The transfer portal helped the Kansas football program land an important addition to its secondary this past weekend when cornerback Jeremy Webb announced his decision to come to Lawrence.
Webb was most recently a starting cornerback at Missouri State after being a reserve defensive back at Virginia Tech for multiple years. He entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal as a graduate transfer in early June before deciding the University of Kansas was where he wanted to conclude his collegiate career.
With the Jayhawks losing starter Karon Prunty to the transfer portal earlier this offseason, Webb figures to come in and immediately compete for a big role on this year’s team under the new coaching staff.
Because of that, here is a breakdown on what Webb has to offer to KU:
Key stats: Webb’s best production came in his lone season with Missouri State. He started in all but one of the 10 games he played in. Webb recorded three interceptions and earned six pass breakups to go along with 38 total tackles.
Body type/athletic ability: At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Webb has a big frame for a cornerback. His frame is more than just length, though, as Webb has thick arms and a big chest. Webb’s stature plays into how he succeeds in pass coverage.
Strengths: Physical style of play and tackling
It should be no surprise that Webb wins with physicality.
Put on any of his tape, it will be obvious that Webb wants to rely on his combination of length and strength in pass coverage. Webb is constantly using his hands to disrupt receivers, forcing them off the stem of their route. Webb is good when in press coverage situations because of that style of play.
The hand usage doesn’t stop near the line of scrimmage, however. Webb maintains that physical play even when the ball is heading his way, while also showing the ability to make a play on the ball at the right time. Webb was only called for four penalties last year, two of which happened in the conference championship.
Webb’s competitive toughness and play strength are especially evident in the run game. He is not afraid to make a play on a ball carrier in space, and rarely misses when given the opportunity to do so.
According to NCAA Premium Stats at Pro Football Focus, Webb posted a tackling grade of 79.2 last season for the Bears. He recorded a mark of 74.2 or higher in all but three games. Because of his ability to have leverage at the point of attack, Webb only missed three tackles all year.
One reason for concern: Play speed
The tape might be limited on Webb, but his style of play would suggest that speedy receivers could occasionally get behind him on deeper routes.
Per NFLDraftScout, Webb’s unofficial 40 time is listed at 4.67. The Big 12 Conference features plenty of talented wide receivers, some of which rely solely on their speed. Webb might not be able to run with every opponent on deep routes, especially when starting near the line of scrimmage.
That might end up being fine though. His hand usage can overcome some of that, limiting any potential separation between him and the receiver. Webb demonstrated this while breaking up a pass against Oklahoma in the season opener, making a play on an underthrown ball on 3rd and 15.
Overall thoughts and projection: It seems unlikely that KU’s new coaching staff would bring Webb in for one year just to have him play a small role.
So given that the cornerback room is thin, Webb will likely make an instant impact and compete for a starting job this season. And there is honestly reason to believe that Webb is finally putting it all together at this stage of his collegiate career.
Last season, Webb finished with a coverage grade of 76.0 via PFF. He was targeted 58 times, giving up 35 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Webb allowed a NFL passer rating of 76.7 while playing 617 total snaps.
Webb will now have to build off that year against even tougher competition.
Pro Football Focus released its 2021 season preview magazine on Monday, and expectations are unsurprisingly low for the Kansas football program in Year 1 of the Lance Leipold era.
According to the magazine, the Jayhawks have a preseason Elo ranking of 117th out of 130 teams in all of college football. They have a 0% chance of winning the Big 12 title and are projected at 3.9 wins based on PFF’s initial simulation.
Five of KU’s six position units are ranked 10th out of as many teams in the Big 12 entering the season. The lone exception is the defensive line, where Kansas has the eight-best unit in its conference ahead of both West Virginia and Texas Tech.
None of that matters in the long run, however, because this is a rebuilding year for Kansas. PFF said as much in its “bottom line” sentence to sum up what to expect from the Jayhawks entering the 2021 season.
Bottom line: “Kansas made a home-run head coach hire with Lance Leipold, but the positive effects of the new regime are highly unlikely to take place in 2021, given what he inherited.”
Still, Pro Football Focus highlighted a few key players worth mentioning entering this fall. The full preview magazine is available for PDF download for those who are subscribed to their premium college football stats or grades.
Here are a few notable players mentioned in KU’s preview section:
Junior offensive tackle Earl Bostick Jr. listed as X-Factor
It is no secret that KU’s offensive line was abysmal last year. According to the magazine, Kansas put together the worst tackle play ever last fall since PFF started tracking such data back in 2014.
