Monthly Archives: September 2012

KU vs. No. 16 TCU: Three more things to watch

LAWRENCE — Early kickoff on Saturday morning as Kansas opens conference play at 11 a.m. against Big 12 newcomer TCU. So we’re getting a jump on “Three more things” this week.

It’s been a rough few days for the KU players, who spent most of the week trying to stay positive after last week’s non-conference disaster against Rice. The setback took a little luster off first-year coach Charlie Weis’ debut run — and it left some on campus wondering how many more games KU can win. Still, the Jayhawks can regain a measure of momentum with a better performance on Saturday.

1 Kicker questions. It’s tough being a football kicker. It’s tougher, still, being a college kicker, when forgettable performances are followed by days on campus among a few thousand of your peers.

That’s what junior kicker Ron Doherty faced after a few early struggles during the first two weeks of the season. Doherty has made just two of five field goals so far, including two key misses against Rice from 40 and 53 yards. They weren’t gimmes, but Doherty believes his range extends beyond 50 yards most days.

“I just didn’t make the kick,” Doherty said.

It’s still a small sample size, and Weis said he hasn’t lost confidence in his kicker. Still, Weis is a guy that likes to gamble. And it will be interesting to see if KU takes more chances on fourth down when they’re on the edge of field-goal range.

2 Running back rotation. For the first three weeks of the regular season, we’ve barely heard the name of junior running back James Sims. It’s common Weis policy to not mention the name of players that aren’t eligible to play, and with Sims serving the last game of his three-game suspension on Saturday, he’s been the invisible tailback for the last couple weeks.

But Sims will be back next week against Northern Illinois. And that makes junior Taylor Cox an intruing player to watch on Saturday. Cox has been a pleasant surprise so far, rushing for 200 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry in his first two games. But can Cox continue the production against a Big 12-caliber defense? He gets his first chance to prove it against TCU.

3 Old friend sighting. If you didn’t know that former Miami coach Randy Shannon is now the linebackers coach at TCU, you’re not alone. KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who coached Shannon at Miami in the 1980s and later with the Cowboys, was surprised when Shannon’s name came up in a media scrum earlier this week.

“Randy Shannon?” Campo said.

Shannon helped Campo (then a secondary coach under Jimmy Johnson) and the Hurricanes win a national title in 1987, and Campo quickly recalled a story from early in that year.

“My very first game* against the University of Florida… and Florida was a good football team,” Campo said. “And we didn’t know what we had at Miami at the time. And one of the first passes they threw out in the flat, he intercepted and ran back for a touchdown.”

*Note: This game ended with Miami winning by the very rare score of 31-4.

First look at Rice: KU defense faces an early spread test

LAWRENCE — If the Kansas defense is seeking a dress rehearsal for what it might see during Big 12 play, the Jayhawks might get something close on Saturday afternoon against Rice.

“This is our first look at what I would call a true spread offense,” KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo said on Wednesday.

So what exactly will the Owls’ offense look like? Well, it starts with junior quarterback Taylor McHargue, who dominated the ball against UCLA in Rice’s season opener, completing 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and rushing 22 times for 95 yards.

(McHarque’s most effective target was former Michigan receiver/running back Sam McGuffie, a player that KU coach Charlie Weis once recruited to Notre Dame. But McHargue, a junior with 14 career starts, will draw much of the attention.)

“I think he’s one of the keys to their offense,” Campo said. “McHargue is a good player. He’s tough. He’s a good runner. Not only in the run game, but also in scrambling. He’s really a good player.

McHarque’s performance against UCLA was mostly lost amidst the Owls’ defensive disaster. Rice surrendered 646 total yards — including 343 on the ground — in a 49-24 home loss to the Bruins. But the Owls’ offense could pose some problems for Kansas. (And at the very least, it should be good prep for what Kansas will face in the Big 12.)

The KU coaching staff expects Rice to spread it out — three and four receiver sets — and a fair share of zone-read option looks from McHarque. Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former KU assistant who spent five years under Mark Mangino, will engineer the offense. And the Owls have made a habit of playing Big 12 competition in the recent future.

Last season, the Owls lost to Baylor 56-31 in a shootout and were bottled up in a 34-9 loss to Texas in September. (Rice also beat Purdue 24-22.)

“They do a lot of different things,” Campo said. “They run a lot of trick plays. They run a lot of different spread-type attacks.”

On Wednesday, Campo was generally pleased with his team’s defensive performance in the opener against South Dakota State. There, of course, was the 99-yard touchdown run that KU surrendered in the first quarter. So, that was hard to ignore. But overall, Campo said, the defense made strides.

“I thought we played pretty good,” Campo said. “If they wouldn’t have popped that run, I would have felt really good about it.”

In its first game action, the revamped KU defense forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, and a bolstered defensive line looked much improved — albeit against Division I-AA South Dakota State.

“You still don’t know how good we are going to play,” KU coach Charlie Weis said of the defensive line, “but you can say we have more quality depth.”

Now the Jayhawks’ defense will continue its week-by-week step up the food chain. Big 12 newcomer TCU awaits next week, and perhaps Rice presents a nice bridge to that competition.

