Another exhibition season is in the books for the Kansas University men's basketball team and like most exhibition seasons that came before it, the Jayhawks learned a little, questioned a lot and got a few of the kinks worked out before kicking off the regular season against tougher competition and under more intense conditions.
KU coach Bill Self made no secret of the fact that he does not put too much stock into what happens in these exhibition games and he made it clear that he's not an easy guy to impress in games like this, where the Jayhawks are far superior to their opponent in size, speed, depth and overall talent.
Take Tuesday's effort by freshman forward Cliff Alexander, for example, in KU's 109-56 victory over Emporia State.
Self said Alexander did not play well enough to score the 12 points he did, but got most of his buckets off of easy dunks and nice efforts by his teammates to set him up.
That's not to say he doesn't get some credit for his 12 points and 6 rebounds in 13 minutes, but it's also not to say he's the early leader for national freshman of the year. Somewhere in between is more likely.
I said it after the last game and I think it holds true after this one as well. The most important part of the exhibition schedule is not to see what kinds of numbers guys can put up but how guys play together, how they perform in front of a live crowd and how ready they are for the season. There were plenty of good moments and bad in both exhibition games, but the real answers to those questions will become a little clearer starting Friday night.
In addition to all of the nit-picky coaching ploys, Self also pointed out perhaps the most important aspect of these exhibition games and that's that they give the young guys a chance to have some success and gain some confidence. Very few of KU's games, if any, will be as easy as Tuesday night's game was, but Alexander, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kelly Oubre and even guys like Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucas were able to experience domination, finishing plays and feeling the love from the Allen Fieldhouse faithful. It may sound ridiculous to say those types of things are an adjustment, but even the good things take some getting used to and these young Jayhawks now have had a small taste.
1 – Any time you can put eight guys in double figures, that's a good night. I don't care who it comes against. And here's why: It proves that you've got an unselfish team that plays together and plays for the best/right shots, not just a bunch of individuals looking to get theirs. Any number of these guys probably could've scored 30 last night, but their unselfishness — and, of course, the substitution pattern — spread the wealth and allowed a lot of guys to leave the gym feeling good about their efforts instead of just two or three.
2 – Brannen Greene looked incredibly active on the offensive end, both in terms of looking for his shot and going after the offensive boards and loose balls. This was a great sign for two reasons: 1. Greene's coming off of a head injury and looked to be fine. 2. The more he can “plug himself in” to all aspects of the game and not just float around as a shooter/scorer, the greater his chances become of being a regular part of the rotation.
3 – KU drastically improved its free throw shooting in this one, which was pretty much a lock to predict but still good to see. After knocking in just 50 percent from the line against Washburn last week, the Jayhawks hit 25 of 32 free throws (78 percent) vs. Emporia State and looked a lot less rusty every time they stepped to the line. They focused on this a little in practice and, clearly it worked, but Self has always said he's never been a big fan of spending too much practice time on free throw shooting so it's clear that these guys took it as a personal challenge to improve the stat.
1 – Self said it and we already alluded to it above, but Cliff Alexander clearly was a little off against the Hornets. Maybe he was just trying too hard or pressing too much, but after sitting for nearly the first 10 minutes of the game, Alexander came in and missed a shot he forced, traveled on another possession and picked up two quick fouls. He eventually settled down and rocked the rim a few times to finish with a pretty good line, but the thing worth focusing on was not his numbers against inferior talent but why he sat so long before coming in.
2 – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started but did not do much to take advantage of the opportunity. He missed four of five shots — which happens — and picked up three boards, two turnovers and two assists in 18 minutes. He looks great at times, especially defensively and any time he releases a jumper, but also did not go all-out after a few loose balls and looked a little sloppy handling the ball. It wouldn't surprise me for a second if this was just because of the nerves associated with starting for the first time. These guys are all still young, but especially Mykhailiuk.
3 – The Jayhawks dominated the glass — 45-29 — but still gave up 10 offensive boards to an undersized ESU team. Some of them were just loose ball pick-ups and the like, but there were a couple of moments, especially in the first half, when the Hornets got second- and third-chance opportunities.
KU's 109-56 runaway victory over Emporia State...
• Made Kansas 65-9 in exhibition games.
• Extended KU’s home exhibition winning streak to 42 games, dating back to the 1994 season.
