KU Football Springs Into Action

Just six days after the Kansas men's basketball team was honored in Memorial Stadium upon winning the national championship, KU football took center stage at Kivisto Field in front of 10,000 fans.

In a defensive-dominated game, the Blue team beat the White, 17-3. The point total was a far cry from last year’s spring’s game, when the Blue won 48-0. This game wrapped up the 15th and final spring practice for the defending Orange Bowl champions.

Blue team junior quarterback Todd Reesing completed 23 of 43 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. However, he also threw two interceptions. His second, pick, though, went right through the hands of sophomore receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Reesing set a Big 12 record last season with 213 consecutive attempts without an interception.

“On offense, I didn’t think it was very pretty,” Reesing said. “We struggled with a lot of execution things, myself included. We had too many mistakes on the offensive line and with dropped passes. The running backs didn’t protect and I missed some throws. We did get some good things done, (though); we just have to build on this.”

KU coach Mark Mangino thought Reesing had a “respectable night” considering the offense didn’t use its full arsenal of plays and the coaching staff was blending in new faces on the offensive line. KU lost two starters on the O-Line from last season in Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez. Senior center Ryan Cantrell also did not play; he was held out of spring drills due to injury.

“(Reesing) had a tough role because we knew we were going to have to juggle guys on the offensive line to find the right combination, and he didn’t have a whole lot of protection at all in the first half,”  Mangino said. “I understand the game and how it was set up. The limitations we put on the offense were more detrimental to the offense than the limitations we put on the defense.”

While Reesing threw for 200-plus yards, the Jayhawks looked more like last year’s No. 4 ranked scoring defensive team in the country than the No. 2 scoring offense. With the score tied at 3-all, the Blue team didn’t notch the game’s first touchdown until 35 seconds left in the first half. That’s when cornerback Kendrick Harper recovered Carmon Boyd-Anderson’s fumble and raced 23 yards into the end zone. The fumble came immediately after the Blue team lost possession when Reesing missed running back Jake Sharp in the end zone on a fourth-down conversion pass.

The game’s only other touchdown came after Reesing hit Dexton Fields with an eight-yard TD pass at the 9:58 mark in the fourth quarter.

Despite scoring just seven points after halftime, Mangino liked the way the Blue team moved the ball in the second half with the insertion of redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes at left tackle and senior Matt Darton at right tackle.

“We protected better (in the second half),” Mangino said. “I think we might have found the right combination and that’s something we’re pleased with. We feel really good about Spikes right now at left tackle and Darton at right tackle. That’s probably the most exciting part of the night, that and the way our defense played.

“I think we got our tackles position settled (Mangino was also pleased with sophomore offensive lineman Sal Capra) and that’s been a concern. When we get Cantrell back, we’ll be fine up front. ... (Spikes) will give you everything he has. He is going to fight, scratch and claw. And that’s part of that left tackle position. You need an athlete with range, you need a tough kid, and he fits that. And Matt Darton I think is more comfortable at right (tackle).”

Mangino is also feeling very comfortable with his defense.

“We knew our defense was going to be pretty good again,” he said. “Tonight is a good springboard into August, so we feel good about it. I thought our defense looked sharp.”

Mangino said several of the defensive players on the White team will see action this season in different packages. White team junior linebacker Arist Wright led all players with 10 tackles, while junior linebacker Jake Schermer had nine tackles, including two for loss. Senior safety Tang Bacheyie recorded eight tackles; sophomore linebacker Drew Dudley had seven tackles (one tackle for loss and one interception); and senior safety Patrick Resby and sophomore defensive end Jake Laptad both had six tackles. Resby also had an interception, while Laptad recorded a sack.

“We are looking for depth on defense and I think we are finding it,” Mangino said.

Senior linebacker Mike Rivera led the Blue team with eight tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss. Sophomore cornerback Chris Harris had seven tackles, including one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Senior defensive end Russell Brorsen and sophomore linebacker Justin Springer both had four tackles.

Like Mangino, Rivera was pleased with the team’s defense.

“I felt that we learned a lot this spring,” Rivera said. “We came together a lot on defense and we have been learning like crazy. It’s been a really productive spring for the defense.”

On offense, Briscoe led all players with eight receptions for 92 yards.  Senior Dexton Fields caught five passes for the Blue for 40 yards, while backup quarterback and starting receiver Kerry Meier had four receptions for 40 yards.

Blue team sophomore Jake Sharp rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries, while junior Angus Quigley ran for 28 yards on six carries. Quigley also saw duty with the White team, rushing for 30 yards on seven carries.

Meier was solid at quarterback for the White team, completing 13 of 18 passes for 69 yards (eight for eight at halftime). His favorite target was senior Gary Green (five receptions for 34 yards), who saw time last year at defensive back and special teams. Senior Raymond Brown and sophomore Rod Harris, Jr. each had three receptions.

Redshirt freshman A.J. Steward and true freshman Kale Pick also saw duty at quarterback for the White team. Steward completed three of six passes for six yards, while Pick had one rush for minus three yards.

Mangino was excited about the fan turnout, although many had left before the 7 p.m. game ended at 8:57. The biggest cheers of the night came when Mangino was given The Sporting News National Coach of the Year trophy and the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year ring at halftime.

“Overall, it was a good night’s work,” Mangino said. “We got plenty of snaps in, but we know what our weaknesses are. We got a good picture tonight. When we grade the film, it will even be clearer. We know the areas we are strong in and we have to continue developing those kids and getting better and better as we go.”

After the historic Orange Bowl victory last season and now finishing spring practices, the players look to take their work ethic up a notch this summer.

“We are just trying not to get complacent and know that we have to work hard to get where we were last year,” Chris Harris said. “We are not even talking about last year, because it is a new year. We just have to rebuild and get ready for next year.”

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