Saturday, November 17, 2007

Piecing it together

Myriad of factors came together to keep KU perfect


KU hosts ISU in 2007 Memorial Stadium finale

The Kansas Jayhawks will look to improve on their 10-0 record against Iowa State in the 2007 home finale.

KU football jerseys outselling basketball

To some, wearing the jersey of your favorite player is the sign of a true fan. And in Lawrence, basketball jerseys have long been the campus staple - at least until this season.

Local couple happy to be 'Hawk fans

Before tailgating and the Jayhawk mascot as we know it today - there was Glee and Jerry Smith - a Lawrence couple who have attended every home football game since 1941.


Several factors came together to help Kansas win its first 10 games. A big part is discipline, which manifests itself in the Jayhawks' lack of penalties and impressive turnover margin.


The discipline instilled by coach Mark Mangino, right, has played a huge role in the Jayhawks' 10-0 start. Just ask Raimond Pendleton, left, who received a tongue-lashing after leaping into the end zone on Sept. 1. Mangino's tirade made its way to YouTube.

It was just a towel.

A Kansas University football player in 2002 took a towel out of the weight room after a workout one day. It was on the floor of KU's locker room when a coach found it - where it wasn't supposed to be.

If they hadn't gotten the memo yet, the Jayhawks were about to find out what life was like under new coach Mark Mangino.

The players spent 15 straight minutes the next day doing up-downs on the Anschutz Pavilion turf with former strength coach Mark Smith. Hands and knees were bloodied. Even the fittest of elite athletes were gasping for air like never before.

Over a towel.

"I stopped counting at 165," one former player said.

That day served as a clear message in the early years of Mangino's tenure. Discipline and structure were going to be established immediately. KU's head coach was not out to make friends. He was out to make winners.

Five years later, the response is evident. Kansas is 10-0, the darling of college football and ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

How did it all come together for this program?

This season has come out of nowhere to most, a history that treaded in mediocrity (or worse) for years before suddenly rocketing out of it this fall.

It seems to be a number of circumstances - some planned, some targeted and some just a stroke of good fortune - which have meshed to give Kansas its dream season. The first of many, perhaps.

Here's a look at how this mansion may have been built so far:

Big on discipline

As the towel incident shows, discipline has been preached constantly since Mangino arrived in 2002.

The fruit of that is perhaps the most overwhelming - and overlooked - reason for KU's success. The Jayhawks have refused to hurt themselves this season, putting up big numbers because they don't get in their own way.

"We pay real close attention to detail, and we don't make a lot of mistakes in practice," tight end Derek Fine said. "It carries over into games."

Kansas hasn't committed a turnover since the second quarter of the Colorado game on Oct. 20, when James McClinton fumbled away an interception return.

In addition, the Jayhawks have 37 penalties all year, easily the fewest in the 120-team Bowl Subdivision. KU's average of 31.4 penalty yards per game also is best in the country.

"A big, big factor that has to be recognized is that we have a smart group of kids," Mangino said. "They're intelligent, and they're disciplined."

Quarterback stability

The run of bad luck was just incredible.

An uneasy point for Mangino's first two years at KU bottomed out in year three. In one four-week stretch in 2004, Kansas went through four quarterbacks. Adam Barmann and Jason Swanson were lost to shoulder injuries in back-to-back weeks. John Nielsen went down the next game due to an ankle injury. Brian Luke was the last man standing at the '04 season finale.

The merry-go-round continued in 2005 with inconsistent play, then on into 2006, with a shoulder injury to starter Kerry Meier.

Quarterback, the most important position in an offense, often was a complete disaster at Kansas.

"If they kept a stat," Mangino says now, "we had to lead the nation in injuries at the quarterback position for our first five years here."

Now in 2007, Todd Reesing has started all 10 games, longer than any starter has lasted in the entire Mangino era.

Even better, he has performed well beyond expectations. In a dead-even race with Meier for the starting job after spring ball, Reesing shot out of a cannon, it seems, and now is a dark-horse candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. He has 26 touchdown passes and four interceptions so far and more importantly is undefeated as the starter.

The thought alone causes Mangino to smile. Just thinking of the way it once was is easy for him, because it wasn't all that long ago.

"It's helped tremendously that we've had stability at that position," Mangino said. "To have a healthy and outstanding player like Todd just helps us tremendously."

New offensive system

KU offensive coordinator Nick Quartaro left coaching after the 2006 season, and Mangino decided it was time to re-evaluate what sometimes amounted to a stale offensive attack as he looked for a replacement.

