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2009 Kansas Post-Mortem

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This was a methodical win, a great celebration of our seniors and Colt’s place in history; and I saw some encouraging things, particularly on offense. I’m less interested in breaking down every aspect of this game than in using this game as a basis for evaluating some of the good and bad things we did and how they’ll play out for us in College Station,

against Nebraska, and, most crucially, against our bowl opponent. Keep that in mind as you read as it’s not my intent to offer a comprehensive game breakdown.

If you didn’t have the chance to follow along on Barking Carnival’s open game thread - wherein much gnashing of teeth occurs every time our secondary gives up a 7 yard pass - you may have missed one of the more amusing insights into the Clueless Sideline Chick Reporter phenomenon (Erin Andrews excepted, she actually asks coherent questions). The poster Cricketslayer (now a Top 10 media market guy at the top of his profession and still, for my money, the best sports anchor that Austin television ever had) dialed in the early satellite feed in his office and was rewarded with Shelly Smith practicing her pre-game interview with Mark Mangino…on a UTPD cop. The guy role- played right along and our girl was in top form. That a two question interview required this much prep work made me laugh out loud. Maybe Shelly is just thorough, but generally when this is YOUR WORK it seems that one might be able to draw upon a reservoir of knowledge and, you know, wing it sufficiently to articulate two intelligible questions. Anyway, I thought it was a great commentary on the state of sports media.

Offense

The O gets to lead on this review because I saw some really solid things from us philosophically and in how Colt is conducting his business down the stretch run. We looked deep and attacked down the field, we used Shipley on intermediate crossing routes multiple times (watching him out of his break is just impressive), we ran the back out of the backfield on play action for simple pitch and catch, and we diversified our passing attack beyond the Jordan Shipley show. I particularly liked using Colt on waggles out on the edge because it’s a way of keeping DEs honest in the absence of a trap or draw in the running game. Malcolm Williams had his best game since Tech last year and Kirkendoll played his most complete game as a Longhorn. I liked what we saw from Goodwin too. This is the passing attack we should have been running all year and the one we have to run against a quality defense.

Let me propose something counter-intuitive: Colt needs to get hit. Not blindsided in the pocket, mind you, but as part of our running game where he has a shot at protecting himself and choosing his spots. I understand the idea of not getting Colt hit against Wyoming and Baylor, however it’s now nut-cutting time and the shift in the risk-reward ratio is, to me, tipped in that direction. I don’t just mean in terms of opening up our running game on the zone read, running QB draws, or punishing teams that play seven or eight in coverage and refuse to assign him a spy, but also the fact that getting a lick put on him brings out Colt’s competitiveness. The guy gets into the game, it gives him an edge and a certain degree of focus, and he gets tough-minded. I loved seeing him lay into the WRs and OL (repeatedly) when they blew assignments though seeing Chiles sulk off on the sideline and refuse to make eye contact when Colt corrected him on a 3rd down route irritated me. I wish all of our players much health, but Chiles potentially missing the Aggie game is a net positive in our passing game. I’m not sure what Devil’s Bargain our coaches struck with JC, but I now consider that contract paid off with his 30+ catches on the year.

Liked what we saw from Tre Newton, particularly as chain mover in the flat. He’s an unexceptional athlete, but he has an understanding of the game and what’s needed of him in the same way that Chris O did and he’s potentially the easy safety valve that has been a missing component from this offense. He may run a 4.6, but he’s got fresh legs and instincts for the game.

On the negative side of the ledger, the OL was poor in pass protection and it’s the same old shit with these guys. They’re the perfect confluence of incoherent recruiting, poor scheme, and misguided S&C. Colt took 3 sacks, multiple hits, and he doesn’t trust his protection. There were instances where KU pressure didn’t break through, but as the pocket constricted a bit Colt bailed early, essentially creating his own pressure. A QB has to trust his pocket and right now Colt doesn’t. It’s keeping his eyes from being downfield where we want them.

This is a terrible negative feedback loop and one I hope we can correct, but it’s probably not going to happen. Additionally, we still have no answer for a team bringing an extra man in a zone blitz when we go to our empty set, a set whose primary benefit is in getting Colt hit in the pocket, eliminating any hint of honesty in defending the run, creating an optimal environment for enemy pass rushers, and setting up a guaranteed check down hot route for a 4 yard gain. Once again, Kyle Hix let a DE go free off of the edge despite KU only rushing four. Bad line call? Brain lapse? Don’t know. But it needs to get fixed.

Defense

It’s amusing to me that Will Muschamp has so altered our perception of what acceptable defense is that 300 yards of offense and 13 offensive points are cause for consternation amongst the Longhorn faithful.

In defense of our defense, that was the healthiest and best I’ve seen Todd Reesing all year (given the competition level) and he made some outstanding throws. I think Kansas has the best crop of WRs in the league – if not in raw talent, then talent, skill, and scheme utilization. We followed the game plan that I laid out in my preview by making a concerted effort to keep Reesing in the pocket, we took away Reesing's Woobie in Kerry Meier, and sacrificed a bit of our edge pressure. Five sacks will get it done though.

