Well, it’s Kansas week. TCU has just two games remaining in the 2020 season (at least officially, though they are still trying to schedule a 10th game and could play in a bowl), and unfortunately, one of them is at Kansas.
For some reason, the Jayhawks have been a bit of a bugaboo for the Horned Frogs, resulting in a lot of close calls and one win we don’t talk about. To see if we could find out why KU is such a problem for TCU, and what Les Miles has brought to Lawrence, we reached out to Andy Mitts of Rock Chalk Talk for answers.
Frogs O’ War: In year two, you could argue that Kansas has regressed under Les Miles, though they are so many mitigating circumstances, of course. What do you think of the job Miles has done in Lawrence, and what do you need to see down the stretch this season and next year to call him a success?
Andy Mitts: I don’t really see this year as regression, just because they lost an NFL-caliber left tackle in Hakeem Adeniji and arguably the best quarterback they’ve had since Todd Reesing in Carter Stanley. Both of those guys gave the offense a lot of leeway to be able to be successful. So already, Kansas was looking at having to replace a lot on the offensive line and break in a brand new QB, which are the foundation of any offense. Then throw in COVID, which took away all of the spring practices and the majority of camp, and it was always going to be rough for the offense.
As for the job that Miles has done, I would actually say that he has done exactly what he intended. His first press conference talked about how this was a 3-4 year rebuild job, minimum, due to the scholarship situation that he inherited from David Beaty. His first class was the only one that took any junior college players, and he has put an emphasis on bringing in local guys, whether on scholarship or as preferred walk-ons. Plus, he has still brought in some of the best recruiting classes we have seen at Kansas in a long time.
To summarize, Les has done exactly what he was expected to do so far, recruiting is looking up, guys are developing, and the future is looking a lot brighter than has the last few years.
FOW: Quarterback play has long been a problem for the Jayhawks, and we all know how hard it is to win in this league without a great one (or with a great one, just ask Texas Tech). Is Jalon Daniels the answer at the position? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
AM: It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s too early to tell. Remember that he is a true freshman with no spring practices, who wasn’t getting first team reps in camp, and he is behind an atrocious offensive line. He is a true dual-threat guy, which will help. He has a cannon for an arm. But his decision making hasn’t been the greatest, and he’s gotten just a little bit skittish after being hit so many times so far. He needs more experience in order to be able to read the defense and adjust, and that is something that is just going to take reps.
FOW: What did Pooka opting out do to the offense and how have they adjusted?
AM: I actually don’t think that Pooka opting out has really hurt them as much as people think it might have. Pooka and his primary backup, Velton Gardner, are both similar types of running backs, and so the defense really only had to prepare for one running style. Add in that they were rarely both on the field at the same time, and KU wasn’t even able to benefit from misdirection or using one as a decoy. With Pooka out, Daniel Hishaw has seen a lot more action. He gives the Jayhawks the ability to play a much more bruising style of running game, and he has even had some success running out of the Wildcat formation. Obviously you never want to be without your best player, but it actually has opened up more options, and forced the Jayhawks to develop guys that were going to be here for multiple years in the future, which is a nice bonus.
FOW: You’ve spoken highly of the Kansas defense, who is in an impossible situation. What do they do well and how do they fluster opposing offenses?
AM: The Kansas defense has actually been surprisingly stout for a large portion of games, and the main driver of that has been the young guys stepping up in both the secondary and on the defensive line.
Karon Prunty has been a stud all year long, and should be a shoo-in for the Big 12 All-Freshman team. Kenny Logan Jr has stepped up big, with a huge interception to give Kansas a chance late in the Iowa State game. He’s also stepped up huge as the kickoff returner. On the line, Marcus Harris and DaJon Terry have developed into bruisers that are requiring double teams much more often. All these guys are young, and have developed significantly in a really short amount of time.
FOW: Which is your matchup to watch Saturday? Where does Kansas have an advantage on the field?
AM: The matchup to watch can’t be anything other than the offensive and defensive lines. Both teams have had poor OL play, and their defensive lines have caused some havoc at times. It’s really going to come down to who is able to stymie the opposing defense just enough to allow their QB to operate.
I actually think that Kansas has an advantage in quite a few places on the field, with one of the best WR corps in the conference and a stellar defensive secondary. The problem has been that the QB hasn’t had time to get the ball to the WRs, and the offense has been so bad that the defense gets hung out to dry and finally gives in at the end of the game..
FOW: This game comes a few days after Thanksgiving, but what is your go-to Turkey Day dish?
AM: My go to dish is the late night Turkey Day leftover sandwich. Take a nice homemade roll, spread some of that cranberry sauce on one side, pile high with leftover turkey, add just a bit of stuffing for some extra seasoning, and then go to town.