"I literally sat down and created a blueprint of what I wanted from the offense - everything from formations to motions to pass routes to the run game," Mangino said. "And then I wanted to find a personality that would be a very good teacher, that the kids would have confidence in and that : would be a hard-nosed guy. Very, very demanding."

He found that guy by accident. Ed Warinner was an offensive-line coach at Kansas in 2003 and 2004 who had left for a similar job at Illinois. While the two were talking on the phone about a different candidate for KU's cornerbacks-coaching vacancy, Mangino mentioned in passing that the offensive-coordinator position was open at KU, too.

Warinner then expressed his interest, and was hired soon after.

Mangino's plan and Warinner's major input have created an exciting, up-tempo offense that Reesing seems suited to maintain. The game plan is built perfectly around the Jayhawks' parts, and it's a versatile cast - Reesing at quarterback, Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp at running back and a fleet of wide receivers led by 6-foot-4 speedster Marcus Henry. An offensive line has come together better than expected to keep everything running smoothly.

Kansas now is second in the nation in scoring offense, putting up 45.9 points per game. Other teams, quite simply, can't keep up.

"We're always," Henry said, "in attack mode."

Health and depth

KU's 2006 team went a disappointing 6-6, a step backward after the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl got fans jazzed.

The '06 team was decimated by injuries from the get-go, with no fewer than seven significant parts missing extended time - many on defense. It's never an excuse, but it certainly didn't help Kansas throughout the trying 2006 season.

"They were lucky," Mangino has since said, "to win six."

Fast-forward a year. The Jayhawks are 10-0, and they're almost completely healthy. Of the regular contributors, only two have missed any games - cornerback Kendrick Harper, who missed the first four games, and safety Patrick Resby, who missed Saturday's victory over Oklahoma State.

Even so, Kansas was fortunate to have depth at both Harper's and Resby's positions. True freshman Chris Harris filled in admirably for Harper and started the first seven games at corner. Sophomore Justin Thornton, who plays a lot anyway, started in place of Resby.

Other players have played through nicks and bruises, but Kansas has been able to play with its best pieces almost every week this season.

Fortunate scheduling

For almost a year, it was apparent that the Jayhawks were going to get off to a strong start thanks to a weak nonconference schedule.

And they did. KU beat Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International by a combined 214-23. It was impressive domination, but a stretch that still left most critics skeptical.

But the Big 12 Conference slate has worked out surprisingly well even on the fly. Having no Texas or Oklahoma on the schedule helped, but Texas A&M; was thought to be a dark horse candidate to win the South. It instead showed its share of flaws and has lost more than it has won in Big 12 play.

Same with Nebraska, the preseason pick by many to win the Big 12 North. Instead, the Huskers gave up 76 points to Kansas and likely will be firing their coach once the misery of this 5-6 season ends.

The Big 12 has been separated into the top four - Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas - and the eight also-rans. The Jayhawks have played nobody holding on to a winning conference record currently.

Of course, KU's own success against those teams - a 6-0 mark with two to play, including an impressive 4-0 mark in road games - has a lot to do with the opponents' unimpressive resumes.


The byproduct of that weak nonconference slate was four victories, four chances to get things situated and four weeks to get players comfortable.

In Mangino's eyes, it was a perfect start to the season.

"We got players in the right spots, and you could see their confidence growing each and every week," Mangino said. "As soon as we went out and played on the road and played well on the road in our first game in Manhattan, our kids really understood they had a chance to be a good football team.

"They were a confident team, but I think they realized they had a chance to be a good team and win a bunch of games."

The 5-0 start helped Kansas go 6-0. The 6-0 start helped Kansas go 7-0. The victories, stacking up one by one, became an expectation instead of a goal.

Now the Jayhawks are chasing history and are in position to pounce. A win today would give KU an 11-0 start for the first time. Ever. In addition, it would keep KU in the national-championship hunt, with time running out in the regular season.

"There are so many different things historically about this program," Mangino said. "They haven't played well against this team, haven't done this, haven't done that.

"It's been a century of inconsistency here, and we're trying to get that righted."

For one year, at least, that ship finally is going full-speed toward a target nobody could've imagined.


sevenyearhawk 15 years ago

WOW ...

parts of this article nearly brought me to tears!

What a transformation!!

I only have one thing to add ...


Kevin Long 15 years ago

Mangino has done an amazing job. This is just one of those seasons where everything just goes our way. Sort of like the run in 1988. They don't come very often though. Not that it is all luck by any means, but luck doesn't hurt.

