Monday, September 4, 2017


Matt Tait: Bender’s debut worth feeling good about

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) slaps hands with fans following the Jayhawks' 38-17 win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) slaps hands with fans following the Jayhawks' 38-17 win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.


It was hardly a perfect game and he left plenty of room for improvement.

But the Week 1 debut by Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender certainly qualified as reason for optimism among the long-suffering Kansas football fan base.

From the time Bender committed to KU last November, through offseason conditioning, spring football and preseason camp, we heard plenty about the physical tools KU’s coaches expected Bender to bring to the field.

On Saturday, we got to see, with our own eyes, the things they saw.

Quick release? Check. Strong arm? Check. Poise and confidence? Check. Check.

All were on display during Bender’s first game as a Jayhawk and each played a big role in KU jumping out to a 1-0 record with a 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri State.

In finishing with 364 yards and four touchdowns — with a 62 percent completion percentage — Bender became the first KU quarterback to achieve such marks since KU legend Todd Reesing hit both against Missouri back in 2009.

“He’s a guy that we thought was going to be a very, very talented guy, and you could see glimpses of that tonight,” KU coach David Beaty said of Bender after the victory.

Even with those numbers, however, there was a faction of KU fans who, get this, simply were not impressed. Maybe it was a case of those folks defaulting to the automated response about quarterback play around here during the past six or seven seasons. And, in some ways, their reaction is understandable. But instead of enjoying watching a guy do what Beaty most likes quarterbacks to do — “sling it” — a handful of Kansas football fans were and are still grumbling.

How high is the bar for QB play at KU that 14-of-20 passing for 202 yards and three touchdowns — in the first half! — does not at least make you smile for a while?

That’s not to say Bender didn’t miss a few throws or make a couple of bad reads. He did. And he will next week and every week he plays the position for the rest of his life. That’s just what quarterbacks do, good ones, bad ones, veterans and rookies. Even that other guy named Peyton misfired a time or 20 during his Hall of Fame career. And Bender, already a veteran in some ways, is smart enough to know that the best way to get better as a quarterback is to take the bad with the good and keep moving forward.

“We have a lot to improve on and we left a lot out there to be honest,” he said.

But for the most part, he was solid. Whether the throws were always exactly where they needed to be or not, he made quick decisions and ran the offense well.

The aspect of Bender’s opener that I liked most, by far, was that the majority of his passes proved to be very catchable. Those throws were not merely in the right spots, but they also were thrown in a way that made for easy grabs. No balls were zipped too hard or got onto the KU receivers before they could get their hands up. None of his completions floated or wobbled and forced receivers to come out of their routes to adjust.

And those facts made life much more pleasant for the KU wideouts, offensive line, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and Beaty.

Bender and the KU passing game have plenty of both good and bad days ahead. And there’s no denying that things are only going to get harder from here.

But Saturday was the best first impression we’ve seen from a KU quarterback in a long while. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.


Doug Cramer 5 years ago

Sounds like he had a decent game to me. Will take it and move on.

Jim Woodward 5 years ago

"Those throws were not merely in the right spots, but they also were thrown in a way that made for easy grabs. No balls were zipped too hard or got onto the KU receivers before they could get their hands up. None of his completions floated or wobbled and forced receivers to come out of their routes to adjust." Those facts that you point out help me see his play in a more positive light. Thanks for your insight Matt.

David A. Smith 5 years ago

Couldn't agree more. He has everything we have missed in a QB. Until the game on Sat, I kept watching the spring game rerun, because I couldn't believe how good the guy looks. Smh, I don't understand how anyone can walk away from the SEMO game unexcited.

SEMO or not, he's legit.

Brett McCabe 5 years ago

I hate columns like this because, when you need to correct the columnist, it sounds like you are targeting the player. But correct I must.

Bender is 9th in the league in passing efficiency. He's fourth in yards while running an offense literally named the "Air Raid". He had two interceptions which helped us greatly in pursuing our goal of matching last year's nation-leading turnover rate. And he did it against an FCS team, at home, against the projected 7th-place finisher in the powerful Ohio Valley Conference.

Bender looked okay. Against SEMO, I would have been "happy" with another 75 yards in passing and one less interception. The completion percentage isn't that meaningful in today's offense.

In his defense, we couldn't have run the ball against a team of grandmas in rocking chairs, so the field did not open up as much as it could have.

He clearly has the arm, composure and ability to play the position. He certainly didn't play a bad game, probably a "C" grade for his position with the offense as a whole at a "D" (although I'd automatically flunk them for coming out after halftime and trying everything possible to empty the stadium on the first series).

I'm cautiously optimistic about Bender, so I'll use an old Tait technique and say: only time will tell.

