of a CMU running back on his way to a monster sack. His play was fantastic, but it was his emotion that made the biggest impact. This was merely the latest big game from Love in a long line of them and it was cool to see him get some props for it.
King caught just three balls for 17 yards, with a long gain of 7 yards, but it was one of the most impressive three-catch, 17-yard games I've seen. It wasn't necessarily the stats that made King stand out, it was the way he went about getting them. The guy's a veteran. He's solid. He's where he's supposed to be. He runs good routes, flashes good hands and blocks when he's asked to block. Nothing about him is flashy, but, more important than that, nothing about him radiates anything but a polished player in control of his role and doing what he's asked to do. It's only a matter of time before King breaks through with a touchdown over the top.
The junior-college transfer who missed last season is still trying to adjust to Div. I football continues to look a step or two out of sync. Bolton still looks like he's thinking too much out there instead of playing on instincts and, on one play in the first half, he had CMU quarterback Cooper Rush dead to rights and instead of lowering the boom or wrapping him up, he simply reached out for him and watched the savvy Rush step up in the pocket right past him for a big gain. Bolton's still got time to get there and, he's still pretty raw. But he's definitely not there yet.
Arnick was everywhere on Saturday, finishing with four tackles, including one of the Jayhawk's three sacks. Known mostly for his speed an athleticism, Arnick showed he can get physical, too. Just a sophomore, the speedy Dallas native could make it hard for coaches to keep him off the field with more efforts like Saturday's. As Weis put it, “Arnick showed up today.”
A couple of false start penalties and one play where he leaked downfield a tick early made for a long afternoon for Mazyck. He was starting his first game in place of right tackle Damon Martin, who was out with an illness, and nobody knew Martin would miss the game until late in the week so Mazyck didn't have a ton of time to work with the knowledge that he would be the guy. Weis said Mazyck's made great progress in terms of his conditioning since his arrival. Now it's time for him to take a step forward in his execution.
UNIT GRADES --- in 10 words or less...
Pass Offense: B- Nothing fancy, but fancy not needed.
Run Offense: C- Line struggled and backs never really got going.
Pass Defense: B- Couple of missed sacks led to big completions.
Run Defense: B+ CMU averaged 2.9 ypc and gained just 101 yards.
Special Teams: C A couple decent returns, but another missed field goal.
Most Impressive Unit: Linebackers – Jake Love, Ben Heeney and Courtney Arnick were among KU's best players on defense on Saturday and, together, they combined for 16 tackles, seven for loss and two sacks.
Least Impressive Unit: Offensive Line – Good thing the gameplan was for Cozart to get rid of the ball quickly, because, if it hadn't been, Cozart might have been on his back a lot. The line was pushed back often, struggled to open holes for the KU running backs and looked a little out of sorts with first-time starters Larry Mazyck and Bryan Peters filling in for Damon Martin and Mike Smithburg, who missed the game with medical issues.
MVP: WR Tony Pierson. There's no telling what kind of game this would've been if KU didn't jump out to that early lead on the first play of the game. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they didn't have to find out.
Hidden Heroes: OL Pat Lewandowski and Ngalu Fusimalohi. With the right side of the offensive line being held down by second stringers, the left side stepped up both in protecting Cozart and in opening what few holes there were for KU's backs to run. Never was that more evident than on Pierson's opening TD run and on Lewandowski's freeing block on Corey Avery's game-icing touchdown reception.
Better Luck Next Time: PK Matthew Wyman. The sophomore missed yet another field goal. His misses in the first two games were excusable. One was blocked from 50-plus and the other, also from 50-plus, was a desperation try just before halftime. Saturday's miss came from 35 yards out at a critical moment late in the third quarter. Wyman's been OK so far this year, but KU can't afford for its kicker to miss much, particularly now that Big 12 play is upon us.
There were plenty of mixed reactions to Saturday's 24-10 KU victory over Central Michigan at Memorial Stadium, but there's no questioning how much the win meant to the players.
