August 18, 2011
The least you should know about the 2011 Jayhawks. Part of Big 12 Week.
• First, something nice. Sophomore running back James Sims oversees his kingdom with wisdom and courage. He is a benevolent leader, and just. He does not judge the peasants of the land harshly. He sees that they are fairly compensated for their crops, and in famine yields beasts from his own plentiful stock. But he is also a warrior, and denies mercy to enemies who would impose their cruelty on the peoples who look to him for strength. Truly, he is the Pharaoh of the Plains.
• Now, the reality. Frankly, aside from James Sims' high top fade and stately countenance, there was nothing remotely positive about Turner Gill's first season as head coach. Kansas finished in last place in the Big 12 North for the second year in a row, and last or next-to-last in the conference by just about every possible measure — total offense, scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, passing offense, pass efficiency, pass efficiency defense, sacks, sacks allowed, turnover margin… you name it. On average, Big 12 opponents buried the Jayhawks by 27 points and 219 yards per game.
It wasn't entirely hopeless: They managed to stun Georgia Tech early, 28-25, and later rallied for five unanswered touchdowns to beat Colorado, 52-45, in the most unbelievable fourth quarter comeback of the season. But at the same time, they also lost to North Dakota State, 6-3, in the most depressing game of the season, and went on to drop each of their other eight losses by double digits. This time around, after the season opener against McNeese State, they're likely to find themselves as underdogs in every game the rest of the way.
• The quarterbacks are fine, but have you gentlemen met our new equipment manager? Kansas started three different quarterbacks in 2010, one of whom (opening day starter Kale Pick) is now a wide receiver and the other two of whom (Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham) combined to produce the lowest-rated passing attack in the conference. (With Webb out with an injury against Nebraska, Mecham completed 3 of 13 passes for 15 yards, one interception and a pass efficiency rating of 17.4 in 20-3 loss.) Under the circumstances, there was some optimistic buzz for most of the spring and summer about the prospect of incoming freshman Brock Berglund overtaking them all — until Berglund was forced to return to Colorado after his first practice earlier this month to deal with an assault charge he picked up in the spring, putting his ascension on hold.
That leaves Webb and Mecham, who at least have the benefit of experience after being thrown to the wolves as a redshirt freshman and first-year juco transfer, respectively. Both can reasonably move. But it's telling that, when asked about his quarterbacks, Gill winds up talking about his running backs.
• Take it where you can get it. The defense lost four of its top five tacklers and its — its only pass rusher, actually, considering no one else after senior Jake Laptad (4.5 sacks) had more than two — but it's not the kind of group anyone sheds a tear for. If there's a group on the team that could plausibly be cast in a respectable light, it's the secondary, which was "only" 65th nationally against the pass and gets back five players who have started at least five games. But without a better push from the front seven, the only positive on the back end will be that opposing offenses so rarely see the point in bothering with putting the ball in the air.