Slow Starts Not a Concern

I've been fortunate to have been in Memorial Stadium for nearly every game since head coach Mark Mangino took over the program in 2002. I've also seen every home game in which QB Todd Reesing has been the starter. It's been really fun.

But...

There's always a "but," isn't there?

But one thing about Reesing and the Jayhawks drives me nuts: how can a team that runs up 450 or 500 yards total offense every Saturday always get out of the first quarter leading 7-3?

It was that way again Saturday against Duke. KU's opening drive stalled well short of the end zone. The Blue Devils took possession on their own 13 yard line after an Alonso Rojas punt and run 35 whole seconds off the clock with a two-play, 86-yard drive to take a quick 7-0 lead.

KU bounced right back with a touchdown drive of their own on the ensuing possession and the Jayhawks and Blue Devils went into the second quarter tied at seven.

KU, of course, ended up racking up 490 yards of total offense along the way to winning, 44-16.

But it always seems to take a quarter for the Jayhawks' to find a rhythm. That's been one of their endearing charms. I've got to think it also gets inside opponents' heads: you know the offense is coming sooner or later, and when it does, it's going to get nasty.

In past years, this hasn't really bothered me that much. It did Saturday afternoon, though.

Duke may be an up and coming program, but they're still a work in progress. Translation: they're still not very good. They were badly out-manned Saturday and still had the game tied at the end of one period. Mangino even compared Duke to Kansas "several years ago," back when KU was a basketball school with just a few guys on each side of the ball who were legitimate Division I football players.

Duke totaled 394 yards of total offense, including 294 passing yards. That ain't exactly good if you're a KU defensive coach. That, however, is not my big worry. I have two bigger worries.

First, should an offense that's as loaded with experience, leadership and talent as KU is struggle to manage a first quarter touchdown against Duke? Or Northern Colorado (7-0 after one period)? Or a field goal at UTEP (3-0 after one)?

Second, in a year when you have a realistic shot at winning the Big 12 North, when your schedule includes Texas and Texas Tech on the road and Nebraska and Oklahoma at home, when you have bigger aspirations than a late-December trip to Shreveport, can you really afford slow starts?

Apparently I worry about it a lot more than coach Mangino. He chalked Saturday's sluggish start up to yet another opponent throwing the kitchen sink at Reesing.

"Opponents all over the country respect Todd," Mangino said. "They show him different looks and different twists and they do their best to distract Todd."

"But Todd," Mangino continued, "he just keeps at it and keeps at it. You can fool him some of the time, but you can't fool him all the time."

Reesing also mentioned Duke's early defensive success was because their scheme was something KU hadn't seen yet this season.

"We came out and were moving the ball from the very beginning but we just weren't able to convert a few third downs and kind of faltered a little bit. But we got it going, it really picked up in the second quarter. I felt like we moved the ball pretty well all day long," the KU quarterback said.

Reesing said it's up to him and his coaches to figure of what's being taken away and what's going to be available because of it. Duke tried to take away the short pass Saturday, which led Kansas to take what the Duke defense was giving.

"They were playing really aggressive on the short passes and that's why we decided we needed to take some shots down the field and we got some guys open deep down the field and got some big plays. If they are going to take away the short stuff, then we have to throw deep. We made the adjustments we had to and went from there," Reesing explained.

Seeing lots of defensive looks and twists is nothing new to Reesing and the Jayhawks. They've seen it the previous two seasons – since Reesing took over as quarterback, as a matter of fact.

"Teams are doing some things that are different. We've played a lot of games over the last couple years where teams do things that we're not expecting and it's just up to us to adjust and make some changes here and there and go on."

It's hard to argue with the success Mangino and Reesing have realized the past two seasons-plus, and the two of them have forgotten more about football than I'll ever know.

But wouldn't it be cool to see this offense hitting on all cylinders from the opening kickoff just once this season? As good as they have been, and as good as they are, the KU engine takes awhile to warm up. There are too many pinball machine offenses in the Big 12, and there's too little margin for error to come out sluggish.

This is what keeps me awake at night: by the time KU makes the trip to Lubbock, a slow start means you're down 14-0, maybe 21-0. Anyone chasing points against the Red Raiders is going to lose. Big.

A slow start at Colorado means maybe a bad Buffs team sticks around longer than they should and, for some reason known but to God, decides they can play with (and beat) a superior Kansas team.

In a season with so much potential and so many achievable goals, a slow start against one of the other high-octane offenses in the Big 12 could turn an extraordinary season into an ordinary one very quickly.


Other game notes
  • Kansas has started the season 3-0 for the third time in the last five seasons (2005, 2007).
  • KU is 25-4 at home since the beginning of the 2005 season.
  • KU has won 19 consecutive home non-conference games since losing the 2003 home opener to Northwestern.
  • KU has won 19 of its last 21 non-con games, including three bowl victories.
  • Coach Mark Mangino passed Grinnin' Glen Mason on the KU career victory list Saturday with win #48. He has five more to go before he passes all-time leader A.R. Kennedy.
  • KU is 26-7 in its last 33 games overall dating back to late 2006 an.
  • KU is 23-7 in the month of September under Mangino.
  • KU has won five straight dating back to last season.
  • KU scored 40 or more for the second time in the 2009 season and 25th time in the Mark Mangino era.
  • KU has trailed for only 2:29 this season, following Duke's first touchdown in the first quarter.
  • Senior WR Kerry Meier's touchdown reception in the first half tied him for ninth place with two players on the KU career touchdown receptions list. Meier has caught at least two passes in 24 consecutive games.
  • Junior WR Dezmon Briscoe's 117 yards gives him sole possession of first place on the KU career 100-yard receiving games list.
  • Briscoe's 117 yards receiving marked his sixth-straight 100-yard receiving game and moved him into second place on the KU career receiving yardage list past Mark Simmons. Briscoe needs 93 more receiving yards to take the top spot. Willie Vaughn is the current leader with 2,266 yards receiving in his Kansas career.
  • RB Jake Sharp recorded his 23rd career touchdown Saturday, moving him into a tie with Brandon McAnderson and Chip Hilleary for third on the all-time KU career touchdowns roll.
  • With 338 passing yards, senior QB Todd Reesing has now passed for over 300 yards 14 times. He passed Texas' Major Applewhite for seventh place on the Big 12 career passing yardage list. Reesing also threw for three TDs – the 13th time in his career he's throw for three or more in a game.
  • Reesing's 389 total offensive yards moved him past Texas A&M's Reggie McNeal for eighth on the Big 12 career total offense list. His 28 completions moved him ahead of Josh Freeman of Kansas State for eighth on the Big 12 career completions list. No word yet on whether or not Freeman's completion total included his numerous completions to opponents.
  • Freshman RB Toben Opurum scored two more touchdowns Saturday. He has five so far in his young freshman campaign.
  • The Jayhawks have already recorded 14 sacks on the season. They had five Saturday afternoon. The Jayhawks have grabbed at least three sacks in the last four games dating back to last year.
  • Senior DE Maxwell Onyegbule registered his second career interception and returned it for his first career touchdown. The last Jayhawk DE return an interception for a touchdown was a diving Charlton Keith in the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl. Onyegbule's interception marked KU's eighth interception by a defensive lineman in the last three years.
  • Onyegbule's sack in the first half marked his third sack in two games.
  • Junior LB Drew Dudley (eight tackles) and frosh Huldon Tharp (10 tackles) record career highs in tackles Saturday.
  • Senior S Darrell Stuckey also tallied 10 tackles, marking the fifth career game with 10 or more tackles.

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