Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Eyeing a start: With Cozart, Ford out, KU turns to Willis

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis looks out as the offense huddles up during a timeout in the first half against Iowa State, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Willis is expected to start for the Jayhawks against Baylor this Saturday.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis looks out as the offense huddles up during a timeout in the first half against Iowa State, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Willis is expected to start for the Jayhawks against Baylor this Saturday.


When Bishop Miege football coach Jon Holmes saw his former quarterback Ryan Willis step onto the field during the final few drives of last week’s Kansas University loss to Iowa State, he recognized just about everything.

Same demeanor. Same poise. Same arm. Heck, even some of the same throws.

That’s why Holmes did not hesitate to answer when asked by the Journal-World on Monday night if Willis, the KU freshman who is expected to start Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against No. 3 Baylor at Memorial Stadium in place of injured starter Montell Cozart, was capable of handling such a big moment.

“I think he’s ready,” said Holmes of Willis, who finished last week’s game 8-of-16 for 100 yards and has taken snaps in two of 0-4 KU’s games so far this season. “One of the reasons why he went to KU was to get this opportunity.”

The chance to play a bigger role officially came Monday afternoon, when KU revealed that Cozart, sidelined indefinitely because of a shoulder sprain, was out for this week’s game, and junior Deondre Ford, who started KU’s Week 3 loss at Rutgers, was out for the season due to a thumb injury.

That left Willis alone atop the Jayhawks’ depth chart as the only KU quarterback with significant game experience. Junior T.J. Millweard, known primarily as KU’s holder, and red-shirt freshman Keaton Perry, a walk-on, are listed as the second- and third-stringers behind KU’s new No. 1 young gun.

“Obviously, he’s the next man up, and his turn has come,” KU coach David Beaty said of Willis after the Iowa State loss.

The depth-chart absence of true freshman Carter Stanley, who has been in street clothes for most of KU’s games this season, seems like a clear indication that the Vero Beach, Florida, prospect will red-shirt this season.

As for Willis, he connected on a couple of deep balls against Iowa State and showed the zip on his passes that coaches and teammates have talked about since he arrived on campus. He also showed his inexperience by hanging in the pocket a little too long at times, taking a couple of hits in the pocket and on the run and being a little slow with his reads, which allowed the ISU defense to blow up KU’s play calls quickly.

All of that, however, is to be expected from a true freshman. And Beaty said he and Willis were aware of it and already had discussed it.

“You learn the hard way pretty quickly,” Beaty said after the ISU loss. “He got hit one good time, and he came to the sideline and said, ‘I know. I gotta get down.’”

That mentality is more important than ever now, given the lack of talent and experience behind Willis. But Holmes said talking the competitive fire that inspires him to fight for every yard out of Willis was going to be a tough task.

The whole thing has a little déjà vu feel to it. Although they never played on the same team, Willis replaced Cozart as Miege’s starter in high school. And in his two years as the Stags’ varsity QB, he lost just two games. He never flinched when asked to replace Cozart, the Div. I signee, two-year starter and Gatorade Player of the Year. Instead, he went out and surpassed his numbers.

“Ryan didn’t care,” Holmes said. “That’s the type of kid he is. He’s his own person and wants to go out there and show people what he can do.”

If that, in any way, is enough to inspire Beaty and company to keep Willis in the No. 1 QB spot even after Cozart returns — if this truly is the beginning of the Ryan Willis era at KU — Holmes said the new KU starter was as jacked as he could ever remember hearing him.

“When there's a billboard up on I-35 and I-70, he wants his face to be on it,” Holmes said. “He's fired up ready to take this challenge on. Playing a Top-5 school may scare some people, but, Ryan, he's looking at it like a challenge and wants to see the things he can do well and the things he still needs to work on.”

KU-Tech set for 11 a.m.

The Kansas football team on Oct. 17 will begin its weekly contest at 11 a.m. for the fourth consecutive week.

The Big 12 announced Monday that KU's home game against Texas Tech scheduled for that day would begin at 11 a.m. and be televised on FOX Sports 1.

The showdown with the Red Raiders will mark the Jayhawks' fifth 11 a.m. kickoff of the 2015 season and fourth in a row.


Michael Sillman 6 years, 10 months ago

As has been already noted, I hope the coaches can come up with a way to keep Baylor from teeing off on Willis. It won't help the kid progress if he takes a pounding.

Extra blockers, quick read plays, roll outs, play action stuff, anything to not leave him a sitting duck.

At least the offense gets to dictate the action. The defense will be having to react to an offense that is bigger, faster, and more experienced. Best hope will be for the offense to hold on to the ball for decent periods of time.

Good luck, Hawks.

John Fitzgerald 6 years, 10 months ago

Just run the ball 80 times. It'll slow the game down, Willis won't get hit, and we won't lose by 70. Maybe 60, but not 70.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 10 months ago

That was the Charlie Weis plan, that didn't help KU out in long run. The Air Raid offense is a system that lends itself to getting blown out frequently if the personnel isn't there to effectively run the system. Even when Art Briles got to Baylor, he got regularly early on until he got the personnel to run the Air Raid.

This is a system that will eventually put points on the board. David Beaty has only had one partial recruiting class to start bringing in players that can run the Air Raid. It will take him time to bring in the players to run the system just like it took Briles multiple classes to get that system in place at Baylor.

John Fitzgerald 6 years, 10 months ago

I agree with you 100%. I was actually just being funny. I love the new offense and can't wait until it's flowing smoothly.

Steve Corder 6 years, 10 months ago

It really doesn't matter what Holmes thinks. Ready or not, Willis is the next QB to be fed into the meat grinder.

Edward Daub 6 years, 10 months ago

As Yogi once said, "It's deja vu all over again"!

Where there's a Willis , there's a Way to Victory!

Dale Rogers 6 years, 10 months ago

Are we missing the end of this article? Or am I misunderstanding that last paragraph?

Micky Baker 6 years, 10 months ago

Honestly, I thought Willis should have started the first game. Since the redshirt is already burned, it should be Willis the rest of the season. Cozart should be moved to the slot which could provide some ways to deceive some teams. Cozart has athleticism and can contribute to this team but he can't do it at the QB position. He just doesn't have the decision making skills. After all the games that Cozart has been given a chance... he hasn't gotten any better in areas critical to success for a QB. Time to move on from him for good in my opinion.

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