During spring practices and into fall camp the Kansas Jayhawks talked running game. Since the 2007 Orange Bowl Kansas hasn't been able to establish a consistent running threat and that weakness has been perceived as a major part of the collapse in 2009.
Turner Gill and Chuck Long were going to change that. Perhaps it's too much to expect an immediate turn in the running department and perhaps patience is in order. But if one thing became clear on Saturday night against the North Dakota State Bison, it was that the Jayhawks have a long way to go to improve in this department.
The Jayhawk staff did appear committed to the run early, but overall the offensive running game was only able to muster 117 yards on 32 carries. If you take away Daymond Patterson's 51 yard run on an end around that amounts to 66 yards on 31 carries, or just over two yards per carry.
What's more concerning is the lack of any ability to establish a "traditional" running attack. In all Jayhawk running backs accounted for 17 of the teams 32 carries while slot backs and the quarterback contributed the other 15. The average for the 17 carries from the running back two deep? Again, just two yards per carry.
Just two short weeks ago the Jayhawk staff moved last years leading rusher Toben Opurum to defense partially because they felt he could contribute more on defense and also because they felt good about what they had at running back. After the first game one has to wonder if that's still the case.
Unfortunately that may still have been the right move. The reality is that the problems in the running game for Kansas extend far beyond the personnel in the backfield. While it's easy to say that Angus Quigley has been around six years and still hasn't put the pieces together or point out how small in stature Deshaun Sands is, the reality is that not many players would have done better in the Jayhawk offense on Saturday.
The problems start up front and Saturday it wasn't even close. An offensive line that was predominately used in a pass blocking capacity a year ago struggled to make the transition to run blocking downfield. The Jayhawk offensive line was getting held up with the front four of North Dakota State allowing the Bison linebackers to roam free, fill holes and make plays.
The scheme in general appeared to need players that can move, run lanes and make blocks yet the Jayhawk personnel didn't seem to fit that mold. Kansas was getting beat to the lanes, struggling to maintain the point of attack and failing to finish blocks.
Four weeks ago the offensive line was a position being billed as a strength. Returning starters, competing talent and experience. Instead of providing all that, the offensive line found themselves in an uncomfortable situation during a fourth quarter timeout video board montage which highlighed the "big uglies" and their favorite foods. Not a good time for an offensive lineman to be in the limelight.
One game in and the Jayhawks find themselves looking for an identity now more than ever. The running game is drifting down the path toward anonymity just like it has in the past two years and this year there is no Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier or Dezmon Briscoe to save the day on offense. Kansas needs to regroup and regroup fast and it's going to have to start up front and it needs to end with the offense giving a pair of fresh faces at quarterback a little support on the ground.