Wednesday, October 9, 2013

KU football shuffles offensive line once again

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps runs the offense against Texas Tech during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps runs the offense against Texas Tech during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.


For the fourth time since Sept. 10, the Kansas University football team will take a new-look offensive line into game week, as the Jayhawks prepare for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at TCU.

This time, the biggest change comes at center, where senior Gavin Howard, 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, has been inserted as the starter and asked to save KU from the failed experiment of using junior Pat Lewandowski and sophomore Dylan Admire to snap the ball.

“Some of those, they looked like me snapping,” said KU coach Charlie Weis, explaining the reason for the change. “And I was never any good, in case you’re wondering.”

There was, of course, more behind this change than getting distance from the Weis-like snaps. For one, Howard is an experienced lineman who has played all three positions up front. And his size gives him a better chance to hold up against opposing defensive linemen. Lewandowski, though taller, is lighter than Howard. And Admire is both lighter and shorter.

Asked to identify what issues have plagued KU’s centers thus far — Howard actually is the fourth guy the Jayhawks have tried if you count junior guard Mike Smithburg’s audition during spring practice — Weis painted a pretty stark picture.

“It’s not the identification,” Weis said. “We have smart guys there. These are all 4.0 (GPA) type of students, so intelligence is not the issue. The issue is, as soon as you snap the ball, you’ve got a guy 300-plus pounds ready to hit you in the mouth.”

While Howard’s addition to this week’s depth chart takes him from nowhere-to-be found to the center of attention, the rest of the line experienced less drastic changes. Smithburg and fellow junior college transfer Ngalu Fusimalohi kept their spots at right and left guard, respectively — those two have started all four games in the same spots — and Lewandowski moved out to left tackle, where he played last spring, and Sterling to right tackle, where he played last season.

“I don’t think for those guys it’s gonna be much of a change,” Weis said. “Probably the biggest thing is can Gavin hold up at center? That’s the position we’ve kind of been held hostage by.”

Turzilli moves up

Three days after catching a late touchdown in KU’s loss to Texas Tech, and 364 days after last appearing atop the depth chart at his position, junior wide receiver Andrew Turzilli is back on top.

At 6-3, 195 pounds, Turzilli has taken over the Z receiver spot, in place of Tre’ Parmalee (5-10, 175) and Rodriguez Coleman (6-3, 195), who remain listed behind him.

Weis said Tuesday that Turzilli’s rapid rise was the byproduct of three good weeks of practice and added that he fell in the first place because of a bad offseason.

“Andrew was a little bit of a disappointment in the spring time,” Weis said. “He’s one of our two fastest wide receivers with some size, some athleticism, some polish, some ball skills; he just wasn’t playing good. ... He was a front-line receiver starting out, and he’s put himself back into that situation.”

Pierson update

As expected, KU junior Tony Pierson was not listed on this week’s depth chart and is not expected to play against TCU because of the concussion he suffered in the loss to Tech.

“Tony will be back,” Weis said. “I don’t know when, but he will be back. Fortunately, the MRI came back negative. He’s got a headache, a sore neck and is walking around like an old man. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with him.”

Asked how Pierson’s absence would affect the team, Weis was honest and took time to praise Pierson’s replacement, junior Brandon Bourbon.

“It hurts,” Weis said. “Because Tony really has gotten better each week, and he’s actually starting to play really, really well. At the same time, Brandon has played really well for us. He’ll have an added role now. More of the burden will fall on Bourbon than ever before. He’s a different player, but he’s pretty good.”

Run game bummer

With the offensive line in a state of flux, KU’s previously potent rushing attack has suffered. KU’s stacked backfield remains on the roster, but the gaping holes and hard-earned yards have not been there.

Through four weeks, KU has averaged 137 yards per contest, but just 3.7 yards per rush, a number that took a hit with last week’s 37-carries-for-53-yards effort in the loss to Texas Tech.

“So far, our play in the run game in general has been a big disappointment,” said Weis, whose team averaged 211 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry in 2012. “I don’t want to single out just the offensive line, because there’s a lot of elements involved, but it’s been a frustration because it should be a foundation of who we are.”