Bostick was part of the reason why, as he logged 547 snaps and posted a pass-blocking grade of 44.7 during the 2020 season. He spent 354 of those snaps at right tackle, but will likely switch over to the other side of the line this year.
After surrendering 22 pressures in his first year as a starter, Bostick has to make some serious strides if KU’s offensive line is going to show any signs of progress.
Transfer WR Trevor Wilson picked as breakout player
Although Wilson might have been overlooked initially when six former Buffalo players transferred to Kansas, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound wide receiver could make an instant impact in Lawrence.
Wilson could really emerge as the primary target for Kansas after his debut season with the Bulls last fall. He led the team with 19.9 yards per reception while also pacing UB with three receiving touchdowns during a 6-1 campaign.
Per the magazine, Wilson ran 55 routes last year and posted a receiving grade of 87.0. Wilson was targeted on 40% of his routes, which was the fourth-highest rate in the FBS among players with at least 50 routes.
So it is not hard to see why Wilson could carve out a nice role right away.
Kenny Logan Jr. mentioned among top returners for KU
PFF also mentioned Buffalo transfer center Mike Novitsky, guard Chris Hughes and safety Kenny Logan Jr. as KU’s most-important returning players. Each player was given a paragraph to help explain their importance.
Logan’s synopsis was especially revealing though. According to the magazine, Logan ranked second in the league in coverage grade at free safety last season, which shouldn’t be surprising given all the success he had as a sophomore.
What was interesting was that Logan didn’t fare as well when he lined up in the box. His coverage grade dropped to 18th among 24 Big 12 safeties, suggesting that Logan might be better suited to play deep on a more consistent basis.
“The 6-foot sophomore has always been at his best playing deep when he can keep his eyes on the play in front of him, so an increased role here would do wonders for the defense.” — PFF
There really is no one way to replace cornerback Karon Prunty, but head coach Lance Leipold and the rest of his staff are going to have to try in their first year leading the Kansas football program.
Prunty, a starting cornerback, announced on Sunday that he was leaving the program and entering the transfer portal. Despite being just a freshman, Prunty was one of three players to start every game for the Jayhawks during a winless campaign in 2020.
The decision makes sense for Prunty. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound cornerback from Portsmouth, Va. was tied for first among all FBS freshmen with 10 pass breakups on the year. He was named to 247 Sports’ True Freshman All-American team last fall, and figures to be a lockdown corner wherever he ends up this season.
But it is obviously a huge blow for the Jayhawks, who appeared to have their roster mostly completed at this stage of the offseason. It had been nearly a month since starting defensive linemen Marcus Harris and Da’Jon Terry entered the transfer portal. They both ended up at SEC schools, with Harris going to Auburn and Terry headed to Tennessee.
So the Jayhawks have been here before, but the loss of Prunty might be the toughest yet given his skill set and the importance of the cornerback position in today’s game. That said, here are three ways Kansas could replace Prunty’s presence on the back end of its defense:
A leap in production for Duece Mayberry
As the only returning cornerback with more than 50 snaps for KU last year, Duece Mayberry will play a big part in how the Jayhawks can move on in life without Prunty.
Like Prunty, Mayberry contributed to KU’s defense as a freshman in 2020. The 6-foot, 173-pound corner from Tulsa, Okla. played in all nine games. Mayberry broke up three passes and recovered two fumbles to go along with 11 total tackles on the year.
Still, it will take some substantial growth from Mayberry for him to come close to what Prunty provided last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Prunty posted a total grade of 67.2 and a coverage grade of 66.5 last year. Quarterbacks only completed 38.5% of their passes when they threw at Prunty.
Mayberry, meanwhile, recorded a defensive grade of 60.9 and a coverage grade of 58.6 in his rookie campaign. Opposing signal callers completed 50% of their passes against Mayberry, who logged a total of 247 snaps.
There is reason to believe that Mayberry will make a jump this year, thanks in large part to how he closed out last season. After giving up a pair of catches for 45 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State, Mayberry only surrendered one reception for nine yards over the final three games of the season.
If Mayberry can carry that momentum into 2021, it will go a long way in helping the Jayhawks replace their lockdown defender.
Instant impact from freshman CB Jacobee Bryant
As Prunty just demonstrated last year, freshman players can become a focal part of the team early on. If at least one player does that this season, it will definitely help out KU’s defense in a big way.
Freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant might just be the guy to do that this year.
