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.
I don't care how many times I go out there the rest of the season, I think I will continually be impressed by how much attention the KU coaching staff gives to fundamentals and proper technique during their normal practice routine.
That was the biggest thing I took away from Wednesday's hour or so that we were out there as the Jayhawks continued preparation for this weekend's game at Texas Tech, and, it showed up everywhere on the field.
Offensive line coach John Reagan worked closely with the tackles on one-foot bursts that helped position them deeper to take on pass-rushers and, while doing so, showed no patience for wasted time.
While working with left tackle Pat Lewandowski at the 5-yard line, Reagan barked to right tackle Larry Mazyck behind him around the 8 to be set up and ready for his reps next. Before Reagan even turned around, Mazyck was in the proper stance and ready to work. This rapid-fire, back-and-forth approach continued throughout the drill.
Down the field 60 yards, the same sort of instruction was being given by defensive backs coach Dave Campo, who routinely stopped one drill to demonstrate with his body what he was yelling with his voice.
It's funny because during Tuesday's media session, Campo slyly pointed out that, even though being a head coach at the college level is a young man's game, he still believed he had plenty of energy left in the tank. Wednesday, I saw it on full display. What a resource.
At one point, Campo was caught in the middle of the drill and nearly taken out by safety Isaiah Johnson, who, wisely, wrapped up his coach and did all he could to prevent himself from taking him to the ground. Rather than sighing or taking a moment for relief, Campo rolled his eyes, mumbled something or other under his breath and hustled back out to his spot in the drill. Great stuff.
It's not as important for the veterans who have been through this whole thing before, but seeing the coaches work like this really helps send a message to the young guys and, in my opinion, is exactly what's necessary to change the culture and future of the program.
Here's a quick look at some other things that stood out from Wednesday's practice:
• Former KU kicker Scott Webb was on hand to watch the action. Webb, as you may recall, was the KU kicker on the Orange Bowl team in 2008.
• Senior Tony Pierson spent the early portion of practice working exclusively with KU's running backs. The good thing about Pierson right now — other than all that speed — is that he's reached a point where he's advanced enough as a receiver and yet still comfortable enough as a running back to be used in either spot (or even both) week in and week out.
• Want one for the attention to detail file? During a drill with the running backs, who ran through the gauntlet to simulate tacklers reaching and grabbing to bring them down, running backs coach Reggie Mitchell recognized that Aaron Plump did not have a ball. Rather than letting it slide and moving on to the next drill, Mitchell made Plump go get a ball and take his turn again.
• I watched the O-Line for quite a while on Wednesday and the main thing I took away was this — these dudes are working hard. I can't say I heard as much grunting and groaning during all of the drills I saw in preseason camp as I did during one or two drills on Wednesday. Say what you want about the line, but don't say it doesn't matter to these guys and that they're not working to get better.
• At least for the time I was out there, senior cornerback Dexter McDonald was a full participant. KU coach Clint Bowen said earlier this week that he expected McDonald to play Saturday and I didn't see anything that would indicate otherwise.
The first signs showed up at the weekly Hawk Talk radio show at Salty Iguana a little less than 36 hours after he officially had accepted the title of interim football coach at Kansas University.
But things are starting to get a little more serious now.
That night, back on Sept. 29, friends, family and football supporters packed the restaurant in West Lawrence to standing-room-only capacity to show their support for Clint Bowen, who stepped in to replace the fired Charlie Weis as the leader of the Jayhawks.
Since then, the love for Bowen has only grown. First was the decoration of the football complex that greeted the Jayhawks upon arriving home after their 33-14 loss at West Virginia, Bowen's first game as a head coach. Then came the show of support by former KU players and Bowen teammates prior to last Saturday's 27-20 home loss to Oklahoma State. Between 150-200 former Jayhawks showed up to line the field as the Jayhawks ran out of the locker room, and many said they came specifically because they believe in Bowen, a former Jayhawk player himself, who has spent 16 of 19 coaching seasons in crimson and blue.
The latest in the Bowen love fest showed up sometime Sunday, when a Facebook page touting Bowen as the choice for KU's next head coach was created. By the time I posted this blog it already had received 608 “likes.”
The goal of the Facebook group is spelled out ever-so-simply in the “About” section of the social media site: “This is a page dedicated to making Clint Bowen the next HC for KU football; through the support of KU students, alumni, and fans. WE WANT BOWEN,” it reads. It includes a couple of photos, a couple of posts — the most notable reads “Let Zenger hear us loud and clear - WE WANT BOWEN!!! — and a bunch of familiar names from past KU football rosters.
I first saw the page early Monday morning and thought to myself, 'Huh, look at that, more love for Bowen.' At the time it had around 140 likes and I didn't really think much more about it.