Faifili still sidelined

Junior linebacker Samson Faifili, who missed the past two games because of injury, will miss another and may be out longer than that.

“He looks like he’s a ways from playing,” said Weis of the juco transfer, who opened the season as a starter. “Every time we get him going, he reaggravates himself. He’s really not that different than (injured running back) Taylor (Cox). In other words, he’s another guy who’s a potential medical red-shirt if things keep going the way they’re going.”


79ictjhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Not expecting a big improvement, but I hope these changes help. Weis really needs to work on the false start penalties, it creates too much of a burden for a week offense.

8 years, 11 months ago

I wonder if there is any chance of getting a medical redshirt for Pierson. If he can’t play the next couple of games, we may be better holding off and getting another (possibly more promising) year for him.

Saguaro_Jayhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Is the rule still . . . if you've played in the greater of 2 games or 20% of scheduled games, which is 2.4 games for this season, then you are not eligible for a medical hardship?

I believe TP has already played in > 2.4 games this season. If true, the odds of NCAA granting him a MH are slim.

8 years, 11 months ago

Had to look it up. Appears he may have played in one too many games:

14.2.4 Hardship Waiver: A student-athlete may be granted an additional year of competition by the conference or the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement for reasons of “hardship.” Hardship is defined as an incapacity resulting from an injury or illness that has occurred under all of the following conditions: (Revised: 8/8/02, 11/1/07 effective 8/1/08)

c) In team sports, the injury or illness occurs when the student-athlete has not participated in more than three contests or dates of competition (whichever is applicable to that sport) or 30 percent (whichever number is greater) of the institution’s scheduled or completed contests or dates of competition in his or her sport.

kellerman411 8 years, 11 months ago

Gavin Howard is pretty smart. If I recall, I took Math 526 with him a couple years ago. That class was called Statistics for Engineers and Scientists, or something to that effect. It was a stat class that had prerequisites of Calc I and Calc II, it was very challenging. I regrettably got a C in the class. Gavin did better than me I believe.

Saguaro_Jayhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Fairly common that football offensive linemen are highly intelligent. They have a heck of a lot to remember and need to respond instantly to widely varying conditions.

W Keith Swinehart II 8 years, 11 months ago

Matt, I appreciate your articles! You report objectively, factually, hopefully and optimistically. The hopes are not always achieved on schedule, but progress is being made, albeit slowly. It is difficult to remain patient, but one must always have hope.

I have listened to Coach Weis for two years. I like him. He says it like he sees it and thinks it. He has loyalty and faith in his players. He isn't afraid to make changes and try new things. He does think outside the box, sometimes calling "dumb" plays. He does give his players discretion and accountability. When things go wrong he shoulders the blame. Trying to resurrect a flagging program isn't a popularity contest. Sometimes the reporter of these things suffers along with the coach.

Keep the faith, Matt, and continue to show us the reasons for hope.

Jack Jones 8 years, 11 months ago

A very rational perspective of the big picture ~ in my opinion.

VaJay 8 years, 11 months ago

What he said !! / What he said !! /\

NebraskaJayhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Glad to see Turzilli get a chance. I still think he's our best option at WR. Been saying that.

VaJay 8 years, 11 months ago

You have to abandon the workhorse if you're getting about 2 yards per carry on first & second down with the current O-Line. Sims is fighting for his life just to get to the line of scrimmage. Hopefully these changes in the lineup will improve the situation, but it's dire right now. I feel bad for Sims - cause his draft stock is falling, and it's got nothing to do with him.

Brandon Mahon 8 years, 11 months ago

To bad we have Harwell sitting on the sidelines waiting....

Pbbut 8 years, 11 months ago

I, too, am hopeful. There are a lot a reasons for the failure of the offense, but here we are heading into game five with our two starting WRs with four catches for 70 yards and one TD, according to the box scores on this site. Not good.

dumbarton 8 years, 11 months ago

Weis says the issue with our centering is a 300 lb guy getting ready to hit you in the mouth. WTF? Every center in football confronts this and we are using it as an excuse? Are you fricking kidding me? He might as well add that our wide receivers can't get open because they are afraid of crossing routes. Sounds like we have a candy ass coach that's passing his candy ass attitude on down to his players

Matt Tait 8 years, 11 months ago

Thanks, man. Appreciate the kind words. Glad you're enjoying the coverage. Take care!