• Upped Kansas’ all-time record against Emporia State to 20-3 in favor of the Jayhawks, including 7-0 in exhibition games.
• Improved head coach Bill Self to a 33-2 record in exhibition games at Kansas, including 24-0 in home exhibition contests.
• Made KU 56-4 in exhibition games inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks officially will open the 2014-15 season Friday night at 7 p.m. against UC-Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse.
Saturday afternoon marked just the ninth victory in the career of KU linebacker Ben Heeney and the senior captain could not have cared less about it because it felt like a million bucks.
The biggest reason for that, Heeney said, was because it marked interim head coach Clint Bowen's first career victory as the KU leader and that's something these players have been battling for since Bowen took over for Charlie Weis in late September.
That was by far the biggest storyline on Saturday night, as the statistics, big-time plays, ebbs and flows of the game tiny details all took a backseat to Bowen's big win. Players, staff members, fans and family celebrated the victory with great joy and, although some probably thought the whole scene was a bit of overkill given the fact that the win came against a 2-7 team, nobody in crimson and blue was apologizing for it and you can't take away the fact that the Jayhawks played very well from the opening whistle to secure their third victory of the season.
The road gets harder from here — flat-out frightening, in fact — but several guys said last year's upset win over West Virginia that snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing skid breathed new life into the program and helped them approach the final weeks of the season with new hope and confidence. It didn't wind up mattering, but that team wasn't led by Bowen.
The Jayhawks beat a bad football team on Saturday afternoon, but they did so convincingly and were clearly the better, more confident, more talented football team. The way things have gone for Kansas football lately, bad team or not, a win is worth celebrating, particularly when that win comes as a result of the Jayhawks playing well. They did so in just about every facet of the game on Saturday and showed a little glimpse into why they had such high hopes for this season when it began two months ago.
1 – Because everyone else was. The haters, skeptics, die-hard fans and cautiously optimistic followers of the KU football program all saw eye-to-eye for a few minutes after Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State. The mistakes didn't matter, the scary moments in the third quarter were irrelevant and the nasty schedule that lies ahead was not on anyone's mind. All that mattered was the joy and smiles and celebrations on the field, in the locker room and around the stadium for a group of players, coaches and fans who absolutely deserved an outcome like the one they got on Saturday. I'm sure the differing viewpoints have sorted themselves out again by now, but at least for a while, everyone involved with KU football had a chance to be on the same winning page.
2 – The KU defense was nasty and guys not named Ben Heeney made plays all over the place. Sure, Heeney led the team with seven tackles and played his usual all-over-the-place type of game, but half a dozen other guys on the KU defense out-shined their leader in this one and that made things nearly impossible for the Cyclones. JaCorey Shepherd (5 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 1 interception) was as good as he's ever been, Dexter McDonald held up his end of the bargain on the other side of the field, Victor Simmons (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass break-up) had the game of his life, Jake Love had a sack and a pass break-up, Courtney Arnick had five tackles, one for a loss and two pass break-ups and Michael Reynolds had another sack and forced fumble and continued his stellar streak of games. In short, this defense played the way you would expect to see from a defense that listed “being the top defense” in the Big 12 as one of its goals before the season began. Sure, it was against a struggling offense and their back-up quarterback, but they still delivered time after time after time.
3 – KU's offense featured all kinds of play-makers, but few were as impressive as junior receiver Nigel King. King finished with 101 yards on five receptions and made arguably the biggest catch of the game, a 42-yard grab on third-and-19 that set up a touchdown that pushed KU's lead from 24-14 to 31-14 and essentially served as the knockout blow. King got open all afternoon, was tough to bring down and used his incredibly strong hands to rip the ball out of the air when it came his way. The Jayhawks are losing a lot of offensive players from this year's team, but having King back next season will be huge.
1 – Senior offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi left the game with some sort of right leg injury and it's not yet known how serious the injury is. The last place the Jayhawks can afford to lose a starter is on the offensive line, but that's especially true of Fusimalohi, who has started every game since arriving in Lawrence and is one of the Jayhawks' strongest players in the trenches.
2 – KU's kickoff return game still looks sub-par. JaCorey Shepherd is a dynamic player and a great athlete and I can't imagine that the Jayhawks' issues here rest with him. It just seems that every time the Jayhawks return a kickoff they struggle mightily to get it back to the 20 yard line, and that's whether they take it from the goal line or the 6 or 7. It doesn't make sense. But it has to be some sort of breakdown in the blocking in front of Shepherd because he almost always runs into a wall of three or four coverage guys before reaching the 20.
