Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks
Last Year's Record: 3-9, 1-8
Coach: Charlie Weis
Game 7: October 18th
1. When to Start Over. Kansas has tried the young and coach Turner Gill to spectacularly horrible results, so horrible to the point that Kansas then hired Charlie Weis to try to lead the Jayhawks back to some sort of winning ways. Here's the thing that I just don't understand. Kansas and their AD has been so right with basketball for so long, that's it is ridiculous. It's quite frankly awesome if you are a Kansas fan. But think back to when Self was hired, he was a relatively young coach at Illinois and they knew that Self was going to be fantastic with an even bigger stage at Kansas. They were absolutely right. Self has been the best possible coach they could have had. And I admit that I'm biased here given the fact that I watched Self coach at Tulsa while in law school. He's really as good as everyone says. But then that same AD has Gill and Weis on his ledger and those things just don't go together at all. I struggle to figure out how that AD can have it pegged with Self, but can't seem to find someone that can reasonably coach the football team. I also don't understand why they have held onto Weis for as long as they have, and I really don't consider myself to be impatient. And I'll say this. I actually like Weis. When I read his quotes, they are surprisingly honest, which makes me think that Weis gets it. If I had to choose the next football coach, I'd choose North Texas' Dan McCarney.
2. Heeney is a Start. Returning linebacker Ben Heeney is a start to improvement, he had 87 tackles last year, 3 interceptions, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 passes broken up and 2 quarterback hurries. He's a productive player, but generally speaking, the defense was pretty horrible last year. You have to go all the way down to the 11th returning tackler before you get to a defensive lineman, Keba Agostinho and then Jordan Tavai. They were both seniors. Kansas was 97th in total defense, which was only 12 sports worse than Texas Tech, who was also awful at defense. I keep thinking that Dave Campo is a good coach that knows how to teach, but maybe it's just not going to happen. Weis signed three defensive linemen from the JUCO ranks, Damani Mosby, Anthony Olobia and Kapil Fletcher.
3. It Begins and Ends with Cozart. It really does begin and end with QB Montel Cozart, who was a freshman last year and played in 7 games for the Jayhawks. His stats were less than spectacular, completing just 23 of 63 passes for 36.5% for just 227 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Cozart did run for 214 yards and he can run very well, but the question is if his arm is any good at all. I honestly don't know, but in those 7 games, it wasn't good. Reports from the spring say that Cozart completed 75% of his passes and Kansas hired a new offensive coordinator, John Reagan, who was at Rice previously. It's almost if Weis has figured out that having a pro-style offense only works well if you have the horses to do so. Perhaps Reagan will do wonders. Rice did have the #17 rushing offense at Rice last year. Weis hiring Reagan speaks volumes to me. You'll see some 3-back pistol and 2-back shotgun sets for Kansas coming this year. It should be interesting.
4. Going to Need Some Runners. If Reagan is coordinating the offense, then Kansas is going to have to have a stable of running backs. James Sims graduated, but returning is Taylor Cox, Darrian Miller, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson. I think there is some discussion about whether or not Pierson should play receiver or running back, but with this new offense, it seems as if Pierson would be better suited to play running back. He's a really good player and I think he would be put to better use in the backfield, or maybe a guy that swings between both positions. One other note is that Kansas' best recruit was of a running back Traevohn Wrench, a 4-star guy that might be able to play early.
5. Decent DB's. Well, the defensive backs received plenty of work for Kansas. The best of the bunch, I think, is Isaiah Johnson, who will be a sophomore, followed by Cassius Sendish, then Dexter Linton and Victor Simmons. Kansas was still 79th against the pass, so there were still issues, but all of those guys were relatively young and received a ton of playing time and made a lot of tackles. The problem is going to be up front for Kansas. Honestly, this is the problem for pretty much any and every team trying to make that jump from horrible to decent in terms of defense, and that includes Texas Tech.
Q&A with Rock Chalk Talk:
Much thanks to Owen from Rock Chalk Talk to discuss the Jayhawks.
1. What are your expectations for 2014?
Sadly I don't have much of a positive outlook when it comes to 2014. I do think our defense will be serviceable which could hopefully keep the humiliation factor to a minimum, but offensively there are just a tremendous amount of question marks and we haven't seen any competence in that area of the game since the arrival of Charlie Weis. Odd considering he's supposed to be this offensive genius. Just another person who can probably thank Tom Brady for fabulous career.
