I’d be willing to bet that most KU fans everyone came into Saturday night’s game against Appalachian State with some expectations.
They expected a convincing win. They got it with a 36-8 win over the Mountaineers.
Then many fans expected – hoped, anyway – for some resolution to the brewing quarterback controversy. They got it. Brian Luke’s 17-for-26 passing night for 212 yards solidified what was at best a tenuous hold on the starting job.
But the Jayhawk faithful were also treated to plot twists that would have made John Grisham proud, and both opened up some nice, new possibilities for Kansas.
In the third quarter, red-shirt freshman Marcus Herford climbed off the side of a milk carton to not only see action at wide receiver but also take snaps at the quarterback spot. Combine this with junior running back Jon Cornish’s official coming out party (104 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries) and everyone went home surprised.
Well, everyone but Kansas head football coach Mark Mangino.
Mangino touted Herford as a situational quarterback whose responsibility it would be to give the team a quick pick-me-up.
“We gave Marcus [Herford] a segment of the offense that we will continue to build on that he does extremely well,” Mangino said. “There are other things that he does well that we didn't display tonight. He can run the ball extremely well. He can manage the game when he has to. You can see that he can make throws (2-for-2, 16 yards) and there are routes that he does a very good job with. Marcus is a really good athlete, and we just feel like he can bring us a little spark.”
So you planned on playing Marcus Herford against the Mountaineers all week, Coach?
“Oh, yeah. Sure,” he said, matter-of-factly. “He’s practiced [at quarterback] off-and-on, he practiced there the majority of the spring as a quarterback. When we are healthy, when we have at least three quarterbacks, we’ve worked him at wide receiver. Now we’re operating with just two, so we pressed him back into duty. I think it was good for him to have a little bit of a break and have an opportunity to play wide receiver. He has a better understanding of the pass game because of it, and that’s good.”
“We know Marcus is a talented guy and we’ve got to get him out on the field,” Mangino said. “There are some parts of his game he’s working on and our coaches are working with him.”
The situational nature of Herford’s game time was evidenced in the third quarter. On 2nd-and-8 from the Appalachian State 11, KU committed a personal foul, setting up 2nd-and-23. Herford returned to the sideline and starter Brian Luke came on. Mangino said that he wanted a more-experienced player to get KU back on track in that situation.
“That’s not [Herford’s] forte, to be in a long-yardage position, and we don’t want to put him in that position. We just want to get his feet wet, so we wanted to go with a veteran guy who can handle the checks and blitzes, all those things that come with a tough situation. We want to set [Herford] up for success, not failure.”
In the second interesting turn of the evening, the coach said Jon Cornish’s performance was simply a product of allowing him to do what he does well: run with the ball.
“Carrying the football is something that [Cornish] does very well,” Mangino explained. “It’s all the other aspects of his game that he has to really stay on top of – his pass protection, his ability to block in the run game. Jon is a talented young guy, and slowly but surely, he is putting his game together and he’s pretty close to becoming a complete player, which is something that we need him to be."
Mangino thinks Cornish is very close to being a complete player.
“He’s taken much more pride in things at the running back position other than running the football during training camp,” Mangino stated. “And what I mean is, if you’re going to be a back in our system, you’ve got to pass protect, you’ve got to block for the quarterback or another back in the run game. You need a complete back, and he is getting closer and closer to being that complete back.”
“There’s no question he can carry the ball,” Mangino continued. “He’s explosive and he can run. But we do a lot of other things than just hand the ball to the back. I’m pleased with the way he’s responded this year.”
Cornish also showed a combination of explosiveness and strength that KU fans hadn’t seen in awhile.
“He runs with a natural lean with his pads down,” Mangino said, “so he takes very few blows from defenders to the ribs and chest. He is very quick, he has very quick feet and he’s a powerful back.”
KU still has plenty to work on on both sides of the ball, but the promising bottom line is that Herford and Cornish brought a very different look to what was a very vanilla Kansas squad in week one. If the Jayhawk coaching staff can pull a few more rabbits out of their caps this fall, and with many of their Big 12 North counterparts underwhelming such national powers as New Mexico and Florida International, maybe there’s reason to think that the preseason hype for KU’s chances at a division title isn’t all that far-fetched.
There’s a lot of football left to play. Sure, those weren’t the Texas Longhorns standing on the east sideline of Memorial Stadium Saturday night, but there’s still plenty of time for more twists and turns in the North, and plenty of time for KU fans to be optimistic.
Other Game Notes
- The last Jayhawk to rush for three TDs in a game? Bill Whittemore against Tulsa back in 2002.
- This is just the second time since 1997 that KU has started out 2-0.
- KU’s defense has not allowed an offensive touchdown in the first quarter in 12 of their last 13 games.
- Freshman tight end Russell Broersen made his first career start Saturday night.
- Seven – count ‘em – seven Kansas players caught passes Saturday night.
- Newcomer Brian Murph caught four passes, including a 59-yarder, for a total of 88 yards.
- Mark Simmons caught three passes. He has now caught at least one pass in 26 straight games, and he has moved past Richard Estell into third place on the KU all-time receptions list with 118.