The Mountaineers found out last season what grossly underestimating a team, combined with a lack of focus and a dose of apathy of their own, could do when West Virginia became the first KU conference victim in 27 games in a 31-19 loss that, frankly, wasn’t even that close. Head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday that watching film of the game made him want to vomit, and, true to form, KU seemed to be back to their usual ways after being beaten 41-3 at Duke on Sept. 13. But combine the Blue Devils improvement under head coach David Cutcliffe with a 24-10 win over Central Michigan, and KU might be showing some signs of improvement.
Kansas head coach Charlie Weis said after the defeat to Duke, the Jayhawks were badly lacking confidence across the board – especially at the prime position of quarterback. Montell Cozart completed just 11 off 27 passes for a paltry 89 yards, with zero touchdowns against two interceptions. That registered as a mind-numbingly low 14.8 quarterback rating. For perspective, against Towson one of Clint Trickett’s last incompletions lowered his rating, then in the 200s, more than 10 points.
“I felt that we had to have a plan to get the kids’ confidence up,” Weis said. “I’m watching (the film) and things didn’t go very well, and I said ‘OK, I’ve been around quarterbacks a good portion of my career.’ The coaches came in on Sunday morning and we said let’s do something to get him going, I don’t care if they are five-yard completions. One stat that was lost was that (Cozart) was 12 of 13 (completions) on third down (against CMU). I think quick passes are a good way to get a quarterback’s confidence up, but when it’s all said and done, you’re going to have to throw the ball down the field.”
Kansas will try to do that against a Texas team depleted by injuries and the discipline of new head coach Charlie Strong, who has already dismissed nine players, including starting left tackle Kennedy Estelle early this week. Weis noted that KU’s players, most of whom weren’t even “given a sniff” by Texas, aren’t under any delusions about the talent gap closing despite lesser numbers.
“Knowing how Texas is evolving, you have to figure that they are going to come in here and try to pound us,” Weis said of the new ground-oriented approach taken by Strong. “Having just played a Central Michigan team like that, we have to assume we are going to get more of the same. That’s built to our style. Our defense has played really well in two out of three games. I think that our team is not a team built to get into shootouts. Our team is built more to hang in there and win a slugfest. If we can keep the games like that it really minimizes your margin for error, but I think if we are going to win football games, we have to play with that mentality.”
The film review should significantly aid West Virginia, giving Holgorsen and the assistants greater access to perhaps a closer foe in talent than was KU’s early stretch of Southeast Missouri State, Duke and Central Michigan. This isn’t to note that the Mountaineers, on a peer-player basis, have the raw tools of Texas. But WVU would certainly seem to have greater skill than any of KU’s first three foes, and having tape of better athletes and what they can do versus Kansas could aid in the upcoming week of preparation.
Kansas seems somewhat better in certain areas, but is still allowing 183.5 rushing yards per game to rank ninth in the 10-team league. KU is last in the Big 12 in passing touchdowns allowed while surrendering 218.3 yards via the air without having faced a team that averages more than 150. West Virginia is up above the 400-yard mark per game. On offense, The Jayhawks average more than 200 yards per game with a pair of solid backs in Corey Avery and D’Andre Mann.Until Cozarrt can find some consistency in the air – his QB rating is among the worst in the FBS ranks – Kansas will continue to struggle being so one-dimensional. Add in a scheme and approach that calls for ball control and limiting foes snaps, and Weis team isn’t yet anywhere close to threatening to top half of the league.
“What you do when you first get into a program, regardless of where the program is when you get there, is you identify all the issues that have to be addressed,” said Weis, whose team hasn’t won a road game in five years. “I think we have done that in the first year or two. The next thing, from the team point and school point and the student body point and the fan point is you have to win more football games. Although recruiting has gone fairly well for us in the last year or so, the bottom line is the more football games you win, the easier recruiting is.
“The mentality is totally different,” Weis added. “But the good thing for us is that everyone figured we were going to get blown out every game. What we hadn’t done in two years, we haven’t finished a team off in the fourth quarter yet. We have won a few games, but not by finishing teams off in the fourth. We did that (against Central Michigan.)”
Like West Virginia and Oklahoma, Kansas decided to switch to a 3-4 defense to get better speed on the field and create more even match-ups with slot receivers. That has helped cut down on some of the offensive success of opponents thus far, but the first real test – and Weis knows it –comes this weekend. At least the Texas game is in Lawrence, Kan. KU hasn’t beaten a Big 12 team on the road since 2008.
“It really had a lot to do with the offenses in the Big 12,” Weis said of the defensive switch. “I think that what happens is the more athleticism you can put on the field on defense, the better chance you have. A lot of the defenses they have evolved to have been reactionary to all the spread offenses that are out there and the skill people you’re going against on a weekly basis.”