KU defense a problem without a quick fix

In three games, the University of Kansas defense has given up 1,650 yards of total offense and 130 points to its opponents. In the world of college football, this would be what most coaches, fans and players would define as "a problem."

In three games, the University of Kansas defense has given up 1,650 yards of total offense and 130 points to its opponents.

Most recently, the Jayhawks suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of Georgia Tech; a messy 66-24 affair in which the Yellow Jackets both rambled and wrecked at will, breaking school records en route to 768 yards of offense and an absolutely astonishing 604 on the ground.

In the world of college football, this would be what most coaches, fans and players would define as "a problem."

"I just think we weren't able to slow those guys down or stop them," said Head Coach Turner Gill, of the performance against Georgia Tech. "They made a good game plan and we thought we made some adjustments at half time, and they just did a better job executing their adjustments than we did."

As one might expect, those struggles have given rise to one, all-encompassing question:

Is this fixable? Or, more specifically, is this fixable within the timeframe of the next nine games?

Unfortunately, the short answer isn't pretty, because the issues seem to be so widespread.

Is it coaching or personnel? That's the million dollar question, and one which is virtually impossible to answer. The truth - as is almost always the case - resides somewhere in the middle, so let's take a look at a few facts.

For the veterans on this defense, Vic Shealy represents the third defensive coordinator under whom they've played in the past three seasons.

Clint Bowen closed out the Mark Mangino Era, and Carl Torbush opened Turner Gill's, before stepping down this summer to unfortunately battle a low-grade case of prostate cancer.

Ask any coach and they'll preach the importance of continuity to the success of their team - offense, defense, special teams. It doesn't matter. That's part of why the promotion of Shealy, and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt as co-coordinator was the right move to make.

Clearly, however, there are still some kinks in the system. Part of it may be the switch to the 3-4 scheme, even if it isn't a strict 3-4 and instead a system which places a hybrid linebacker/defensive end (in this case, junior Toben Opurum) at the line of scrimmage with greater flexibility in his role.

Whatever the issues, they need to be resolved in a hurry.

Remember the aforementioned veterans? There aren't many of them.

This Kansas defense is shockingly young and/or inexperienced all over the field.

On the defensive line, the Jayhawks have two first-time, full-time starters in Keba Agostinho and Kevin Young. Pat Lewandowski and Randall Dent are receiving their first playing time as well.

In the linebacking corps, Buffalo transfer Darius Willis is just a sophomore in his first year on the field with the Jayhawks. Junior Tunde Bakare is a JUCO transfer in his first year. Huldon Tharp is back from a season-ending injury in 2010, after a freshman campaign in 2009 that saw him get spot duty.

And in the secondary, Bradley McDougald, Tyler Patmon, Greg Brown and Keeston Terry are all in their first year in the starting lineup.

This defense is faster and more athletic, yes, but when facing the caliber of offenses this schedule throws its way, the lack of experience is proving to be one heck of a road block.

The experience level is likely to continue to drop in the weeks ahead

It's been the freshmen on the offensive side of the ball that have gotten the majority of the press, and rightfully so, but don't be surprised if the defense sees an infusion of its own share of youthful talent from the recruiting Class of 2011 as the season progresses.

Talents such as Colin Garrett, Ben Heeney, Victor Simmons, Michael Reynolds - and maybe even an young defensive end like Ben Goodman - appear closer to working themselves into the rotation when the defense is on the field, and not just on special teams. Redshirt freshman Dexter McDonald saw significant snaps in the loss to Georgia Tech, and acquitted himself well.

This is, of course, a double-edged sword. These freshmen are largely faster and more athletic than their veteran counterparts, but they know next to nothing about what it takes to play football in the Big 12.

So the reality of the situation is this: this defense is capable of improvement. Maybe this year, maybe not. Everyone associated with Kansas football would sure as heck like for it to be this year, but it may not be in the cards.

The sad thing is the defensive breakdowns have overshadowed some legitimate, honest improvement in the other facets of the game. The offense, which struggled so mightily to move the ball a season ago, at times looks like a genuine power house. The running game is much improved, and Jordan Webb looks like a completely different player.

Before the season, the prevailing sentiment among Jayhawk Nation was that visible steps forward would be enough to declare the season a success. The record may not reflect it, but Kansas fans wanted to see steps forward being made - preferably giant steps.

That pledge is already being tested, because the improvement is there. Major improvement. The Jayhawks are, after all, 2-1, when many questioned their ability to not only defeat Northern Illinois, but season-opening foe McNeese State - an FCS program.

It's just not happening everywhere at once. And if the defense hasn't taken the same steps forward as the offense, well...

Kansas fans may need to be okay with that. At least for a year.


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