Joe Ross 5 years ago

I gotta agree with this. Matt Tait I love ya, but I would feel differently if this stat line came from even Iowa State or embattled Texas, who we had beaten last year. I DO credit Bender (like you do here and where I have elsewhere) for greater accuracy than his predecessors. But giving that ground does NOT mean Bender will perform well against Big 12 competition. It doesn't mean he won't, mind you; but like Brett says that is an open question at this point.

My overall disagreement is with what is implied near the end of this article. I absolutely DO NOT think we should get excited about a quarterback after one game, especially when that game is against SEMO.

Can't do it.

Show me the same stuff in Big 12 play and I'll jump on the Bender bandwagon quicker than any of the rest of you.

Matt Tait 5 years ago

Fair enough. But I'm not worried about trying to predict what he will (or won't) be. I'm just interested in reacting to how he played because that's all we can go off of right now.

One beautiful thing about columns/opinions is that they're not, by definition, right or wrong. They just are what they are.

Should be interesting to see how he progresses, or doesn't. It also was Game 1 for him, his first game in a long while, so I'm also guessing what we saw the other night was not necessarily his best.

Time will tell...

Joe Ross 5 years ago

I feel ya. I dont disagree with what you say here. My parting shot, though, is that reserving optimism is not the same thing as pessimism. I'm rooting for the guy. If I can take liberty from a line (you'll excuse the pun) from Red (Morgan Freeman) in the Shawshank Redemption:

"I find I'm so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a true fan can feel. A true fan at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope Bender can make it through the adversity. I hope to see him victorious and shake his hand. I hope he finds the endzones as blue as they've been in my dreams. I hope."

Michael Leiker 5 years ago

SEMO, Matt. SEMO. Yes, things are definitely looking up though. High hopes.

Jeremy D. Morris 5 years ago

It has been a long time since we've had a QB come out and have a nice performance (that felt repeatable) in the first week of the season. While he missed some throws, had some bad reads, and two INTs I want to also point out that Johnson dropped a beautiful pass to him that could have gone for a TD early in the game. If that would have happened I think the momentum would have continued to mount. After getting stopped that series it then seemed like Meachum stopped (or at least slowed) our throwing over the top and seemed content to dink and dunk.

Regardless, I was encouraged about Bender's play and have hope with more time in this offense he'll continue to improve.

Aaron Paisley 5 years ago

KU cannot be -2 in TO's and realistically expect to beat better teams. KU was +4 against Texas last year. Either the defense needs to start forcing a lot more TO's or Bender needs to not throw as many INT's. Those two picks Bender threw were easily preventable and he can't make those kind of mistakes against better teams.

Tracey Graham 5 years ago

To the fans saying "it's only SEMO", the Jayhawks have played lots of FCS teams since 2009 and no other KU QB put up the type of numbers Bender did in any of those games.

Sure, everyone should be cautoious about getting too excited. But at least bender appears that he has a clue about playing the QB position. That's something that can't be said about some of the QBs KU has had since Reesing graduated.

KU is going to have to find a running game going forward in order to give bender a realistic shot at being as productive as he cane be. And he is going to have to avoid the stupid turovers that have plagued the team over the past 7 years.

But I'm still going to be optimistic about Bender. I think he is going to be good. That doesn't necessarily mean KU is suddenly going to win a bunch of games, because that's unlikely. But he could be good enough to help the team take a decent step forward in terms of being competitive. Which is something the Jawhaws have not really been for years.

So I'm going to grab onto the hope without being delusional about the offense.

Travis Clementsmith 5 years ago

Transfers are not "free agents", everything takes an adjustment and I thought Bender did really well, all things considered. The old saying is that you see the greatest improvements in football from Week 1 to Week 2. If the team follows that pattern, we can write off some of the criticisms to that transition. If not, then the criticisms will be more founded. I saw nothing to wring my hands about for an opener and am cautiously encouraged.

Bob Bailey 5 years ago

Hey, the guy did stuff that no coach we've had since Mangino 'couldn't even teach'.

He lead receivers well. He threw it where they could catch it! Not so hard they couldn't handle it. And it seems he wasn't much more than 6 inches off target.

There were a h--- of a bunch of mistakes among AL, Last Years Winner, and a bunch of the top 25 teams. Couldn't see the game, but if there's room to throw rotten apples, Defense is the place to start. There hasn't been a well played Defense so far this year. The DC got off the track wa a a y before Bowen started to play. If you have to pick a time, it was when the West Coast Offense threw a wrench into the machinery of "The Notre Dame Defense". There is no excuse for not teaching tackling, and no excuse for not covering a receiver anywhere on the field!