Bryant, who is listed at 6-foot and 170 pounds, was a three-star recruit in the 2020 class and signed with KU in February. He is from Evergreen, Alabama and was the No. 28 recruit in the state of Alabama by Rivals. He chose Kansas over offers from Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
In his high school career, Bryant helped Hillcrest High School win a Class 3A state championship in 2017. As a junior in 2018, Bryant recorded eight interceptions, and took five of them back to the house for touchdowns, to go along with 38 total tackles.
Bryant was already generating some buzz from veterans during spring practices, and then he delivered during what was essentially his Jayhawk debut at KU’s spring game on May 1. He made the biggest play of the game with a pick-six, where he undercut a comeback route and intercepted a pass from Jalon Daniels.
So there was reason to believe Bryant was going to be a huge part of KU’s cornerback room already, but those chances have certainly increased now. And it will probably be pivotal for KU’s defense this fall.
More has to fall on Kenny Logan’s shoulders
There are other cornerbacks who will need to step up, but you could make an argument that this means safety Kenny Logan Jr. will be even more important to KU’s defense now.
Logan was already in line to be the leader of the defensive unit, though Prunty and Harris both figured to be staples of that group before they decided to leave. So this means Logan is really going to have anchor things on the back end.
During his sophomore season last year, Logan made eight starts and led KU in tackles with 58 on the year. Logan also broke up three passes and made two interceptions, while giving up nine receptions on 16 targets.
Per PFF, Logan lined up in the box on 190 snaps and did a great job of flying upfield when having to play the run. He also posted a coverage grade of 61.8 on 200 coverage snaps, lining up as a free safety or in the slot most of the time.
That versatility is now more important than ever before with the recent departures, as Logan has the ability to make plays all over the field. If he is somehow able to do even more for KU's defense, though, it might just be enough to help fill the gaping hole left by Prunty.
Chicago Bears excited about former Kansas RB Khalil Herbert after drafting him in 6th round of NFL Draft
A total of 14 running backs went off the board before the Chicago Bears selected former Kansas running back Khalil Herbert with the 217th overall pick. Yet that doesn’t mean the Bears will temper their expectations for the running back who played his final collegiate season at Virginia Tech.
Chicago Bears area scout John Syty raved about Herbert’s playmaking ability in a video interview with Jeff Joniak, who is the team’s play-by-play announcer. The full video is available on the team’s Youtube page and was posted on May 5.
“What makes this kid separate from a lot of the other backs in this class is really just the subtle vision, his feet and his elusiveness,” Syty said. “(He’s a) very patient runner. But the second he sees something, he hits it and goes.”
“This guy is bringing a home-run ability every time he touches the football,” Syty said.
The Bears traded down nine spots in the sixth round during the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft, and their patience paid off. They selected Herbert with the 33rd pick in the sixth round.
In that same round, the San Francisco 49ers picked running back Elijah Mitchell from Louisiana, the New York Giants took Gary Brightwell of Arizona, the Los Angeles Chargers nabbed Missouri’s Larry Rountree III, and the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Michigan running back Chris Evans. All of them went before Herbert, who is coming off a career year and posted impressive numbers last fall.
After playing four seasons at Kansas, Herbert transferred to Virginia Tech for the 2020 campaign. He ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 carries. He also caught 10 passes for 179 yards and one score.
“He went to Virginia Tech his final year and that’s where he kind of got on the radar for us a little bit,” Syty said. “What Bears fans are getting is someone who really fits the culture we like to embrace in Chicago. (He’s a) hard-working and humble kid. Very passionate about running the football.”
Herbert, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 204 pounds, is also expected to make an impact as a returner. He averaged 26.9 yards per return on a total of 16 kickoff returns with the Hokies.
“Strong return qualities,” Syty said. “He did a lot of kick-return stuff at Virginia Tech this past season for them. Really productive and has that top-end speed to be a difference maker in that phase for us.”
According to Ourlads, Chicago’s starting running back is third-year running back David Montgomery. He is coming off a season where he piled up 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground on 247 total carries. Montgomery also caught 54 passes for 438 yards and two scores.
Tarik Cohen and Damien Williams are both slated behind Montgomery on the depth chart, so Herbert certainly has an opportunity to carve out a role with the Bears.
“I think the city of Chicago is going to really like seeing this kid put on a Bears uniform,” Syty said.
The Bears are not alone in thinking they got a steal, however.
In an ESPN article posted on May 5, Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus listed the Herbert selection as one of the best value picks of the draft. Herbert was considered the fifth-best running back on PFF’s big board entering the draft.
