This ain’t your father’s Kansas team.
Or is it?
TCU and Kansas clash in a critical early-season Big 12 clash, as the Frogs look to avoid a rare losing streak under Gary Patterson and the Jayhawks try to even their conference record at 1-1 and work closer to a potential bowl game.
To get the inside scoop on KU, we sat down with Andy Mitts of Rock Chalk Talk.
Frogs O’ War: Before we talk about this week, can we go back a couple? WTH happened at Boston College? Is that the best of what Kansas can be in 2019, or was it an anomaly?
Andy Mitts: Brent Dearmon is what happened. At the beginning of the year, we knew that Coach Dearmon was being brought in to introduce RPO concepts to the offense, but there was always a question about how much those were actually going to be used. Games 1 and 2 were very Les Miles heavy, in that we saw everything that got him run out of LSU. Carter Stanley even mentioned that they were routinely in situations where they saw pressure coming that was going to blow up the called play, but there was no way for them to check out of it into something different. But, to the coaching staff’s credit, someone got through to Les before Boston College and they leaned HEAVILY on the RPO scheming for Boston College. And as you saw in that game, that style of offense plays right into the talent pool that KU has on the offensive side of the ball. They have two very different style runners in Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert (and Dom Williams is no slouch either). Carter Stanley is a tough QB that doesn’t always make the best decisions, but he is especially adept at shaking them off and moving on. Andrew Parchment and Daylon Charlot are two talented receiving threats that can make plays on their own once they get the ball. There is a lot to work with here, so I don’t expect that BC was the last time we’ll see a breakout from this offense in 2019.
FOW: Coming off of the big road win, the Jayhawks fell a little flat, falling to WVU at home. What was the difference?
AM: A lot had to do with the opponent, in that West Virginia was able to pound the football and stretch out time of possession. But Kansas also took a lot longer to get their offense going, and then they just ran out of time to complete the comeback. This is very much a second half team, which is extremely frustrating to everyone involved. They have to figure out how to get started quicker so that they aren’t digging out of late holes.
FOW: Carter Stanley has been much maligned in his career, but is off to a hot start. Is that Les Miles’ influence, play-calling, or has he just plain gotten better?
AM: Like most things, it’s a combination of everything. Stanley has definitely gotten better, but we have seen flashes of this in each of the last few years. He didn’t have an impressive stat line, but we saw his grit and leadership in the big win over Texas in 2016. He was very efficient in the loss to Oklahoma State last year, but was only given a series and a half against West Virginia before he got pulled. In that way, Les Miles and his willingness to stick with a single quarterback has been a huge difference in allowing Carter to play through mistakes and find his footing this season.
FOW: Let’s talk about Les Miles. What has his impact been on the program in the short time he’s been leading it? What are the expectations for the future?
AM: He’s brought a swagger to this team that just hasn’t been there. Everyone knows that Kansas has a coach that knows how to win a national championship. But the biggest impact that we have seen is just the accountability from EVERYONE in the program. I’ve slammed David Beaty repeatedly for his excuses and refusal to blame poor play on anything other than execution, but as we saw in the 6th episode of Miles To Go, Les immediately talked to the team after the Coastal Carolina loss and shared the blame with the team. He talked about how the execution wasn’t there, but the coaches needed to do a better job of putting them in positions to succeed, and he talked about how much work the coaching staff needed to do to fix the problems. Based on the public appearances by Beaty, that kind of scene never would have happened last year.
I don’t really know what to expect from this team the rest of this year, other than they are going to improve from week to week, even if the results don’t come on the scoreboard. This is a team that now has a clear direction, and a path back to success. I don’t know how long it is going to take, but as the team says on Twitter all the time: #TheJayhawksAreComing.
FOW: Pooka Williams has the hype, and was the talk of the off-season for off the field issues. But Khalil Hebert has been a star in 2019 - averaging almost 9 ypc and scoring twice already. What does each back do well and how do you stop them?
AM: Pooka has always been the shifty, agile player that can make you miss and does his best work in open space. He’s a speed guy, and I think most of the conference has spent a good portion of the offseason preparing for him and his style of play. If he gets any space, he can threaten to break a huge run at any second. He constantly pulls the defense with him because it’s hard to get him down in the open field. But a big part of his game is misdirection, whether it’s using it elsewhere to get him loose, or using him as a decoy to enable other playmakers to come free.
Herbert is more of your power-style running back, in that he can absorb contact well and keep running. But when he gets the opportunity to run in some space, watch out. His biggest highlight of the year so far, against Boston College, involved him taking a few glancing blows as he came through the line, and then turning on the jets. Building up steam in the open field, he crashed into the defenders who met him inside the 5 and nearly pushed it into the end zone. He is fairly adept at blowing small holes open with his power, and is the perfect complement to the speed back that Pooka is.
Ultimately, the key to stopping them is to be prepared for what they are going to do. The biggest advantage they have is when they are on the field at the same time, since it’s difficult to know what is coming. Each guy takes multiple guys to bring him down, but for entirely different reasons.
FOW: Kansas seems to always have one big time defensive player that makes himself into an all-conference guy. Who do you think that is going to be in 2019?
AM: The easy answer would be either Mike Lee or Bryce Torneden, the two highest rated returning safeties in the Big 12. Those guys are phenomenal for the Jayhawks, and they have made plenty of big plays. But I think the guy that is going to get the most notice, and has surprised a lot of people, is Dru Prox. The linebacker has taken over where the long string of dominant guys have left off, and is leading the Jayhawks in tackles and big defensive plays this season. He seems to be everywhere, and if they continue to have any sort of defensive success, it’s going to be because of his contributions.
FOW: Kansas beat TCU last year... we don’t want to talk about that. That’s it. That’s the question.
AM: I think we just did talk about it....
FOW: Kansas wins Saturday if.... Kansas loses Saturday if...
AM: In order to win this game, I think Kansas needs to start forcing turnovers. TCU is the perfect team to get that started against, as they seem to be especially turnover prone this year. I think we all expect Carter Stanley to turn the ball over at least once, given his tendency to push the envelope and try to make the big play. But if the defense can set this team up, either by refusing to let TCU get their offense going or delivering multiple extra opportunities for Stanley to make a play, they can come out with a huge victory.
On the other hand, Kansas has a pretty bad rushing defense this year, and TCU, like most of the Big 12 it seems, has a very good rushing attack. If they can’t shore up their rushing D, TCU can run all over them and this could end up getting pretty ugly.
FOW: What do you expect to be saying about Kansas Football at the end of this season, and how will this week’s game play a part in that narrative?
AM: I honestly expect to have some legitimate optimism about this program after the season is over. Whether that is because they got some big wins in games like this and got closer to a bowl game than anyone could have hoped to expect, or because they were competitive in nearly every game and showed that they have a clear direction moving forward, I’m not sure. But the results of this game will go a long way in determining just how much optimism there will be.
Thanks to Andy, and be sure to to give him a follow @mister_brain.