I’ll be the first to admit that not much longer than a year ago I was vocally questioning whether or not Mangino should continue to be the Kansas coach. He had now had time to get his players and yet it seemed as if the program took a step back last year. Sure, he had changed the culture and made the Jayhawks competitive, but was he ever going to turn the corner? Well, I’d say he has now made a hard right and is hitting the entrance ramp on the freeway. If Kansas doesn’t lose their next three games and he doesn’t win coach of the year, we’ll have a regular Tim Donaghey situation on our hands. For all the talk about how this is the first time Kansas has been 10-0 since before Teddy was president, it seems almost forgotten that barring a collapse next week, they will have their first EVER 11 win season, with a minimum of 2 games to play. In lieu of the typical post-mortem, today I’m going to do more of an overall assessment on what we’ve seen and what to expect. And in place of the one game at a time cliché, I am going to instead preface this with a line from the late Teddy, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Because that is exactly what these Jayhawks have been and need to continue doing.
Offensively, you can’t say enough about this team. If I had one complaint it would again be the slow start. I completely understand the whole, “let’s see what the defense is doing” bit, but given Missouri and even Oklahoma’s ability to start quickly, this could be an issue. Then again, if it saves KU from getting caught off guard and having an early turnover, I guess I’m willing to keep things as is. What can I say, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I have a hunch Coach Mangino can sympathize with my desires.
Eight times out of ten this team has scored 30+ points and in seven they have exceeded 500 yards. And it sounds like a broken record, but they are doing it with exceptional balance. B-Mac and Sharp are the perfect backfield combo, almost always producing or at least nearing 200 combined yards. Both hit their holes hard, secure the ball and fall forward. And even better, each is able to do what they’re “not supposed” to do. Brandon is much quicker and shiftier than opponents ever give him credit for and Jake runs much harder than anyone seems to think he should. Neither one is a DeMarco “Murray Prrrezent,” but together they are one hell of a backfield. Brandon should reach 1000 yards next week and Sharp is within reach as he is slightly over 700 with a minimum of 3 games remaining.
And what is left to say about Hot Toddy. The guy is just a winner: plain and simple. He plays with an incredible sense of urgency and an even better overall presence. He is as confident as they come, yet he always plays within himself, having not thrown an interception since Oct. 6. Kerry Meier is a good quarterback and Kansas would be well off with him under center (though I love him as a receiver), but Reesing gives them that “something extra.” There’s no denying that Kansas has a great set of players and is getting some good coaching, but it’s no mistake that Hot Toddy has yet to lose a game he started at the college level. He broods with confidence so much so that his teammates can’t help but be infected by it. It doesn’t hurt that he has a great set of receivers, led by Marcus Henry – who you couldn’t help but be happy for watching him perform like that in his home state. Admittedly, I don’t know enough about the draft/NFL to know how he projects to the next level, but that was one hell of a game and given his size and speed, I have to imagine it put him on some watch boards. Don’t forget that this is a draft done by the experts that weren’t convinced Adrian Peterson projected to the next level and that took Tom Brady in the 6th round, but Joey Harrington 3rd overall. So for all I know he could be a blue chipper or not even get invited to the combine.
And the special teams continue to be solid…well, mostly. Marcus Herford and the kick return unit remain extremely good, with the possibility to break one at any time. And if teams start kicking it short (which I think they will), Kansas will take the field position all day long. They got a guy named Seymour (#19) in the middle there that could end up fielding a kick or two. Even better news emerging last night was the return of Scott Webb. Granted he didn’t have to do anything spectacular – that was also the case @ A&M – but he returned to form as someone the Jayhawks can count on to put points on the board going 3-3 on the night. But herein lies the rub – the punt teams. The punt return unit has been solid as a whole, but the guy actually fielding the punts has been less so. I have no idea why Anthony Webb refuses to fair catch the ball – though after that hit last night, I think he may start if he continues this role – but this has to change. And even more importantly, Kyle Tucker MUST regain form or at least become a serviceable punter. Don’t forget he was on the Ray Guy watch list heading into last year as he was incredible during his sophomore campaign. Last night he got away exactly 1 good punt of 46 yards and had an average of just over 30. Part of that was place-punting inside the 20, but part of it was poor kicking as he had one go only 22 yards and give OSU the ball in their territory. I’m not sure when field position will play a determining role, but I’m all but certain that it will at some point. This needs to be fixed and I’m not sure if steak or PB&Js will get it done.
And lastly, we get to the defense. I’m still not exactly sure what to think about this defense. I know they are much improved from last year, but they are definitely not as good as the 2005 unit. More than anything, last night’s vulnerability to the run has given me an unwanted tickle in my anus. I was sold on Dantrell Savage a long time ago and last night did nothing to dissuade me from that perspective. But I absolutely did not expect Kansas to yield 6 yards a pop to him and nearly 200 (5+ per) to OSU as a team. Granted 60 came on one play, but last I checked all of the plays count.
They are still second nationally allowing just under 15 points a game, but that number spikes to 21 in Big 12 play. Long story short, they are solid enough against the pass that if they play against the run like they did in Big 12 games 1-5 they will be just fine. Continuing to allow five yards per carry will not get it done though. My biggest worry here is the health of James McClinton who played noticeably less snaps last night than any other game this season. I haven’t a clue what is ailing him, but let’s hope it’s not serious enough to be an issue throughout the rest of the year. It also goes without saying that they could stand to generate much more of a pass rush, but at this point I really don’t see that happening. Instead, I think they need to focus on stopping the run and keeping receivers in front of them. If they can do those things and continue to be opportunistic, they should be in good shape. All in all, we have no reason to be disappointed, but there is evident cause for concern and work to be done if they are going to win the Big 12.
I ended on a few sour notes there and it may sound like I’m being pessimistic. Far from it. I said from the start that if they were going to lose, I thought it would be last night. So obviously, now more than ever, I believe that Kansas can win the remainder of their games. In memory of the Curb finale tonight, “I’m not an inventor – I’m an improver. I improve things that are broken.” This is not to say the Kansas team is in any way broken, but in order to win out I think they will need to do all that they have been and improve upon their “issues.” Fortunately, I think they have the ability to do so – which is amazing all in of itself. Below is how I rank the offenses and defenses of the Big 12 Triangle. Comments on these or with differing rankings are welcomed.
Crazily, I think you could interchange all of these and have a valid argument. To this point though, this is how I’ve seen it. I give Missouri the nod for their insane 3rd down conversion rate of 57.4%. And even though Kansas averages over 20 yards a game more, I think Oklahoma probably has the best pure running game, which goes a long way in a tight game.
The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that Missouri is the 3rd best. I know they got pressure on Harrell but their blitzes are about as hidden as Britney’s vagina. I wasn’t very impressed with any of the 3 units yesterday and all three definitely have deficiencies but they typically find ways to overcome them. Most notably, they force turnovers. Kansas leads the nation in margin and has forced 31. OU and Missouri tie for 19th in margin and have forced 23 in doing so. And in all honesty, considering the opponent and location, Kansas definitely had the best showing yesterday, despite allowing slightly more points.
Balance, baby, balance! There is A LOT of work to be done – most directly this week in the definition of a trap game – but Kansas controls its own destiny to the national championship. Let’s just leave it at that.
p.s. The #4 ranked Kansas basketball team just won 85-62. Happy Holidays from Larry and Blacks!