The Day After: A wobbly night at West Virginia
The last time KU played at West Virginia, the Jayhawks were drubbed 59-10 and limped off the field with no life and no fire. Not Saturday night.
Sure that team had Geno Smith and Tavo Austin and several other big-time WVU players, but it's not like this team isn't any good. They hung with Alabama and Oklahoma and, at least for a half, the Jayhawks hung with them.
The first half was a total nightmare, as sophomore starter Montell Cozart continued to struggle and KU's offense had absolutely no rhythm. They're not going to have a chance if that continues, Clint Bowen or no Clint Bowen. In the second half, Bowen made the switch to Michael Cummings and things improved a little on offense, but the defense's effort in the second half was flat-out terrific. The only WVU points came on a kickoff return and it wasn't like the Mountaineers had trotted out their second- and third-string guys. Quarterbakc Clint Trickett played most of the way and KU stymied him and the WVU passing attack in the second half.
It didn't do much in the way of helping put the Jayhawks in position to win, but it was one of a handful of small steps that they may be able build upon and helped make the final score a more respectable 33-14 margin.
While critical analysis will show that this game taught us several things about this team, the only one that's important is what it revealed about the quarterback. I like Montell Cozart a lot. He's an impressive young man, a good athlete and he carries himself well and with a positive vibe. But he's not yet ready to play quarterback in the Big 12 and Michael Cummings is. Neither player is a set-the-world-on-fire type of QB, but Cummings looks to be in way better control out there, sees the field better, knows where to go with the ball and has done it enough to refuse to get rattled. His skill set is still lacking, but I think if you build it around what he can do, the KU offense could definitely take a step forward with Cummings under center.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – I don't care who you are or what you like about football, you have to agree that watching JaCorey Shepherd play and compete is an absolute joy. Shepherd played one of his best games to date against the Mountaineers, breaking up two passes in the end zone and three total. He was right with his receiver all afternoon and played the kind of tough, physical football that teammates would like to emulate and follow. The game means something to Shepherd. Representing KU means something to Shepherd. He's far from the only one on the team about which that can be said, but, with seven guaranteed games remaining in his career, it's clear that Shepherd is taking seriously his opportunity to help set the foundation for the new future of Kansas football.
2 – Nick Harwell has had enough. Not only did the senior receiver put together a heck of an individual effort to take a meaningless punt to the house late in the game — Harwell credited his blocking for making it possible — but he also showed exactly the kind of fire and passion the Jayhawks need from one of their leaders and best players. Late in the game, after a nice completion from Michael Cummings to Ben Johnson for a big gain, KU's Justin McCay was flagged with a personal foul penalty that completely wiped out the play and forced the Jayhawks into a punt. Without showing anyone up or throwing a fit, Harwell made it clear with his body language that such breakdowns were not acceptable. Asked about it after the game, Harwell said: “We never want to hurt ourselves, but we especially don't want to hurt ourselves after we just made a big play. It was kind of a bummer for that drive.”
3 — The “AM” stickers worn on the backs of the KU helmets in honor of Andre Maloney would make anyone smile. Maloney, who passed away one year ago to the day after collapsing on the field during a high school game his senior season at Shawnee Mission West, touched a lot of people in his short time as a Jayhawk and, as interim coach Clint Bowen last night and former KU coach Charlie Weis throughout the past year both pointed out, the talented and extremely likable Maloney will remain a part of the KU football family forever.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It continues to be frightening to see how easily Tony Pierson can be taken out of games. The senior receiver is one of the Jayhawks' most dangerous weapons and, at the moment, they just can't get him unleashed. They try to throw his way but he's usually tightly covered. When they hand him the ball, he often runs into a wall of defenders and has to dance around just to get back to the line of scrimmage. Short of upgrading the offensive line and the quarterback, it's hard to find a solution that ends with getting Tony more touches. But even if they have to force-feed him the rock, he's got to get more involved. That shovel pass they threw to tight end Jimmay Mundine would have been one way. And there have to be countless others.
2 – The offense, in general, is really becoming a headache. It lacks flow, rhythm, creativity and imagination and just is not putting KU in positive positions. The offensive line is definitely the biggest culprit and maybe getting right tackle Damon Martin back will help with that. But too often, even when KU does get the ball to its playmakers, the blocking is either not there or doesn't hold up to create something positive in an attacking manner. What's more, senior punter Trevor Pardula set a stadium record with 14 punts and set a KU record for net punting yardage with 621. That's never what you want to hear no matter how talented your punter is.
3 – Junior running back De'Andre Mann left the game after just one carry with an apparent injury and did not return. Freshman tailback Corey Avery has gotten off to fantastic start to his career and is a hard-nosed runner, but he can't do it alone and the Jayhawks need Mann back and healthy. Look no farther for proof of that than the on carry Mann had when he was in the game against WVU. His bull-ahead, hard-charging style netted eight yards and his physical presence helps the running game tremendously.
One thought for the road:
KU's 33-14 loss at West Virginia dropped the Jayhawks to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in Big 12 play. It also...
• dropped KU to 578-592-58 all-time.
• Featured the KU defense, for the third time in four games, not allowing a touchdown on the opponents’ first three possessions. West Virginia had only been held out of the end zone on its opening three drives once over four games this season.
• Was a classic bend-don't-break performance by the KU defense, which looked its best in the second half but still did not record its first three-and-out until 6:56 remained in the third quarter.
The Jayhawks return home to face an Oklahoma State (4-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12) squad that saw a first-half scare against Iowa State at home this weekend but then put the Cyclones away in the second half.