Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Backups pushing KU defense in new direction

Kansas University defenders Chris Harris and D.J. Beshears (20) celebrate a fumble recovery against Colorado on Oct. 17, 2009, in Boulder, Colo. Harris, a senior cornerback, is hoping to use his experience, 	dependability and passion to create a memorable final year on the football field in 2010.

Kansas University defenders Chris Harris and D.J. Beshears (20) celebrate a fumble recovery against Colorado on Oct. 17, 2009, in Boulder, Colo. Harris, a senior cornerback, is hoping to use his experience, dependability and passion to create a memorable final year on the football field in 2010.


It’s difficult — impossible? — to look at the Kansas University football team’s recent defensive facelift and not notice the resemblance to last year’s midseason overhaul.

Both came on the heels of especially troubling defensive outings (against Texas Tech in 2008 and against Iowa State this year), both seemed to focus primarily on the secondary (last year’s finagling resulted in multiple demotions; this year’s appears to be heading in that direction), and both involved the shifting of a prominent offensive player to defense (Daymond Patterson in 2008, Bradley McDougald in 2009).

But according to KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, there is a major difference between this season’s reshuffling and last season’s.

“Last year, I feel like we had to make those moves because guys truly weren’t getting the job done, and we had to make those moves to (improve) things,” Bowen said. “This year, it seems like we’re making the moves more in a positive way.”

In other words, while last year’s shakeup was primarily the result of underachievement within the starting unit, this year’s switches, at least according to Bowen, have been the result of a group of overachieving backups.

In last weekend’s 34-30 loss to the Buffaloes, for instance, six players made their defensive debuts — including safety Lubbock Smith and defensive tackle John Williams, who earned starting roles — while some longtime starters were left on the bench for significant stretches.

The personnel shifts sent a message that Bowen hopes will light a fire under the team’s defensive players: Playing time isn’t going to be handed out at Kansas; it’s going to be earned.

“It’s a rough deal,” Bowen said. “There’s competition at all Big 12 schools, and we tell them all the time that the best guys are going to play, and the guys that give us the best chance to win are going to play. And there are some tough decisions to be made.”

Saturday, several players felt the brunt of this reality.

Three-year starting safety Justin Thornton was replaced by Smith in all but third-and-long situations, and true freshman D.J. Beshears, who had his red shirt burned after impressing coaches as a member of the scout team, took snaps away from Patterson, while the debuts of defensive end Quintin Woods and linebacker Angus Quigley implies that both players — who entered the year with high expectations but were non-factors throughout the team’s first five games — could be ready to contribute on a regular basis.

Arguably the most interesting personnel maneuver to come out of Saturday’s game, however, came in the form of Williams, who was recruited to KU to play on the offensive line and was in the running for a starting role there this season.

Finding it unacceptable to have a 6-foot-4, 309-pounder with considerable quickness and agility idling on the sideline this season, coaches decided to shift him to defensive tackle the week of the Colorado game, hoping he would add depth to a defensive line that has quieted down following a hot start.

After only a week of practice, Williams earned a starting role and did enough in limited snaps against the Buffaloes to earn a vote of confidence from KU coach Mark Mangino — even if the player was a bit clueless about what to make of his first outing in a new position.

“I really didn’t know how to evaluate it, because I’ve been playing defense for so little (time),” Williams said. “But I think I did all right. All the coaches did was encourage me. I don’t think I’ve been yelled at yet — but that will come.”

What’s more, the neophyte defenders appeared to play less like awestruck newcomers than seasoned veterans.

Despite giving up 34 points to the Buffaloes on Saturday, Kansas’ defense held CU to just 322 yards of total offense — the Jayhawks’ third-lowest yardage total allowed this season — and can take solace in the fact that two of Colorado’s touchdowns came as a result of KU turnovers that gave the Buffaloes the ball inside the Kansas five-yard line.

“I really felt like I had everything down,” said Smith, who finished with eight tackles in his first career outing. “I had been watching film with my coaches, studying at home before I go to sleep, when I wake up, just really preparing myself so I wouldn’t make any mistakes.”

He did make mistakes, of course — it was hard to find a player, newcomer or not, who didn’t.

But if common sense holds true — if the number of viable options at key positions is directly correlated to its likelihood for success — then this is, at the very least, encouraging news for a KU defense that has performed a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine throughout the first half of the season.

“You’ve just got to be careful and make sure that you don’t mess the thing up too much and get too many things going on,” Bowen said. “You’ve got to just keep making sure you get guys in positions that they can make plays and get the job done.”


