We aren't perfect.
Any football team at any level will have their own fair share of issues. Even last year's New England Patriots happened to have some issues; ones that were taken advantage of in the Super Bowl, which led to their demise.
Even last season's Jayhawk team, which seemed to be such a magical group of kids (and it was), had a sizable laundry list of issues. You had the kicking problems, the punting problems, the punt return problems and the lack of defensive pressure. Not the largest of problems, sure, but still some issues to overcome. And that is what is key. The overcoming of the issues.
Really, so much of football can be broken down into two things in determining a winner and loser: who has more issues and who schemes around their issues more successfully? Last season, we were able to hide our deficiencies incredibly well, at least in 12 of the games, which is an incredibly large reason why we were Orange Bowl Champions.
And not to compare last season's team to this year, as this year's product has yet to prove it belongs in the same sentence, but this year's team is much worse in those two aformentioned questions. However, the season is still young and, despite the early-season loss at the hands of South Florida, there is still a chance that this season can end just as well as last year's. Not likely. Like, at all. But if we are to have much success at all, we are going to have to improve. So, here is a rundown of the answers to those questions that, so often, can define a football team and a season. The particular issue will be listed first, then with a potential solution on how to scheme around and/or fix the issue.
These issues have got to be fixed, because no way we even sniff the Big 12 North Title playing the way we have thus far.
Issue #1 :: The Running Game
Yes, we are talking about this again. The topic that has dominated much of the talk thus far in this newly born season, the running game, is back in the forefront. First, we were discussing the excitement that was coming our way in the form of Jocques Crawford, a physical specimen who is both large and can run really fast. Then, we were startled by the poor performances by both the newcomer Crawford and the incumbent slash-RB Jake Sharp, who was to be counted upon to replace much of Brandon McAnderson's departing production. The situation didn't get much better the next game, but there seemed to be a glimmer of hope in Angus Quigley. And while Quigley has played better than the other two have, particularly Sharp was has seemingly been taken out of the rotation entirely, it still hasn't begun to approach the tremendous display of a rushing attack we had last year.
Of course, much of that, if not all of it, has to do with the offensive line and, more notably, the two best and most important players on our offensive line a year ago; Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez. Their replacements, Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch, haven't played horribly, but they have also repeatedly showcased that they are, in fact, freshman and aren't really ready to be depended upon in the same way we depended upon Collins and Rodriguez. This, combined with the relative averageness of the interior line, has given us little push on the O-Line.
However, whether it is the RBs or the O-Line to blame isn't of terrible importance. Because if it is the RBs, oh well, as we have tried just about every player who could possibly succeed this season. If it is on the O-Line well, then, OK, that sucks, but there likely isn't a better player on the bench. If personnel is the issue, we likely won't be able to fix it until this offseason and its subsequent opportunity for both further player development and the infusion of new talent.
How To Fix the Issue :: Again, we have to move beyond personnel. Taking that into consideration, there aren't a whole lot of solutions. However, there is one, a potential solution I'll call the Andy Reid Solution. Andy Reid, at least in the past years prior to Brian Westbrook's emergence as one of the best RBs in the NFL, ran the ball very little. Instead, Reid used high percentage passes such as shovel passes, screens and hot routes to effectively be his "running game", instead of actually running the ball.
Considering how incredible our QB is and how deep our wide reciever corps is, we definitely have the personnel to put such a strategy into action. We are already kind of creeping towards such a situation, given the differential in pass attempts and rush attempts, but look for the gap to widen even further the more and more the running game struggles.
Issue #2 :: Pass Rush
Oh boy. Honestly, I didn't think a pass rush could get much worse than we had last year. And yet, with the loss of James McClinton, it is substantially worse. Sure, we got in there a handful of times against Sam Houston State. Wow. Against all of the other teams, however, we were lucky to sneak in there once or twice a quarter. Honestly, none of our DTs have showed even a hint at replacing McClinton's pass rush up the middle, although Richard Johnson Jr. did have that one nice play against SHSU. Still, he figures to be awhile away from providing any semblance of a consistent pass rush.
On the outside, we actually might be better off than we were last year. Russell Brorsen is Russell Brorsen, the same halfway-decent pass-rusher off the outside that is a stronger player against the run. He isn't a bad starter by any measure; he just isn't a really solid pass-rusher. However, replacing the lane-stuffing DE John Larson is a trio of pass-rushers in Max Onyegbule, Jeff Wheeler and Jake Laptad. All three of them have shown flashes of pass-rushing ability, particularly Laptad, who has emerged as a really solid starting option at DE.
However, while flashes are nice to project for some future production, it isn't enough to win ball games. And, while Laptad figures to be a good player, we still need more pass-rushing.
The cornerback situation is substantially hurting our pass rush as well. Without Kendrick Harper, we are essentially left with one really solid CB in Chris Harris and another CB slot being filled by a revolving door of freshman (two redshirt, one true) who aren't ready yet to start or play any significant minutes. They are thinking far too much, going through their progressions far too slow to read-and-react to the speed of the college game. They are forced to give extremely large cushions so they don't get beat deep, which then allows the offense to simply take what they can get and find the gaping holei n the middle of the defense.
How To Fix the Issue :: Simply put, we need to blitz more. That is the easiest and simplest way to get to the quarterback more often. Of course, we can't afford to do that because of the CB issue, as mentioned above. Blitzing would leave Isiah Barfield (or Ryan Murphy or Corrigan Powell or whoever) on an island, which is simply a disaster waiting to happen.
With that said, here is my idea. Move Mike Rivera to a DeMarcus Ware/Shawne Merriman-type pure-rusher at DE/LB. I know we don't run a 3-4, which is important for such a position, but we could certainly get creative in lining him up in an effort to get him to the QB without being too short-changed in the secondary. We could also move Rivera to DE straight out, although that would be a radical move. In any case, we are going to have to do something extraordinary to solve the pass rush issue, as simply blitzing or dropping back a bazillion bodies in coverage ain't working.
Just some ideas on how to fix the season. More thoughts coming up throughout the week, as this week should be all about analyzing ourselves and trying to improve for the rest of the season. This bye week should be treated as a turning point in the season; either we continue to play mediocrely and plod along to a 7-5 record or we make some big-time improvements, fix these issues (at least to some extent) and compete for the Big 12 North Title.