Here are three thoughts after Kansas dropped to 0-2 in a 55-23 loss to Memphis on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium:
1. The Kansas defense could be a work in progress all year. There are no easy answers for a young and inexperienced defense. In the season opener, the Jayhawks’ defensive unit had seven starters that had never started a Division I game. On Saturday, sophomore linebacker Joe Dineen made his first career start, lining up alongside junior transfer Marcquis Roberts, who joined the program in the summer. Safety Michael Glatczak, a walk-on, also made his first career start, joining a starting secondary that also features true freshman Tyrone Miller Jr. and juco transfer Brandon Stewart. In other words: There are new guys everywhere. And the results have been what you might expect.
After two games, Kansas ranks 122nd in the country in total defense, allowing 557 yards per game. The Jayhawks are surrendering an unappealing 7.38 yards per play.
When Kansas coach David Beaty talks about solutions, he mentions recruiting and developing players and building up the talent base. That won’t help Kansas in the short-term, of course, and Beaty recognizes this. On Saturday, he refused to use the inexperience as an excuse.
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But here are a couple examples of what happens when a well-orchestrated offense faces an inexperienced defense.
1. On the first example, Memphis’ tight end leaks back to the left while quarterback Paxton Lynch moves to his right and throws back across his body. It’s a well-designed play, and Kansas is caught out of position.
2. On the second play, linebacker Joe Dineen bites on a pump fake and freshman Tyrone Miller Jr. is beat on single coverage. That’s a sophomore playing linebacker for the first time and a true freshman cornerback.
3. Here is another nicely drawn-up play from Memphis. The offensive line run-blocks while the fullback slips out into the flat.
4. And finally, here is a play that’s even more discouraging. There is no real misdirection or run-pass conflict here. But there is some poor contain and pursuit from the Kansas defense. Memphis’ Mose Frazier takes the handoff and outruns everybody for a 60-yard touchdown.
2. Montell Cozart’s accuracy issues popped up on Saturday. In his first two seasons at Kansas, Cozart’s completion percentage hovered at (or below) 50 percent. Last week, in a 41-38 loss against South Dakota State, Cozart played perhaps the best game of his career. It offered some hope: Maybe Cozart really was a new quarterback in the Jayhawks’ Air Raid system. Saturday, though, was a step back.
Cozart completed just 13 of 28 passes for 118 yards, and he struggled to find his man whenever Kansas tried to go deep. By the second half, Cozart said, Memphis was taking away his quick throws, and the Jayhawks couldn’t adjust.
When it comes to quarterbacks, accuracy might be the most important skill. And even if Cozart is going to struggle on plays over the top, here are two plays that are even more alarming.
1. The first came on Kansas’ only touchdown drive of the second half. The Jayhawks answered right back after Memphis opened the half with a quick score. But if you look back at the drive, Cozart was just two of four on the drive while running back Ke’aun Kinner did most of the heavy lifting. Here’s a misfire on a screen play to receiver Tyler Patrick.
2. Here’s a play later in the second half. It’s third and 6, and Cozart has an open receiver in Steven Sims. It’s a simple throw, but the ball is delivered behind the receiver.
3. Ke’aun Kinner appears to be the real deal. One week after rushing for 157 yards in his Kansas debut, the juco transfer running back put up 113 yards on 16 carries against Memphis.
After two weeks, Kinner ranks 12th in the country in rushing yards (270) and 34th in yards per carry (6.3). It’s early, of course, and the Jayhawks will face some tougher run-defenses in Big 12 play. But Kinner is pacing to be Kansas’ first 1,000-yard rusher since James Sims. And a reconstructed offensive line deserves some credit as well.