Kansas coach Charlie Weis had plans — those he didn't tell his team — to flip the score at halftime, giving his first team a chance to come back from a deficit against the second-teamers. But it wasn't necessary, as the second-team actually took a 7-0 lead into halftime against the first-team.
A few changes, including moving offensive tackle Zach Fondal from the second team to the first team at halftime, and a more concentrated effort gave way to the Blue Team beating the White Team 20-3 in the second half to claim a 20-10 win.
Shortly afterward, Weis tapped quarterback Montell Cozart as his starting quarterback for the upcoming season, following a performance that saw Cozart go 6-of-10 for 58 yards while rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore beat out former starters Jake Heaps and Michael Cummings for the job, along with UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard.
The good news is that Cozart appears to have hep at the skill positions. The Jayhawks are replacing two-time 1,000-yard rusher James Sims, but ran a combined 62 times for 364 yards in the spring game. Between Brandon Bourbon (12-96), Darrian Miller (7-50), Taylor Cox (15-63) and a good class of incoming backs, Kansas should be able to run the ball yet again.
The flip side is whether Kansas will be able to stop the run. The Jayhawks gave people problems up front the past few years because they'd basically play three defensive tackles at once, rolling out three 275-plus-pound guys on the front. But several of those players graduated, and Kansas instead played a nickel front with two sub-250-pound defensive ends in the spring game. Granted, the incoming recruiting class could give some help there, particularly with Lufkin product D.J. Williams, who was lightly recruited by Texas and offered by Oklahoma. But as of right now, stopping the run could be a serious concern.
In Ben Heeney, Kansas has one of its best linebackers of all time, a two-time second-team All-Big 12 selection who has 23.5 tackles for loss over his last two years. He'll be the captain of a back seven that returns a bunch of talent, including one of the Big 12's better cover corners in JaCorey Shepherd and a safety in Isaiah Johnson who won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year a year ago after picking off five passes. Buck linebackers Michael Reynolds and Ben Goodman combined for 17.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last year, and overall, the Jayhawks return nine of their top 10 tacklers from a year ago. The defense has a chance to be significantly better, and that's before accounting for …
The three JUCO transfers who sat out a year ago. Arguably three of the Jayhawks' top JUCO transfers redshirted in 2013, with defensive lineman Andrew Bolton and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore missing the season to heal from injury, while cornerback Kevin Short was an NCAA casualty. Now, all three figure to play major roles in the 2014 defense, with Bolton and Short starting the spring game and Jenkins-Moore serving as a top backup. All three could wind up as starters, with Short pushing Shepherd into the slot on nickel downs to help cover the league's quick inside receivers.
But the biggest new piece is an offensive one. Ask anyone for a list of the league's top receivers, and you'd definitely hear about Antwan Goodley (71-1339-13 last year) and Tyler Lockett (81-1262-11). But in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell (6-foot-1, 193 pounds), the Jayhawks have a player who was among the nation's top wideouts as a sophomore (97-1425-9 in 2011) before putting up 68 catches for 870 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games as a junior. That included an eight-catch, 120-yard, one-touchdown effort at Ohio State. Harwell, who sat out last year per transfer rules, represents a major upgrade at wide receiver, and gives a deep Jayhawk receiving group its first legitimate No. 1 receiver since Dezmon Briscoe.
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Kansas hired former Mark Mangino assistant and Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan to pilot the offense this year. Reagan was Mangino's offensive line coach during the Orange Bowl season, and he was Rice's OC last year when they hung 509 yards and 28 first downs on Texas A&M. His system is basically Mangino and Ed Warinner's, so the Jayhawks will go back to operating more of a consistent spread with similar concepts to those Mangino used during his time at Kansas. Reagan's offense has been at its best when he's had a mobile quarterback that he can use in the running game, so it made sense that Cozart emerged as his guy over the more statuesque Heaps. But can Cozart make enough of a leap throwing the ball to take advantage of targets like Harwell and speedsters Tony Pierson and Rodriguez Coleman? And as the offensive line coach, can Reagan retool a unit that has been below-average the last few seasons?
At least Reagan will have more skill-position weapons to work with than his recent predecessors.
It has to be linebacker. In Heeney, the Jayhawks have a legitimate contender for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. But Jake Love has also had his moments in recent years, and Jenkins-Moore looked like a budding star in the spring game. With the Jayhawks moving Victor Simmons to Buck, there's a ton of depth at that spot, while younger talent like Schyler Myles, Courtney Arnick, Kellen Ash and Colton Goeas is starting to break in as well. This is a deep and talented group.
Last year, the entirety of Kansas's pass-rush seemed to come from the Buck linebacker spot. Counting Simmons, since he moved there during the spring, the Buck spot accounted for 12 of the Jayhawks' 21 sacks a year ago. That's way too one-dimensional, and often left a good secondary stranded having to cover talented Big 12 wideouts for too long. The defensive line in general needs to step up in a big way from its spring game result.
It will also be interesting to see how well the Jayhawks throw the ball this year, as they finally seem to have the talent at wide receiver. Can Cozart keep up his end?
Important Recruit Yet To Enroll
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, there are several here. Under Armour All-American Jacob Bragg could be an immediate answer at center, and he already has the size to plug in right away. The aforementioned D.J. Williams is a big-time talent who might be needed immediately from a depth standpoint up-front. And if Kansas is going to get better at getting to the quarterback, it might have to come from one of a trio of JUCO ends, including Anthony Olobia, Kapil Fletcher and Damani Mosby.
We're now entering year three of the Weis era. Year One saw the Jayhawks competitive in a number of games, while Year Two brought Kansas's first Big 12 win since 2010. The expectations aren't overly high in Lawrence at this point, with most hoping that the Jayhawks make enough of a push to jump from last year's 3-9 season to one closer to .500. In order to get to 6-6, the Jayhawks will probably have to win at Duke, a game that didn't seem intimidating a few years ago, but now looks totally different. After that, how does Kansas get to three league wins? TCU, whom the Jayhawks have played close in recent years, and Iowa State must visit Lawrence, but it will take a couple upsets, likely on the road, just to become bowl-eligible. The talent and depth of talent is better than it has been for awhile, but there appear to be too few difference-makers, and too tough a league, for the Jayhawks to make a major step forward.
Up Tomorrow: Iowa State