It has been (another) long season for Kansas Football fans (both of them), as things have spiraled out of control after an opening weekend win. We sat down with Andy Mitts, aka MisterBrain, of Rock Chalk Talk to find out how the fanbase is feeling, what the hopes are for the future, and if KU can scare the Frogs once again.
Melissa Triebwasser: Kansas is once again struggling in football, losing five straight games after a promising start. What has become the expectation in Lawrence for the second half of the season?
MisterBrain: Ummmm…… Pain? I mean, there really is no expectation for positive results, as it seems like each unit is regressing from the beginning of the year. I’m not really buying the defensive performance last week against Iowa State as true improvement, especially since it was so short lived and may have been colored by just how badly the rest of the team performed.
The only game that we think we might be competitive in is the Baylor game at home. At this point however, that Baylor team has looked at least competent, hanging with Oklahoma and not getting blown out until the end of most games. If they can’t find a way to get it done there, then we are looking at a 1-11 team that may be looking for wholesale changes in the program.
MT: David Beaty probably has as much rope as he wants at KU - correct me if I am wrong - and while it seems as though he's moving things in the right direction off of the field, the on the field product hasn't gotten the results. Is there any rustling among KU fans to go a different direction?
MB: I think there is an argument to be made that he will get more time, but the aforementioned 1-11 season would make it really hard for people to feel good about keeping him around. What is more likely, however, is that Kansas gets blown out in the next two weeks, causing AD Sheahon Zenger to lose his job, which then clears the way for a new AD to be in place to make a final determination at the end of the year.
RCT was an early adopter of the #FireZenger movement, and while it’s taking a lot longer than we were hoping, it looks like we are starting to get movement into the bandwagon. Beaty will be the third head coach that Zenger hired (including interim HC Clint Bowen) that hasn’t worked out at all for the Jayhawks.
All that isn’t to say that Beaty hasn’t done some good for the program. Coming off the debacle that was Charlie Weis’ tenure at HC, Beaty was able to inject a level of enthusiasm and excitement into the fanbase and donors that was hard to imagine would be possible given the results on the field. But some minor recruiting success (I won’t count the 2018 class until we can actually sign them officially) has helped to give a small level of optimism that the on-field product will get better, and if you listen to Beaty talk about the program and his vision, you can’t help but get a little bit excited. But the concerns about his lack of head coaching and coordinator experience seem to be manifesting themselves, and patience is wearing thin.
MT: Speaking of different directions, Doug Meacham matriculated from Fort Worth to Kansas this past off-season, leaving TCU to reunite with his good friend Doug Beatty. There was a lot of buzz around the hire, both for why he left TCU and where he was going. Half a season into the experiment at OC, how would you grade Meach's hire overall, what is one thing that he has done to improve the offense, and what is what thing that has been surprising/disappointing?
MB: Meacham was a huge upgrade to the play calling over what Beaty was giving us the year before. Gone are the days of bubble screen, bubble screen, run right into the line, punt drives. But it’s been hard to truly evaluate what Meacham brings to the offense because the offensive line as a whole has been abysmal. Peyton Bender is not getting any time to set up, read through progressions and make throws, and while there have been a few bright spots, the run game hasn’t been able to get going very well either. Couple that with some unexpected accuracy issues from Bender, and the offense is only showing potential, not actual improvement.
MT: For whatever reason, the games between the Frogs and Jayhawks are always weird and always close, with the largest margin of victory standing at 14 points, and just 35 total separating the two programs over the past five matchups. A: Do you have any idea why that is the case? B. If so, how do we change it? C. Does the fact you have a guy on staff who spent his time game-planning against the TCU D give you more confidence?
MB: In short, no, I dunno, and no. To elaborate, it’s just one of those weird things that happens. Kansas has been looking for a true rival ever since Missouri left the conference, and TCU has seemed to step into that role in an on field “what the hell?” sort of way. As to how to change it, maybe you guys just need to let us have one and then we can be content with getting the crap stomped out of us occasionally. And I don’t know that there is enough similarity between last year’s defense and this one to say that Meacham gives us a big advantage, especially when you look at the overall talent levels of the offenses he had to work with in those two years.
MT: How can Kansas beat TCU and what players on offense and defense can get it done?
MB: I’m having a hard time seeing how that happens, but if it somehow does, I see two key areas: Defensive line and RB. The defensive line has two potential NFL talents in Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Wise, but they have had difficulty in getting to the quarterback in the backfield to disrupt what opponents are trying to do this year. I feel that a lot of that has to do with scheming, as the other players aren’t able to prevent Wise and Armstrong from seeing double teams throughout a large portion of the game. Joe Dineen Jr. leads all of college football in solo tackles, and the ability of the line to get pressure will be crucial in allowing Dineen to clean up in coverage and the running game.
On offense, Khalil Herbert has probably been the only consistent weapon for the team. He had a breakout game against West Virginia, but injuries hampered him against Texas Tech and Iowa State, and the running game wasn’t able to recover. He will be crucial to setting the pace and getting the offense into a rhythm, and if he is on during the game, then the Jayhawks might have a chance to keep it close.
MT: Which players on TCU's team are you least excited about facing?
MB: All of them? I’ll be honest that I’ve not had a chance to look at too many individual players on the Horned Frogs. Pretty much anyone in the defensive front 7 is going to overpower our offensive line. And Kenny Hill is going to pick our defense apart.
MT: What is your prediction for the game? Will it be another close one?
MB: I just don’t see how this stays close. Kansas is going to falter early, and while TCU might be inclined to take their foot off the gas, Kansas won’t be able to capitalize. I’ll go TCU 57, Kansas 10.
MT: BBQ: Kansas City or Texas style, which is better?
MB: Has to be Kansas City. My impression of Texas barbecue is that it is all rubs, no (or minimal) sauces. While I enjoy a good rub, KC style sauce is a perfect complement to a well smoked piece of meat. And there is enough flexibility in the style to incorporate both excellent rubs and phenomenal sauces.
*** editor’s note: blasphemy ***
MT: And for fun... Jamie Dixon's TCU team is getting a lot of love in the preseason, coming off of their post-season NIT run a year ago. As an outsider, and a fan of the team that has won the conference seemingly annually, what are your expectations for the Frogs and how does that play into the Big 12 title race?
MB: Count me as one who expects a lot from this TCU team. Our resident basketball expert recently picked TCU as the #3 team in the conference this year, and I can’t really argue too much with his reasoning. I do think that KU and WVU are the clear 1 and 2 in the conference, but TCU has the weapons and the leadership to finish at least in the top half of the conference. How KU and WVU play against the Frogs will probably go a long way to deciding who ultimately wins the conference.
Thanks to Andy Mitts for his honest insight and terrible BBQ take. You can follow him @mister_brain on twitter and check out www.rockchalktalk.com.