FlaHawk 12 years, 8 months ago

Sounds like BS to me comparing this years changes to last years. Both were mid-year crisis reactions to a total break down of any ability to stop the other team. I have yet to see any area of defense look better than last years crew. D-Line is schredded by running plays and is barely adequate at pass rush. LBs no comparision to last year. DBs may be as good as last year, but were HORRIBLE (other than Stuckey) last year.

I hate to say it but COach Bowen is NOT getting the job done with this talent.

number1jayhawker 12 years, 8 months ago

FlaHawk, I will have to politely disagree with your statements. We are getting better overall on D. It just takes awhile to replace the three lbs that were starters at KU for the previous 3 years. Once that problem is solved, and it looks like it may be headed in that direction, then that means the weak link in the chain has been mended.


troutsee 12 years, 8 months ago

I agree with number1jayhawker. We are making strides forward on defense. I expect a thight game this Sat with the Hawks winning in the end

Gordy Hoffman 12 years, 8 months ago

I was on the 35 yard line for ISU and on the rail in Boulder last Saturday. I can tell you that our defense changed and improved. I think some people are still very angry, but if you stop and watch, they are better and more importantly they are going to get better and I think very fast. I look forward to seeing them at the stadium on Saturday. If they change as much as they did between Iowa State and CU, something special might happen.

rolo2383 12 years, 8 months ago

But what is acceptable as far as how much our D improves? I'm selfish when it comes to D and I want our D to be one of the best in the country. I doubt we have the players to be a top 10 team in D right now but I think we have the players to be top 25 and I'm not sure we can do that with this current defensive coaching staff. I'm tired of seeing our corners covering WR 10+ yards off the ball.

Blake Post 12 years, 8 months ago

we will need hyde (not hide) defense.
so far, they are giving up too many yards and points.

NU must die.

It is sad that an average team like NU will likely suffer only two or three conference losses, Tech, OU and maybe KU, unless CU or someone surprises them, while we lost to CU and have to play the top three in the south. Beating NU is a must, and one of the other three. Course we can't slip on anyone else either. Shoulda beat CU. Cursed turnovers and defense.
would love to see defense rise from the ashes and smite them.

vmwskywalk 12 years, 8 months ago

It seems to me that a pattern is emerging. Bowen's poor evaluation of talent in the spring and summer along with poor defensive schemes lead to a major overhaul of the defense early in Big 12 play. That totally negates the hard work put in during the off season.

I have also seen major breakdowns in coverage a key times during games. The stand outs being on third and long. Guys don't know where they should be or the coverage takes them out of position. It falls on the coaches. During the Iowa St. game they had Stuckey looking like he was running in quick sand.

If Bowen can't right the ship in the few games that we have left, I think it's time to look elsewhere.

suttonku 12 years, 8 months ago

Bowen has to go...His defense last year was terrible and then this year he has more talent and he still has a bad defense...All the overhaul is Mangino and not Bowen. Why cant we get a DB that hawks the ball like Talib did? Thats the difference in a ton of games, we dont get turnovers and that kills us.

And while Im talking about coordinators, Warriner has to go as well. He cant wait until the 4th quarter to open up the playbook and he has done it for the last two years now. We could have killed CU if we had called the plays that we did in the 4th quarter the whole game, instead we insisted on running Sharp up the middle and to the short side of the field.

Jeff Hargate 12 years, 8 months ago

If we don't turn the ball over and the final score was something like 37-27 with KU winning I think most of us would be very impressed with Bowen and the changes.

Ryan Shelton 12 years, 8 months ago

Fact is, Colorado's new QB willed them to a win, much like we have become accustomed to seeing Reesing do. Did the D play badly? I don't think so. Take away the two cheap scores off of turnovers inside of our 5 and we hold CU to 20 points. That's a good defensive game against a team with a good rushing attack and an obviously tallented QB.

honk_for_hawks 12 years, 8 months ago

sutton, I agree that it is frustrating that we seem to be able to score at will in the fourth quarter but screw up earlier in the game, but warriner is a fantastic coordinator and there is no way we are getting rid of him. We do need to start jumping on teams early though. We need to get on the board early so the other team is on their heels and not our team.

Eurekahwk 12 years, 8 months ago

But all the teams we face will have a good QB and a good rushing attack. And they will run plays that Clint Bowen hasn't seen on tape. So he does not get a pardon for surprises. Even if you haven't seen it, you better make the adjustments to stop it. I think our players are basically apt. But they spend the week preparing for a test. And then on Saturday, the test features an entire set of questions that the teacher didn't have them ready for. The players have looked lost at times because their coach is lost.

sdoyel 12 years, 8 months ago

I dont get it. Why do most KU fans tend to give our D a "free pass"? If this was the offense people would be all over it....

