Despite the smaller margin of victory, I think that we played much better this week. Of course, I did get to see this in moving pictures, while the last game was simply conveyed to me through words over the internets, but it just feeled a lot better. The first quarter wasn't so hot, and our D benefitted from an INT and missed field goal inside the 10, but our passing game could do whatever the hell they wanted, and our running game gave me an inkling of hope late, when Angus Quigley trotted in. There were certainly some things to like, but there were also, most notably the running game, some things that are still up-in-the-air.
THE POSITIVELY POSITIVE
- Yet again, we have to start off the positive with a short, overlooked true freshman. Daymond Patterson, Daylight, DP, Lightning, whatever you want to call him, he is a tremendous player. Just unreal. Whether it be in the punt return game, where he did something super-human to be able to escape a Louisiana Tech gunner who HIT HIM BEFORE HE RECEIVED THE PUNT and squirt his way between a couple of Bulldog defenders for a measly one-yard gain (the best one-yard gain in the history of punt returns, without a doubt), or whether it be in the passing game, where his slot play is incredibly advanced for a second-game freshman, he is explosive. Say it with me: "Ex-plos-ive". I can't stress it enough just how special this player is. I wanted to make the following comparison before the season, when it would have been completely unfounded, then again after last week, when it would have seemed like jumping the gun. But now, I want to make the comparison before anyone else does, and reap the benefits later: Daymond Patterson reminds me of Jeremy Maclin more than anyone else. Maclin is a national name now, has a sick nickname (Cheat Code, for those who don't visit Rock M Nation) and is the best, IMO, all-around returner/WR in the country. Well, I don't know. Maybe Percy Harvin is better. In any case, he is certainly quite the name to be compared to, even if it is a Jayhawk blogger making the comparison. I'm telling you, he is that kind of all-around stud. Just to make things clear, because I can already see the comment section filling up with angry Mizzou fans, I in no way am comparing the two players currently. Maclin, with his redshirt year and entire season of (mostly) dominance last season, is clearly the better player right now. In another 12 months, though, it could be a different story. Oh, and he is also very fast. In case you need evidence, please see Example 1 underneath this, where he grabs a pass while running a crossing route and simply sprints away from the defense, making them look like they are treading water on their way to tackle him.
- Speaking of positives, QBs don't play much better than completing 32-38 for 412 yards and 3 TDs compared to zero INTs. I mean, seriously. As poor as our running game looks, Todd Reesing's out-of-this-world play has lessened the worry substantially. It is obvious that we could have done anything we desired through the air; it didn't matter if they dropped 8 and brought minimal pressure of they instead decided to blitz the hell out of Reesing (which they rarely, if ever, did) forcing him to make a quick decision. It is simply a case of picking your poison. Either you let him dink-and-dunk you to death down the field, or you try and force him to make plays downfield, which he will subsequently do. Now, don't me wrong, he certainly doesn't have the throw-fifty-yards-from-your-knees ability like some physical freaks, like JaMarcus Russell, have, but he has enough arm strength to keep from you scotting everyone forward. And no one is better in the entire college game at simply taking what the defense gives him and methodically moving the ball down the field. No one. Honestly, I don't think a single team on our schedule will be able to stop our passing game. Now, I think plenty can make us one-dimensional enough to scare the hell out of me, at least with the current performance of the running game, but even then I think that Reesing's methodical approach is such a well-oiled machine that no one, no matter what they do, will have a chance of slowing it down enough to keep us out of the game.
- Continuing with the theme of the passing game, you have to mention Dezmon Briscoe. His 48-yard TD catch was absolutely incredible (YouTube below), where he broke six-or-seven tackles, depending on your defintion of "tackle". In any case, he is clearly the #1 receiver on this team and has done more-than-enough to fill Marcus Henry's role on this team. In fact, he could be better than Henry right now, although that is certainly debatable. In any case, he is a beast, and another part of what may be one of the country's best (and certainly the most overlooked) receiving cores in the country. I suppose I might as well bring up Kerry Meier as well, who has clearly emerged as the safety option for Hot Toddy, filling Derek Fine's role on last year's team. He hasn't seemed to be as explosive of a threat sprinting down the hasmarks, but he catches everything thrown his way, and has a tremendous knack for getting open. He is on pace to catch 108 passes in the regular season alone, and has a pretty good shot at reaching 100 catches if we continue to pass this often.
- I can't believe I took this long, and he probably should have been the first name out here but I wanted to do all offense first. In any case, there is really only one candidate for Player of the Game on Saturday, and that would have to go to Mr. Darrell Stuckey.Honestly, his two-play swing of chasing down one of the fastest players in college football, Phillip Livas, when he started out on the opposite side of the field and then breaking through the offensive line to stuff RB Patrick Jackson for a fourd-yard loss is the best two back-to-back plays I've ever seen a defensive player make. Like, ever. It borders on superhuman. Most normal football players would want a break or a rest or an oxygen tank or something after that play (of course, most normal football players don't come close to catching up with Livas, but that is besides the point). But no, Stuckey had to go all Superman on us and make two consecutive fantastic plays in a row. Dayum. Oh, and I would just like to admit I was wrong. In my season preview of the safetie, I said that I wasn't sure how Stuckey would fit in at SS. As a matter of fact, he is a better SS than FS, making the switch of him and Justin Thornton all the more beneficial. At SS, he is able to do more freelancing and play a bigger role in the running game, where he has shined thus far. And I didn't even get to mention his tremendous hit on the La Tech WR in the endzone during their first redzone trip, forcing the ball out of the WRs hands up into the air, where Chris Harris was able to snag the ball out of the air. So, while it could have easily been at least 29-6, you could certainly make the argument that Darrell Stuckey single-handedly made sure that the game stayed a shutout.
- As bad as it sucks that Kendrick Harper was carted off the field in a stretcher (which we'll get to soon), there was certainly a silver lining to the injury; Isiah Barfield's play. Barfield is still pretty raw, but he has an incredible amount of physical ability and talent, and on first look he seemed to play really well. Not just passable enough to keep the defense from collapsing, but great. Like, I wouldn't be all that pissed if he were forced to start. And while the sooner Kendrick Harper gets back the better, both for him and the team, it is nice to know that we seem to have already found our replacement for him next year in Barfield, who figures to only develop further.
- Before we move on to the less-positive points, I want to give a shout-out to every other player on the defense. Whenever you shut out a team, even when there are some breaks along the way, a defense played pretty damn well. That is definitely the case here, and while it could have easily been at least 29-6, a shutout is a shutout is a shutout. And this isn't against some team like Chatanooga or some other meddling 1-AA program; Louisiana Tech is a legitimate team from the WAC, the conference that has brought us BCS Bowl-Busters in Boise State and Hawaii. Certainly a legitimate team.
THE NEGATIVELY NEGATIVE
- Concerns #1, #2 and #3 involve the running game in some way. The actual, physical running game should be concern #1, as we will have to, at some point, actually be able to force the D to respect the RBs darting through the offensive line. Like, as soon as this Friday. Jake Sharp is hitting the holes too hard, it seems, running too aggressively and not allowing the blocks to take shape. Jocques Crawford has yet to show that burst that made him the JUCO Offensive Player of the Year last season, and appears sluggish and, honestly, average. Angus Quigley has brought an entirely different look to the running game; showing patience when that is needed, but he also isn't afraid to burst through a hole and take on the LB head-on. Honestly, I think he is the best RB on the team, at least right now. No one has ever really doubted his talent before, it's just his consistency and ability to hold on to the ball that has kept him off the field. But now, when we are struggling more with the running game than we ever have before and with him playing better than ever, seems to be the opportune time to work him into the regular rotation and see how he does. Last week, he received double the carries anyone else did (15 by him compared to 7 from both Sharp and Crawford), showing that Mangino may just be turning the corner as far as Quigley is concerned. I want to put up a full-length post concerning only Quigley and the running game, so everything else regarding the issue will go there.
- Issue #2, of course, would be the interior offensive line. Now, on tape they didn't appear to be all that bad, and maybe I am just being way too critical. However, it just can't be the RBs fault that they have been this much worse than they were last season (Sharp at least), and it certainly isn't the offensive tackles, who have barely appeared in running games. We are attempting to run almost exclusively up the middle, particularly behind Chet Hartley at RG, and that just isn't working unless Quigley is in there, and often he has to break a tackle before he can continue on his merry way. The offensive line probably deserves more time to gel, and Mayes and Hartley both played well enough last season to get longer than a two-game stint at starter this year, but if we struggle again in the running game against South Florida, it should definitely be something to be considered.
- Issue #3 is, well, I don't really know. If we were to have another weakness, it would probably be making the chip-shots known as extra points. Honestly, I don't really care if we have a different guy for XPs than we do for FGs, as long as they all find their way through the yellow uprights. If we miss one Friday night, it might be the reason we lose. But on a happier note, Jacob Branstetter had an otherwise fantastic debut and figures to be a pretty solid kicker for the next couple of years.
- The final negative has to go to the injuries. We were fortunate last season in avoiding the big, crippling injury (although Harper did miss a load of time and by the time the Missouri game rolled around McAnderson and Collins were severely nicked up, along with other players), but we were bit twice by the injury bug in a matter of minutes Saturday afternoon/night/twilight. We could live without both for awhile, probably up until Oklahoma before we actually must have them. Blakesley was playing really well, probably the best football of his career at Kansas, but we still have a deadly trio in Darius Parish, Jamaal Greene and Richard Johnson Jr. And while I was much more worried about Harper in the game thread, Barfield played well enough to appease my worries for awhile, at least. Still, we need both back at some point, and certainly the sooner the better.
All-in-all, like I said in the opening paragraph, the game was a success. We played MUCH better than we did against FIU (again, I didn't get to see the FIU game, but that is based off of the sound of the game and the opinions of others), and that is always a positive. Of course, our running game could use a helluva lot of work, but our D appears to be in mid-season form already and Todd Reesing simply can't be stopped. Oh, and we have two damn fine returners in kickoff returner Macrus Herford and Daylight at punt returner. As long as we aren't required to run the ball, like ever, we could compete for a Big 12 Title. And hell, maybe Crawford or Sharp will wake up, or Quigley will emerge as an awesome RB, and we can still compete. But we absolutely must work that out before we can start to think of even a Big 12 North Title. It is a must.
More to come later...