KU Offense, Come On Down!

The KU offense was indeed a tale of two halves.

When I was a kid, I used to watch “The $25,000 Pyramid” every day after school, and when the players got to the Winner’s Circle for the big bucks, I’d turn my back to the TV and tried to play along as the celebrity gave clues to the contestant.

Well, let’s play the Pyramid.  I’m going to give you a list of clues, and you guess what those clues describe.

Okay: lethargic.  Logy.  Uninspired.  Sluggish.  Lackluster.

If you answered, “KU’s offense against Tulsa,” you’re a winner.  Now try this one.

Renewed.  Motivated.  Productive.  Changed.  Improved.

If you answered, “KU’s offense against Tulsa,” you’re a winner again.  You get an autographed eight-by-10 glossy of Dick Clark.  Thanks for playing!

The KU offense, one that was never at a loss for yards last season, managed just 80 yards and a Johnny Beck 51-yard field goal in the first half in which they went into the locker room tied 3-3 with the Golden Hurricane.

But in the second half, inspired by terrific defense, very solid team play, and two offensive sparkplugs, the offense bounced back.  And while no one will confuse Kansas’ offensive unit with the Chiefs’ score-at-will offense, they were plenty good enough to outscore a good Tulsa squad 18-0 in the second half on the way to a 21-3 win.

“The defense was fantastic,” smiled Coach Mark Mangino. “That’s the kind of defense we need to play here.  I want to give credit to the kids who played defense relentlessly, played with enthusiasm.  They gave up some yardage; they came right back and made plays.

“We played the run really well, and we got turnovers.  So I’m excited.  I want our defense to be better, and I think now it is,” Mangino continued.

Sure, Coach, great.  But where was the offense?  Was the added pressure of sophomore quarterback Adam Barmann’s shift from freshman third-stringer and red-shirt candidate to starter was a bit much?

Mangino said, “Today was a good learning experience for Adam.  He found out what it takes to really control a team when you’re the guy and you’re not the relief man and when the team is on your shoulder.  He’s only going to get better from tonight’s experience.

“In the first half, he was aiming the ball.  He wanted to throw the ball so perfectly, he was aiming it a little bit and pulling the string on it.  Balls were sinking on him.  He was the victim of some dropped passes, too, and we’ve been better than that.  But I thought he managed the game really well in terms of the huddle and his checks.  He wasn’t perfect, but he did a good job.

Barmann said, “I was a little shaky the first half, and I don’t really know why.  But the second half, we calmed down a little bit.  I started throwing a little better and things just started clicking for us.  I think I was (aiming).  I had guys open and I was just trying to feather it in there a little bit instead of just letting my ability take over and just throw it.  In the second half, I did that and things got better as we went along.”

But what about the added pressure of being The Man?

“No, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure,” explained Barmann, “but it probably looked that way because we didn’t come out the way we wanted to.  We just weren’t clicking the first half.  We got settled down a little bit and we got things rolling in the second half.”

And they did.  Although 121 total Jayhawk yards in the second half won’t scare too many teams, there was no question about the fact that the offense was more inspired for the final 30 minutes, in large part due to John Randle and Charles Gordon.

Randle, the sophomore tailback, rode aluminum for the first half but brought a spark to the KU offense as soon as he entered the game, rushing for 45 third-quarter yards when no one else seemed to be able to find a hole.  Randle finished with 56 yards rushing.

“(Randle) did give us a spark.  He did a good job of finding some creases and making some things happen,” said Mangino.  “John Randle’s like the Energizer Bunny.  You can’t wear John Randle out.  You can go outside and run around the stadium for five hours and he’ll still have a smile on his face.”

Adding to the KU third-quarter punch was receiver-turned-cornerback Charles Gordon.  Midway through the third quarter, Mangino decided to shake things up.

“I just shot from the hip and said, ‘Let’s get Charles in the game.  Let’s see if he can make a play, let’s see if he can gather the defense’s attention and have somebody else make a play,’” Mangino said.  “I just told our coaches upstairs, put Charles in and let’s see if he can get something going.  He can make plays.”

Randle’s 56 yards rushing and Gordon’s two catches for 10 yards are hardly All-American numbers, but they were plenty to give their teammates a badly-needed lift on a night when the first half offense kept turning the key but just couldn’t get the engine to turn over.

“(Gordon and Randle) are great players, and as a collective offense, we all picked it up the third quarter,” Barmann said.  “We knew we had to go out and give something back to our defense, as well as they were playing.”

So did Saturday night’s lackluster offensive show worry Mangino with a bowl team and possible top-25 team – Toledo – coming to town?

Not especially.

“There are things on offense we’ve certainly got to get corrected, but it’s the first game, and I’m glad that our defense played well and our offense learned some lessons tonight.  And we’ll get better from what we learned tonight,” Mangino said.

And his quarterback?

“He did a lot of good things, but unfortunately, the things he didn’t do well were rather glaring,” explained the coach.  “But I don’t worry about Adam at all; he’s going to be fine.”

So, I have to tip my helmet to the Kansas defense, the supposed weak link, for putting together a surprisingly good performance.  They have upgraded in size and strength but, most importantly, they have upgraded significantly with speed.

However, with a very good Toledo squad – led by 3,000-yard passer Bruce Gradkowski – coming to town, the offense has to show up for both halves next week.  This is a legitimate measuring stick game.  I don’t care what Minnesota did to them: Toledo’s still a very dangerous football squad. 

With a solid second half and a win under their belts, I think KU fans have every reason to believe their team will get out of the gate much better than they did Saturday night.

But if they don’t, the Jayhawks won’t be headed for the Winner’s Circle to meet Dick Clark.  They’ll be heading backstage for a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni and some lovely parting gifts.

Other Team Notes

We may have witnessed a first in football history when coach Mangino said that he wanted one of his players to stay out of the weight room because he’d spent too much time there.  That’s right: too much.

“I’ve told (running back) Clark (Green) already, and he needs to heed it: he’s overweight.  He’s done a great job in the weight room, but he’s about eight to 10 pounds heavier than he was last year, and he looked like it running tonight.  He’s not out of shape; it’s just that he felt like he needed to get in the weight room and put all this weight on, and he doesn’t need to.  He needs to be able to run well.  I thought he didn’t have any explosion, his legs were dead after a couple of possessions, and he better be careful.”

In the “Wow, That Didn’t Take Long” Department, after Saturday night’s performance, it seems kicker Johnny Beck is already in his coach’s doghouse.

Beck missed a 45-yard field goal with the wind with 2:55 to play in the first quarter, and then converted a 51-yarder against the wind with 13 seconds left in the first half.  He also made a 20-yarder early in the third quarter set up by a tremendous 55-yard kick return by senior Gregg Heaggans.

But the kicker – pun intended – was that he missed one of two PAT attempts.  And that doesn’t sit well with the coach.

“I want John to know we have confidence in him, but he missed an extra point and that’s an issue with me.  So John and I will have to sit down and talk, and our coaches.  We can’t have that anymore.  We are beyond that.  It’s a situation where we can’t miss extra points anymore.  We just can’t do it,” Mangino said.

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