By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The season got off in typical [Kansas] fashion, at
least of late, as the Jayhawks won their first five games, including a closer-
than-expected 41-36 decision over Iowa State in the Big 12 opener. At 5-0 and
feeling pretty good about things, no one could have predicted what happened
next as KU stumbled to seven straight losses, four of which came by double
figures, and all of which occurred in conference.
The downturn just happened to coincide with the controversy involving head
coach Mark Mangino's alleged mistreatment of his players. An internal
investigation was conducted, leading to Mangino's resignation at the end of
the season, thus dropping what had become a proud program back to afterthought
status. Not content to rest on their laurels, the school's administration
conducted an extensive search for a new coach, deciding to offer the job to
Buffalo head man Turner Gill. A former star QB at Nebraska, Gill has extensive
ties to the Big 12 and should do a bang-up job recruiting in the area.
Gill, who has a couple of former FBS head coaches on his staff in Offensive
Coordinator Chuck Long (San Diego State) and Defensive Coordinator Carl
Torbush (Louisiana Tech, North Carolina), knows getting his players to buy
into his system and start believing in themselves will take some time, but he
is optimistic that a reversal of fortune could be in the immediate offering.
"I'm a firm believer, which I think probably most coaches are, in building
relationships. That was the first thing I wanted our football program, our
football team to do. Building relationships from players to coaches, coaches
to players, coaches to coaches, and players to players."
Gill continued, "So that's the biggest thing that I believe in building a
program, in building a really -- we start talking about team, we all talk
about team. We all talk about teamwork. We all talk about hard work and all
those things. But the biggest thing is we got to get to know each other."
OFFENSE: The quarterback position had been one of strength the last few years
in Lawrence, as Todd Reesing was one of the nation's elite signal-callers
during his collegiate career. Unfortunately for Gill and the Kansas offense,
Reesing is no longer breaking the huddle, instead giving way to sophomore Kale
Pick, who threw for just 22 yards all of last season. Pick is however, a
dangerous runner as evidenced by his 167 yards on 14 carries in 2009. Still,
the Jayhawks are going to need him to expand his game and stretch the field
with his arm, something he hasn't really shown to this point. Helping in that
regard will be a talented receiving corps consisting of Johnathan Wilson (35
receptions, 449 yards), Bradley MacDougald and former CB Daymond Patterson.
The KU ground assault, which accounted for just 112.1 ypg to rank 101st
nationally last year, boasts a pair of strong runners in senior Angus Quigley
and sophomore Toben Opurum, the latter of which led the Jayhawks in rushing in
'09 with 554 yards and nine TDs. Four returning starters along the offensive
line should help in both forms of attack, although the push forward will need
to be better after the line failed to do so with consistency a year ago.
DEFENSE: Kansas finished in the bottom half of every major defensive
statistical category last season, yielding 28.4 points and 383.3 total yards
per contest. The team really struggled to limit production through the air
(245 ypg) so it will be important to get a consistent pass rush from the front
seven while also sustaining coverage until the whistle blows.
Senior Jake Laptad (6.5 sacks) can be a force from his spot at defensive end,
while sophomore John Williams tries to get push in the middle. Senior LB Drew
Dudley logged 88 tackles last season to finish second on the team, and he is
back to anchor the second wave of defense, while in the secondary CB Chris
Harris will try to lead by example.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The KU special teams features a pair of solid performers in
seniors Jacob Branstetter and Alonso Rojas. Branstetter, who booted a 57-yard
FG in a loss to Oklahoma last season, is more steady than spectacular, while
Rojas was an effective weapon in the field position battle, as he had several
long punts that pinned the opposition deep in its own territory.
OUTLOOK: Year one of Gill's tenure could go in one of two directions. If the
Jayhawks get solid defensive play while the offense finds its bearings, a
winning season could be in the offering. However, if it takes longer than
anticipated to get consistent QB play, or for the team as a whole to develop
in an entirely new system, another sub par campaign would be the likely
Gill, his staff and players are all excited about getting started, "Our
players have been busy doing the right things with our strength coaches and
all that. Again, University of Kansas, we're excited to be ready to go this
Missing both Texas and Oklahoma this season helps, but there are still plenty
of tough games to play. The October 16th clash with Kansas State could be the
game that makes or breaks KU's season.