3 – It's easy to look at what Michael Cummings has done in the past four or five games and be happy for the guy and impressed by his ability, toughness and heart. It's equally as easy to look at Cummings and exhale violently when it hits you that, if just given a chance, this guy could have been a difference maker for the past couple of KU teams. Cummings isn't the best quarterback in the league and he'll never catch your eye as someone you desperately want to have as your quarterback, but he's a gamer and he's been considerably better in the past five weeks than anything KU's put out there in a long time and you can't help but wonder how much farther along he'd be if he'd been given this kind of chance a little earlier.
Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State...
• Pushed KU into a tie for eighth place in the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders own the tiebreaker and neither eighth or ninth place is worth bragging about, but it would be a small sign of progress.
• Improved KU's lead in the series to 50-38-6, including a 28-16-3 advantage in games played in Lawrence.
• Moved Kansas to 579-595-58 all-time.
• Gave KU just its third Big 12 Conference victory in the post-Mark Mangino era (41 games).
KU will face arguably its biggest test of the season when No. 6 TCU comes to town for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium and what will be the final home game in the careers of some pretty memorable KU seniors.
When the Denver Broncos, fresh off of last week's whipping at the hands of the New England Patriots, line up for the first defensive play of this weekend's game against Oakland, 27 percent of their starting lineup will be former Jayhawks.
Although Chris Harris and Aqib Talib — both on the Pro Bowl ballot — already are fixtures in the Broncos' starting lineup, the former KU standouts will make room to share the spotlight with linebacker Steven Johnson, a third-year pro who has played primarily special teams since joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
The Denver Post is reporting that Johnson will start in Nate Irving's spot at middle linebacker, as Irving left last week's loss with an injury and is expected to miss some time. Johnson has been in the Broncos' plans at LB for the past couple of years but mostly in a role as a luxury to have a guy like him for depth purposes. When asked to play, Johnson has delivered, but this weekend figures to be his first true crack at proving himself as a regular in the NFL.
While making the leap from seldom-used reserve to starter on a team vying for a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl could be overwhelming, at least one Bronco believes Johnson is ready and has been ready for the moment for a while.
"Stevey Johnson is going to be able to get the job done," Harris told The Denver Post. "He's been in our defense going on three years now. He has experience in there. He's been waiting for his shot. Now he has his shot. We've been needing him on special teams since he's been hurt, but now he has a shot to play and he has a chance to show what he can do."
For more on Johnson's likely move into the starting lineup, check out Post writer Mike Klis' report from Monday.
As has been the case throughout the past few weeks, interim KU coach Clint Bowen kicked off Wednesday's practice with a visit from a former Jayhawk. And this one meant a little more to Bowen than some of the others.
Charley Bowen, the older brother of the interim KU coach, was given the opportunity to talk to the team before Wednesday's practice and it was very clear by observing the head coach's actions that he was fired up for his big brother to speak to his squad.
During his introduction, Bowen highlighted a few of his brother's accolades — 44 starts, all-Big Eight honors, etc. — and then gave an inspired welcome as Charley stepped into the huddle to address the team.
After sharing a few words, most of which had to do with life after football and maximizing the opportunity these players had today, Charley was greeted by a rousing ovation, a few hugs and an energetic start to practice.
Charley told me it was the first time since 1992 that he had been on the practice field at Memorial Stadium. The only other KU practice he's been able to attend since then was in Arizona during the days leading up to the Insight Bowl in 2008.
Asked if being back on the field made him miss his playing days, Charley smiled and said simply, “You always miss it.”
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice as the Jayhawks continued preparations for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. showdown with Iowa State:
• Senior defensive tackle Keon Stowers did not practice, but was on the field and did all he could to be a part of the action. Unlike his teammates in pads, Stowers wore only shorts and a jersey, but that did not stop him from coaching up the guys who were out there getting the reps in his place. Whether it was during individual drills or during team action, Stowers always found time to offer a helping hand and seemed fully engaged in every aspect, just as if he would've been out there. Bowen said earlier this week that the team was hopeful that Stowers would play Saturday and it sounds as if that's still the case. The good news there? Stowers is such a veteran with so many games under his belt that he could probably miss most of practice and still get out there on Saturday provided he's physically ready.