“Herbert's 2020 breakout was no fluke,” Renner wrote in the article. “We got a glimpse of that guy in 2019, when he averaged 9.2 yards per carry and broke 18 tackles on 42 attempts before leaving Kansas at midseason. After transferring to Virginia Tech, Herbert lit it up with 1,172 yards on only 155 carries and averaged 4.7 yards per carry after contact.”
“Herbert has legit home run speed and even had a kick return score called back this past season,” Renner added. “At 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, he has the ideal body type to contribute on any down when called upon.”
So it is safe to say that Herbert’s NFL career will be worth monitoring for curious KU football fans.
Not only will Kansas football have a new head coach, but it seems likely that there will be new coordinators on both sides of the ball for the 2021 campaign.
While no official announcement has been made yet, Lance Leipold is reportedly bringing seven former Buffalo assistants with him to Lawrence. Brian Borland, who has served as defensive coordinator under Leipold since 2007, is one of the seven coaches following his head man to Kansas.
Given his resume, Borland figures to be KU’s new defensive coordinator. So much so that he actually changed his Twitter bio to reflect that Tuesday night before eventually switching it back. Still, it seems safe to assume that Borland will be directing the Jayhawks’ defense.
As a result, here are three things to know about Borland before the official announcement:
A scheme change is imminent
With D.J. Eliot directing the defense, Kansas has utilized a 3-4 defense as its base formation over the last two seasons.
That will change with Borland taking over the unit, as he has operated out of a 4-3 front for as long as he’s been a play caller. It essentially puts an extra player on the defense line, so the Jayhawks will have a four-man front now.
Given how much football formations have evolved over the years, player alignments will likely still rotate and there will be different looks mixed in as well. In fact, the Jayhawks rarely even operated out of their 3-4 base last year.
That said, expect Borland’s defense to be pretty consistent. According to an article from 2013 in the Wisconsin State Journal, Borland’s defensive units usually looked the same year after year at Wisconsin-Whitewater. They leaned on explosive ends, physical linebackers and fast cornerbacks.
Borland’s defense was described as “an aggressive front with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality in the secondary and play with great discipline” in that same article. And Borland had a nice explanation of why that might be the case.
“To me, it’s the consistency of the scheme,” Borland said. “When a guy comes in as a freshman, we’re by and large doing the same thing when he’s a senior. One thing I think we do probably as good as anybody is coach technique. I think that’s a lost art, at least in some areas. We’re not winning by inventing a new defense every week and by blitzing everywhere. We’re winning by coaching our guys, our scheme, our technique.”
The numbers have been impressive
Perhaps overshadowed by Buffalo setting records on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has been just as effective over the last three seasons. The Bulls have won 24 games over the last three years, while earning three consecutive bowl berths because of that balance.
In 2020, Buffalo led the Mid-American Conference in total defense by allowing an average of 360.4 yards per game and ranked second in scoring defense by allowing an average of 21.9 points per contest.
The Bulls had one of their best defensive seasons in program history in 2019, leading the MAC and ranking seventh in the nation in total defense by allowing 291 yards per game. They only allowed 94.2 rushing yards per outing, which ranked fourth in the nation.
Buffalo was third in the MAC in total defense in 2018, but only trailed the top team by an average of two yards per contest. The Bulls also recorded 14 interceptions as a team that year, which was their best mark since 2013.
For those interested in advanced metrics, Football Outsiders has a stat called DFEI that represents the per-possession scoring advantages for each unit against an average opponent unit.
Here is where Buffalo has ranked under Borland in that metric:
2015 — 90th
2016 — 95th
2017 — 83rd
2018 — 87th
2019 — 24th
2020 — 27th
For comparison, KU has only ranked higher than 84th in that metric once over that span. The Jayhawks came in at 48th in 2018. Kansas was listed outside the top-90 over the last two years under Eliot.
Borland has an interesting background, and a local connection
Take a look at Borland’s online bio and you will notice some notable stops along the way.
Not only does Borland have an impressive resume on the football field, but he also coached track and field at UW-Whitewater between 1994-2002.
In 2000, he actually led the women’s track and field team to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. That was enough for him to be named national coach of the year.
In addition, Borland also has a local connection. He served as defensive coordinator for Baker University for three seasons between 1991-93. At Baker, he even served as the head softball coach for the Wildcats. So this area certainly won’t be new to Borland.
Who is Andy Kotelnicki?
That’s the question Kansas football fans might be asking, as new head coach Lance Leipold begins to put his coaching staff together just a few days after taking over the program. Kotelnicki is reportedly one of the seven assistants following Leipold from Buffalo to KU, according to a Monday report from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel.
