My sincerest apologies go out to all of our loyal readers. The first line of apology is for leaving the less than beautiful ginger kid at the top of the page. And the second is for the horribly belated post you are about to enjoy (or at least read) about Saturday's game. As you no doubt either saw or have read in the interim, there were some concerns to come out of Lawrence in the wake of their season opening win. But really, I wouldn't fret too much. Had I actually woken up Sunday with the ability to use a computer, I may have slopped together something similar to this. But alas, I have taken some time to get my thoughts together and to really think about what I saw. The result of that has me a lot less worried.
The common complaints I heard were:
Reesing did not look sharp… Well, on one hand I guess you're right. He threw an interception, missed a couple of open receivers (one time leading to Dexton's injury) and made a few more go up to grab some balls (Thanks, Dezmon). But on the other, he completed 37 of 52 passes (71%) for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns. If that's what we get on an inefficient night from a quarterback being blitzed nearly every play, I'll remaing pretty content. Sure, I would have loved to see them open the playbook and expose those blitzes. But since they were playing FIU and clearly didn't need to, it's hard to blame Warinner for wanting to keep things pretty simple.
The offensive line (and running game) struggled… Very true. This was not the dominant performance I was looking for out of this unit. Aside from a few early runs and Angus in the 4th quarter, the running game never looked to be in sync. This will obviously need to improve as soon as September 12th, but I saw no reason that it cannot. For one thing, they never really tried to get outside. Assuming this was because they didn't feel the need to and not that they didn't have the ability, I would expect that portion of the field to be much more utilized in the future. Secondly, that wasn't the starting line we were supposed to see. Jeremiah Hatch won the job at right tackle for a reason and it stands to reason that an improvement is to be expected when he replaces Darton.
Lost in the worry about a lack of a running game and Todd not having time to go down the field was the fact that a line starting two new tackles and facing a heavy blitz on nearly every play only gave up 1 sack. Part of that was the short routes, part was Todd being able to make some plays with his feet and on the run, but a part was also the line holding relatively steady. It may not have made for the most crisp offensive performance we've seen, but at the end of the day we saw an offense produce 384 yards, 6 scoring drives (plus ending the game on the 1) without ever having to do anything creative.
A couple concerns I do have are:
Running back blocking… I didn't like what I saw out of either Jocques or Jake. I knew we were going to miss McAnderson blocking back there, but I didn't know how much. I've long believed that was as big a reason as any that we saw Brandon start taking the bulk of the carries once they got into the conference schedule last year and I'd say we now have that confirmed. Running game issues aside, both of them looked fine (or better) running with the ball. But neither looked like anything stellar picking up blocks. And twice Jocques negated pretty good gains with penalties; once with a hold and once with a chop block. Neither time was the penalty necessary for the play to be made.
Health… Mike Rivera should not have been playing. And he shouldn't play this week either. Yes, Tom Keegan rated him as the most impressive defensive player in the game, but I think we all know how much that opinion is worth. Mike did play well considering that he has no lateral movement, but he was an absolute shadow of himself and visibly running like a woman. There is one primary reason that Mike is a great linebacker and it is his speed. Without it, he's relatively average. And if Mangino continues to neglect this obvious injury by playing him when he's not needed, we have no reason to expect to see him at full strength when it actually matters. Let's just say this pisses me off and move on…
I also want to talk about a few nice surprises, such as:
Daymond Patterson… He wasn't so much a surprise as a confirmation, but it was good nonetheless. This guy is going to be a difference maker. I'm not saying he's going to do what Maclin did for Methzou (he's not), but he certainly adds a whole different dimension, both in the return game and in the slot. I'm not a huge fan of the bubble screen, but any time they can get him the ball in space will be welcomed with open arms.
Defensive Line… As you well know this is a huge concern of mine. And for at least one night, my worry subsided. The tackles got a good push and the ends did a great job playing gap football, while also generating a rush off the end (3 sacks). Suffice it to say that any game where the defense has 11 TFL, causes 3 turnovers and only gives up 139 total yards I'll be pretty pleased with the performance.
Phillip Strozier… As the first nickel back, Strozier looked extremely comfortable both on ball and in space. The two interceptions didn't hurt either. Truth be told, the secondary as a whole performed really well as FIU definitely has a ton of speed at the receiver position. Part of that was the aforementioned pressure and part was coverage, but that's exactly what it takes to shut down a passing game, so any time it happens I'll be happy.
Alonso Rojas… When Grady Fowler's first extra point rocketed through the uprights and almost decapitated a wealthy fan from the luxury seats I became pretty worried about the kicking game. But soon afterwards, Alonso Rojas came on the field and calmly drilled a 47 yarder. He also added one from 37 to start the second half officially ending any chance Fowler had of kicking anything longer than an extra point (Along these same lines I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that Branstetter may be made eligible sometime this week). Obviously this is a small sample size (2/2) and this game could not have had less pressure, but it's a start. And considering what we saw out of Fowler, I'm grateful. Add in his punting line (46 yard avg. on 3 punts with a long of 58) and you can't help but feel pretty good about Rojas' ability to contribute.
All in all, I feel a lot better about the team/game than I did during my drunken stupor Saturday night. Aside from what we addressed above, Briscoe looked fantastic in the red zone, which is exactly what we called for. Wilson and Meier looked great, both in running routes and with sure hands. And the defense could not have looked much better aside from that lackadaisical drive to end the first half when they allowed the field goal. This wasn't the dominant performance everyone was hoping for. And it certainly wasn't nearly as sharp as we became accustomed to last year. But it was also the first game, was against an opponent where creativity wasn't necessary (that will change in 10 days) and was still a blowout. If you found yourself disappointed about a 30 point win (and that margin didn't even do the lopsidedness justice), consider yourself: 1) giddy that you can be disappointed with 30 point KU football wins; and 2) a little over-zealous. FIU is terrible and almost certainly won't win more than a few games this year. But although there are some kinks to be worked out, we have to remember that we pretty much saw Kansas' Milton Berle approach, showing only what they needed to in order to win comfortably. You should take comfort in that.
And hey, at least they didn't give up 451 passing yards (previous career high was 227) and 5 touchdowns to Juice Williams. Yep, that defense sure is underrated.