This Defense is what's keeping us from being an ELITE program.

Get it fixed Bowen or we'll replace you.

TexasJayhawk78 12 years, 8 months ago

CU did not beat us. We beat ourselves. The D did improve... a lot! Take away the 14 points on turnovers and KU did very well. Not sure why the D seems to go to sleep after three or four games each year, but it may be the fact the fans and the main coaching staff really like a high powered offence. We have to be careful not to overstaff the O while we under staff the D.

One last suggestion: START FAST FROM THE START!!! Play AT ALL TIMES like we are 21 points behind with only 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter! That way we will be up by 60+ points when the game ends. I’m sorry, but I am thru feeling sorry for our poor undersized and under skilled opponents. Do you think anyone feels sorry for us? Let’s STEP on some sooner, raider, kitty kat, corn cobs, tea sippers, and misery NECKS and never let up!

LeBo 12 years, 8 months ago

The Defense is a.k.a. Stuck-and-the-MUD (Mediocre Under Developed).

Steve Brown 12 years, 8 months ago

Offense: Pound them & attack use runs with Opurum a few series, then bring in rested Sharpe to blaze by them with his speed. Have the O line attack and pound them, get them off their heels, use the run to get 4-5 yards a play. Last night I watched the 07 KSU game in Manhattan our offense with McAnderson looks more free and loose. Play calling seemed unpredictable.

Turnovers: get some and don't give sacks or intentional grounding.

It's funny how good our FB now is as we have one loss and everyone is upset. Good to know we've all raised our expectations.

PS: Do NOT rush the field after the game.

Rivethead 12 years, 8 months ago


For the record, I am all over the offense. The defense gave them several turnovers in the 2nd half and what did they do with them? 2 frickin' field goals?

An "elite" offense turns turnovers into touchdowns.

shelleysue 12 years, 8 months ago

I agree about the field goals. Colorado's offense took advantage of our turnovers and we didn't make the most of what our defense did for us. This was most disappointing, but our offense usually gets it done.

I also agree that our defense was improved at Colorado. We didn't come away with the win, but the defense was definitely better.

Now if we could just get the special teams figured out. Geez if we didn't have a kicker that could tackle, it would be even uglier than it already is.

Get to the game early. Stand up and yell - on every play. Stay the entire game. Wear blue. Beat the Sooners.

I am expecting to be a very happy girl on Saturday!

yovoy 12 years, 8 months ago

i've stated many times that our special teams could make us a much better team. they are not helping us much at all. i KNEW that it would be a matter of time before old balls at silo tech had the special teams ironed out, and contributing. why can't we do it? we might have lots more trouble with them than i would've thought a month ago. i'd hate to have to live with their fans all over again.

our LB corps are small and slow. they are not the seasoned, hard-nosed types we're used to. if we had any a rivera or mortensen type on the field right now, with an aquib type behind them, we'd be a very different team right now. our record might be the same (MIGHT be), but we'd not be nearly as worried as we are. tharp is the only lb we have that looks like an lb when he's just standing there. he's going to be something else before he finishes up here. last year's d v. this year's o, would be a closer game than last year's o v this year's d. last year's d would get some stops against reesing; this year's d wouldn't.

i don't understand running sharp the way we have either. we will not be able to run him like we did earlier in the year against big 12 size and speed. it won't work. it didn't work against CU, and it won't work against many other big 12 defenses either. opurum HAS the body, the speed, and the "mean" to run up inside and still get some yards. he also has the speed to get to the next level and make life hard on the secondary if we use the right plays to get him there. why do you think we have trouble throwing the ball w/ jake in there? they know we can't run with him, so they can send the house and clamp down on the wideouts. we need him AFTER we have the opponents on their heels a bit. i love the kid, but he's not going to get a ton of yards on his own. opurum can.

so then, i see us making a bowl, but i see us struggling mightily before we get to that point: even if we change defensive personnel every week. with a few key stops, and a better offensive gameplan we might have a greater chance.

greenworld 12 years, 8 months ago

The above poster that commented on getting Bowen back to special teams and off the defense I have to disagree with. These coaches have been put into positions because they have earned them and Coach Mangino obviously would have removed them last yr if he thought they were doing a bad job. Bowen got promoted to "D" coach because his name was put in the hat and he was the one they selected. If you dont like the play of Ku or their asst coaches then dont blame them, blame the head Coach as he oversee's everything and everybody. And I do believe he has the final say on what goes on. This is how much control Mangino has, I will give you one example- during games he has a flip switch on his headset that he wears that allows him to listen in and flip his headset to offense or defense and he also has the power to click on and make a change on a play on both offense or defense anytime he feels it's necessary to do so.

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