Phil Leister 8 years, 11 months ago

Matt, you know why the Facebook link is a bad idea? I googled Mr. Challacombe above and I now know when he graduated from KU, what suburbs of Phoenix he lives/lived in, and what year he was born. All by clicking one google link.

Sometimes anonymity isn't a bad thing. It's simply called privacy.

Doug Cramer 8 years, 11 months ago

The root source of the problems in the trenches is the lack of talent. You can shuffle the O-line and D-line all you want...but improvement will be hard to come by until we get some studs in this program.

Al Martin 8 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, that's my fear, too, but I'm at least encouraged that the coaches recognize the problem and are attempting to do something about it. You can't get new players mid-season, so you do what you can.

NebraskaJayhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Totally disagree. What we need are coaches that can produce winners out of 2 and 3 star recruits. Then the studs will come. Selling them an NFL ticket won't work in a couple of years if the results remain as they are. I don't care if we have guys going to the NFL or not. It isn't going to happen. Still behind this coaching staff, but development has to happen for this program to succeed.

Doug Cramer 8 years, 11 months ago

Nebraska Jayhawk - How can you develop players when the cupboard is empty. Let me be specific: The only under classman D-linement we have is Neal Page and Tyler Holmes. You got to have some young guys if you want to develop them. We do have about 5 or 6 freshmen on the O-line that can develop...but...will they develop ? Will just say this...if this next class isn't loaded with FRESHMAN linemen both defense and offense...then I give up on this coaching staff. The JUCO experiment clearly was a failure.

AZJHWK 8 years, 11 months ago

Matt - Thanks for your reporting! You are good at giving us football diehards some reading material throughout the year. I'm an old fart and am wondering if I will live long enough to see another KU Bowl game! That might be an exaggeration, but the frustration of watching inept, poorly executed football teams year after year is deflating, I hardly yell at the TV anymore! I am trying to remember the Bowl games we have been to over the last 40 plus years, I went to the Orange Bowl in 69, I think there were a couple of minor bowls until they beat UCLA in Hawaii around 99, another wait until MM took us to a couple. That is pretty pathetic, I'm disappointed in a university that will allow that to happen. I suppose we should be happy the BBall team wins, and I guess that is what most of the alums care about. Sadly, reading the football posts here this time of year it sounds like Cubs fans,"wait till next year".
I won't be facebooking either. But will be reading.

Matt Tait 8 years, 11 months ago

Good to know. I'll keep writing! Thanks for the note.

CrystalJones 8 years, 11 months ago

I really hate to see all the negativity, and I don't think it's justified. I still see us going 6-6, with wins over TCU (yes, we will finally win a road game and end the Big 12 streak -- their great QB is out), WVU, ISU & K-Crap (how can a conference champion fall so far in just one year?).

OK, so we don't make a bowl this season. But sheesh, 6-6 for KU at this particular point in time? That's a great year, and a very positive sign for next year and beyond. Rock Chalk!

Phil Leister 8 years, 11 months ago

I don't think you'd see ANY negativity from anyone on these boards if KU goes 6-6. Just because most people don't see those 4 more wins, as you do, doesn't mean they're being negative. Objectively I do not see anything from these first 4 games that suggests to me KU is capable of winning 4 more. Especially without Pierson.

Doug Cramer 8 years, 11 months ago

Crystal - I'm sure you're a nice lady...but just to be realistic...and not negative...this team isn't winning another game.

kay_you 8 years, 11 months ago

Based on their performance thus far 2-10 is within the realm of possiblities but I think this team has another win in them. Not ready to throw in the towel but last week's game was a shipwreck. TCU gave OU all they could handle in Norman.

kay_you 8 years, 11 months ago

Saw the Frontline piece on football head injuries last night. Not a pretty picture. I don't know what mother would let her son play tackle football after watching this documentary.

8 years, 11 months ago

Interesting info here, wonder if these moves will make a difference on Saturday.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.