For a school that only won one game in 2012, any victory is a terrific victory. Such is the case with Kansas Jayhawks and their 31-14 win over the South Dakota Coyotes Saturday night in Lawrence.
There were many encouraging moments in the game but it was not an overwhelmingly impressive win by Kansas. If they are to win at Rice this Saturday, several things need to be executed better.
Beggars can’t be choosers, so Jayhawk fans need to be glad Kansas won. There is some excitement around this team going forward. Just don’t expect a smooth ride all season with this team.
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
THE RUNNING GAME – For a team that went 1-11 a year ago, is it possible Kansas has the deepest pool of talented running back in the country? This group can eat up yardage. Five backs combined for 43 carries, 271 yards, and 3 touchdowns on Saturday night. James Sims lugged the ball 16 times for 94 yards, including 2 touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards a carry, which actually pulled the team average down to 6.3 yards a tote. (This number includes two non running backs carrying the ball 7 times for -9 yards.)
SPECIAL TEAMS – Junior punt returner Connor Embree (another player listed as a running back) brought back four punts for 92 yards (23.0 average), helping the Jayhawks establish good field position on those possessions.
Last season, the kicking game was a major weakness for Kansas. In the SDU game, place kicker Matthew Wyman was perfect on the night, including a 45-yard field goal. Punter Trevor Pardula averaged 42.5 yards per kick on his 4 punts, which is not an impressive average in itself, but the Coyotes only had just 1 yard in punt returns on the night.
JAKE HEAPS – Heaps’ numbers throwing the ball are not impressive at all – 10-20 for only 110 yards – but he did have several balls dropped. Heaps showed the ability to deliver the ball down field, on target. He even completed a touchdown to wide receiver (Justin McCay), a feat the Jayhawks failed to accomplish last season. Heaps gives an air of confidence in the aerial attack that wasn’t present a year ago. You get the feeling Heaps can pass more, and rack up more impressive numbers, if he has to. With this running game, he may not be pressed too often in the early portion of the schedule.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
RUN DEFENSE – Make no mistake about this – South Dakota is not an overly talented opponent. They were 1-10 a year ago in FCS play. Yet they ran for 219 yards on 43 carries, a 5.1 average. Kansas has to find a way to lower that average per carry on defense. The Coyotes showed little skill or desire to throw the ball. That will change in conference play, but the Jayhawks have to be able to stop the run.
SLOPPY PLAY – Kansas was whistled for 9 penalties and 71 yards, including 2 flags on an athletic interception and return by defensive lineman Keon Stowers. Kansas must eliminate the mental mistakes that could cost them more severely against better opponents.
James Sims, normally sure handed, fumbled inside the five yard line, costing Kansas sure points. the Jayhawks will have a hard time overcoming errors like that in league play.
WIDE RECEIVER DROPS – This was a major issue in 2012 and it spilled over to the first game of the 2013 season. The receivers must focus on catching the football. If the Jayhawks want to be a threat through the air to open things up for the running backs, dropped passes must be kept to a minimum. Hopefully, the first game jitters are out of the way, and this is a problem that will fade away. If not, the KU passing game will have some issues going forward.
Kansas plays at Rice this Saturday at 6:30 CDT on CBS College Sports. This game will provide a much more accurate measuring stick to the progress the Jayhawks have made since 2012. Kansas will need a strong showing Saturday to prove they can be competitive this season.