• It's hard to say what to make of it, but senior tight end Trent Smiley ran some with the first team offense during Wednesday's practice. Known among KU's tight ends as a strong blocker, Smiley lined up in the backfield, at his regular tight end spot and on both sides of the formation during the portion of practice when he ran with the ones.
• As was reflected on this week's updated depth chart, sophomore linebacker Courtney Arnick ran with the first team defense in place of Jake Love, who has been dealing with an injury. Love practiced and should get plenty of reps and play plenty of snaps on Saturday, but Arnick is quietly putting together a pretty strong season. Arnick all of a sudden has the look of a player the Jayhawks will be fortunate to have back in the lineup in 2015. Should be interesting to see how strongly he finishes the final third of this year's schedule.
• Defensive backs coach Dave Campo was very vocal during Wednesday's practice and most of what Campo barked about had to do with the vision of his DBs. “Get your eyes right,” Campo continually yelled during one drill. During another, he simply yelled at one of his DBs, “Get your eyes off of him (the quarterback) and worry about your man.” Nothing Earth-shattering here, of course, but it's cool to see these types of little details emphasized on this level.
• Finally, in case you missed NY Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., doing his one-handed pregame routine during the Monday Night Football game last week, check out the video below. It's become sort of a viral video and on Wednesday a couple of Jayhawks were attempting to match the moves. One who came the closest, believe it or not, was Buck Michael Reynolds. Could an INT be in Reynolds' future this week???
It happens this way almost every year. As soon as the first exhibition game arrives and fans of Kansas University hoops get their first vision of the Jayhawks beating up an overmatched opponent inside Allen Fieldhouse, their minds wander toward the idea of whether this will be the year that Bill Self and company add another banner to the rafters.
Truth be told, this general way of thinking is really never absent around here, but it really revs up when the games begin and people can see for themselves just how dominant Cliff Alexander can be, athletic Kelly Oubre is and improved Frank Mason has become.
It's human nature, really. But there is, of course, a pseudo-scientific element to the question and that's where the good folks at online gambling site Bovada.lv enter the picture.
With the regular season opener now less than 10 days away — KU will play another tune-up next Tuesday against Emporia State at AFH — here's a quick look at the betting favorites to cut down the nets next April.
Somewhat surprisingly, KU's odds have gone down since they first released them last April. If anything, they've gone up in my mind, as this team appears to have the depth, talent, size and, of course, coaching to make a serious run.
Plenty of time to sort all that out, though. For now, here's a look at the Bovada odds as they stood as of Tuesday.
• Big 12 teams in italics
Team ---- Odds on April 28 ---- Current Odds
Kentucky ---- 5/1 ---- 7/2
Arizona ---- 16/1 ---- 9/1
Wisconsin ---- 12/1 ---- 9/1
Duke ---- 9/1 ---- 12/1
North Carolina ---- 16/1 ---- 12/1
Kansas ---- 14/1 ---- 18/1
Florida ---- 16/1 ---- 20/1
Gonzaga ---- 40/1 ---- 25/1
Iowa State ---- 33/1 ---- 25/1
Louisville ---- 25/1 ---- 25/1
Texas ---- 33/1 ---- 25/1
Villanova ---- 25/1 ---- 28/1
Wichita State ---- 28/1 ---- 28/1
Michigan ---- 33/1 ---- 33/1
Michigan State ---- 25/1 ---- 33/1
Syracuse ---- 33/1 ---- 40/1
VCU ---- 40/1 ---- 40/1
Virginia ---- 33/1 ---- 40/1
Ohio State ---- 50/1 ---- 50/1
San Diego State ---- 66/1 ---- 50/1
SMU ---- 33/1 ---- 50/1
UConn ---- 66/1 ---- 50/1
Iowa ---- 66/1 ---- 66/1
Oklahoma ---- 40/1 ---- 66/1
UCLA ---- 50/1 ---- 66/1
Pittsburgh ---- 100/1 ---- 75/1
Arkansas ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Baylor ---- 75/1 ---- 100/1
Florida State ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Georgetown ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Harvard ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Indiana ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Kansas State ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Marquette ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Maryland ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Memphis ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Miami FL ---- 66/1 ---- 100/1
Minnesota ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Nebraska ---- 66/1 ---- 100/1
Notre Dame ---- 150/1 ---- 100/1
Oregon ---- 50/1 ---- 100/1
Seton Hall ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
St. Louis ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Stanford ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Tennessee ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Cincinnati ---- 100/1 ---- 150/1
Providence ---- 150/1 ---- 150/1
UNLV ---- 100/1 ---- 150/1
Alabama ---- 200/1 ---- 200/1
Colorado ---- 75/1 ---- 200/1
Dayton ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
Georgia ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
Illinois ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
Missouri ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
NC State ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
New Mexico ---- 200/1 ---- 200/1
Oklahoma State ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
St. John's ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
Xavier ---- 250/1 ---- 250/1
Arizona State ---- 100/1 ---- 300/1
Auburn ---- Off the Board ---- 300/1
