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Kansas Offensive Player to Watch: QB Ryan Willis

The Jayhawks are hoping their true freshman QB is healthy enough to lead the team in a victory Saturday... or at least a close game.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

We've said it all season long: Poor Jayhawks. After doing a team profile on them in the preseason, I have a soft spot for these guys.  I think all of us do.  Kansas is trying to rebuild a team with a brand new coach while going out on Saturdays and trying to win football games.  As of  right now, it might as well be a bunch of guys in a pick-up game at the park who meet up for the first time and decide, "Hey, I know...let's go play against the Big 12 teams!"  They're still learning about each other and getting to know their teammates' strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes it all seems to come together like in their game against Tech, which was a close 30-20 loss.  They also didn't shy away from playing big teams in the preseason:  their schedule included Memphis and Rutgers.  I give this team credit.  They have guts.  They also have a true freshman QB who's doing his best to keep his head up in a season that might end 0-12 with not a Bowl game in sight.

Ryan Willis is a Kansas native with athleticism in his blood.  His dad played football for Kansas State, and his mom ran track at Iowa State.  He has two older sisters, both college basketball players.  In high school, Willis was a 3-star prospect, according to Rivals and 247Sports.com.  He led his team to a perfect 13-0 season his senior year, along with a Class 4A state championship.  He was 179-of-283 passes for 3,003 yards and 35 touchdowns, and rushed 52 times for 182 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He was a Simone Award finalist and was named the Eastern Kansas League Player of the Year.

He was recruited by former coach Charlie Weis, and he was the only QB on the roster when new head coach David Beaty arrived on the scene.  Beaty heavily recruited additional QBs to add to his roster, but Willis was confident that he could outplay all of them in the end.  After injuries to Michael Cummings and Montell Cozart, Willis finally got his chance to start.  His first foe?  Baylor, of course.  (Poor Jayhawks) That's a hell of a start for a true freshman, but Willis seems to have handled it well.  He's the definition of that song, "Tubthumping"—he gets knocked down and just keeps getting right back up again.  He actually high-fived the ref that reached out a hand to him after he was flattened by Emmanuel Ogbah.  And while defenders have made QB sandwiches out of him at times, he seems to take it all in stride.

In his latest game against Texas, Willis dealt with a double-groin injury that left him hardly walking.  In the fourth quarter, Keaton Perry was brought in and actually had an 19-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute left in the game.  At press time, Beaty says Willis is improving daily and is already moving better than he was on Saturday.  Willis' strengths are his accuracy, which have varied between 50-70% this season.  His highest accuracy was 35-0f-50 passes for 330 yards (70%) against Tech, with his lowest accuracy coming against Oklahoma State (ironic, huh?), where he went 12-of-31 passes for 191 yards (38.7%).  He's got great control that's allowed him to complete several passes as he's being tackled, which is difficult for even the experienced QBs to do.  He's 112-of-203 passes for 1,174 yards and 6 touchdowns so far this season, which basically started in October for him.

While Willis has shown great accuracy in some games, it's far from consistent.  This is something that will definitely work to the Frogs' advantage on Saturday.  While he doesn't crack under pressure, he does fall down.  If our defense uses their speed to break through the pocket, Willis will be an easy target.  His passing game is stronger than his running game, especially with that injury plaguing him.  The Frogs can use this to their advantage to look for interceptions and opportunities to break up those inevitable pass attempts.  He has 6 interceptions since he took over the first week of October, with anywhere from 0-2 in a game.

Of course, our job as Faithful Frog Fans is to make sure Willis' offense is disrupted with noise and a respectfully-against-you sea of Purple and White.  So let's cheer on our Seniors this Saturday and show Kansas what happens when you play in the House of the Horned Frogs.