Although the scoreboard showed a Kansas victory at the end of each of the last two games, KU football coach Lance Leipold knows the Jayhawks can’t expect that to continue if they don’t find a way to start faster.
Down 14-0 before they could blink against West Virginia and Houston, KU managed to crawl out of both early deficits to win the two road games.
But Leipold, his coaching staff and many of his players have been around long enough to know that getting down early like that is not a recipe for success.
“We need to start better; there’s no doubt about it,” Leipold said this week. “Because one of these times you’re not going to rebound from it and you can’t live that way all the time.”
Asked if he could pinpoint why the Jayhawks have started slow in recent weeks, Leipold said it likely was the result of several factors. He listed confidence and a lack of aggressive play early as two of them.
When asked the same question, defensive coordinator Brian Borland said he had not been able to put his finger on the issue.
“I don’t know,” Borland said. “I wish I did. I know we can’t keep functioning that way.”
While the eliminating the early deficits has fallen more on the shoulders of the Kansas defense, Leipold said the KU offense could do its part, as well. Against Houston, Kansas went three-and-out on the game’s first offensive series, giving Houston the ball with momentum just a couple of minutes into the game.
Still, Borland said regardless of what the offense is or is not doing, it’s the defense’s job to keep opponents from scoring and he knows the Jayhawks need to do a better job of that in the first quarter.
“We’re trying to think about ways (to identify) what can we do in practice to help ourselves,” Borland said. “And, to me, it’s more attention to detail all the time.”
One thing Borland has felt good about even with the slow starts is that the Jayhawks’ overall approach and scheme has proven to be good.
“Once we’ve kind of gotten past those first couple drives, I felt like we performed better,” he said.
While that reality has been communicated to the players — both on game day and in practices — Borland said he was encouraged by what he had heard from several defensive players in the moments when the Jayhawks were trailing by 14 points early.
“I can hear them talking amongst themselves,” he said. “They know what needs to be done. They know that we can play better, we need to play better and here’s what we need to do. It’s not really adjustments; it’s execution. It’s really just settling down, playing with poise, getting your composure back and just playing.”
After two weeks on the road, the Jayhawks return home this weekend to take on unbeaten Duke at 11 a.m. Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
The game has been announced as a sellout — the first since 2019 and second in nearly 13 years — and it will be televised on FS1.