Kansas wary of Duke receivers

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis watched the film from Saturday’s season-opening victory against Southeast Missouri State, something struck him that he had to share via text message.

Senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd was on the receiving end, and the third-year KU coach’s message to his starting right corner was simple: Be ready for a lot of balls to come your way.

Oh, the timing.

One week after watching running mate Dexter McDonald dominate with two interceptions and two pass break-ups against SEMO, Shepherd and the Jayhawks are preparing to face a Duke squad that features two ultra-talented wideouts in seniors Jamison Crowder (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) and Issac Blakeney (6-6, 225) and a passing game crafted by head coach David Cutcliffe, who helped turn Peyton Manning into a college and NFL star.

“He’s gonna get a bunch of action from me, that I can promise you,” Weis said of Shepherd, who could draw a few more throws if teams decide to challenge McDonald less and less.

It remains to be seen which of Duke’s top two options Shepherd will line up against, but if recent history is any indication, Shepherd will see a lot of Blakeney.

“Crowder’s usually gonna be on our right, and Blakeney’s gonna be on our left,” Weis said. “You can design everything you do based on that premise. When they put Crowder somewhere other than our right, there’s something going on. He’s not there just for window dressing.”

That arrangement would put McDonald on Crowder, and that would be just fine with the Jayhawks, who have watched McDonald excel during the past two seasons, with the game against SEMO, for which he earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, representing a career night for the Kansas City, Missouri, native.

The McDonald-Crowder matchup, should it happen, will be one of the most important battles in this weekend’s critical game.

“Crowder might be as good a receiver as we’ll play all year,” Weis said. “Built like (KU senior) Tony (Pierson). Reminds me of Steve Smith, who played for the Carolina Panthers for a bunch of years. Polished routes. Gets open deep. Tough. I really like him as a player.”

While the prospect of facing two top-tier talents from the ACC might seem a little scary given the six-catch, two-touchdown, 173-yard outing put together by SEMO’s Paul McRoberts last week, Weis said the KU secondary’s psyche was not negatively affected by last week’s fourth quarter in which SEMO threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns on just five completions.

“No, no,” Weis said. “As a matter of fact, we’ll have a lot of fun with them here in the next couple days. You know, if nothing else, you take a position that you have a lot of confidence in (and get) a chance to get on them pretty good, which I’ve been doing for the last few days.”

Regardless of matchups, the Blue Devils provide the Jayhawks with an opportunity to prove last week’s sluggish fourth quarter was nothing to be alarmed about.

“When the game comes around, I think that all those DBs are gonna get tested,” Weis said. “I don’t think they’re gonna shy away from Dexter, either. They have a lot of confidence in their passing game.”

Added defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, asked if this week’s test was good timing: “I guess it is. I’d prefer they not have anybody, but they are very talented at wideout. ... They’re (KU defensive backs) motivated, and they know who we’re getting ready to play against.”

Shhhh...

Asked about his players citing a lack of focus on the sidelines late in Saturday’s game or their displeasure with the size of the crowd, Weis made it clear how he felt about such sentiments.

“The players should just shut up,” Weis said. “That’s what the players should do. They should be happy they won the game. They don’t need to comment on focus. They don’t need to comment on the crowd. They should comment on their play. That’s what they should comment on, because I’m never big on people making excuses.”

Lewandowski free

After playing with a cast covering his right hand in last week’s victory, left tackle Pat Lewandowski is expected to have the cast trimmed down in time for this week’s matchup with Duke.

Just how much will that help the senior offensive lineman’s ability to block? A lot, according to Reagan.

“Go ahead and write without your fingers,” Reagan said. “It is like any one of us, you find a way to make it work. But not to have your fingers at all on your hand gives you a club, which is what he had. It makes it a lot more difficult to be successful at just about anything you are doing.”

No more meetings

During the past two seasons, Weis met with his quarterbacks on Sunday nights. That’s no longer the case, as Weis said Tuesday that he left that pow wow to Reagan and quarterback coach Ron Powlus and found something else to occupy his time.

“I went to 9 o’clock Mass. I had something bigger to attend to. I’m trying not to end up in hell,” he said with a chuckle. “And that is definitely bigger.”