Defense Keys Win Over La Tech

KU football fans who were concerned that the Jayhawks' much-hyped defense had gone AWOL or had spent too much time reading their own press clippings got some good news Saturday night in KU's convincing 34-14 win over Louisiana Tech.  And it had nothing to do with their car insurance.

After watching a workaday defense for the past two weeks that even their head coach said lacked intensity, Jayhawk coaches and fans were treated to a tough, physical defensive effort.  This wasn’t just one or two guys, either; there was plenty of praise to go around.

"I thought we put good pressure on the quarterback, obviously.  Our defensive line put their hands up and created problems in the throwing lanes.  Our safeties broke on the ball a little better.  So, we did create the turnovers we needed to, and I’m very happy about that,” Mangino said of the overall effort.

The coach said he was especially pleased with his defense because the Louisiana Tech team that showed up in Lawrence’s Memorial Stadium was not the same team that took a 41-3 loss at #10-ranked Florida last week.

“We only had one game to watch: their game against Florida.  And they played vanilla all night long because they didn’t think they had a chance to beat Florida.  They played completely differently against us.  They gave us a ton of looks on defense, a bunch of different offensive plays and formations.  So they spent quite a bit of time preparing for our game,” Mangino explained.

Mangino continued, “Let’s give credit to our kids: it took them a half to settle down and see what’s going on and get a feel for it, and the second half, we came out and controlled the game.”

KU was tied at with the Bulldogs, 7-7, at the half after the offense sputtered its way into the locker room.  As a result, a smattering of rare Kansas boo-birds made their first Memorial Stadium appearance in quite some time.

However, thanks to a defense that continued to dominate and an offense that got its groove back, the birds scattered and weren’t seen again after halftime.  The Jayhawks settled in very nicely on both sides of the ball and won the second half, 27-7.

So although Kansas football fans usually aren’t happy unless they aren’t happy, even the most hardcore cynic should feel good about the Jayhawk defense’s stout performance.

First, don’t be surprised if Brandon Perkins is named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. He was a man among boys Saturday.  Sure, he gets lost behind his more familiar linebacker counterparts, but he made the most of his opportunity Saturday, pressuring two different La Tech quarterbacks, collecting five quarterback sacks even tipping a pass that was intercepted.

Perkins’ five sacks are a new KU single-game record, passing Ron Warner’s four-sack performance against Texas Tech in 1997.

"[Brandon Perkins] is just a tremendous player for us,” Mangino said.  “He doesn't get a lot of credit when people talk about our linebackers.  He’s the consummate team player: he doesn’t care; he just plays well week-in and week-out.  He comes in with certain packages and in certain situations.  He is not an every-down player for us, but he has been a force for us since for the last three years on defense."

Second, Nick Reid staked his own claim to conference honors this week.  Although teammate Mark Simmons credited Reid postgame with “17,000 tackles,” the official stat sheet credits Reid with 14, with four of those for losses.  It’s not 17,000, but it’s still pretty good.

“Nick Reid made a lot of plays, again.  Nick’s steady, man.  He gets it done,” KU coach Mangino said.

Finally, credit the KU secondary.  Led by Rodney Fowler with two INTs, the group collected four for the night.  That’s the most since last year’s Texas Tech game.

Theo Baines saw plenty of playing time Saturday and was welcomed back with his second interception of his career, and Aqib Talib picked off his first pass as a Jayhawk.

It was pretty clear that Kansas was keeping plenty of defensive tricks up their red sleeves – “We’ve got a pretty thick playbook,” Mangino said, grinning – but they showed a number of  looks and blitzes against a much bigger, more athletic defensive line than the team and fans had seen so far this season.

And Jayhawk fans weren’t the only ones taken aback.

"Kansas was all around the ball--they were everywhere,” Tech WR Seneca Chambers said.  “I was very surprised by the KU defense.  On the film, they weren't blitzing that much.  I think that was pretty much the key to the game.”

So sure, while it could be argued that KU gave up too many passing yards (236), it was the rare occasion when the Jayhawk defense allowed Louisiana Tech to string together more than a couple before punting or committing a turnover.

This new-and-improved Kansas defense was a very welcome sight Saturday night, particularly as KU heads into next Saturday’s rivalry game with Open Date – take Kansas to cover the spread – and then travels to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech, a team that hung 80 points on division 1-AA opponent Sam Houston State.

I was pretty concerned going into Saturday’s KU-La Tech match-up, but the team’s overall performance was encouraging.  Just a season or two ago, this kind of strong defensive effort probably would have gone to waste as the offense struggled to move the football.

Saturday night, the Kansas defense was rewarded as the offense found a way to get it done: a steady diet of short, confidence-building passes mixed in with just enough of a run game to keep the Bulldog defense honest.

I’m not going to call my shot on the Texas Tech game yet, particularly since Mike Leach apparently remembered that he needed to recruit some defensive players, too, for once.  Rumor in the streets is that they have a semblance of a defense in Lubbock this year.

I will say, though, that I think this Kansas team has the character to make that October 1 date a football game even if the offense isn’t playing their best.  And if that’s the case, a fast, experienced, fly-to-the-ball defense will hold down the fort until the offense can figure out a way to get it done.

Other Game Notes

  • With a win over Louisiana Tech, KU has started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1997.
  • KU has won seven of their last eight night games.
  • Brandon Perkins’ five sacks not only set a KU single-game record but also moved him into seventh place on the career sacks list.  He joins former Jayhawk David McMillan with 15.
  • Nick Reid has played in 33 straight games, the longest streak on the Jayhawk squad.  His 14 tackles Saturday night give him 343 for his career, moving him past Mike Sweatman to number six on the KU career tackles list.  Reid will likely pass LeRoy Irvin (347) and Curtis Moore (350) when KU plays Texas Tech in two weeks.  He has recorded double digits in tackles in all three of the Jayhawks’ games so far this season.
  • Much-maligned placekicker Scott Webb racked up two more FGs Saturday, including a new career-best 47-yarder.  He is perfect on all five attempts this season.
  • Sophomore tight end Derek Fine recorded his first TD reception as a Jayhawk: a four-yard catch to give KU a 14-7 lead in the third quarter.
  • KU coach Mark Mangino places a premium on getting the ball into different people’s hands, so he must be pleased so far this season: Kansas has used seven or more receivers in all three games so far this year.

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