The Jayhawks' performance in week two wasn't drastically different than it was in week one. The problem is that the opposition was slightly better and we didn't get as many "good fortune" type of plays. The result: a home loss to a Conference USA team coming off a 4-8 season. I guess the only silver lining I can find in this loss is that I still think this team looks a bit better than what we've run out there the last two years. The pessimist in me counters that thought by reminding me that we may go 1-11 this year, but I'm trying to keep him quiet. The report card is a bit abbreviated this week, due to both lack of free time and lack of willingness to write about losing to Rice.
The running game was very effective for the most part (5.4 ypc), and the offensive line, while not dominant, did a pretty serviceable job. Because of this, I couldn't go all the way down to an F for the offense. Kansas was able to take all they wanted in the running game until halfway through the third quarter. Unfortunately, Rice started loading up the box at that point and dared Kansas to pass. Crist and the Jayhawk receivers simply weren't up to this task.
Crist generally had all day to throw, as the Rice defense picked up only one sack and one QB hurry. The problem is, if your quarterback can't run and your wide receivers are unable to get any separation whatsoever, it doesn't matter how much time you have to throw. I keep waiting for a Turzili, Ford or Shepherd type to step up and be a receiver that can make plays and draw extra attention from the secondary, but Ford still hasn't seen the field as a receiver and I don't even know what unit Shepherd is practicing with at this point. Turzili gets onto the field here and there, but hasn't been able to get open. This does not bode well for games against teams like TCU, Oklahoma and Texas.
Crist looked better at times, as he was usually able to hit receivers when they were open. His decision making was questionable though, as he threw several passes up for grabs when the safer option was to simply throw it out of bounds. The most significant of these situations was the late interception that ultimately led to KU's demise. If Crist just chucks that one out of play, we punt, and force Rice to put a drive together. Instead, he just tossed it up in the receiver's general area, and Rice, with one of the nation's better kickers, got to start their game winning drive at the 47 yard line.
339 yards against subpar mid-majors is simply unacceptable. Had our passing game even been serviceable, the offense could have picked up where the running game left off when Rice made their adjustments in the third quarter. Instead, we ended up being shut down by the Owls, which is a bad sign heading into conference play against a team that pitched a shutout last weekend.
Defense - D-
Again, just shy of an F. The d-line, like last week, was actually able to provide some pressure, and the linebackers were all over the place Saturday. We even did a good job of containing their dual-threat QB, limiting him to 37 rushing yards on 12 attempts after putting up over 100 on UCLA the week before. However, Rice's running backs occasionally found themselves with holes a little bigger than they should have been, and overall our coverage was, once again, atrocious.
Our cornerback situation seems to be a problem without a solution. We only have one safety who is solid against the pass. If we play our corners close to the line, they lose their man the second they change direction. If they back up, as we've seen for years, the other team can run curls and quick slants to their heart's content. In other words, the secondary is exactly the same as it was last year. It makes sense, given that it's generally the same players. The improvement in the d-line will probably prevent the secondary from turning in the Okie State-type performances we saw during the Gill era, but I think it will ultimately be the downfall of the team on this side of the ball.
If I'm highlighting the positive, I'll go ahead and note that Tharp and Bakare had nine tackles each, and looked pretty darn good in doing so. Still, our starting corners racked up 13 total tackles, and that's a problem.
Special Teams - F
We saw some improvement in the kicking game as previously-unseen walk on Nick Prolago handled kickoff duties. He knocked the opening kickoff to the back of the end zone, and was fairly successful in getting good loft and angles on the others that generally kept the return game at bay. Doherty also averaged 50 yards per punt. That's it for the positives. We also got to watch Doherty miss two field goals, one of which was virtually straight on from 40 yards out. Combine that with DJ Beshears' fumbled kick return, and Daymond Patterson fielding a punt he had no business returning (and losing 5 yards), and you get a pretty weak special teams performance.
Overall - F
The sum of the parts Saturday was a home loss to Rice, and that deserves an F for any Big 12 team, regardless of their position in the rebuilding process. This game served as a wake up call to those of us who were dreaming that perhaps the roster and coaching changes would lead to a noticeably better product on the field. I'm not giving up hope, because again, I think this team looks more complete than last year's. However, I can't say I'm not disappointed. Here's hoping the players can avoid the "here we go again" mentality and maintain a competitive attitude heading into the rough waters ahead.