The Day After: Surviving Central Michigan
There were plenty of mixed reactions to Saturday's 24-10 KU victory over Central Michigan at Memorial Stadium, but there's no questioning how much the win meant to the players.
Whether it was their jubilation on the field after big plays — Michael Reynolds' strip fumble of the quarterback, Jake Love's monster fourth quarter and JaCorey Shepherd's game-clinching interception come to mind first — or their celebration in front of the fans or in the locker room after the game, these guys got exactly what they needed yesterday, regardless of how pretty or ugly it was at times.
Several Jayhawks said after the game that the goal was to be 2-1 by the end of the day and they got there. Now the real work begins and the Jayhawks are in big-time need of taking some major steps forward in a hurry.
KU coach Charlie Weis said he liked the way Saturday's game was a “slugfest” because he knows the Jayhawks are going to have to get into a few more games like it the rest of the way if they hope to pick up another victory during ultra-tough Big 12 Conference play. KU started fast, finished strong and, regardless of how good or bad you think Central Michigan is, the Jayhawks found a way to make some plays to truly earn a victory, something that could do wonders for their confidence and overall vibe for the near future. It was far from perfect and there were still several of areas of concern, but the outcome is all that matters today, especially because these guys know it wasn't their best effort and they realize that they still have a ton of work to do. You can't blame them for celebrating a win. As wide receiver Justin McCay said, “wins are tough to come by.”
Three reasons to smile
1 – It was a make-or-break week for QB Montell Cozart and he did enough to keep hope alive. By no means did Cozart look like an All-American out there, but he made the throws he was asked to make, looked pretty comfortable doing it and even made a couple of bigger, tougher throws in the second half. It was exactly the kind of performance Cozart needed — much closer to the first half vs. SEMO than last week vs. Duke — and it seemed exactly like the kind of game plan KU's offense should employ week in and week out with Cozart as the trigger man.
2 – Tony Pierson, man. He didn't do much after the opening touch of the game (mostly because he wasn't given a ton of opportunities after that), but boy was that 74-yard touchdown run significant. I talked to Tony after the game about his desire to try to hit that home run every time he touches it and he said that's the case more than ever now that he's playing wide receiver. He said they really emphasized taking the three- or four-yard gains and being OK with that when he was a running back, but it seems as if everyone's more than comfortable with him trying to take it to the house at his current position. Saturday showed why, yet again.
3 – The Jayhawks' defense got good pressure from their front seven. Forget the opponent for a minute, this team needed to see some positive things happen on defense from somewhere other than the secondary. Thanks to Michael Reynolds, Courtney Arnick and Jake Love, who all recorded sacks, they got just that. KU finished with those three sacks and a whopping 10 tackles for losses along with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. It didn't shock the world and it won't scare the Big 12, but it came at just the right time for these guys who needed a breakthrough to believe that their hard work and effort were worth it and to take some confidence into the weeks ahead.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's conservative offense limited Nick Harwell. The senior wide receiver who is oh so dangerous with the ball in his hands was limited to just three catches for 11 yards, this just one week after catching two balls for eight yards at Duke. Right now, it's understandable for KU to try to limit Cozart's load and make the game easy for him. But they're going to need Harwell if they want to have a chance in the Big 12. KU OC John Reagan did show some creativity by giving the ball to Harwell on a reverse that gained five yards, and, if they're going to have to keep being careful with Cozart, they're also going to have to keep thinking of different ways to get Harwell involved.
2 – KU's running game showed very little in this one. Beyond the 74-yard run by Pierson on the game's opening play, the Jayhawks gained just 64 rushing yards the rest of the way. Take away the long runs by the team's top two backs — De'Andre Mann had a 14-yard burst and Corey Avery topped out at 10 yards — and you're looking at just 40 yards on 33 carries. Sure, the entire right side of the offensive line missed this one because of medical issues, but you'd still like to see the Jayhawks be good enough running left to be able to put together a better effort, particularly against Central Michigan.
3 – It's the little things that matter. The Jayhawks missed a field goal for the third game in a row and also committed eight penalties, several of which were simply mental errors like false starts or holding on a fair catch. Neither of those things can happen if the Jayhawks hope to have any chance in the Big 12.
One thought for the road
KU's victory over the Chippewas that improved the Jayhawks to 2-1...
• Pushed KU's advantage in the KU-CMU series to 2-0.
• Improved Kansas to 578-590-58 all-time.
• Featured the Jayhawks converting a season-high 47 percent of their third downs (9-for-19).
• Marked the second time this season that the KU defense held its opponent to three-and-out on its opening drive.
The Jayhawks will welcome Big 12 foe Texas to town for Homecoming on Saturday at 3 p.m. to kickoff conference play. The Longhorns (1-2) have struggled so far under first-year coach Charlie Strong and are coming off of their first bye of the season.