“This is a good test for us,” Campo said.

Three more Rice players to watch

1 Luke Wilson, senior, receiver

Rice lists Wilson at receiver, but at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, he certainly is the de facto tight end in the Owls’ spread offense. He had 29 catches last season while averaging more than 10 yards per reception.

2 Corey Frazier, senior, free safety

Frazier, a veteran defensive back, is the son of Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

3 Jeremy Eddington, junior, running back

Junior running back Charles Ross is listed as the starter on the Owls’ depth chart, but Eddington was the most productive against UCLA, finishing with 38 yards in nine carries.

Sunday rewind: KU 31, South Dakota St. 17

LAWRENCE — A brief look back at some of the more interesting bits of news and notes from KU’s 31-17 victory over South Dakota State on Saturday night.

If you followed the KU program during fall camp, you probably heard KU coach Charlie Weis state his desire to protect sophomore running back Tony Pierson from a heavy pounding. Pierson, of course, is 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds — stronger than he was last year as a true freshman but still with the lithe body of a cornerback.

So what was the deal with Pierson’s load on Saturday night? He finished with 20 carries while rushing for a team-high 124 yards. According to Weis, the extra touches came out of necessity.

“Well, the game was close,” Weis said. “But it wasn’t like (backup) Taylor (Cox) only had 10 touches there. When you run the ball 48 times … sometimes you’re going to go a little bit over.”

To be fair, it’s not like there’s a huge difference between 15 and 20 carries on any one night. (Although the numbers can add up over the course of a year.) Sometimes things happen during the course of a game, and sometimes game plans change. But judging by how they used Pierson early in the game — he had more than 10 carries in the first quarter — it perhaps suggests that Weis didn’t expect to be in a close game late in the second half.

“I looked at the stat sheet,” Pierson said after the game, “and I had … 20 carries and I didn’t know.”

Weis also added that running backs coach Reggie Mitchell tracks Pierson’s touches during games.

“We were on a pitch count,” Weis said. “So I knew where we were.”

About that 99-yard run

Here’s a good question: How does that happen? When South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner bursted through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 99 yards for a touchdown, the Twitter Snark Alert System went from yellow to orange. (I believe someone even suggested that KU fire Turner Gill. Or maybe it was “hire Turner Gill, and then fire Turner Gill again.”)

Anyway, here’s how Weis explained the breakdown after the game. Spoiler alert: He didn’t really see it; he was busy sorting through the last offensive drive.

“We had two guys both flow to the outside, and one of them was supposed to be inside,” Weis said. “I asked the same question… to be honest with you. Because usually at the start of drives I’ll miss the beginning of drives because I wanna make sure I correct the quarterback, and make sure the offense know what we’re gonna do to start the next drive.

“So I see ‘em pinned back, I’m expecting we’re gonna get good field position. So I’m already laying out the plan as if we’re gonna get the ball in plus-territory. And next thing you know, I hear a roar, and I turn around, and I see that guy right in front of my face.”

Opurum plays it cool

We learned something about senior captain Toben Opurum on Saturday night. And it wasn’t just that he’s continuing to grow as a rush end in Dave Campo’s defense. We also learned that Opurum can be a cool customer when he needs to be a little sly.

In late July, at Big 12 media days, Weis told reporters to not be “surprised” if we saw Opurum, an ex-running back, back in on offense in short-yardage situations.

So for most of August, Opurum was continually asked if Weis had talked to him about playing running back. Each time, Opurum would quietly shrug his shoulders — as if to say, “Nah, not really.”

Well, there was Opurum on offense on Saturday night, serving as the lead blocker on Pierson’s 3-yard touchdown run. Future employers of America, your secrets are safe with Toben Opurum.

Fun stat of the day

KU has now outscored South Dakota State 117-23 in their two meetings. Of course, it doesn’t help that KU once beat SDSU 86-6 in 1947.

Fun stat of the day II

Receivers Chris Omigie and Josh Ford both recorded blocked punts on specials teams on Saturday. According to KU officials, it was the first time KU blocked two kicks in the same game since doing it against Oklahoma in 2004.

Memorial atmosphere

Weis said he was generally pleased with the atmosphere in his first home game at Memorial Stadium. The student section was full — during the first half, at least — Weis got his first chance to start a new tradition by taking his team over to the students to sing the alma mater after the game.

“The only time that it got quiet was deservedly so,” Weis said, “because I thought there were periods of the game where we were flat.

“… I said to the players on the sideline, ‘Hey fellas, you’ve got to create the juice now,’ because there were times it was really loud and the fans were going nuts, and there were times it was really quiet. Usually those quiet times were directly related to how we were playing.”

The Gill Watch

Former KU coach Turner Gill was also making a debut last night, coaching his first game at Liberty. Well, hey, it looks like Gill is getting his new team to believe. The vaunted Flames nearly pulled an upset of Wake Forest, falling 20-17 after leading by a touchdown in the second half.

One more quote

“I’m very disappointed in how I played. I left a ton of throws out on the field. But more than anything, I’m just happy that we got a win.” — KU QB Dayne Crist