BYU ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
California ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Clemson ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Colorado State ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
Creighton ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
George Washington ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Georgia Tech ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
LSU ---- 100/1 ---- 300/1
Ole Miss ---- 150/1 ---- 300/1
Purdue ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
South Carolina ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
Texas A&M ---- 500/1 ---- 300/1
UMass ---- 150/1 ---- 300/1
USC ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Vanderbilt ---- 250/1 ---- 300/1
Boston College ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
Butler ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
DePaul ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
LaSalle ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Penn State ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Richmond ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
St. Joe's ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Texas Tech ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
Virginia Tech ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Wake Forest ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Washington ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
West Virginia ---- 200/1 ---- 500/1
No Andrew Wiggins, no Joel Embiid, no Naadir Tharpe? No problem.
Monday night, the new-look Kansas University men's basketball team unofficially got its season off to a strong start with an 85-53 victory over Washburn in its exhibition season opener.
Fifteen different Jayhawks played, 11 of them received minutes in the first half and several of the new guys KU fans were looking forward to seeing made impressive debuts.
For those keeping track at home, Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor made up KU's starting lineup, but freshmen Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played plenty of minutes and made impressive debuts.
It's unwise to try to take too much away from a game like this, but it was good to see a few of the new guys actually play in a game setting and enough happened — both good and bad — to get at least a small feel for where this team is heading into the 2014-15 season.
Yes, it was just an exhibition game against an overmatched opponent, but it still was hard not to marvel at all of that quality depth this KU team has. Whether you go position by position, unit by unit or first five and second five, KU coach Bill Self has some incredible options and flexibility that not only should help ensure that the Jayhawks can put guys on the floor each night who are locked in, but also should create some serious competition for playing time and improvement throughout the season.
1 – Cliff Alexander came out and played with a ton of confidence and effectiveness. He was almost always the biggest dude on the floor when he was out there, so that helped, but it wasn't so much his numbers — 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks in 17 minutes — that impressed as the way he got them. He was efficient, he played with passion, he showed great work ethic and some skills other than the power everyone already expected to see, most notably good hands and an ability to run the floor. If he brings that kind of effort every night — which will be tougher against better opponents — it's hard to see him starting many games on the bench.
2 – One year after having pretty limited options for much of the season, KU's depth appears to be back at the level the Jayhawks are used to. And that's without Conner Frankamp on the roster any longer. Self has so many options and so many lineups he can use and I can only imagine how much he enjoys that. What's more, though, that kind of depth helps keep Kansas in a position where fresh bodies are on the floor at all times. Washburn coach Bob Chipman talked about that after the game, specifically with regard to KU's defense. He said having the luxury of such incredible and talented depth really allows the guys on the floor to get after it defensively, without worrying about foul trouble or fatigue. Think of this Kansas team as a hockey squad, where short shifts and line changes are the norm and the guys go 100 percent at all times when they're out there.
3 – It looks like Perry Ellis may be a legitimate three-point threat. Ellis took three shots from downtown in this one, and made just one, but it was the way the shots came and not his success rate that was most impressive. Each time Ellis pulled the trigger, he did so without hesitation. The shots were there, he was side open and he stepped up and shot. If this is a more regular part of the junior big man's arsenal this year, it's only going to make the rest of his game that much more dangerous, regardless of the rate at which his three-point attempts are going in.
1 – KU shot just 50 percent from the free throw line in this one, knocking in 16 of 32 attempts. It wasn't a catastrophe because the score was so lopsided throughout the night that the Jayhawks did not need to have great success at the line to hold off the Ichabods. But it's still not the kind of performance anyone wants to see. Maybe the fact that the lead was so large had something to do with it and kept the Jayhawks from locking in on their free throw attempts. And maybe, as Self seemed inclined to believe, it was just first-game rust. Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on as the season gets started.