John Fitzgerald 5 years ago

I understand what Tait is saying but in defense of all of the KU fans that weren't impressed I'll reiterate that we played SEMO, a bottom feeding FCS team. I had expectations based on previous articles on Bender and those were not met, especially when you look at other QB's around the league. Was Bender the best QB we've seen since Reesing? Yes, but that doesn't say much. And one thing I refuse to do is accept a player not at least living up to my expectations solely because he's better than anyone we've seen in the last 8 years. And what were my expectations? Given the air raid, and Tait may see this as unrealistic, but I expected 400 yards passing, 4 touchdowns (which I believe he met), and ZERO turnovers. So while he was better than we've had he also did not impress nor live up to my expectations.

Matt Tait 5 years ago

No issues with your opinion/take, but I was taken aback when you said you EXPECTED 400 yards passing and 4 TDs. Wow.

I'm not sure there are many fans of any football program who go into a game expecting that. I'm guessing even Packers and Patriots fans don't expect that.

But, hey, nothing wrong with aiming high.

John Fitzgerald 5 years ago

I thought you might think 400 yards would be a little or even a lot unrealistic, which is totally understandable. But given it's the air raid under a new and very proven OC in Meacham and then add the talent we have at WR and also the fact we were playing an FCS bottom feeder it was realistic to me.

Matt Tait 5 years ago

Fair enough. And I'm sure Bender and the coaches would appreciate the vote of confidence. Just wanted to make sure people weren't missing the good that was happening, given how much bad we've all had to watch over the past several years...

Dane Griffith 5 years ago

Two air raid transfer QBs this week with their first start at their new school - which stats would you prefer?? Which one was more highly touted??

12-24 / 187 yds / 2 TD / 1 INT 23-37 / 364 yds / 4 TD / 2 INT

Perfect? - No but come on folks - did you really expect perfect?

SEMO? - Sure they should not have been in the game or much of a challenge but don't let everything you've read make you believe this team is ready for prime time. This is still a work in progress and a number of 2 and 3 star guys that are being coached correctly finally (IMO) are going to find more W's this year that last year (IMO) - It's week 1 folks - enjoy the W and get ready for week 2. There are certainly greater challenges ahead and believe me - we will find out how good we are --

Michael Maris 5 years ago

I'm assuming that the Gameball & Gasser's Segment is not going to be a part of this season's segment offerings?

Marc Frey 5 years ago

I see both sides of the issue, but as Matt stated, the throws were on target and easier to catch. We have not had that in 7+ years. So having a QB who can hit his target is a huge step. I can remember too many bad throws to our receivers, and against every level of competition. Thus I have a cautious optimism. Rock Chalk!

Eric Eakins 5 years ago

I'm going with this approach to help me keep the excitement: The 2016 opening day team was better than the 2015 opening day team. The 2017 opening day team looked better than the 2016 team. The 2017 opening day quarterback was far above the previous two seasons. Hopefully this 2017 team will surpass 2016 by at least two wins. I'm on the five year plan of wanting improvement each year ending in consistent play and bowl bids. Seems we are on track. RCJH

Chris DeWeese 5 years ago

If what Beaty said about the team not knowing who the starting QB would be is true, then some of the performance issues could be attributed to a lack of rhythm between the QB and the receivers. It's pretty clear that Bender has solidified his position as the starter, so maybe some of the rough edges can be smoothed out before next Saturday. The fact that SEMO stacked the box makes me think they game planned for Stanley more than Bender, which might account for our lack of a run game. I still have to remind myself that by all accounts our O line is still pretty young and inexperienced compared to other teams. We still have several sophomores and/or redshirt freshman getting significant playing time. That might account for the lack of effective run blocking (although the pass blocking seemed pretty effective). At this point, I'm all for starting Dom Williams as our RB. It seems Taylor Martin just can't see the field as well. He might have some speed, but if he can't see when and where to turn on the jets it does him/us no good.

Titus Canby 5 years ago

I was one of the loud complainers after the game. But I agree with Matt. It was a solid showing. And he threw some great passes. GREAT passes. My biggest concern is that he stares down his receivers. Good arm, great accuracy and a really nice touch, but telegraphing passes could lead to problems.

I've been saying for a few years though, that I just want a QB who will hit his open receivers. And Bender definitely did that. He even hit several who weren't open with perfect passes.

I'll take him. Thanks Matt.

Bill French 5 years ago

Love your writing Matt. Keep up the good work ! Thanks

John Joseph Gorski 5 years ago

I am one of the ones who is not impressed...YET. I remember last year how well the KU QB's did vs a team of similar rating and two of those QB's lost their jobs when faced with better competition. I'll reserve judgement for after the OHIO game and take in all three of the non-con games. Bender had a solid game vs a team in which he should have a solid game.

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