Given Kotelnicki has spent the previous eight seasons as an offensive coordinator under Leipold, he likely will hold that title in Lawrence. Kotelnicki was the O.C. for the final two years at Wisconsin-Whitewater before completing six seasons with Leipold at Buffalo. Kotelnicki has also coached every position group on the offensive side of the ball in his career.
But all of that is the standard information that you can find by looking at Kotelnicki’s bio.
Kotelnicki participated in a virtual coaching clinic on June 29 of last summer, which really helped give those interested a better understanding of his general offensive philosophy. The full hour-long video is available over at the “Virtual Football Clinic” channel on Youtube.
While Kotelnicki didn’t give away any secrets about his scheme, the video still provided a nice glimpse of what KU fans can expect from the team’s new play caller.
Here are three things that stood out about Kotelnicki after watching the full video:
Kotelnicki believes in keeping things simple
Don’t expect Kotelnicki’s offense to be too complex, especially with the offseason being condensed due to the coaching staff arriving this late in the spring.
During the coaching clinic, Kotelnicki revealed that his typical call sheet on game day consists of approximately 90-105 different plays. He noted that includes plays like the quarterback sneak or a Hail Mary pass, which are usually on any team’s call sheet.
But that wasn’t always the case for Kotelnicki, who admitted to having more plays in his playbook earlier in his career before having a revelation. There is only so much time to practice all these plays, so he decided to only include plays that his team had practiced in a 11-on-11 setting prior to the game.
To better illustrate this idea, Kotelnicki refers to his philosophy as the “80/20” rule. An offense will likely get 80% of its offensive production (yards and touchdowns) from 20% of its playbook. That often leads to an emphasis on the base stuff, and making sure the offense can get that right.
“When you do the simple well, you are probably a pretty dang good football team,” Kotelnicki said.
Preparation is extremely important to Kotelnicki
Kotelnicki spent a bulk of the show talking about the importance of preparation and being organized as a squad.
That could mean from a macro-sense, such as having a yearly calendar. He outlined the importance of self-scout evaluations in the offseason, and using that time to study other teams to potentially implement new scheme ideas. He noted that the offseason is a good time to study the defensive structures of a team’s “must-beat opponents” as well.
But where that preparation really showed up was when Kotelnicki broke down a typical schedule during the week leading up to a game. He went through the daily schedule at about the 42-minute part of the podcast, based on how Buffalo operated during the 2019 season.
In a normal week, the first-team offense went against the first-team defense for 15 plays on Tuesday and 15 more snaps on Wednesday. They also competed against each other during the two-minute drill session on Thursday.
The offense also got about 168 reps against the scout team, which breaks down into 60 reps for team run plays, 54 plays for team pass calls, and about 20 reps for passing plays under pressure. Kotelnicki noted that his first-team offense will get about 60% of the reps in practice.
It is a week that really starts on Sunday, as the staff gets on the same page about the schedule. All practice scripts are planned the night before to make sure nobody is scrambling to get things done right before the team takes the practice field.
“Just my perspective, the team who spends more time trying to be right Sunday through Friday typically has a better chance of being successful on Saturday,” Kotelnicki said.
Others will have input, including KU’s quarterbacks
All throughout the week, Kotelnicki is watching film and putting together the game plan along with the entire offensive staff. Jim Zebrowski, who served as co-offensive coordinator at Buffalo and is also coming to KU, is a big part of that as well.
In the clinic, Kotelnicki acknowledged that it would be more time efficient just to put everything together himself. Yet getting staff input is an essential part of his process throughout the week.
So much so that every Wednesday, Kotelnicki will ask each member of the offensive coaching staff to pick the 15 plays to open a game with. He does this to see how many specific plays end up being on multiple lists, because those calls always end up on the opening script.
It all leads to the staff coming up with the top 30-40 plays for a given game.
Kotelnicki also admitted to having his quarterbacks do this same exercise, citing that it helps quarterbacks begin to think about the game like a coach. That should be something to monitor while watching KU’s young quarterbacks develop over their respective careers.
It all just speaks to Kotelnicki’s overall mindset, as he’s willing to accept feedback from others while also trying to get on the same page as an offense.
It is important to note that I’m no expert when it comes to coaching hires. Lance Leipold is just the third football coach hired by the University of Kansas during my time covering the program in some capacity.
Yet Leipold’s press conference, which took place at the Indoor Practice Facility on Monday morning, was — in my opinion — easily the most-impressive of the three.
