A week ago there was optimism, excitement and anticipation in the air as the Jayhawks got set to take the field against the North Dakota State Bison. What followed was an embarrassing loss and what probably amounts to the longest week ever for the players and coaches.
With the opening kick this Saturday against Georgia Tech, the Jayhawks have an opportunity to put it all behind them. No Kansas isn't expected to win and doing so would be as shocking as their week one loss. But what they can do is begin to show that last week was more an anomaly than the norm. To do that Kansas has to show fire in the trenches.
During the weekly Tuesday press conference Coach Turner Gill addressed the offensive line concerns saying, "Unfortunately our guys didn't come of the ball. We didn't knock them off the ball, they kind of stabilized the front." Gill went on to add, "The fact is they won the battle up front and we have to get better."
Gill said it and truer words were never spoken. It's a must. If Kansas wants to compete on Saturday and the rest of the year for the matter the offensive and defensive lines have to become competitive.
From a defensive standpoint it wasn't that bad. The front four of Kansas didn't dominate, but they did provide the linebackers for Kansas the room the needed to work. The end result is that from a yardage standpoint the Kansas defense was the best in the Big 12 during week one. Obviously the competition level factors into that, but there were other teams in the Big 12 playing 1AA opponents and the Jayhawks did the best job.
Despite that success it's going to get much more difficult in week two. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have struggled consistently when a big physical front four wins the battle in the trenches. Unfortunately for Kansas both size and depth are concerns. John Williams will need to play a major factor from the get go and Pat Dorsey and Richard Johnson Jr will need to play bigger than their sub 285 frames. If the Jayhawks can't do that, life could get very difficult for the Jayhawk linebackers who were so effective a week ago.
Offensively the Jayhawks are in need of an overhaul. One move has already been made bringing back last years starting center Jeremiah Hatch and shifting Sal Capra over to replace week on starter Duane Zlatnik. With Hatch, Kansas is better. The question is whether or not he's completely healthy.
Beyond personnel the Kansas offensive line wasn't getting to the second level. The North Dakota State front was holding the line of scrimmage sometimes moving the line of scrimmage and keeping the Kansas lineman off of the linebackers in running situations. Against the pass, an area the Kansas line should be well versed in, the Jayhawk group seemed to consistently give up too much ground before locking on their blocks. Watching a 1AA defensive end bull rush over a preseason All Big 12 pick at left tackle in Tanner Hawkinson summed up the struggles for Kansas.
With Tech coming to town and a new quarterback in tow, Kansas has a chance to redeem themselves in this area a bit. The Tech front didn't play overwhelmingly good in week one and if there is a concern for the ranked Yellow Jackets, the defensive front is it.
From the get go on Saturday the focus for Kansas will be intensity in the trenches. The Jayhawks were exposed in week one and while one game can eventually be excused, there is no room for error against last year's ACC Champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.