Blue Squad Over White Squad in Spring Game

If Sunday's KU Spring football game had been a softball game, it would've been called after three innings.

The Blue team – Jayhawk starters – slapped around their back-ups – the White team, 48-0, in a scrimmage that featured a running clock in the second half. The White team should be thankful.

That score means everything went to plan for head coach Mark Mangino.

“I like what I see here today. First of all, I like the way our blue team was able to execute the ball on offense and play good defense. What we expected them to do, they did do.”

KU’s Blue team, led by both Kerry Meier and Todd Reesing, had little trouble moving the ball in the first half, which was timed liked a regular football game, with the clock stopping for dead balls. The result was a 45-0 halftime lead.

For the game, Meier was 15-for-31 for 204 yards and one interception. Reesing was 10-for-20 for 171 yards. Tyler Lawrence also saw spot action and completed a 13-yard pass in five attempts.

“We had an opportunity to put our quarterbacks in difficult situations, rotated them after every couple of series so they had to have two consecutive series out on the field without any break. That was to turn up the heat on those guys a bit. I think they responded very well and that position did a good job today – did a really good job,” Mangino said.

Mangino described the competition for the starting quarterback job as “heated” and said the job was either Meier’s or Reesing’s to win.

“I thought they both did some really good things today, they both made few mistakes here and there, but I like it,” Mangino said. “Our coaching staff likes it. In a good way – in a friendly way – they’re competing intensely for that position.”

When asked if he wants to have one established QB by the season opener, he replied, “I’d rather have two really good ones. Then we’ll have a really good problem.”

On the receiving end of the ball, the coach was pleased but there are still holes to fill.

“We like the development of our wide receiver group; we’re just not sure about the depth,” Mangino said.

Marcus Henry looked “phenomenal,” to use Mangino’s word, making six receptions for 150 yards and three touchdowns for the Blue team.

Marcus Herford looked like he will be a significant contributor for Kansas this fall, splitting time between the squads and making four catches for 59 yards. Reliable TE Derek Fine had three catches for 38 yards for the Blues.

KU also raised the curtain on the Aqib Talib experiment. Talib saw numerous catch opportunities in the second quarter, hauling in two receptions for 31 yards, including a nice 26 yard gain. Mangino says that moving to offensive side of the ball means a little more structure for Talib.

“He can play that position,” the coach said, “but he has all that – how should I say this? – defensive venom in him. Then, when we put him over on offense, it’s a more controlled environment. It takes a little while to get settled. As you can see, he’s a gifted player. He can do a lot of things for us, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Finally, Angus Quigley saw plenty of action in the slot Sunday, striking fear into the hearts of nearly every defensive back in the conference. He only made two catches for 17 yards, but Mangino likes the idea of getting such a big, fast athlete into space with the ball.

“Angus is a big, strong fast guy with good range and great hands. We’ve worked him for a couple of weeks at the wide receiver spot. I think that’s the way it’s going to play out. And he can do it.”

Dexton Fields and Tertavian Ingram did not play due to injuries.

Brandon McAnderson was the highlight of the running game. The Pride of South Lawrence had 15 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. A banged-up Jake Sharp added 39 yards on seven carries.

“Brandon did what he does best. I mean, he gets his pads down and gets tough yardage. He also makes people miss. Brandon is a key guy for us. He knows how to play the game,” Mangino said.

As for Sharp, he said, “Jake Sharp was playing today only because he wanted to. He pestered us. Jake should not probably be playing. He’s been practicing in a limited fashion for the last week and a half.”

He did say that Sharp’s injury was not significant and that the Salina native would be fine after a week or two of rest. “It’s hard to get him off the field,” Mangino said. “You have to tie him up and drag him off.”

Perhaps the most pleasant discovery of the afternoon, though, was the dominance of the Blue defense that held the White offense to under 150 yards and forced two turnovers, including a pick six by Darrell Stuckey.

Mangino said, “I like the way we’re running to the ball on defense. We’re getting better at squeezing some zones, involving the linebackers in the zone coverage, they’re doing a good job on drops.”

“We played the run pretty well and I like the overall mental edge the defense on the Blue group had today,” he continued.

KU fans can also breathe a little easier: last year’s defensive weak link – pass defense – looked much-improved.

“Obviously, I think there are some good things going on back there.  I think it’s quite obvious (Butler County CC transfer) Kendrick Harper is making a big difference at the corner position.”

Mangino also mentioned juco transfer Patrick Resby as someone who would help improve a much-maligned group. He also cited vast improvement in Darrell Stuckey, Justin Thornton, Aqib Talib and Anthony Webb, while expressing excitement over the move of Gary Green to defensive back.

The Blues also saw an improved pass rush Sunday, led by James McClinton, who spent much of the afternoon chasing Meier and Reesing around the White backfield.

“I think [the defensive front] is progressing, and I think by the time we get ready in September, it’ll be pretty solid for us,” he said.

One surprise Sunday came out of the deep linebacking corps when Mike Rivera hit the field in a white jersey. Joe Mortensen started at middle linebacker for the Blue team.

When asked about the change in the depth chart, Mangino was concise: “Joe was forced out of necessity to play outside [linebacker] last year. It’s kind of like the quarterback position: we like the competition. It only makes us better.”

Overall, the assessment of the scrimmage was positive. Like most coaches say, you need your starters to win and win big. If they don’t, you may have a problem.

But on a beautiful Kansas spring afternoon, there were few problems to speak of. No one suffered a significant injury, some pads were popped, Jayhawk fans got an appetizer to this fall’s main course and the coach was pleased.

He said, “There was good enthusiasm and good tempo. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I really like the direction we’re going and I like the way we’re doing it.”


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