Jarod DeLozier 15 years ago

agreed. the best article i've ever read on this site. very well done.

Gordon Penny 15 years ago

Wow. Finally, a story from LJW online that is well thought out, consistent, concise, and just plain extremely well written. Mr. Wood, you get my vote for Writer of the Year for this story--not because of what was written (although it captivated my interest from start to finish) but because of how well it was written. Kudos.

KGphoto 15 years ago


You did you're research Ryan. Good stuff.

You can have Keegan's spot now. Sweet.

okjhok 15 years ago

It's funny...I was thinking the same thing as I perused through the article. Not ready to hand over the top job, but thanks, Ryan, for a well thought out piece. I know these types come out every once in a while, and for good reason.

Brady Swenson 15 years ago

Gotta admit, though, Ryan had some very good material to work with. What a great story Mangino has woven with this team. With the Ducks downed on Thursday the Jayahkws destiny is squarely in their own hands. I, for one, trust that they know exactly what to do with it.

100 15 years ago

Nice story, certainly the best I've seen all year on this site. Let's keep in mind, KU fans, those 10 wins are in the past. WE'RE PLAYING IOWA STATE TODAY!!! Even though Ryan's story was really good, and will be fun for KU fans to read after the season, this is the real story today -- IOWA STATE IS IN LAWRENCE RIGHT NOW. A VERY GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM, READY TO KNOCK US BACK DOWN TO EARTH. ONE CYCLONE FAN ON A CBS WEBSITE PREDICTED THEY WILL BEAT KU BY 20 POINTS. TWENTY. If you're a KU player, RESPECT the Cyclones! Be ready for a hard hitting, smart and precise Iowa State team. In short, the only game that matters right now is today's. Win or lose today, all across the nation, we are very proud of you guys! ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!!!

sevenyearhawk 15 years ago

Iowa State won't last more than a quarter ...

Hawks score 50+

Rodney Stice 15 years ago

I was watching the pregame of ksuy and mu, and onr of those so called know it all commentators sais that KU is ripe for an upset. They still do not get any respect. Lee Corso said that KU does not deserve to be ranked this high, he also said that the only reason that we were ranked so high is because all of the other schools have lost.

Isn't that the what is supposed to happen. if you lose you get to drop in the ranks? I have loved football for many years. and this is how it works.

The commentators and analists do not want any team that has not been a national power for may years to break into the national championship.

I want KU to whip isu 50-10.

Then KU can pound mu next week on national tv.

flipborder02 15 years ago

Sevenyearhawk lets not get cocky sure were probally going to win but you never know.

Ray Winger 15 years ago

Great Article....`1) deriving great analysis....t h e n...concisely putting it down on paper. I am so tired or reading nothought redundant superficial grog blog articles.

seattlehawk_78 15 years ago

I think stability at the QB position has been the biggest reason for our success and the lack of it has been the biggest reason for our past failures. Mangino has been snake bitten for most of his career when it comes to the quarterback. Have we been lucky? Absolutely. I don't believe the best team in any sport can win without it.

BTW, way too much criticism of LJW writers. Just my opinion but too much ink is wasted complaining about the content of articles and writing style. There are plenty of other papers covering the Jayhawks, go find one you like.

Matt Lacey 15 years ago

There was a quote from a user on earlier today. "The winner of the Big XII Championship will win the Heisman Trophy. Congrats Chase Daniels."

Bulletin Board material. But a good reminder we gotta lotta wood left to saw.

Mr_Sandman 15 years ago

Good article Mr. Wood. Well put together and I hope people take the time to read this one.

seattlehawk_78 15 years ago

Am I the only one not seeing the significance of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry? Not just this year but every year. Were it not for alums from these two schools who are in the national media telling us what a great game it is I don't think anyone outside of Ohio or Michigan would care. For my money the best rivalries are USC-Notre Dame (but not this year), Oklahoma-Texas (before they were in the same conference), Miami-Florida State, and Army-Navy. Herbstreit said OSU-UM was on a par with the Red Sox-Yankees. I don't even like baseball but it doesn't come close. In my mind it's no better or worse than all the other traditional rivalries, it only matters to the participants.

BTW, did anyone see Chris Fowler interview Todd?

hbjhwk 15 years ago

Kudos to Ryan Wood, what a great article.It is wonderful to see the football Jayhawks playing at the National level like the basketball Hawks have done for years. A little luck and a lot of discipline can really pay off big time. GO HAWK...make 2007-2008 another great year, that Tiger fans can only dream of......

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