As we continue to traverse through the basketball season, Rock Chalk Talk will begin to officially wrap-up the 2007 Kansas Jayhawk football season, quite possibly the greatest season in Kansas football history. Starting today, we take a look at the five biggest disappointments of the season. Even in a 12-1, Orange Bowl champion season, not everyone performs up to expectations...
Coming into the season, our punt return game was a facet yet to be discovered, an unknown that had the potential for big plays, but also big mistakes. The front-runners to seize the job before the season began were Raimond Pendleton and Dezmon Briscoe, with Pendleton emerging from fall camp the victor. At least, that was what everyone thought happened. Raimond began the season on a wonderful start, as he took the 6th punt of the season by the opposition and took it the distance. 77 yards, to the house. We had apparently found a punt returner.
Then, everything changed. The last two yards of his 77 yard TD run were leaped past, a mostly-innocent sign of celebration, an act of jubilation spurred by the rush-of-the-moment. Mangino wasn't exactly the biggest proponent of his celebration, instead harshly (and graphically) expressing his, uh, displeasure with the extracurricular activity.
After that punt, and more importantly the sideline tirade that ensued, Raimond was never the same. I'm not blaming Mangino, necessarily, just providing a climax of Raimond Pendleton's season, a high-point before everything went tumbling downward. He collected five points in the season-opening win against the Central Michigan Chippewas, including said 77-yard TD. He also caught three of his four passes on the season in the opener, with only a catch for 5 yards, in garbage time, against Baylor standing between him and a virtual one-game-season. He returned 4 punts against Southeastern Louisiana in the next game for a combined 76 yards, a pretty good day. But he only returned three in the next game, and even worse, he returned them for only a combined three yards. He got two more chances against Florida International, in what would turn out to be his final action of the season. However, he did end the season off with a bang, recovering the onside-kick to seal the victory against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl. (I was corporately forced to use FedEx in front of it this time, I haven't for awhile. It's in the contract.)
And with that long picture, we separate Raimond Pendleton's disappointment from our next contestant, who shares #5 with Raimond. Anthony Webb. Once Pendleton fell off of the face of Earth, basically once conference play hit, Anthony Webb took over as primary punt returner. And, despite lacking the fumble problems that plagued Pendleton (and led to his benching in the conference opener against K-State), he was less-than-stellar. Less-than-average, even. Or, how about the worst YPR average in the entire country? .84 yards a return is embarrassing. Despicable. Horrendous. But he didn't fumble, only coughing the ball once and even then quickly recovering it, and that was good enough for the coaching staff after the up-and-down roller-coaster that was Raimond Pendleton handling punts.
But because of his miniscule expectations placed on the cornerback-turned-bust coming into the season, simply holding onto the ball was accepted. Grumbling existed from the crowd, sure, but we only lost once. And punt returning wasn't the reason.
Just to wrap up the 2007 punt return experience for the Kansas Jayhawks, Aqib Talib took over in the FedEx (contract) Orange Bowl. And he performed a lot better than either of his predecessors, as nearly everyone expected. Of course, both he and Dezmon Briscoe were largely disqualified from the competition because of their success elsewhere on the football field, at corner and wideout respectively.
Luckily, we have a dynamite punt returner in this 2008 class, a class that is Mangino's best since his arrival in Lawrence. The recruit of note is Daymond Patterson, a short, little 5'8" package with tremendous lateral quickness, essential for the punt return game. While he will likely need a year or two to become accustomed to the system, and bulk up on his 165 pound frame, before he becomes a serious impact at slot receiver, he is almost guaranteed of securing the punt return job from the moment he steps on campus. Of course, Mangino will never promise playing time, and he will always claim that "the best players will play", but it seems like Patterson has the job all-but-wrapped-up if he plays like he can in camp.
#4, along with a Nebraska preview, coming up later tonight/tomorrow...