Almost a year ago, after a monumental collapse against Texas Tech in which a Kansas couldn’t move the ball in the second half and let a 25-point lead get away, KU head football coach Mark Mangino spoke in no uncertain terms about the performance of his offensive line:
“I'm not pleased at all with the play of our offensive line. I’m ready to make some changes there,” he said. “We have to play more physical and tougher and smarter on the offensive line if we’re going to improve on offense.”
What a difference a year makes.
After their season opener against a young and probably undermanned Florida Atlantic squad, Mangino had plenty of good things to say about that same group.
“I always say that it’s so important, the chemistry between those five guys together. And there was some chemistry there. And some of the backup kids that rotated in did a nice job and got some playing time, so I’m pleased,” the coach said.
Hey, what wasn’t to like? The group allowed just one sack for a loss of six yards while giving Jayhawk quarterbacks Adam Barmann and Brian Luke plenty of time and opening holes that helped account for 201 yards rushing – the most since they gained 220 in KU’s 2003 bowl loss to North Carolina State.
Offensive lineman David Ochoa praised coach John Reagan. The key Saturday, said Ochoa, was preparation.
“The way we’ve been preparing, it’s all about fundamentals, about trusting the guy next to you, especially on blitz pick-up. You’ve got to practice those things and rep them and see them. Our coaches did a really good job of preparing us for the blitzes,” said the junior team captain. “A lot of times the offensive line gives up sacks because you’re surprised by the blitz. You don’t know what to do. Nothing they (Florida Atlantic) threw at us surprised us, so we were really prepared.”
Senior runningback Clark Green attributed much his success – 107 yards in 20 carries – to the big uglies up front.
“They did a great job in the running game and in the passing game. (Florida Atlantic) had a lot of stunts and twists, and our line had to pick that up. And they got it done,” Green said.
However, the coach knows that there’s a lot of football ahead, and much of it is against bigger, stronger, more-established opponents. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but be happy with a rock-solid performance Saturday night and optimistic about keeping that improvement and momentum going.
“Now, it’s really early and we’re going to play a lot of opponents and different looks. I think it was important to play well the first night out of the blocks,” Mangino said. “We can improve. I think when we look at the tape, we’ll see some blocks that maybe we didn’t make at times that we were capable of, but it’s a good first outing for our offensive line. Very, very encouraging.”
Other Game Notes
- After returning six punts for 47 yards, Charles Gordon is now KU’s career leading punt returner with 608 yards. He passed Donnie Shanklin’s 606 yards, gained from 1966-68.
- Clark Green is now in eighth place on KU’s career all-purpose yards list, passing – you guessed it – Donnie Shanklin with 3,250 yards. He also had his seventh career 100-yard rushing game. Since 1995, KU is 26-9 when a Jayhawk rushes for 100 yards.
- Senior Mark Simmons passed Harrison Hill into sixth place on KU’s career receiving yards list. He has caught a pass in the last 25 straight games going back to the start of the 2003 season.
- Scott Webb’s 43-yard FG into a slight breeze in the third quarter is a new career long, blowing his old personal best of 27 yards out of the water.
- Sophomore walk-on WR Jeff Foster’s first career reception in the third quarter was also his first career touchdown. Congratulations, kid, but don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen every time.
- Junior RB Jon Cornish showed the ability to break tackles and some great acceleration on his 29-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. It’s his longest career run as well as his first touchdown.