Big questions remain for KU run game

There were a ton of questions about the Kansas offensive line going into Saturday night's game against North Dakota State, and if a miserable 6-3 loss to the Bison means anything...we won't like the answers.

In the passing game, the line did a passable job. NDSU did collect four sacks, but two of them were more a product of Kansas quarterbacks Kale Pick and Jordan Webb holding onto the ball too long than offensive linemen breaking down.

Offensive coordinator Chuck Long made some nice calls in the passing game, rolling Pick – the more mobile of the two QBs – out, moving the pocket a little bit, running the occasional bootleg. That can mask a number of deficiencies when it comes to the big guys up front.

The running game, however – the running game that rookie head coach Turner Gill said we'd see more of than we have the past few seasons – was another story. Kansas had no running game. None.

Gill didn't make any judgments about his offensive line's performance after the stunning loss.

"I probably have to watch it on tape to get a true evaluation," Gill said. "Some of it was (NDSU's) defense, I'm going to give them some credit. They did what they had to do. I think part of it might be our backs readin'. Were they hitting the right holes or not? I don't know. It's hard to tell on the sideline. We've got to be able to get the running game going better. We've got to execute better; that's the bottom line."

I'm not quite so nonjudgmental.

The Jayhawks offensive line spent most of the evening being stalemated and, sometimes, pushed around by a smaller, less-talented opponent who have been tapped to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Don't get me wrong: the Bison won. They beat the Jayhawks, plain and simple. They played hard, and with each Kansas punt or poorly-timed turnover, their confidence grew. North Dakota State played harder and got stronger as the night went on.

So kudos and huzzahs to the underdogs. But here's some reality.

Kansas rushed the ball 32 times for 96 yards. That's pretty dismal on its own. Now here's the really bad news: 51 of those rushing yards came on a Daymond Patterson end around in the second quarter that led to KU's lone score of the night.

If you do the math, you'll find that KU ran the ball on 31 other occasions for a total of 45 yards. That's less than 1.5 yards a carry. Sophomore DJ Breshears had the second-longest rush of the night: a six-yard run in the first quarter.

Rookie head coach Turner Gill's constant watchwords all spring and throughout camp were, "We'll have to see what players look like in live game situations before we know what we have."

Well, now we've seen it, and he can't be happy with what he has.

Gill is a patient man, willing to let his players make mistakes. Problem is, fans aren't so patient, especially when this wasn't the home run hire the Jayhawk Nation thought they'd get.

Regardless of who the coach is, and regardless of whether you liked the hire or not, one thing is certain: losing to an FCS (translation: Division 1-AA) opponent is unacceptable.

I'm trying not to think the worst. I'm trying not to think it's 1987 again. That was the year Bob Valesente's hapless Jayhawks lost to Division 1-AA Louisiana Tech, better known for women's hoops and Karl Malone than winning football games. KU went 1-9-1 that season. Their only win was a 16-15 squeaker against Northern Illinois.

It's hard for all but the most optimistic Jayhawk fan to envision anything other than doom and gloom the rest of the season. Coach Gill can say, "It's only one game," all he wants, but North Dakota State was supposed to be a stone-cold lock for a team that was going to have to play over it's head to get six wins and bowl consideration.

The schedule only gets tougher from here. Unremarkable New Mexico State visits Memorial on September 25, but in the meantime, the 'Hawks have to face #16 Georgia Tech, 41-10 winners Saturday over South Carolina State.

Then the Jayhawks board the bus for Hattiesburg, MS, to take on Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles didn't look like anything to wrote home about in a 41-12 loss to South Carolina at Columbia, but it's still this team's first road game, and who knows where their confidence level will be after the Ramblin' Wreck have come to town?

Saturday night's turnout of 47,000 at Memorial Stadium showed that fans were hungry for football. Many of us still are, frankly. We can only hope that they old football adage about your greatest improvement coming between weeks one and two is true.

There's a whole lot of room for improvement. Priority one just may be the run game. If KU's run game doesn't improve dramatically and fast, Kale Pick and Jordan Webb may as well set themselves up on tees and let opposing defensive linemen take their shots.


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