University of Kansas

Motivated by coach, KU’s D-linemen look to re-emerge against Texas Tech

Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise almost sacked Rhode Island quarterback Wesley McKoy in the Jayhawks’ season opener.
Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise almost sacked Rhode Island quarterback Wesley McKoy in the Jayhawks’ season opener. along@kcstar.com

David Beaty wanted to make a point.

The Kansas coach gathered all his players two weeks ago at the end of practice, pointing out the Jayhawks’ defensive line had no sacks through the team’s first two games.

“It kind of shocked us, like, ‘Dang, he just called us out,’ ” KU defensive end Dorance Armstrong said. “We knew Saturday when we came out there, we had to do that.”

The motivational ploy certainly seemed to work.

The Jayhawks had five sacks in their next game against Memphis — including four from D-linemen — and will look to keep up the pressure Thursday night as they travel to face pass-happy Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders lead the nation with 548 passing yards per game, which is 89 yards more than any other team.

“I know they like to throw the ball. That’s a good thing, because I like to get after the quarterback,” Armstrong said with a smile. “That’s just what I like to do.”

KU’s defensive pressure and playmaking has improved from last year, as evidenced in the team’s tackles-for-loss stat. The Jayhawks’ 29 TFLs rank third in the Big 12, and in three games, they’re already halfway to their tackle-for-loss total from the entire 2015 season (58).

“There’s a lot of progress that’s been made since last year,” KU defensive lineman Daniel Wise said. “I give credit to coach (Clint) Bowen and the defensive coaches. After going 0-12, there’s a big learning experience. We learned from last year, fixed up and corrected it this year.”

Many of KU’s defensive improvements have been harder to appreciate because of the offense’s struggles. For example, the Jayhawks defense played better than the score indicated in a 43-7 road loss to Memphis on Sept. 17 after KU’s offense turned it over six times, which included a pick-six.

“With this team, we know we beat ourselves more than people beat us,” Wise said. “As a defense, we try to do our job more and let the offense know we have their back and get ready to give them the ball one more time.”

KU’s coaches also have been creative with how they’ve used personnel. Armstrong, for instance, moves up and down the line of scrimmage in passing situations, attacking the offensive line in different gaps to try to create confusion.

“To be able to run free like that, it’s good. I love it,” Armstrong said. “I love what coach Bowen has our defense doing.”

Armstrong had two sacks and four tackles-for-loss in KU’s game against Memphis and is still working his way to full strength from a leg injury.

“I just ran out there and played and just forgot about everything else and had a good game,” Armstrong said. “I hope to do that for the rest of the season.”

There should be opportunities for sacks against Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders’ 160 pass attempts are the second-most of any team with three games.

“I feel like there are a lot of people watching, so I know we’ve got to come out there and play to our best ability,” Armstrong said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

The Thursday night game will be a rare opportunity for KU football to get national attention. The Fox Sports 1 broadcast will be one of only two FBS games on the schedule along with Connecticut playing Houston on ESPN.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity for our football program, just to let everyone know we’re here, and we’re here to face everybody and give everybody a challenge,” KU quarterback Montell Cozart said. “We’re trying to get KU back to where we were.”

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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