Jayhawks Win Despite Porous Defense

Thursday night's nationally-televised pillow fight between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Missouri Slavers did little to strike fear into the hearts of their four Big 12 North Division counterparts, including Kansas.

KU had an opportunity Saturday to send a message and stake a claim to frontrunner status in the North with a big Homecoming performance against the Iowa State Cyclones.

Instead of making a statement, the Jayhawks narrowly avoided chundering all over their own Adidas in a 41-36 shootout that was finally decided when Cyclones QB Austen Arnaud barely overthrew a wide-open Darius Darks in the end zone on fourth down with under a minute left in the game.

Kansas' offense was nearly unstoppable, and not just unstoppable by bad Big 12 opponent standards. KU collected 551 yards of total offense, 442 of which came courtesy of QB Todd Reesing's right arm. The Kansas offensive line gave Reesing enough time to order a pizza. WRs Kerry Meier (school record 16 catches, 142 yards) and Dez Briscoe (12 and 186) put up numbers that would make the biggest Madden dweeb envious. KU would've moved the ball against just about anyone Saturday.

But here's the rub: on the defensive side of the ball, the Jayhawks were abysmal. "It was not a pretty picture," KU head coach Mark Mangino said, kindly.

Iowa State – yes, the same Iowa State that lost to Kansas State, 24-23, last week at Farmageddon – gained 512 yards total offense with a very balanced attack of 219 yards rushing and 293 yards passing.

Mangino gave Cyclone rookie head coach Paul Rhoads credit for a good game plan and vastly-improved QB Arnaud for making plays, but it didn't take long for him to come back to his own squad.

The biggest problem, Mangino said, was a lack of mental edge for his defense. "Mental edge" can be coach speak, meaning, "My defense stinks and I don't know what else to say." Mangino, on the other hand, has a pretty good idea of what he's looking for.

"I'm taking about playing the game with a strong mental edge," he explained. "That means, you're a physical player;  you're a smart player. You carry out your assignments. You get your reads. You be where you're supposed to be. Too many times today, we had people misaligned. We had people not where they were supposed to be. We had people in the wrong gaps. We tackled poorly. To play defense (at Kansas), the way we always talk about it, is you can't be successful on defense without that good tough mental edge. I think some of the kids on defense have it. Not all of 'em do, and I think some were exposed today. I knew in April they were going to get exposed; you all found out today. That's why we're trying to create competition at positions. That's why we haven't settled on firm positions at linebacker, because it's a roller coaster."

Jeez, Coach. Don't sugarcoat it; tell us what you think.

Then he talked about his own role in his team's struggles in the defensive backfield.

"The secondary is underachieving right now. I think a lot of that might have to do with, maybe we've had them doing too many things. That's what we'll assess as coaches: maybe we have too much. Sometimes less is better, and as a coach, I've got to understand that. You gotta know what your kids can do and what they can't. Maybe I've not assessed that properly, but I assure you we'll reassess it tomorrow morning."

He says, however, that he's not going to throw his defense under the bus. They're young, but very talented. That means Mangino isn't even close to giving up on them.

"I don't think we're as bad on defense as we played today. As a coach, maybe I didn't have them as ready to play as I should have. I'll get that corrected, you can trust me on that."

I'd like to think that Saturday was a blip on the radar screen, but I think – and truth be told, I  think Mangino might think – that Saturday's performance was an all too accurate indicator of his defense's abilities. Saturday exposed some real flaws in the Jayhawks' defensive armor.

KU pressured Arnaud to some degree, but their only sack came off the corner thanks to Ryan Murphy. Iowa State has a big offensive line that averages 327 pounds. By contrast, Jeff Spikes, Kansas' biggest starter on the offensive line, goes 314. KU's leading sack artists Max Onyegbule (258 pounds) and Jake Laptad (258) really struggled against ISU's big offensive line. Luckily, that's probably the biggest offensive line they'll see all season.

The KU secondary's standard operational procedure of giving a five- to 14-yard cushion was exploited well by Arnaud who threw his passes quickly and then let big, strong Cyclone receivers like Marquis Hamilton (6-3, 224) do much of the heavy lifting, making the most of KU's bad tackling in the defensive backfield.

The most glaring problems, however, are at the linebacker position that even Mangino highlighted when he talked about a lack of mental edge. Drew Dudley is a good linebacker and Arist Wright is solid, but we learned early in Saturday's game that Huldon Tharp isn't ready for prime time. We've also seen that Justin Springer still isn't even close to 100 percent following his season-ending ACL injury last season.

If Mangino's not ready to throw his D under the bus, then neither am I. One would also be wise to remember that a hallmark of Mangino's teams at Kansas is that they get better from week to week. Mangino is a master of coachin' 'em up. If KU's going to make a run at a Big 12 championship game appearance, Mangino may have to do his most masterful coaching job to date to turn this defense into a title contender.

"Do I think our defense is a wash and they won't play well this year? No, I don't believe that for a minute," he said Saturday, postgame. "I think our kids in that locker room are embarrassed. They know they didn't play well. As coaches, we didn't coach 'em well enough. We'll get together. We'll get in our meetings, we'll study it and we'll make it better."

Phog.net Top Stories