Whether it was their jubilation on the field after big plays — Michael Reynolds' strip fumble of the quarterback, Jake Love's monster fourth quarter and JaCorey Shepherd's game-clinching interception come to mind first — or their celebration in front of the fans or in the locker room after the game, these guys got exactly what they needed yesterday, regardless of how pretty or ugly it was at times.
Several Jayhawks said after the game that the goal was to be 2-1 by the end of the day and they got there. Now the real work begins and the Jayhawks are in big-time need of taking some major steps forward in a hurry.
KU coach Charlie Weis said he liked the way Saturday's game was a “slugfest” because he knows the Jayhawks are going to have to get into a few more games like it the rest of the way if they hope to pick up another victory during ultra-tough Big 12 Conference play. KU started fast, finished strong and, regardless of how good or bad you think Central Michigan is, the Jayhawks found a way to make some plays to truly earn a victory, something that could do wonders for their confidence and overall vibe for the near future. It was far from perfect and there were still several of areas of concern, but the outcome is all that matters today, especially because these guys know it wasn't their best effort and they realize that they still have a ton of work to do. You can't blame them for celebrating a win. As wide receiver Justin McCay said, “wins are tough to come by.”
1 – It was a make-or-break week for QB Montell Cozart and he did enough to keep hope alive. By no means did Cozart look like an All-American out there, but he made the throws he was asked to make, looked pretty comfortable doing it and even made a couple of bigger, tougher throws in the second half. It was exactly the kind of performance Cozart needed — much closer to the first half vs. SEMO than last week vs. Duke — and it seemed exactly like the kind of game plan KU's offense should employ week in and week out with Cozart as the trigger man.
2 – Tony Pierson, man. He didn't do much after the opening touch of the game (mostly because he wasn't given a ton of opportunities after that), but boy was that 74-yard touchdown run significant. I talked to Tony after the game about his desire to try to hit that home run every time he touches it and he said that's the case more than ever now that he's playing wide receiver. He said they really emphasized taking the three- or four-yard gains and being OK with that when he was a running back, but it seems as if everyone's more than comfortable with him trying to take it to the house at his current position. Saturday showed why, yet again.
3 – The Jayhawks' defense got good pressure from their front seven. Forget the opponent for a minute, this team needed to see some positive things happen on defense from somewhere other than the secondary. Thanks to Michael Reynolds, Courtney Arnick and Jake Love, who all recorded sacks, they got just that. KU finished with those three sacks and a whopping 10 tackles for losses along with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. It didn't shock the world and it won't scare the Big 12, but it came at just the right time for these guys who needed a breakthrough to believe that their hard work and effort were worth it and to take some confidence into the weeks ahead.
1 – KU's conservative offense limited Nick Harwell. The senior wide receiver who is oh so dangerous with the ball in his hands was limited to just three catches for 11 yards, this just one week after catching two balls for eight yards at Duke. Right now, it's understandable for KU to try to limit Cozart's load and make the game easy for him. But they're going to need Harwell if they want to have a chance in the Big 12. KU OC John Reagan did show some creativity by giving the ball to Harwell on a reverse that gained five yards, and, if they're going to have to keep being careful with Cozart, they're also going to have to keep thinking of different ways to get Harwell involved.
2 – KU's running game showed very little in this one. Beyond the 74-yard run by Pierson on the game's opening play, the Jayhawks gained just 64 rushing yards the rest of the way. Take away the long runs by the team's top two backs — De'Andre Mann had a 14-yard burst and Corey Avery topped out at 10 yards — and you're looking at just 40 yards on 33 carries. Sure, the entire right side of the offensive line missed this one because of medical issues, but you'd still like to see the Jayhawks be good enough running left to be able to put together a better effort, particularly against Central Michigan.
3 – It's the little things that matter. The Jayhawks missed a field goal for the third game in a row and also committed eight penalties, several of which were simply mental errors like false starts or holding on a fair catch. Neither of those things can happen if the Jayhawks hope to have any chance in the Big 12.
KU's victory over the Chippewas that improved the Jayhawks to 2-1...
