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A Final Reflection; Insight Bowl and 2008

New Year’s Eve 2008 marked the end of an exciting Kansas football season as the Jayhawks wrapped up their first ever back to back bowl wins in school history.  Already fans, media and players alike are looking toward 2009, but I thought I would take one last opportunity to look back at the 2008 Insight Bowl and discuss 2009 sometime next week.


Full story after the jump…


I myself landed in Tempe early the morning of the game.  Weather was fantastic, there looked to be about 8 fellow Jayhawks arriving on the same plane with me.  One shuttle to the hotel and one to downtown Tempe and my first bowl experience was underway.  Now, before getting to much into the game I’ve got to say if you haven’t made the plunge and forked over the money to attend one of these, do so on your next opportunity.  These events are special and going forward I will make every effort to attend in the future.  I sat next to an older Jayhawk alum at a bar prior to the game.  He had been to the Orange Bowl, Final Fours and many other events I as younger alum had not been able to attend at this point.  His advice to me, “go to as many as you can, you’ll never say, gee I wish I hadn’t spent the money to go to that.”  After the game and the good feelings you get being surrounded by that many Jayhawk fans in that environment, I think I’ll heed his advice going forward.


Onto the game…after a few beers in downtown Tempe I wandered over to the alumni tailgate and an ocean of blue shirts outside the stadium.  Got my tickets at will call, snapped a few photos of the scene and just took it all in waiting for the doors to open.  Now, I know this wasn’t the Orange Bowl or a BCS Bowl, but as someone who endured the Terry Allen era and realizes where this program has been, you take nothing for granted.  I wandered over to the player will call area and all the parents and guest of the players were lined up for a very, very long stretch.  I think my favorite was what I assume was Dezmon Briscoe’s mother.  She had a shirt on the back that read Mrs. Briscoe, and on the front the phrase “you got Briscoed.”  I wonder if she handed that over to Tim Brewster after the game. 


The doors opened, fans filed in and moral was high as Kansas fans far outnumbered the Gopher faithful.  My guess would be a good 6:1 ratio of Kansas to Minnesota.  I don’t say that as a knock on the Minnesota crowd but more as a acknowledgement of the Kansas following.  If you think about it this is a fan base that went to the Orange Bowl last year, the National Championship in basketball and now like everyone else is stuck in one of the worst economies of recent history.  Combine all that it makes it very impressive that so many fans, students and family were able to make the effort and fork over their hard earned cash to make the trip.  I think it speaks a lot to the potential this program has if the building continues. 


Pregame was great, fireworks, precision parachuting and a flyover.  One somewhat humorous moment was right before the national anthem started Todd Reesing and the captains came bursting out of the tunnel in a sprint.  I think they were expecting a rowdy welcome but since everyone was showing respect for the flag, it remained quiet.  Reesing quickly realized what was going on, removed his helmet and showed his respect.  One other thing regarding the pregame, there was a Greg Ostertag sighting.  Two rows in front of me a freakishly large man rolled in with his wife and kids, I quickly recognized him as the Big O and glad to see he could make it.


Kickoff came, Briscoe back deep and I had a good feeling about our special teams.  One play later and we had scored.  Jayhawk fans went wild and Gopher fans had that look on their face like they were already convinced Big 12 offenses were as good as advertised.  As we all know the game would swing the other direction before Kansas took firm control in the third quarter and never looked back.


There were several player performances I was impressed with.  The obvious of Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier is worth mentioning but there were others who seemed to save there best for last.


The offensive line, a much maligned unit early in the year pulled it together late and between the Missouri contest and this one allowed Reesing to step up, improvise and make plays.  The tackles have come a long way and on one drive in particular Jeremiah Hatch played the whole series with a malfunctioning helmet.  The thing must have fallen off three or four times, one time with Reesing picking it up and carrying it up to the line for the big guy.  The interior Seniors have been great, going from a question mark in 2007 to the anchors of back to back bowl champions.  One other worth mentioning here is Sal Capra.  The redshirt sophomore came to Kansas as a linebacker from Rockhurst in Kansas City.  He’s bulked up, put in the work and seems like he has the chance to lock down one of these spots next year.  He might not be the most physically gifted but he seems to be a very smart gritty player that just gets it done.


The defensive line, another area that has been frustrating throughout the year also seemed to find its way late.  The defensive tackle rotation of Blakesly, Greene, Johnson Jr, Wheeler and Parish seemed to really respond to the extra time off and opportunity to heal.  The goal line stand showed a lot of what the future may hold for a very young, very raw Parish and with another year in the weight room this unit could be fairly effective.  At the ends, Brorson was his usual steady self, but the guy that impressed me most was Maxwell Onyegbule.  For the first time the guy with all the potential seemed to really understand the game.  He may not have had his name called a ton but he did get pressure, sack the quarterback and showed a lot of athleticism and intelligence on some of the screens shovel passes, and running plays where he put himself in the right position to make the play. 


Linebackers are a special group; special guys and they went out the right way.  Kansas has shown a knack lately of developing this position and with the advent of the spread these three faced some tougher tests, but they always gave it 150%.  Special mention to James Holt, should have had him on the occasional pass rush all year.


The secondary did what they had to do.  No huge plays here but Daymond Patterson looks the part after half a season on the defensive side of the ball.  Stuckey has a chance to be great next year.  Finally, Kendrick Harper I know it hasn’t been a smooth ride but he made a big play on the goal line stand and he is a Jayhawk and for that I am grateful. 


On the special team’s side of things, Branstetter again proved our best tackler on kick coverage.  Alonso Rojas, this guy is brilliant at times and that punt at the 1 inch line was the most remarkable kick I’ve seen in my life.  I’ve been to a lot of football games but I’ve never seen a fan base get that excited over a punt.


The coaching staff deserves some serious recognition as well.  Watching the fine tuned, well oiled machine work on the sideline is impressive.  The coaching staff orchestrates everything so well and smoothly and I think that is why we get the absolute most out of our players.  Expectations are high, everything is taken seriously and all these guys have to worry about is making the play.  You also see a real good cop, bad cop dynamic from these guys.  Just due to pure personality there are coaches down there that strike fear into a player making the wrong move, but there are also those guys that really pick players up.  Clint Bowen comes to mind as he shared a moment with each of the senior linebackers as the game wrapped up.  Hugs all around for that group.


As the game wrapped up the Rock Chalk Chant was hear loud and proud.  If Minnesota fans hadn’t heard it before they got one of the best versions I’ve heard.  As I’ve mentioned before many stayed for the trophy presentation.  Coach Mangino thanked the great fans of Kansas; we sang the alma mater, did the Rock Chalk Chant and sent the players off to the locker room I know this was a bit long, but I really think you do gain an appreciation for a team when they go through as many hard times as Kansas has and you witness an event like this.  Jayhawks filled the streets of Tempe well past midnight to ring in the New Year.  2008 was a fun, wild ride.  It maybe finished a little short of initial expectations but it was still a success, and now 2009 can’t come fast enough.