There were no promises made. Leipold was deliberate and thoughtful with all of his answers. And he certainly seems to understand the challenge ahead of him, as Kansas has not won more than three games in a season since 2009.
None of that is to say that the Jayhawks will turn things around under Leipold. After all, coaching hires at the collegiate level are often a crapshoot. But, perhaps if KU had hired candidates like Leipold over the last few times of doing this, maybe things would have gone differently.
With that, here are my initial takeaways from Leipold’s introductory press conference:
This means a lot to Leipold
From the literal moment Leipold stepped in front of the microphone, you could just tell how much this opportunity meant to him.
After making a quick joke about his walk to the podium, Leipold started his speech by reading the notes he had in front of him. He paused for a brief moment, as he appeared to take it all in, before saying “wow” while looking around the room.
It was such a subtle sequence, but one that illustrated what this all meant for Leipold.
While every coach surely dreams of having the chance to lead a Power Five program, it probably was a surreal moment for Leipold. He is just seven years removed from coaching a Division III football program at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he directed his team to six national titles.
If you go back and watch Leipold’s introductory press conference at Buffalo, there was much discussion about how his success will translate to the FBS level. It almost seemed like Leipold still had something to prove.
But Leipold has definitely earned this particular opportunity. He kept emphasizing how much of a perfect fit KU was for him throughout his press conference. And that is why it felt genuine when he clarified that he’s here to stay in Lawrence.
“I'm not a guy that's moved around a lot,” Leipold said. “And this is a place I want to be for a very, very long time.”
Continuity is key for Leipold
Along those lines, it seems like Leipold understands the importance of continuity.
When asked what he thought held KU back over the last decade or so, Leipold explained that the lack of stability was a big reason why. Leipold is actually the fifth coach hired by Kansas since 2010. None of the previous four coaches have lasted more than four years.
“The one thing that stands out, just on the surface, that has held (KU) back is stability,” Leipold said. “Consistency. Continuity. And those are the things that we have talked about with (KU Athletic Director) Travis (Goff) through this process.”
But it really goes beyond the man at the helm.
Leipold was eventually asked about the assistant coaching staff. It remains to be seen how all that will shake out, but don’t expect Leipold to just keep assistants around for the sake of making the transition more seamless.
Leipold emphasized that he’s not putting a staff together to just get through the 2021 campaign. He wants to have assistants who are here to stay, which certainly might make things more difficult in the short time. But the long game is the ultimate goal.
“As we put the staff together, I want to make sure this isn't for one season,” Leipold said. “We are going to put together a staff for the future — back to the word about continuity and consistency.”
“If the same people are in the room, you have a chance to keep working on something new to get better and not going back in and re-introducing somebody to them,” Leipold added.
Leipold taking one day at a time approach
Throughout his five-minute introduction speech and the 30-minutes Q&A session that followed, Leipold was adamant that the rebuild won’t happen overnight. This is going to be a process.
While that can come across as a cliche at times, it was truly important that Leipold understood the challenge ahead of him. The Jayhawks are coming off a winless campaign in 2020, and things may not be much better in 2021 with a coaching cahnge taking place this late in the spring.
So when Leipold was asked what he would consider a successful season this fall, his answer was perfect given the circumstances.
“We want to stay in the moment,” Leipold said. “We got to be able to find ways to get better here today. And that'll translate when we continue to go through the daily process of improvement, and establishing what we want to be, the wins and losses are going to take care of themselves.”
All indications suggest that Leipold knows this will be a process, and he’s not trying to take shortcuts. Whether or not the rebuild happens ultimately remains to be seen, but it finally feels like KU has the right man to at least try it with.
For comparison, here is Leipold's introductory press conference at Buffalo
For the first time in two years, a spring game was played at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Thanks to a unique scoring system, the White team (defense) earned a 74-42 win over the Blue team (offense) on Saturday. While there is only so much that can be gleaned from an event like this within any collegiate program, it was the first time to watch KU in action since its winless campaign in 2020.
Because of that, here are three initial observations from this year’s spring game:
The scoring system was probably too cute
Shortly before the spring game began, it was announced that there was going to be a different scoring system than normal.
The offense had its standard ways of scoring such as a touchdown, field goal, two-point conversion and extra point attempt. The offense also scored three points for an explosive play, which was a run of 12-plus yards and a pass of 17-plus yards. If there were two more first downs on a drive, the blue team also netted a point.