• Pushed KU's advantage in the KU-CMU series to 2-0.
• Improved Kansas to 578-590-58 all-time.
• Featured the Jayhawks converting a season-high 47 percent of their third downs (9-for-19).
• Marked the second time this season that the KU defense held its opponent to three-and-out on its opening drive.
The Jayhawks will welcome Big 12 foe Texas to town for Homecoming on Saturday at 3 p.m. to kickoff conference play. The Longhorns (1-2) have struggled so far under first-year coach Charlie Strong and are coming off of their first bye of the season.
He entered the season hoping for a monster season, one that would show off the blood, sweat and tears he put into fine-tuning his skills and reshaping his body in the offseason.
Yet, so far, through two games, KU senior Keon Stowers has just seven tackles and a half tackle for a loss.
Not the numbers the former Georgia Military standout was hoping for, but the lack of production has hardly been all Stowers' fault.
See, when you start to make a name for yourself as a disruptive force, particularly on the defensive line, then other teams start to gameplan around you and try to do whatever they can to take you out of the action. In some cases, teams run away from a big-time tackler. Think Green Bay's Clay Matthews or Denver's Von Miller. Other times, teams run right at those same guys in hopes of neutralizing their momentum and making them react to something coming right at them instead of having time to rev up their engines to make a play.
In the case of Stowers, KU's 6-foot-3, 297-pound nose tackle, it's double-teams that have been the weapon of choice for KU's opponents.
Take the Duke game alone. In that one, the Kansas defense was on the field for 77 snaps. Stowers played 47 of those. And of those 47 snaps, he was double-teamed by two Duke offensive linemen 27 times, that's more than half of the plays.
Stowers has handled the extra attention well, even if he has been a little frustrated that it has prevented him from bringing down ball carriers. But even though he knows his occupying blockers is a good thing for the KU defense, he's still grown a little tired of the constant pounding.
“I am. I am,” he said. “But I really just feel like I could be in a tackle position where I'd be matched up with a tackle and get more production there. But I do a lot of things that go unnoticed like holding the double team so (linebacker Ben) Heeney and other guys can get in there. I do get tired of it, but that's my job.”
Because KU's defensive line is full of unproven players, it makes sense that Stowers would become the focal point of opposing offenses, and he, the KU coaching staff and the rest of the guys next to him in the trenches expected it when the season began.
“We're a little thin at the D-Line,” Stowers said. “We accept that. We know that. We're not gonna be naive to it.”
Stowers said he was hopeful that things would change a little bit this weekend, when the Jayhawks face Central Michigan at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Without divulging any details, the big man from Rock Hill, South Carolina, said the coaches had experimented with moving him around to different spots this week in hopes of freeing him up to make more plays.
“I've been lickin' my chops,” he said. “I really like my chances with this game and I've been studying the guards and the center and the tackle and I'm ready to play end, nose, tackle, wherever they put me at. Anything. I'm ready.”
As unselfish as any player on the roster, Stowers wanted to be sure to emphasize that all of this talk about him being double-teamed (something that I asked him to talk about, he didn't just bring it up on his own) was not even close to the most important thing on his mind right now.
That, he said, was helping Kansas find a way to bounce back from last week's debacle at Duke and getting back on the winning track.
“This is perfect timing,” he said of the expected physical match-up with CMU. “It's gonna give us the chance to not only be physical and not only show what we can do, but also to bounce back from a disappointing loss and not only put (Duke) away but to bury it.”
Clearly, that's the goal, but, because of the way things have gone in the past, there's at least part of these guys that can't help but wonder what things might be like if the outcome does not go that way. Stowers had no problem admitting that.
“If we go out there and lose, then it could be a situation where we start thinking, 'Uh oh, shoot. It's about to start.'”
That's not what anyone in crimson and blue, including Stowers, is expecting to see unfold this weekend, though.
“(This week) was one of our best Tuesday practices,” Stowers said. “We were flying around. Coach (Charlie) Weis was up moving more than usual and he was more involved. Mentally, we're past (Duke) and we're ready to beat Central Michigan.”