Popping the tape in, however, while knowing the final score is very freeing. There’s a lot less screaming at the TV, and it allows a person to watch for more than nuts and bolts but to watch for trends. I’m happy to report that once you get past the best trend of them all – eight straight wins to start the 2007 season and 10 out of their last 11 games – there are three other patterns that I was happy to notice.
No more deer-in-headlights
The 2006 Jayhawks found themselves leading Texas A&M by a sizeable margin in the 4th quarter and blew the opportunity for a nice win. KU fans remember that this wasn’t a rare occurrence last season. KU Football’s marketing slogan could’ve been “KU Football: Here We Go Again.”
The 2007 Jayhawks seemed destined for a repeat once the Aggies got themselves to within a touchdown and a two-point conversion of tying a game that KU lead 19-0 with 11:29 left.
To quote Buzz Lightyear, not today, Zurg.
A quick look at the Jayhawks – coaches and players – showed a poised group that seemed to be thinking, “The score’s 19-11. I’d still rather be us then them.” And they played like it.
There was too much three-man rush in the final quarter, but KU continued to play good man-to-man defense with the cover-two over the top to prevent the big play. Perhaps this wasn’t a bad idea; the Aggies’ offense isn’t really suited to coming back from a two- or three-score deficit. While the KU players looked calm, cool and collected, though, I’m sure there were more than a few fans chewing on the arms of their recliners.
Skeptics and nonbelievers will point out that in three conference road games, the Jayhawks’ opponents have had the ball with the opportunity to score a very late touchdown and more than likely win the football game. I’d just as quickly point out that Kansas is 3-0 in Big XII road games. The KU defense comes to play every single week.
KU’s defense sets the tone – again
Saturday night’s game turned on one play.
Four minutes before halftime, Texas A&M had 4th-and-1 at the KU 9. They also had 300-pound RB Jorvorski Lane to hand the ball to. Kansas DT James McClinton and LB James Holt didn’t care. They spearheaded a push into the Aggie backfield, dropping Lane for a two-yard loss.
That punch in the mouth by the Jayhawk defense is the latest in a series in which they – not Todd Reesing and the high-powered KU offense – set the tone for the game. At one point, Texas A&M had seven offensive possessions. Five of them were three-and-out.
These Jayhawks can take an opponent entirely out of their game plan, thanks to the game-changing play of McClinton and DB Aqib Talib, the vastly improved John Larson and Russell Brorsen, the physicality of the linebackers and the surprisingly solid play of freshman DB Chris Harris. On a night when QB Todd Reesing struggled to make plays and K Scott Webb struggled to put the football between the uprights, the Kansas defense kept the running game of the Ags in check until their own offense could pile up some points.
Reesing and a cast of thousands
On a night when the Jayhawks QB threw for just 180 yards with no TDs and rushed for -22, Mark Mangino and his coaching staff once again found the hot hand and kept going to it. To make it even better, Reesing is more than happy to go along for the ride (and the win).
RB Brandon McAnderson, who carried the ball just 31 times in 2006, has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s earned this season, and Saturday night was no different. Texas A&M had no answer for the powerful senior from Lawrence. When the game was over, B-Mac had rushed for 185 yards – 63 more yards than he gained all last year – and two TDs on 21 carries.
Fans like to compare Reesing to another undersized, overachieving Kansas signal-caller: Bill Whittemore. KU’s three road wins, however, have displayed a critical difference between the two.
When Bill Whittemore struggled, the Jayhawks lost. They had no chance. When Todd Reesing struggles, it’s just a matter of time before someone else steps up and helps KU win. Saturday night it was McAnderson. Next week it might be Jake Sharp. Or Dexton Fields or Derek Fine or Marcus Henry or Dezmon Briscoe or Aqib Talib or…
Any opposing defensive coordinator who sells out to stop Reesing or one particular aspect of the Kansas offense is just asking for someone else to do him in. That’s a luxury that the Jayhawks haven’t enjoyed since the Nixon Administration when they finished their season with a share of the Big 8 title and a loss to Penn State in the Orange Bowl.