We started the game a little poorly and it was actually a function of not lining up correctly on a couple of plays. When KU ran the easy 3rd and 1 conversion with a simple dive play, our LBs were offset incorrectly. You can see the RB make the realization while in his stance and he turned it weak side for the easy 9 yard gain. We did it again on an option play with Sharp. We cleaned it up quickly, but I’m surprised a pro like Muckelroy let it happen. We don’t need to show susceptibility to formational complexity if we play Florida, I assure you.

I’ve been a strong defender of Sergio Kindle all year because I understand what he’s being asked to do and he’s a demon against the run even though his lack of gaudy sack numbers has various internet rubes wondering if he’s now a 3rd round pick. That all understood, Sergio cannot get locked up on the OT for that long in normal pass rush situations, even when he’s specifically tasked with containment first. I understand that the containment imperative removes his taking an inside rush and that limits his tools, but he can’t let a blocker’s hands in on his trunk and get paralyzed. His lack of a three tool pass rush really hampers him and I hope the bowl layoff is focused on some hand work. I wish Jim Jeffcoat could spend two hours with him.

Eddie Jones is the best 3rd DE in college football.

If our Defensive MVP isn’t Earl Thomas, it’s Lamarr Houston. We’ll miss that guy immensely. He’s dominant and I won’t apologize when I put him on my 1st Team All Big 12. Maybe I’ll run a 3-4 and line up Lamarr, Suh, and McCoy as my front. Bill Belichick would shit an illegal video camera to have that front.

Earl Thomas was fantastic and I’m not talking about his gimme interception. I had him with five tackles in KU’s first 20 plays from scrimmage. He deserves the Thorpe not only for his talents, but because he’s producing. I have a giant football crush on Eric Berry, but he hasn’t produced like Earl.

Pleased with Keenan Robinson’s development down the stretch. He makes errors, but they’re full speed and someone ends up with their head snapped back. All I can ask. The LB group as a whole has been a pool of Evian after decades in the Sahara.

We need a healthy Aaron Williams to win a MNC. Start sacrificing to the deity of your choice. My guess is that we role with Beasley against the Aggies and then revisit his status for Nebraska. If the Aggies try get physical in the running game out of a 3 WR set, another possibility is to go Big Nickel – Chykie, Curtis, Blake, Earl, Nolan.

As for the complaints about our pass coverage, we play a lot of man, teams can’t run against us, opponents can let it hang out because they usually start on their 40, and we were playing a great WR corps. Giving up some plays happens. We’ll give up some against A&M too. We’re not playing UTEP. The “Curtis/Chykie Brown are awful” diatribes are silly. Four of our five sacks were coverage sacks. If you can name three secondary units in the country you’d take over ours, I’ll read you a Bill Little story for your bedtime.

Special Teams

A&M starting at least two of their drives around the 45 yard line would surprise me not at all nor would a Cyrus Gray TD return. We’ve done a terrible job on kick coverage all year, but we’ve been saved by not facing elite kick returners and that gave us a false sense of progress. Briscoe reminded us what an elite athlete looks like returning kicks against us and Stuckey looked good too. We suck so bad here that Earl Thomas absorbed the suck via osmosis and missed a tackle on Briscoe’s TD. Kenny Vaccaro can hold his head high (which will help him in finding people to possibly tackle and/or punch), the rest of the group not so much.

The problem isn’t athletes – we’ve got a surplus of talent ideal for the chore, we’re just not coaching them up and picking the guys who will charge down like rabid jackrabbits. Additionally, we keep attempting to pin the returner on the sideline and we’re sacrificing distance to do so. We’re also not very good at it. I’d rather a returner catch it at the goal line with some hang time with the full field available to him rather than at the sideline at the 10 on a running start. Thankfully, neither Florida nor Alabama has any fast skill athletes, so I’m confident this will work out just fine for us if we continue the status quo.

We continue to grope punts like Japanese men on blondes in a bullet train. Clark Ford in the house! We got a bad roll, but such is life. I hope that our punt blocking acumen forces teams to keep their guys in a little longer as it can only mean good things for Shipley on the return.

Hunter Lawrence gives me confidence in a tight spot. Nailing two 40+ yard field goals like they were lay ups gives me great hope for our ability to get certain points if we can break the opponent 30 yard line. I like him kicking a game winner.

Parting Thoughts

At this point of the year, you are what you are.

Offensively, we’ll rise and fall on Colt. The key is giving him the right pieces at WR/RB and calling plays that put him in a position to succeed that ask a minimum from a disappointing OL. Allowing pressure on Colt can be our ally when we shape and funnel that pressure constructively and create counters for it. However, an opponent should never get it rushing three or get free men on a four man pass rush. That speaks to basic unit pride and coaching. If that continues, there is no amount of improvisation that will allow us to achieve our ultimate goal.

Defensively, we need a healthy Aaron Williams.

On special teams, we need to cover kicks. No excuse for it. Christian Scott can’t get eligible fast enough.

Let's finish strong.