KU’s defense, meanwhile, scored one point with a three-and-out, two points for a sack, three points for a missed field goal attempt and three points for a fourth-down stop. The white team also scored six points for any touchdown, one point for a tackle-for-loss and one point for any stop to end a drive.
All of that led to a blood bath early on.
KU’s defense grabbed a 11-1 advantage after the first two possessions. That lead grew to a 21-1 advantage two possessions later. The white team scored 26 points before the offense got back on the scoreboard for another point.
The Kansas defense held a 51-14 advantage by halftime, and they certainly earned a lot of that. The offense put together more sustainable drives in the second half, many of which ended in field goals.
But maybe next year the scoring could be more standard.
KU’s defense was flying around
All that said, the Jayhawks were playing very well on the defensive end on Saturday. That should be expected, with the offense learning a new system and the defense returning a lot of key young players.
KU’s defense just looked ready to play, as everyone was seemingly flying around to the ball.
Safety Kenny Logan Jr. made a nice open-field tackle on fourth down, forcing a turnover on downs on the opening possession. Linebacker Nick Channel came through with a third-down sack to end the next trip.
Malcolm Lee intercepted a bad pass from Miles Kendrick, who was looking to dump it off to his running back. Jay Dineen forced a fumble early on, Kyron Johnson came through with a sack on fourth down as well.
Yet the biggest play of the game was a pick-six from cornerback Jacobee Bryant. The freshman from Evergreen, Alabama undercut a comeback route, in which quarterback Jalon Daniels was trying to connect with receiver Jordan Brown.
In total, Kansas finished with three interceptions as a team. The Jayhawks forced two fumbles, recovering one of them. And, in fitting fashion, the spring game ended with a sack after an evening full of them.
Running backs have solid showing on offense
As is usually the case every year, it looks like the Kansas backfield should be pretty solid.
Sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. and redshirt freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson were the biggest bright spots for the blue team. The former was responsible for the offense’s only touchdown of the game.
On a second-half drive that started on the opposition’s 25-yard line, Hishaw started things off with an explosive 13-yard run. After another two-yard run, Hishaw found paydirt on his third consecutive carry. He shot through the right side of the line for a 10-yard touchdown.
In the first half, Pesek-Hickson shouldered the load on one of KU’s best drives of the game. He carried the ball four times in a row, which began with back-to-back 11-yard pickups. Pesek-Hickson added another 10 yards on the next two rushing attempts.
Add in the fact Velton Gardner did not play, and soon-to-be freshman Devin Neal will arrive in the fall, it is clear that KU’s running back room should be the focal point of the offensive attack in 2021.
After what appeared to be a thorough coaching search, the University of Kansas officially picked Lance Leipold to take over its football program on Friday. And the case for Leipold, who came to KU after six seasons at the helm at Buffalo, was really never hard to make.
He’s just a winner.
Leipold is the fastest coach in NCAA history to reach 100 career wins at any level. He won six national titles while serving as the head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) for eight seasons from 2007-14. He also guided Buffalo to 24 victories over the last three seasons, all of which ended in bowl berths, during the most successful three-year run Buffalo history.
Yet I can’t help but think the decision to go with Leipold is so much more than that, especially when you consider the other reported frontrunner.
It is no secret that Army’s Jeff Monken was viewed as the other possible candidate for KU. There were other candidates, of course, but this was really considered a two-man race for much of the process.
And that’s why Leipold’s versatility might have been his biggest selling point in the end. During his time in Buffalo, the Bulls showed the ability to be effective through the air or on the ground, depending on their personnel in a given season.
Thanks to running back Jaret Patterson leading the way in 2020, Buffalo ranked second in the nation with an average of 287.43 rushing yards per game. The Bulls piled up 2,012 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground on their way to being ranked in the AP Poll for the first time in program history.
Patterson, who is expected to get drafted this weekend in the 2021 NFL Draft, accounted for 1,072 rushing yards in just six games. He piled up 409 rushing yards in a single game against Kent State, which is the second-best rushing performance in FBS history.
In this offense, Patterson was eventually named the winner of the Vern Smith Leadership Award, given to the MVP of the MAC and was also named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
The 2019 season was much of the same, with Buffalo ranking 10th in the nation in rushing by recording an average of 250.46 yards per contest.
However, the Bulls were closer to an even split between the pass and run in 2018 with Tyree Jackson at quarterback. They threw for 3,155 passing yards and recorded 2,648 rushing yards on their way to winning 10 games for the first time in program history.
Buffalo's offense had a record-breaking season during that 2018 campaign. Buffalo scored 484 points, 64 touchdowns and totaled 5,803 yards of total offense to set new school records in each category. Jackson was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, while Patterson earned MAC Freshman of the Year honors.