That said, we brought in John Reagan who was here during the Mangino era and had success at Rice. I believe in him, I'm just not sure we have the consistency or pieces in place to make a dramatic turn. Just off the top of my head it's hard to put our ceiling higher than four wins without seeing something to justify it first.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Jayhawks?
In a word I'd say the strength is defense. The weakness is offense. It's just hard to see the defense as strong enough to compensate for the ineptitude we've seen offensively for two years. I'd say the hope would be that the run game could be a strength, if it can't then Kansas is probably in trouble.
3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for Kansas?
Tony Pierson is an explosive player offensively but he's proven a bit fragile last year. Hopefully he can return to form to start the year because he does relieve some pressure on the rest of the offense due to his homerun ability on every play. After that it becomes pretty difficult to name someone on the offensive side of the ball because everyone is unproven or a bit of a disappointment to date. There just aren't any known game changers.
Defensively I think it's a little easier. Kansas has a pair of corners in Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd that are very capable and Big 12 caliber players as seniors. I'd also put Ben Heeney and Keon Stowers in that conversation. Overall the Kansas defense is experience, upperclass heavy and they have some talent that could come together.
BONUS: I actually have two questions. Do you think this is the last year for Weis to win at Kansas and if he is terminated at the end of the year, who is your dream candidate to replace him.
I guess it depends how poorly it goes. I'm inclined to say no. I don't think he has to do too much to keep his job and I'm thinking the staff around him seems to show me enough to believe they can get to where they need to be. Little bit sad to say but that's the reality. I think he buys himself one more year then we might be singing a different tune. I don't necessarily agree with that, but at the same time we've really tied our hopes to this JUCO strategy and when Weis fails (which I believe he will based on what I've seen so far), I think we've dug a hole. So I think you're kind of tied to him and that strategy at the moment.
Dream candidate? I no longer want the dream candidate. After Mangino we tossed names around, there were big names seriously looking. Lew Perkins botched the whole thing and we've continued to do so since. I'd take a guy like John Reagan that was added as our OC this year or some other unproven commodity that seems hungry and motivated to work hard. That's what Mangino was, that's what worked at Kansas and that's what I want. Just give me a blue collar, football guy who is ready to claw through the grind to rebuild the thing.
From the Spring:
Head coach Charlie Weis. On if it is a good test-run for their new offense:
"John (Reagan) asked me today, 'What should I hold?' I said nothing. Just go ahead and run it. Call plays the way you call plays. You're not really game-planning for this game. Actually when you get in training camp and an installation, it's actually worse than when you're game-planning for a game, because everything you installed is available to be called. Whereas, when you get ready for a game you don't do that. You make it more game-plan specific to that opponent and the players are responsible for a lot less information going into a game than they are when going through an installation and through training camp. Because then the whole playbook you installed is available. And really, they don't have a chance to zero in on than just the things that are opponent specific."
On if the team has more speed or well-conditioned athletes than before:
"The answer to that question is yes and yes, but with more talent. That's always the most important thing. I always expect to be well-conditioned because of (Scott) Holsopple, and I'm a big fan of Holsopple. Yes, we upgraded our speed specifically on defense, we're a lot faster than we were before. But I asked (Eric) Kiesau today, we were talking about the first three wide receivers and he came from Washington last year and I asked him a simple question. I wanted to know if our starting three wide receivers would be in the two deep at Washington so I wouldn't put him on the spot. He said that he thought that the three guys that are playing would have all been in the two deep at Washington, and they were pretty prolific on offense last year. I think we're making some serious headway at that position because I told him you can answer however you want, I wasn't there, I can't compare them. I think we have more talent and I think that at the end of the day, talent is really all it comes down to."
On if the Spring Game will give him a better idea of Reagan's offensive calls:
"No, because he's not game planning. They really don't know that until they're game planning. When you see a game plan, and when you see how they're going to attack the people they're going against. If you don't know the answers to why, then you ask well then, why are you going to do this? Why would you do that? That might be good for him because to me, they're common sense that I can look at and say, 'Hey, John, you sure you want to do that?' I'll give you an example, we were running a 'man beater', and in a man beater, a lot of the time you run cross-routes. On one of the man beaters we had Tony as one of the guys rubbing/picking for the guy coming from the other side. I said, 'Why would you use him? That makes no sense to me.' So needless to say, Tony is no longer the guy rubbing/picking on that play anymore. But things like that are just easy for me to see as I'm looking at it. Just common sense things like, you don't want to do that. But right now he's not worrying about game planning. He's just calling plays, which is part what you're doing when you're installing."