After watching last night’s game, it seemed every other person in attendance at Kansas’s airtight 21-19 victory over the visiting Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, was up in arms over the Jayhawks’ pass defense.
Few could blame them after the Jayhawks allowed 377 passing yards to a team that just one year ago lost at home to Northwestern State, Kansas’s 1-AA opponent last week. Kinsmon Lancaster, a sophomore, averaged almost 16 yards per completion. The Jayhawks allowed six plays of 20 or more yards, including three plays of 40 or more yards.
So, what exactly happened?
Ask Kansas coach Mark Mangino, and you’ll get several explanations. The first is that the secondary, a young one, made several mistakes that accounted for long plays. That answer is coupled with the fact that Jayhawk players weren’t able to watch much film on the Warhawks, besides their opening game against Alcorn State.
“There were a lot of things that they were showing out there that they didn’t do last week,” said Jerome Kemp, Kansas senior safety. “We didn’t necessarily overlook them, but I guess you could say that we were caught off guard.”
Kemp said the first difference in the game was that the Warhawks showed several formations the Jayhawks didn’t see on film, wider looks and more four and five wide receiver sets. Paul Como, Kansas senior defensive end, said the second difference was that last week, Lancaster took off down the field to make plays with his legs. This week, Lancaster used his legs to avoid pressure, and bought time to make throws downfield.
“I thought we contained him fairly well,” Como said. “He threw for a lot against us, but I thought we did all right. His ability to get out of the pocket and make things on the run gave us some problems.”
Mangino said the Jayhawks’ pressure was “adequate,” and Como agreed.
“I thought we did a decent job with pressure,” Como said. “Obviously, you can always get better. Overall, I think we did an all right job. He ran around a little bit more than we would have liked, and that gave him more time to throw.”
Then there’s the obvious explanation. Kansas’s defensive secondary is missing half its starters in injured free safety Darrell Stuckey and suspended cornerback Aqib Talib … both of whom would be coined “out indefinitely.
“I would say that it would be nice to have a guy like Aqib Talib playing,” Mangino said. “He’s one of the better corners in the league probably. If I decide to, he’ll play.”
The Jayhawks may face a similar situation next week against Toledo.
“No, I haven’t (decided if Talib will play against Toledo,” Mangino said. “He may play, there’s a good chance that he will. But we’ll see how he does and how things are going for him.”
All of which makes the learning curve that much more important for new starters Blake Bueltel, Sadiq Muhammad and Raymond Brown. While the Warhawks weren’t known as a great passing team, Toledo is typically among the nation’s leaders in that category, and figure to test the Jayhawks through the air. Other opponents on the schedule also present major challenges.
It’s not that the Kansas secondary doesn’t have its bright spots. It’s young – out of the eight players listed on Saturday’s two-deep, only one player, Kemp, isn’t slated to return next year. Talented freshman Phillip Strozier and Stuckey aren’t even among those listed. There’s also great talent there, led by Talib, one of the top defensive backs in the Big 12, an explosive athlete at safety in Stuckey and talented freshmen in Anthony Webb and Olaitan Oguntodu.
But with a run defense that looks salty again, the defensive backs have to lock down on the pass, and the defense has to figure out a way to put quarterbacks on the turf, before another 300 number shows up on the stat sheet.
Mangino said the talent was there for a bright future.
“I think we’ve got to learn from it,” Mangino said. “Obviously, you never like giving up 377 yards passing, but when you take into account some of the kids back there, this was a good learning experience for them. Watching themselves on tape and their coaches critiquing it with them, it will be a good learning experience for them.
“We’ll be a better secondary for having played this game.”