2 – Self said after the game that he was unimpressed by the way his big guys rebounded in this one. Considering Alexander had nine boards and Landen Lucas had six, I can only assume he was talking to Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor here, who combined for five boards, with Ellis grabbing just one. It hardly merits all-out concern, especially when you consider that two of Traylor's four rebounds were on the offensive glass and led to five Kansas points, but it probably wasn't as much the specific outing as the overall tone that Self was addressing with his comments. Look for Ellis to emphasize the glass next time out.
3 – You never want to see guys get injured, but especially not in games like these. Kansas was not so lucky on Monday night, as sophomore Brannen Greene suffered a concussion after getting crushed by a screen. The extent of the concussion is not yet known, but Self said he could not imagine Greene practicing for at least the next couple of days. Talk about a bad break. Just as Greene had put himself in position to be the first perimeter player off the bench, he now has to sit for a few days, which, on a team with this much depth and talent, could have a big impact on his future minutes.
The Jayhawks' exhibition victory over Washburn on Monday night...
• Made Kansas 64-9 in exhibition games.
• Extended KU's home exhibition winning streak to 41 games, dating back to the 1994 season.
• Upped Kansas' all-time record against Washburn to 37-3 in favor of the Jayhawks, including 6-0 in exhibition games.
• Improved head coach Bill Self to a 32-2 record in exhibition games at Kansas, including 23-0 in home exhibition contests.
• Made KU 55-4 in exhibition games inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks will close out the exhibition portion of their schedule on Tuesday, Nov. 11, with a home match-up with Emporia State. After that, KU will kick things off for real with a Nov. 14 home game against UC-Santa Barbara. Both games tip at 7 p.m.
Kansas University football officials on Sunday night released an update on the status of freshman defensive back Derrick Neal and senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers, both of whom were injured and carted off the field during Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor.
Both players were taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation during Saturday's loss but nothing new was known about their status following the game.
Sunday night, the update indicated that both players had returned to Lawrence and both participated in team activities on Sunday.
Stowers, a starter on KU's D-Line, posted on his Facebook page late Saturday that he was OK and looking forward to his recovery.
Neal, a reserve defensive back who suffered what appeared to be a head injury while making a tackle on a kickoff return, was able to get to the cart under his own power before leaving the field.
KU coach Clint Bowen will be available on the Big 12 coaches teleconference Monday morning and also at his regular Tuesday news conference and at those times may provide an update on Neal and Stowers' availability for this weekend's 2:30 p.m. home game against Iowa State.
There's no denying that Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor was the first significant blow in interim head coach Clint Bowen's campaign to become the Kansas University football program's full-time head coach at the end of the season.
But the Jayhawks' shortcomings were hardly all on Bowen. Kansas committed six bonehead penalties, ran 14 plays that ended at least a few yards behind where they started and struggled to keep up with a roster that was both overmatched and outmanned.
Oh, and the Jayhawks also played a team that had as much talent as any team in the country in Baylor. How the Bears lost to West Virginia is beyond me.
How the Jayhawks lost, however, was easy to see and came in large part because this remains a team and a roster that lacks enough talent to compete at this level and still is struggling with depth at key positions.
So talented are the Bears that they neutralized what had been easy to see for the first three weeks of the Bowen era — hard work, discipline and toughness. None of the three showed up with any regularity on Saturday and that made for a long afternoon for the visiting team.
This certainly is not intended let KU or Bowen off the hook for Saturday's performance, but was anyone really that surprised by the outcome? While the Jayhawks took hope and confidence into their match-ups with West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech — and at times competed in a way that clearly demonstrated that — this one seemed like a mismatch from the jump and it played out that way all afternoon. If anything was a surprise, it was the KU defense's ability to hold the Bears to a three-and-out on the opening possession. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the offense followed with a three-and-out of its own — complete with a false start penalty and two of the nine Michael Cummings incompletions — and failed to capitalize on the fast start by the defense and gain some momentum and control. The Jayhawks aren't talented enough to let those opportunities pass without a fight.
