On Saturday, April 12, the mighty mighty Jayhawks of Kansas opened up Memorial Stadium and put on their annual spring game. There were lots of activities for kids in a very family friendly atmosphere. There was even a practice disguised as a football game.
In a sunny, breezy, warm afternoon in Lawrence, Kansas football fans saw some reasons for hope and some reasons for concern.
I won’t go through a detailed recap, but here are some of my observations. Feel free to comment below on any of these, and if you watched the game or were one of the guestimated 8,000 in attendance, we’d love to get your impressions as well.
Overall Team Impressions
This can be summed up in the next two simple sentences. Offense was disappointing. Defense was good. The second team led 7-0 at half and 10-6 going into the fourth quarter, primarily due to the strength (and depth) of the defense.
I had to keep telling myself that the offense was just installed this spring, and they’ve only had 14 practices. It has to get better throughout fall camp, and hopefully will really be clicking in September. A leap from a bottom 5 offense to an offense ranked somewhere in the middle, say, between 55 and 75, is doable, not unprecedented, and something that Kansas needs if they’re going to win more than two games this fall.
The defense, as expected, was pretty far ahead of the offense. It’s an experienced unit that is adding transfer players who redshirted last year. The defense wasn’t embarrassing last year (except maybe the Iowa State and Texas Tech games), and should be even stronger this fall.
Special Teams was disappointing as well. Matthew Wyman did hit a 23 yard field goal, but also missed an extra point. Eric Kahn did the punting and averaged 39.5 yards on four punts. Place kicking looks like it could be an adventure again this fall.
Montell Cozart won offensive player of the game. He was 6/10 for 58 yards and added 70 yards rushing. However, it should be noted that 60 of those rushing yards came on one play in the fourth quarter where he scampered around the corner and went down the sideline. The only reason Cozart got around the corner was due to a hold on Pierson that wasn’t called. The hold appeared pretty obvious to me – I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have been called in a real game. But, Cozart definitely looks like he now has a step up on Jake Heaps for the starting job even if Charlie Weis won’t admit it, especially after his second half performance.
Jake Heaps was 3/9 for 41 yards, and overall not very impressive. I know the coaches love him and he’s a great leader and team player, but he’s just not producing on the field. TJ Millweard was only 2/8 for 16 yards, but even he looked better than Heaps. Michael Cummings went 3/10 for 42 yards, but threw a bad interception and overall just missed his receivers (i.e., threw a flag when he should have thrown a post, etc.).
Brandon Bourbon led all rushers with 96 yards on 12 carries. Taylor Cox ran well for the second stringers, putting up 63 yards on 15 carries against the first team defense. Darrian Miller added 50 yards on 7 carries, and even Ed Fink (who looks like a fullback) put up 20 yards on 5 carries. Bourbon definitely looked the best, and Cox was impressive. We’ll definitely have a lot of good options there, especially once De’Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench get in to fall camp. Bourbon and Cox were definitely the most impressive on Saturday, however.
Wide receivers actually put up some production in this year’s spring game. Andrew Turzilli was a viable deep threat (as we saw last season, when healthy). Turzilli put up 57 yards on 3 catches for the second team, and near the end of the game, almost had another TD catch when a fairly obvious pass interference was not called. Nick Harwell looked good and had 4 grabs for 31 yards, and if I recall correctly, most of those grabs went for first downs. There weren’t a lot of big numbers put up by any one receiver, but there weren’t any bad drops, which is definitely progress. The receivers were getting open and making catches, something that didn’t happen a lot last year. Turzilli and Harwell looked like the top two receivers out there.
Tony Pierson did not have a reception but did put up 25 yards on two carries, and one of those carries was a five-yard loss.
The offensive line is where questions remain. The second team did not give up any sacks, however, the first team gave up two sacks, one each on Heaps and Cozart. That by itself does not bode well for either the first string O-Line (gave up two sacks) or the first string D-Line (didn’t record a single sack).
The defense, as most probably expected, looked very good against this offense. Jake Love had 10 tackles, but Keon Stowers won defensive player of the game while collecting 8 tackles. Ben Heeney and Colton Goeas led defensive players with two tackles for loss each. Tevin Shaw also had his name called several times after making a play on defense. Isaiah Johnson had the only interception of the game. The first team held the second team to 3/10 on third downs, and 2/4 on fourth downs.
The offense, quite obviously, has a long ways to go. If the defense can improve 10 or 20 spots in the rankings and the offense can be improve 40 or more spots, we might really have something this fall. And by something, I mean 4-6 wins. Hey, it’s better than the last four years I suppose.
Cozart looks comfortable and confident. He had his head up and ran only as a last resort.
Defense was solid on both squads. This hopefully means that we have some depth on defense, and that players will continue to push for playing time, making the starters even better.
KU will be fine at running back. I think Tait said it in one of his articles, but I had the same thought before I even got home Saturday, and it was that Taylor Cox looked a lot like James Sims when Sims ran for the second string a couple of years ago (due to his suspension). The depth at RB is incredible here.
As mentioned, the offense has a long way to go. For a scrimmage that featured primarily first string vs primarily second string, the game was incredibly close, and the second stringers led over three fourths of the game, seemingly due to lack of offensive firepower.
The kicking game could be interesting again this year, and that is not a good thing. Missing an extra point is never acceptable if you ask me. What is it going to take for Kansas to get a semi-reliable kicker?
But the big question is… should mikeville renew his season tickets? The deadline for Select-a-Seat is Friday…