Later in the day, someone sent me a link to the page and when I checked in again, the number of likes had doubled. The same thing happened Monday night, just before I sat down to write this, and that's when I began to pay attention.
Don't get me wrong, I get it; 500, 1,000, even 5,000 likes on a Facebook does not magically make Bowen become the automatic choice to be selected as the next head coach of the Jayhawks. No matter how high the number grows, it likely will never register high enough for KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger to truly factor it into his decision. But I can guarantee you that Zenger, provided he finds out about it, will take note of the page and it will mean something.
What that is is anyone's guess. But, if nothing else, it's a clear sign that Bowen is well liked, and that gives him a chance.
Just for fun, let's say the page was created around 10 p.m. Sunday night. I wrote this blog around 10 p.m. Monday night. So in that 24-hour period, 608 people found it worthwhile to log on to the page and click the like button in support of Bowen.
If the page continues to grow at that pace —which may very well be tied to the question of whether Bowen's Jayhawks continue to play the way they have the past two weeks — then by the time he runs onto the field at Kansas State for the Jayhawks' season finale on Nov. 29, the “We Want Bowen” Facebook page could have more than 29,000 likes, which is probably a little more than the number of people who actually showed up at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium for last weekend's game. Even that number is not as high as it needs to be to consider the potential hire a home run, but it sure wouldn't hurt.
Reaching that number is probably the longest of long shots. In fact, there's probably very little chance that the number of likes on the page even reaches five digits. But whether they find their way to the Facebook page or not, people everywhere are making it known that Bowen is the guy they want to lead the Jayhawks into the future. I've received emails, phone calls and Tweets that say just that and I'm just one person.
That does not include the feelings of everyone out there, of course. Nor does it mean that many of those same people would be upset if Zenger chose to go a different direction. There are plenty of guys who would be great choices for the job and several who probably would have a terrific shot at becoming successful. But not many of them, if any, would move into the head coach's office at the Anderson Family Football Complex with the kind of backing that Bowen currently has.
He has to sustain that, of course. And the only way for that to happen is for him to continue to make the Jayhawks competitive in what ESPN.com recently voted the second best conference in football in its latest College Football Power Rankings. So, there's that. But if it happens, and especially if Bowen can find a way to lead Kansas to a win or two, then there will be no need to take a poll to find out how people would feel about Bowen being hired. They've already spoken.
Here's a look at the "BOWEN should be HC" Facebook page
Now that interim head coach Clint Bowen is officially into his stint as the Jayhawks' head coach, it's time to examine a few of the more minor details of his takeover that got lost in the celebratory manner in which he transitioned into the job.
One of the important things to remember about Bowen's time as interim head coach is that just because he has the “interim” tag in front of the title does not mean he is not loaded with responsibility. Not only does he have to run the team, come up with the defensive game plan and handle all of the media obligations of the head coach, but he also has within his grasp complete control of his personnel. He showed he understands that last week when he benched starting quarterback Montell Cozart and replaced him with Michael Cummings and also did the same with starting center Keyon Haughton in favor of red-shirt freshman Joe Gibson.
Don't be surprised if you see more moves in the next few days and in the coming weeks — as Bowen has said clearly, the players have to earn the right to play — and don't be surprised if the same concept extends to the roles, responsibilities and input of the coaching staff, as well. Now five games into the season, it's abundantly clear that Bowen and the Jayhawks have to consider every option and angle in their efforts to get the offense going. And that might mean listening to any idea that anyone on the staff has, from the full-time offensive and defensive assistants to the GAs and lower-profile staff members.
OK, now on to some more concrete details...
First off, Bowen's contract did not change. He's still being paid as the school's defensive coordinator for his nine weeks as interim head coach.
On a similar note, Bowen will not be making any money for taking over Weis' role as the featured guest on the weekly Hawk Talk radio show, which airs every Monday night from 6-7 p.m.
As far as where Bowen does most of his dirty work, that did not change either. Bowen did not move into the corner office reserved for the head coach when Weis moved out but he has access to both his old office and the head coach's office so he can have easier access to the coaches on both sides of the ball.
Speaking of Bowen's office, in one of his first meetings with the players following Weis' departure, Bowen informed the team that his door would always be open and even warned them that if he saw any of them making their way into the hallway of coaches offices in the back of the football complex, they would have a meeting. It did not matter if it was one or two guys or a group of 10, Bowen said he would always make himself available to the team whenever they needed to see him. And, on the very first day after he was assigned his new role, nearly 85 members of the team made their way into his office at one point or another to check in with their new leader.
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 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)
SPECIAL TEAMS --->
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.
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.”
Three reasons to smile
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.
Three reasons to sigh
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.
One thought for the road
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.”