1 – Regardless of the results, you have to continue to be impressed by what Michael Cummings has done for the KU passing game. The junior quarterback completed 21 of 30 passes for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns, despite being pressured all day and getting next to no help from the KU running game. Cummings' ability to hang in the pocket until the last minute to deliver a pass and his toughness to get up time and time again after getting blasted has helped KU take some more shots down the field and given guys like Nick Harwell and Nigel King a chance to impact the game. Asked how he does it, the QB's answer was vintage Cummings. “That's my job,” he said. “And I'm trying to do the best job I can each play at a time.” Cummings became the first KU quarterback since Todd Reesing in 2009 to throw for more than 200 yards in four straight games.
2 – KU officials announced prior to Saturday's game that wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau had been promoted to co-offensive coordinator and would take over play-calling duties from offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator John Reagan. The KU offense has been anything but solid throughout the season and giving Kiesau — an accomplished and experienced coordinator himself — a chance to draw up the game plan and call the game can only help. Saturday's game was such a mismatch and over so early that it's hard to tell how successful Kiesau was and/or will be in the new role. But it's proof positive that Bowen continues to give it all he's got and is not afraid to pull the trigger on a decision he thinks might help the team, whether it works out or not.
3 – After watching Derrick Neal and Keon Stowers leave the game on carts after a couple of scary injuries, it appears both players are OK and on the path to recovery. Stowers posted a message saying as much on his Facebook page late Saturday night. Their availability for next Saturday is up in the air at this point, but the fact that both figure to be OK long-term is much more important than whether they'll be able to play against Iowa State.
1 – The play of KU's offensive line continues to hold this team back. Cummings rarely gets the time he needs to let plays develop, the running game is not working — how many times did Tony Pierson take a handoff on Saturday only to see three or four Bears waiting for him? — and, perhaps worse than either of those issues, KU's offensive linemen also are the most penalized players on the team. Four of KU's six penalties on Saturday were called on the O-Line. That's not a good combination, and unless it gets fixed, or at least becomes less destructive, KU won't have a chance the rest of the way.
2 – KU's streaks of futility grew by one. It's now 31 consecutive losses away from Lawrence. KU also extended its streak of losses against ranked opponents, as the Jayhawks' last victory over a ranked team came in Week 2 of the 2010 season, when they upset No. 15 Georgia Tech at home. The last time KU topped a ranked opponent away from Memorial Stadium came in 2008, when the Jayhawks knocked off No. 12 Missouri, 40-37, at Arrowhead Stadium, and KU's last true road victory over a ranked foe came via a 30-24 victory at No. 24 Kansas State in October of 2007.
3 – Three of the four games remaining on KU's schedule are against nationally-ranked teams. KU will host TCU on Nov. 15 and then finish the season at Oklahoma on Nov. 22 and at Kansas State on Nov. 29. Re-energized by Bowen or not, boosted by Eric Kiesau calling plays or not, that stretch is a nasty way to end a season and the Jayhawks' loss to Baylor on Saturday may have been a glimpse into their immediate future.
KU's forgettable loss at Baylor....
• Gave the Jayhawks a 578-595-58 all-time record.
• Featured the most points the KU defense has given up this season and most since Texas A&M scored 61 points in a victory over Kansas in 2011.
• Delivered not only the first career rushing attempt by senior linebacker Ben Heeney but also the 17th double-digit tackle game of Heeney's career. The Hutchinson native led Kansas with 10 tackles.
• Included freshman Corey Avery twice breaking his career-best yardage total on a reception. Avery caught a pass for 36 yards early in the game and later added a 49-yard reception to top that.
KU returns home for the first of back-to-back home games that will close out the 2014 home schedule, as Iowa State and former KU head coach Mark Mangino (now an assistant at ISU) come to Memorial Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Wednesday afternoon marked the full return to a game-week practice for the Kansas University football team, which is slated to take on Baylor, at 3 p.m. in Waco, Texas, on Saturday.
The Jayhawks had a bye week last week and, therefore, went through a little different practice schedule than normal. That's not to say practices were any easier last week. In fact, junior safety Isaiah Johnson told me just the opposite. If anything, he said, practices were more intense, simply because the Jayhawks had time to lock in more on fundamentals yet still focused on physicality.
Plenty of Jayhawks got the rest they needed to get back into the flow for this week, though, and that was evident on Wednesday.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye....
