Yes, we won by 30 points. Yes, we outgained FIU by 245 yards. But sitll, there is some negative aura wrapped around Saturday's game. It was incredibly positive, if only for the fact that 52,112 decided to show up (setting a Memorial Stadium record). Still, with all of the expectations and all of the hullabaloo surrounding the opening stanza to the 2008 season, it seemed to be a "well-but" kind of game. Sure, it was nice to demolish a 1-A team, but it wasn't nearly as impressive as last year's game against the very same team (albeit one who is incredibly more seasoned this year) or as other BCS schools' openers. Even Kansas State looked a little more dominant than we did, destroying a similar opponent in Sun Belter North Texas, 48-6. With all of that said, let's take a deeper look at what was positive, what was negative, and what was unclear.
THE POSITIVELY POSITIVE
- The first name that has to come out when discussing the good has to be Daymond Patterson, who in a matter of three short hours transformed from a hardcore fan's pick to surprise some people to becoming a name-to-know across the Big 12 and a fan-favorite in Lawrence. That is what 3 catches for 22 yards out of the slot (replacing the injured Dexton Fields) and, more notably, a 74-yard punt return can do for you. Especially considering the downright horrid play of the punt returners a season ago, the Daymond's emergence as a legitimate punt returner is all-the-sweeter. Honestly, there couldn't be any more of a positive debut for DP; I just hope he gets even better as the year, and his career, moves along.
- Another name that had a good game, although not completely and utterly flawless as DP was, is the QB, Todd Reesing. 37-52 is a pretty solid little debut from Sparky, and while he only tossed fomr 256 yards despite all of the completions (good enough for only a 4.9 YPA average), he simply took what the defense gave him. FIU essentially forced us to take the underneath stuff, dropping everyone back and completely eliminating the big play. Not a terrible strategy, and one that certainly worked well enough to keep FIU in the game for quite awhile, but it allowed for Reesing to methodically plod down the field, upping his completion percentage. So, sure, Reesing's YPA average will be negatively impacted by this game, but his comp% will benefit. Moving back to Reesing, he was positive but not spectacular. He took what the defense gave him and played well enough to put up some major points, but the INT is a killer in the kind of short-completion offense we were forced to run last Saturday.
- I only listened to the game, so I didn't see any specific player-by-player action, so I am just going to list the entire defense as positive. They played magnificent, which was evident through both the radio telecast and through the box score. 139 total yards. 2.5 yards a play. 2/14 on third downs. Not a whole lot more you can ask of your defense besides that. Major props especially go to Phillip Strozier, who picked off two passes playing only in nickel coverage. He could turn out to be quite a third safety, and maybe even start sometime throughout his college career.
- The best positive of all, even more positive than DP, is the crowd. 52,112 is a lot of people to show up and watch Kansas play football, much less in a game against Florida International. If that many people showed up (albeit it was the season opener) to watch us take on a Sun Belt opponent, I can't wait to see how many people show up to watch us take on Texas Tech or Texas. Gotta love how much support and $$'s some wins will get you.
- The biggest surprise of the game, at least to me, was the kicking game. Since Hoge left the team and Branstetter's eligibility was thrown into question (reports have him being cleared to play as early as Saturday), the kicking game has been question #1, #2 and #3. Well, one Alonso Rojas has seemed to solve all the problems. He nailed 47-yard and 37-yard field goals and performed well enough on kickoffs to appease that part of the kicking game. Oh, and the punting (y'know, the reason he was recruited to come to Kansas?) he performed plenty well enough to make most forget about Kyle Tucker. The missed extra point (by fellow JUCO transfer Grady Fowler) is concerning, but I suppose Rojas could plug that hole in the dam as well.
- Before we move on to the negatives, Dez Briscoe deserves to be mentioned really quick. Not a real great deep threat, if Saturday's game was any indication, but 3 TDs is 3 TDs. Some other positives who didn't perform quite good enough to earn a bullet point all to theirselves: Kerry Meier had quite a game with his 9 catches and fellow WR Jonathan Wilson looked fully capable of replacing Marcus Henry.
THE SHOCKINGLY NEGATIVE
Offensive tackles. While I did not see any plays at all (save DP's punt return for a TD, which has found its way on YouTube), I heard all I needed to via online radio; the offensive tackles weren't that hot. Now, Matt Darton replaced Jeremiah Hatch in the starting lineup at RT, and that couldn't have helped, but still. I understand that FIU's defense is much-improved over last year, and that they focused on shutting down the deep passing game and the rushing attack, but 128 yards rushing still ain't a whole lot. This will need to be an incredibly improved unit by the time we have to make a trip to Tampa Bay, because George Selvie will eat Jeff Spikes for breakfast.
- Along with the offensive tackles, part of the blame for the lack of a rushing attack has to go to the runningbacks themselves. And while Jocques Crawford has his eyes set on a 2,000 yard rushing season, he ain't getting it by picking up only 32 yards on 11 carries. Jake Sharp didn't do much better, picking up only 29 yards on 9 carries. For some happy spin on the situation, look at Angus Quigley. Quigs looked, by far, to be the best RB on the team (47 yards on 6 carries) and while a lot of that has to be attributed to beating up on a tired defense, it still looks damn impressive compared to the starting duo of Crawford and Sharp. He probably deserves some carries along with the duel starters; forming a possibly deadly triumvirate of runningbacks. In the very least, the rather large Angus should be considered for some goalline and short-yardage carries.
THE QUESTIONS STILL TO BE ANSWERED
Well, in the meaning of the word the 'negative' bullets are still, technically, questions yet to be determined. But moving beyond that, here are some more questions that went unanswered int he season opener.
- How will we get to the QB? More specifically, just how (and how often) will we bring in pass-happy defensive ends like Laptad and Onyegbule. While it is one thing to get by without consistently sacking the QB against weaker opponents, come September 12th we will need to force Groethe's hand, or better yet actually get his ass on the ground, for us to have a chance. Wheeler alone isn't enough to generate a competent-enough pass rush, and no one else has consistently proven to be a pass-rushing threat. This, in my opinion, is one of the biggest questions left to answer int his season.
- Who is our Tight End? Bradley Dedeaux saw almost all of the TE action, and even caught 2 passes (for 9 yards), but no one expects him to be the only TE throughout the season. It is interesting that AJ Steward never saw any real action (and if he did, they neglected to mention it in any of the postgame recaps or on the radio broadcast, so it obviously wasn't for any long period of time), as numerous accounts have him being a crucial member of this year's team. And while the answer to this question will assuredly be some kind of mix between the two, with maybe Tim Biere thrown in there for good measure, it will be interesting to see just how the tight end situation works itself out.
In any case, amidst all of the negatives and questions left to be answered, the game was still a success. Not nearly as rousing as numerous other schools, but successful enough to comfortably defeat a FBS team. And hey, that is all that really matters.
More to come in reviewing Saturday's game, then we'll shift our focus towards Louisiana Tech.