Weis Moves: KU Coach Turns To Ground Game
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Weis Moves: KU Coach Turns To Ground Game

Kansas' additional preparation week and refocus on the running game highlighted head coach Charlie Weis' conference call.

The Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) are on the verge of their worst season since the 1988 team went 1-10, and the current senior class has seen the program turn from a school-record two consecutive bowl wins under former coach Mark Mangino to 20 straight Big 12 losses. Kansas has lost 36 of its last 42 games, and its lone win this season came against FCS-level South Dakota State – which has turned in an excellent season, going 9-3 and thus far reaching the second round of postseason play. KU did lose four games by a single score or fewer points, however, and the extra week of practice has Weis' team rejuvenated for its season finale'.

"I am kinda glad the way the schedule worked out that we didn't play on Thanksgiving weekend," Weis said. "You can only get the guys up psychologically in a short time span (so often) before they are flat. We were set-up to be kinda flat. (Players) had a chance to get away, because we had a bye week while WVU was playing, and get a chance to get it out of their system and (Monday) at 5:30 we went out on the field to kinda get that Thanksgiving dinner out of them. Now I think the juice is back and we'll be back.

"We used two practices last week just to practice on West Virginia, so we have a pretty good jump on the task at hand. We were well aware of it before (Monday) morning. Over half of our practice was dedicated as though we were playing West Virginia last week. These guys are pretty familiar with who they are playing. A bunch of them were sitting around watching that (WVU at Iowa State) game on Friday as well."

Weis noted that Kansas last loss, 51-23 in Lawrence against Iowa State, was "a major disappointment. It's our last home game, a last chance for these guys at home to leave with a win and it left a bad taste in our mouths. It was very disappointing loss."

Kansas ran the ball effectively, as they have much of the season since concluding the best athletes on the team were at running back. But the Jayhawks threw for just 189 yards on 11 of 25 passing, and threw a pick as well as losing three fumbles. The turnovers, combined with an inability to slow a ball-control offense like ISU, led to the blowout. Weis said KU would like a better balance, but the quarterback job has rotated between senior and Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist and freshman Michael Cummings, whom Weis pegged as the primary signal caller late in the year. Neither has performed exceptionally, and it caused the coaching staff to turn from Weis' preferred balanced offense to one centered on the ground in a league thriving on the pass.

"What happened was early in the year, I like to be a 50-50 guy, but we were very inefficient in our passing game in all facets," Weis said. "So we got away from being a 50-50 team to clearly being a run-first team. What that has forced me to do is spend more time with the offensive staff just trying to find ways to stay one step ahead of the posse' so you're not dialing up the same runs every week so that the defensive coordinators that study us on tape aren't getting the same look on a week-to-week basis. Because the offensive line is pretty good and the backs are pretty good, it's given us a chance to win some games that maybe we would not have been in if we weren't running the ball efficiently.

"We have not exactly been lighting it up in the passing gamer this year. As we have evolved though the season, in my first year here, I felt we needed to have something we were good at so that you could do that one thing on a weekly basis. So we all start with how are we going to successfully run the ball with what we have at our disposal with who we are going against and what they do. That's how we start every Monday morning. How are we going to run the ball against West Virginia? Everything else falls into place from there."

Kansas, led by James Sims (200 carries, 956 yards, 8 TD) and Tony Pierson (110 carries, 730 yards, 4 TD), ranks 19th in the nation in rushing at 216.6 yards per game. But the Jayhawks are 117th in passing yards (151.5 ypg), 115th in points per game (19) and are floundering defensively, allowing 34 points per game – good for 100th, and still easily better than WVU's 40.6 for 117th out of 120 schools. Only Idaho, Marshall and Colorado are worse than the Mountaineers in points per game, and WVU remains in a battle with Louisiana Tech to finish dead last in the NCAA in pass yards per game at 346. Both are likely to become the first programs since at least 1999 to give up more than 320 passing yards per game.

That doesn't mean one should expect a high-scoring game from KU. The Jayhawks play right into the strength of West Virginia's defense with their run game, and Weis is rightfully concerned about trying to slow Tavon Austin, who has proven as talented as any player in the country, and perhaps in WVU school history.

"He is faster than most people on the field," Weis said. "Just take two plays from last week. Take the punt return and take the little pass on the flat, when everyone had angles on him and he just outruns all of them. That's not coaching, now. I'm sure everyone would like to stand in line and take credit for that. But that's just unusual talent and unusual speed and he's a very dynamic player. No matter where he is, he's a pain in the butt that you always have to account for.

"Obviously this team is as dynamic of an offense as you could possibly go against. Between having a quarterback as good as they have (and) now they have that one-two punch at running back where now they have taken (Austin) and he's not just playing wide receiver, but running back, too. The smashmouth guy (Shawne Alston) and an absolute burner. It really makes your offense very, very, very dynamic. The defense, you saw against Iowa State this past weekend they showed so much versatility in what they do. They have been exposed at times this year because of the nature of the Big 12. They do so many things out of this personnel grouping they play with, you can turn people completely free if you're not very careful."

Notes-N-Quotes:

  • On Notre Dame's success this year with some of Weis' players: "The most important thing for me is to make sure I stay low profile and don't try to take accolades for their success. I think that it's real easy for a guy in my position to sit there and say ‘Yeah, they're all my kids they are winning with,' or be jealous and bitter and all that other stuff. Take Manti (Te'o, ND's standout linebacker). I love Manti. Manti and I will be close as will his family and I. But I think it's important to understand it's their team and not my team. But there are a lot of young men having a lot of success this year that I'm very, very happy for."

  • On the NFL considering banning blocks below the waist: "First of all, you can do it if they chose to do it. The problem is, most of the real issues come in space. You're out in the open field and the blocks below the waist. And I think both the NFL and college have done a much better job in minimizing those and injuries. The problem would be close to the line of scrimmage, like when you're running a stretch play to one side and you're trying to get your lineman to come block guys on the back side. You're almost putting you're offensive players at a disadvantage. Or, if you're running a screen play and you're trying to get a tackle to come up and rush and not be able to cut them. Or throwing a three-step drop, and trying to get the D-line's hand's down. I think there are issues closer to the line, even though their intent is to save injuries. It really puts the offense at a competitive disadvantage. I do understand why you would want to try to get blocks below the wait out of the game in space. I think that's where a lot of the major things happen."