Jackson’s first year as the signal caller was in 2017, when he led the Bulls to the 22nd-ranked passing offense in the nation. They averaged 290.8 passing yards per game, as Jackson went 143-for-237 through the air for 2,096 yards and 12 touchdowns.
All of that is to say that Leipold is comfortable doing whatever it takes to win. He’s not afraid to adapt to his team’s strengths. Leipold even uses a variety of personnel packages in a given game, as he explained on the show "Tennessee Two-A-Days" on Jan. 21.
“A lot of those philosophies have always been there,” Leipold said on the podcast. “The philosophies in the room are very similar, and one of the things is, we want to be as balanced as possible and utilize as many formations, but also utilize our personnel in the best (way).”
“Most of my career has been in the northern part of the United States,” Leipold added. “If you’re going to win games and want to play games in November — and if you want to play beyond that — you better be able to run the football at certain times. And be able to stop the run. But, at the same time, you want to be able to spread it out and take our shots down the field accordingly.”
Now compare that to the other frontrunner, Monken, and it is easy to spot the difference.
Army has been an elite rushing team behind its triple-option attack, where it eats up a lot of clock and limits possessions for both teams. Passing attempts are few and far between, which does lead to a legitimate concern about if a team ever faces a big deficit.
The other obvious reason for concern would have been recruiting. A coach has to get certain players to run the triple option effectively, and what happens to the roster when that particular coach does leave?
Maybe Monken would have implemented a different offense, despite all the success he’s had in his career with that scheme. Maybe it would have looked similar to Coastal Carolina’s option attack, which used a lot more shotgun formations.
I actually think there is reason to believe Monken's offensive scheme could have worked in Lawrence, and it would have been very entertaining to watch. Yet, if Leipold’s versatility is ultimately how KU decided between two strong candidates, I can’t say that I blame them.
With the search for KU’s next football coach reportedly nearing an end, all the buzz seems to be around Army’s Jeff Monken and Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold.
Regardless of which side you might fall on, it is clear that either candidate would be viewed as a great hire by the Jayhawks. Their recent track record of how they have fared at their current spots should be proof of that.
But how do they compare to each other?
Buffalo has been as high as No. 23 in the AP Poll under Leipold, which happened during a 5-1 campaign in 2020. The Bulls have made three consecutive bowl games, including back-to-back wins in the Camellia Bowl and Bahamas Bowl over the past two seasons.
Army, meanwhile, was ranked as high as No. 22 last fall when the team went 9-3 and lost in the Liberty Bowl. The Black Knights were also ranked No. 19 in 2018 under Monken, who directed the program to three consecutive bowl games between 2016-18.
To get a better idea of how the two supposed frontrunners stack up, here’s a quick look at some notable numbers for both teams while under the direction of Monken and Leipold.
Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Jeff Monken, Army
2014: 4-8 record
2015: 2-10 record
2016: 8-5 record
2017: 10-3 record
2018: 11-2 record
2019: 5-8 record
2020: 9-3 record
Points per game — Leipold (left) vs. Monken (right)
2015: 26.7 ppg (82nd of 128) / 22.1 ppg (109th of 128)
2016: 16.5 ppg (126th of 128) / 29.9 ppg (59th of 128)
2017: 25.8 ppg (63rd of 130) / 30.7 ppg (46th of 130)
2018: 34.6 ppg (29th of 130) / 32.8 ppg (37th of 130)
2019: 31.5 ppg (46th of 130) / 28.5 ppg (68th of 130)
2020: 43.4 ppg (5th of 128) / 26.8 ppg (77th of 128)
Points allowed — Leipold (left) vs. Monken (right)
2015: 27.6 ppg (72nd of 128) / 27.8 ppg (75th of 128)
2016: 32.3 ppg (95th of 128) / 19.9 ppg (16th of 128)
2017: 24.8 ppg (49th of 130) / 22.0 ppg (32nd of 130)
2018: 25.9 ppg (58th of 130) / 17.7 ppg (10th of 130)
2019: 21.3 ppg (26th of 130) / 23.0 ppg (41st of 130)
2020: 21.9 ppg (30th of 128) / 14.8 ppg (2nd of 128)
Final comparison: F+ Ratings
F+ Ratings, which are made available via Football Outsiders, combine Brian Fremeau's FEI ratings with Bill Connelly's SP+ ratings in equal parts. Here is how Army, Buffalo and Kansas compare using this metric over that span: