The Jayhawks beat McNeese State the way they're supposed to beat an FCS opponent. At least, that's what the scoreboard says. This game was never really in doubt, but it hardly inspired high marks across the board. Obviously, there are plenty of high marks to go around on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense was another story. I really do hate to pick the team apart after a win, especially with the so few to speak of in the past year, but...well, that's exactly what I'm about to do.
Quarterbacks - B
Webb wasn't asked to do much, but for the most part he made plays when he had to. He did a fantastic job of executing the zone read, kept the offense moving at a quick pace that frequently caught McNeese State off guard, and connected on 7 of 10 passes for nearly 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. No passes were forced, and there was no sign of the "WTF passes" we saw all to often last year. The only things keeping Webb from getting an A are the ill-advised 4th quarter sack and, believe it or not, the first TD pass to Jacorey Shepherd. A 56 yard TD pass looks great in the box score, but in reality, the pass was intended for a wide open Kale Pick. Granted, Webb was rolling to his left on the play, but the ball has terribly underthrown, and Pick was really wide open. Fortunately, Shepherd was nearby and reached out to make a fingertip grab as Pick tried to come back to the ball. A great result, but it was nearly an incomplete pass when all Webb had to do was throw the ball anywhere near the open man.
Running Backs - A
All these high grades have to be take with a grain of salt this week, given the opponent, but there was still no way I could give this group anything less than an "A." James Sims showed great vision on his way to a 100+ yard game, but the real excitement was delivered by two true freshmen. Darrian Miller didn't break off any huge runs, but showed both the ability to dart around and escape tacklers, and an ability to lower his head and drive the pile. Not a combination you see in many backs, especially not those standing only 5'10, 190 pounds. Tony Pierson showed his playmaking ability right away, and ended up with 73 yards on just five carries, highlighted by a 47 yard TD run that looked simply effortless.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - B+
Truthfully, the receivers didn't have to do much to earn this grade. Jacorey Shepherd had the most notable day of this group, with 107 yards and a pair of TDs, but the receivers also did their job in the running game. Pick and Beshears are notably tenacious blockers downfield. Biere had little involvement statistically, which is probably expected of the tight end when the team runs on 85% of its plays. The only reason I don't give them an A is because, outside of Shepherd, they basically just did what was expected of them, though it was more than enough to keep the offense rolling.
Offensive Line - A+
The size of the McNeese defensive front has a lot to do with this grade, as does the fact that I would have been overjoyed just to see competent o-line play from the Jayhawks. Still, I really wanted to give an A+ to someone, because this will likely be my only chance to do so. Webb had time make his reads, and the running backs had seams and holes to run through all night long. Granted, this what a BCS conference team should be expected to do to an FCS opponent in the trenches every time out, but the bottom line is they did it, and it was really fun to watch.
Overall Offensive Grade - B+
The offense did everything we needed them to do. They scored quickly a few times, but generally dominated an outmatched team and methodically imposed their will. They didn't light up the scoreboard the way the '07 and '08 teams could, so an "A" probably isn't justified, but seeing the offense work their gameplan and push around a defense was a welcome sight.
Defensive Line - D
Ok, that's enough good vibes for now. The defensive front did not do their job Saturday night. I realize that in the 3-4, the d-line is not necessarily expected to penetrate and disrupt, but it would be nice to see them beat their blocker when going one-on-one every now and then. Keba Agostinho was a pleasant surprise, and found himself in the Cowboys' backfield several times, even sacking the QB once. Outside of that, however, there wasn't much to be happy about here. In the line's defense, McNeese had virtually zero success running the ball, so they have to get some share of the credit for that. In the pass game, however, there was little or no push from the line, and blitzing linebackers were routinely picked up by available blockers. This is not a good sign.
Linebackers - C
It's hard to give the entire unit a grade here, because they did some things very well, and others very poorly. For instance, Toben Opurum was a problem for the McNeese State blockers all night. He recorded a sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two QB hurries. Steven Johnson was all over the field and ended up with 15 tackles. On the other side of things, while Darius Willis consistently got around blockers and found himself near the play, he also routinely overpursued and ran past the play. He looks like someone for whom the college game is still going pretty fast, which is understandable given that this was only his fourth time playing in a college game. Tunde Bakare looked like a bit of a weak tackler a couple of times, and the unit as a whole had trouble getting to the outside on screen passes and check-downs. There is definitely talent in this group, but this game brought some weaknesses to the surface as well.
Secondary - F
I'm not sure I can adequately describe the secondary's play without violating the site's Terms of Service, but I'll give it a shot. Our DBs are terrible. Barfield and Brown have no idea how to play a ball in the air, and as a result are usually content to simply watch their man catch it, and tackle him afterward. This, combined with 5+ yard cushions, resulted in short gains through the air being readily available to McNeese State any time they wanted them. This problem was also compounded by some terrible pursuit angles, especially by Patmon and the safeties, which allowed short gains to be extended to first downs. Do you know why we have two converted receivers with virtually no defensive experience starting at safety? Neither do I, but I know it isn't because they're too good to be kept off the field. McDougald and Terry simply looked out of place every time they needed to help over the top on a deep pass, and Terry specifically was torched on a 32 yard TD pass by a receiver who looked like he runs about as fast as I do. Now, I know Terry has speed, which leads me to believe he simply is not comfortable being in coverage in the open field. This gives me hope that Terry will get better as time goes on, but let's pray the improvement happens sooner rather than later.
And please, no blaming this on the lack of a pass rush. I know that DB play looks worse when the QB has extra time to throw, but Saturday it didn't matter if he had two seconds to pass or ten...he was going to have receivers open. You also can't blame the pass rush when DBs take a terrible angle on a ballcarrier or try to tackle them up around the shoulder pads (lookin' at you, McDougald). The secondary was horrendous Saturday night, and since it has been horrendous since the day Aqib Talib went to Tampa Bay, I look for this to continue to be a weak spot as the season goes on.
Defense Overall - D
The only reason the defense doesn't get an F is that they were able to tighten up and get some stops when it counted. As a whole, however, they tackled poorly, took bad angles, had problems getting to the QB, couldn't knock down a pass, and just generally allowed a weak opponent to march up and down the field on them to the tune of 420 yards.
Special Teams - D
Special Teams didn't hurt us too bad last night, but if we continue to play this way it will. The blocking on kickoffs was poor, and DJ rarely found himself with room to run. Mueller didn't attempt a field goal, and made all his PATs, but several were perilously low and could easily have been blocked. The tackling by the kick coverage team was terrible, and they allowed 25 yards/return, including a 45 yard return that featured several whiffs by KU defenders. On the bright side of things, Mueller did a serviceable job on kickoffs, getting a couple all the way to the end zone. Ron Doherty seems to have a pretty solid leg as well, booting one of his two punts 49 yards on the fly, with no return. The long snapping has also improved with Gibas taking over, as there were no bad snaps in any of the six PATs or two punts.
Coaching - C
This was hard to measure. The staff clearly had the team ready to play this time. Outside of a couple isolated communication errors (which happen to everyone), there were no signs of the disorganization and slow playcalling that hampered Kansas early on last year. In fact, KU was able to hustle to the line quickly enough to catch McNeese State sleeping a couple of times. Still, the team showed some troubling tendencies. The defense as a whole did a poor job of tackling low, and as a result, there were many occasions where the first man to the ballcarrier had to simply try and slow him up until help arrived. This was also prevalent on the kick coverage team. The special teams play continues to leave much to be desired, which largely falls back on the coaching, which was lacking in this area last year as well. The offensive playcalling was sound, and I was pleased to see them continue to pound the ball on the ground repeatedly. Too often, coaches will outsmart themselves trying to switch things up and keep a defense on their toes, even if what they're already doing is working. The run game was dominating, so we didn't deviate, which was good to see.
Overall Team Grade - C
The quality of the play varied so widely depending on which unit was on the field that it's nearly impossible to give the cohesive team a single grade. With that in mind, I'm going down the middle with a "C." The offense was every bit as good as the defense was bad, and the coaching was a bit of a wash. Regardless of the grade, the Kansas Football team is 1-0, with hope for the future.