• Tony Pierson was out there working with the first-team offense and appears to be fine. I didn't see him favor anything or go half-speed to protect anything while he was participating in drills. Pierson was knocked out of the Texas Tech game after just two plays with what turned out to be a sprain of some sort near his neck. Good to see he's out there and ready to go for this week.
• Michael Cummings also looked sharp again. Cummings took a beating at Tech and even left the game for two plays. Earlier in the day, Cummings was asked what he got most out of the bye week and he answered with one simple word. “Rest.” From the sound of it, that was as much mental rest as physical rest, but Clint Bowen did give his guys last Friday and Saturday off and Cummings said he went fishing, watched some college football and just relaxed. There's no doubt that that kind of routine was good for everyone on the roster, especially considering the crazy times that have surrounded the program since the firing of former KU coach Charlie Weis.
• Wednesday's practice started with a little bit of flare, as Bowen broke out what appeared to be some kind of championship wrestling belt and then called the team together in a circle at midfield. Evidently, this happens quite often. Three players from the offense square off with three players from the defense in a quick wrestling-style showdown and whichever side — offense or defense — wins two of the three bouts emerges with the belt and bragging rights. I couldn't get a look at exactly who competed, but it looked like the offense won this round and the whole exercise created a lot of energy and excitement to kick off practice.
• One interesting note in terms of personnel.... Freshman wide receiver Darious Crawley is now working as a running back. It's hard to say if the move is permanent or what role the coaches have planned for the 5-11, 190-pound freshman from Houston, but he appears to have some natural ability. It's most likely just a depth thing for practice purposes, though. We'll see.
• Bowen said Tuesday that junior wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman would be in the mix for playing time after a quiet start to the season and he was very much that during Wednesday's practice. Known as a burner who can stretch the field, Coleman's emergence, should it happen, could really help this offense. He was very involved in Wednesday's practice and looked good running around out there.
• Speaking of somebody who looked good out there, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was also very active during the portion of practice I saw. Not only was he more vocal than I remember, with regard to the entire offense, not just his group, but he also flat-out got after it physically, running with guys during routes, throwing passes over the middle and encouraging guys to dig deeper, run it out and finish plays at an almost constant rate. The guy's got great energy and, perhaps more importantly, the players really seem to respond to his style.
• One quick note regarding former Jayhawks now playing in the NFL.... Chris Harris (Denver), Aqib Talib (Denver) and Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay) are all officially on this year's Pro Bowl ballot. Log on to NFL.com to cast your vote.
By now, it's a well-known fact around KU Nation that the Denver Broncos have two former Jayhawks starting in their secondary.
When Denver added free agent Aqib Talib to its roster in the offseason, the signing reunited the former KU cornerback and star of the Jayhawks' victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl with his running mate from that game, Denver cornerback Chris Harris.
For many KU fans, having a couple of their favorite former Jayhawks on the Broncos' roster is a nightmare since so many of them are also fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But Sunday night, during the Broncos home game with San Francisco on Sunday Night Football, Talib gave KU fans a reason to smile whether they dislike the Broncos or not.
For the first time in years (if not ever) Talib gave a shout-out to KU during his introduction that plays along the bottom on the screen on all Sunday night games.
In recent years, Talib often represented his hometown or his high school or said North Dallas after introducing himself. Not Sunday. This time, he simply said, "Aqib Talib, Kansas."
There was some speculation that Talib started leaving KU out of his intro because of his displeasure with the way KU coach Mark Mangino was treated during the end of his time with the Jayhawks. I've never heard that confirmed, but do know it's a popular opinion.
As for why it changed, I don't know the exact details but I know that Talib's snub of the Jayhawks during his intros always rubbed KU fans and several people within the football program the wrong way and I heard that someone at KU reached out to Talib and talked to him about giving KU some love. I even heard one account that Talib spoke to the team before this year's spring game and former KU coach Charlie Weis asked him to start saying KU during the intros. Who knows? But whatever it was, it obviously worked.
During Denver's only other primetime game on NBC this season, they mysteriously did not introduce the Broncos' defense, so this was the first time we were able to see Talib make the change.
As for Harris, he's always been proud to rep KU. He typically says "Chris Harris, Kansas University," but on Sunday he said, "Chris Harris, Kansas Jayhawks."
Regardless of what they say during the intros, it's still so wild to see two former Jayhawks starting for one of the best teams in pro football.