Here we are, four games into season two of the Turner Gill regime, and Kansas sits at the same place, 2-2, as the 2010 season. We all remember last year--the opening game debacle against North Dakota State, the redeeming win against Georgia Tech, and another non-conference win before going 1-8 in conference play. This year we've seen KU beat McNeese State, come from behind for a stirring win over Northern Illinois, get throttled at Georgia Tech and, today, squander a 20 point lead in an 11 point loss to Texas Tech.
Today's game was one of the few legitimate win opportunities Kansas has this year. And, the way they opened, it looked like the Jayhawks were tired of hearing two weeks of post-Georgia Tech negative comments from fans and media. Unfortunately, just as quickly as KU jumped to their big lead, they muffed a punt, threw an interception, and allowed Tech back in the game with four turnovers and a scoreless third quarter.
So, four games into the 2011 season, how do we assess this current Kansas squad?
- KU is poorly conditioned. Chris Dawson, the strength and conditioning coach under Mark Mangino, is practicing his development techniques down the road in Manhattan. And, the difference in KU's conditioning is noticeable. Thus far this season, Kansas has scored 21 points in the third quarter while surrendering 76. This stat is not only a sign of bad, or no, halftime adjustments but also indicates that the Jayhawks run out of gas in the second half.
- The Jayhawks have never had more potential talent at the running back position. James Sims is the workhorse in KU's young backfield but freshmen Darrien Miller, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson are the real deal, and we haven't even mentioned Rell Lewis. Bourbon gained over 100 yards today and each of the three freshmen has scored a touchdown this season. KU is loaded at running back.
- Kansas is not built to be a come-from-behind offense. Jordan Webb is a serviceable quarterback when handing off to his talented RB's and using misdirection to open up the passing game. He is not a throw-down-the-field QB.
- The 3-4 defense isn't the answer. When past defensive coordinator Carl Torbush installed the 3-4, it was under the guise of putting talented linebackers on the field. That LB play has been inconsistent, at best. Steven Johnson is having a great season but transfer Darrius Willis has, at times, struggled and Tunde Bukare hasn't proven that he's a Big 12 caliber player. The defensive line was thin to start the season and has been plagued by injuries and poor play. It starts up front and KU's defensive struggles can be pinpointed to their inability to control the line of scrimmage and to get pressure on the QB.
- Recruiting speed has been a priority at KU. Unfortunately, the recruited speed seems to only be on the offensive side of the ball. KU's lack of speed at the LB position and on the corners is being exploited.
- Looking ahead. Seriously, what game can we point to as one where the Jayhawks stand a decent chance to pick up a win? Next week KU plays #5 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, then returns to Lawrence to face Oklahoma. After that, KU gets in-state rival Kansas State who is off to a 4-0 start and gaining confidence each week. The only game on KU's schedule which looks remotely winnable is Iowa State--and that game is in Ames.
- What does Kansas need? Kansas must place a priority on recruiting defensive linemen. There are needs elsewhere (an athletic cover cornerback, a middle linebacker) but quality defensive linemen is a mandatory.
- How hot is Turner Gill's seat? The common sentiment was that KU would be hard-pressed to get more than four wins this season and that it was critical to show improvement and progress. We see definite improvement with the offense. Unfortunately, the defense is rivaling the worst in school history. Gill has the benefit of a sweetheart contract from former athletics director Lew Perkins. Yet, Gill's seat will get pretty darn warm prior to next season if the Jayhawks don't at least equal last season's three win total.