When it comes to Ben Heeney, Kansas coach Clint Bowen believes there’s a common misconception. Most observers, Bowen says, look at Heeney and see a throwback. They see the long hair and “Duck Dynasty” beard. They know the backstory — a relatively unheralded recruit from Hutchinson becoming an All-Big 12 linebacker. They see the way he plays, all kamikaze hits and hair-on-fire madness.
Some of that is true, Bowen concedes. But Heeney, a senior linebacker, is more prototype than old-school. In a sense, Heeney’s greatest gifts — his speed and all-out motor— make him the perfect weapon against the Big 12’s spread offenses.
The latest evidence, of course, came on Saturday afternoon, when Heeney racked up a career-high 21 tackles in a 34-21 loss to Texas Tech. The performance included an remarkable 17 solo tackles and a 37-yard interception return.
“The kid goes out and plays as hard as he can,” Bowen said. “(He’s the) true leader of our team and really exactly what you'd want to see any football player on any team play like. The guy plays the game with his heart and soul.”
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A caveat: Tackle totals, of course, are not always the best measurement for judging a defensive player. The Kansas defense is on the field a ton, different defensive schemes are set up to allow certain players to make more plays, and Heeney’s numerous opportunities could also be considered an indictment of some of KU’s other defensive players.
But Heeney’s dominance has still been impressive.
A couple of Heeney numbers to consider:
▪ After Saturday’s performance, Heeney ranks second in the country in solo tackles per game, averaging 8.3. He’s made 58 solo stops, the most in the nation, though Arizona State’s Damarious Randall (54 solo tackles) has played one less game.
▪ Heeney ranks first in the Big 12 and fifth nationally with 12 total tackles per game. His 12 tackles per contest also ranks first among all players in the power-five conferences.
▪ Kansas’ career records for tackles — for both a season and career — are owned by Willie Pless, who recorded an insane 633 tackles from 1982-85. After Saturday, Heeney has 291 career tackles — even after playing strictly on special teams as a freshman and missing two games last year with injury.
If Heeney keeps up his current pace, he would finish with 351 total tackles, which would pass Curtis Moore for fifth all-time in school history.
Here’s KU’s top five all-time leading tacklers:
1. Willie Pless, 633, 1982-85
2. Nick Reid, 416, 2002-05
3. Rick Bredesen, 403, 1984-87
4. Kyle McNorton, 381, 1978-81
5. Curtis Moore, 350, 1986-87, 90
A look at Michael Cummings
One question: Should Kansas have thrown the ball more against Texas Tech? Based on the statistic “Adjusted QBR” — a number that takes into account competition — Cummings was better on Saturday than any KU quarterback ever was during the Charlie Weis era. Cumming, a junior making his second start of the season, finished 20-of-32 passing for 235 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Cummings averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, a respectable number. Conversely, the Jayhawks managed 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. The loss of Tony Pierson in the first quarter may have cut into the rushing game, but the Jayhawks still struggled to run the ball against the Big 12’s worst rushing defense.
Should KU have thrown the ball more — especially early? Cummings threw the ball 13 times in the first half, completing nine passes, and KU scored just seven points.
In the second half, Cummings threw the ball 19 times, completing just 11 passes but racking up 129 passing yards. Tight end Jimmay Mundine had five catches for 63 yards after halftime. The Jayhawks scored twice in the third quarter.
For now, though, here’s another question: In two games, Cummings has appeared steady and given the Jayhawks a semblance of a downfield passing game. So how did sophomore Montell Cozart so clearly beat out Cummings during spring ball and fall camp?
After playing six consecutive weeks, the Jayhawks enter their first true bye week of the season. (Kansas was also off during the first week of the season.) It comes at an important time, too. On Nov. 1, Kansas will travel to Baylor before playing host to Iowa State on Nov. 8.
The final three weeks of the season will feature a home game against TCU and trips to Oklahoma and K-State, respectively.