Kansas’ football coaches did little to hide their biggest fear in the offseason.
Coach David Beaty spoke openly about his secondary — which had to replace four starters — having to mature quickly for the Jayhawks to have the kind of success they wanted in 2017.
KU’s 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan on Saturday showed exactly how painful that growing process could be.
Central Michigan’s Shane Morris — a week after passing for 226 yards against FBS opponent Rhode Island — completed 28 of 37 passes for 467 yards with five touchdowns as the Chippewas exposed the back end of the Jayhawks’ defense.
“They tore us up,” KU linebacker Joe Dineen said.
The 467 passing yards by Morris was the fourth-most by a KU opponent since 2000 — and two of the three other top efforts came from future NFL quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Sam Bradford.
“There ain’t no hiding from it. A couple of them are just busted coverages,” Beaty said of his team’s gaffes. “I mean, not good communication back there.”
The final result brought a quick halt to the momentum that KU had gained through the offseason and Week 1.
Late last season, Kansas had a surprise home victory against Texas, and after that, Beaty picked up some unexpected verbal commitments that boosted the Jayhawks up the recruiting rankings.
The positive vibes carried through the opener, as KU’s offense looked improved and the defense was solid in a 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri.
That game seemed like a distant memory on Saturday, as KU made mistake after mistake in falling behind 24-6 at half.
The Jayhawks’ offensive line struggled, especially on the right side, with Central Michigan getting constant pressure. That led to rushed throws from quarterback Peyton Bender, who had numerous overthrows while not showing the same poise he did against Southeast Missouri State last week.
“I’ve got to play better, be more accurate there in the first half,” Bender said. “We just had some missed opportunities. If we make the most of those opportunities, who knows?”
Meanwhile, KU’s secondary showed its inexperience. Central Michigan scored twice on the same route combination, using crossing receivers to clear space in front of KU cornerback Derrick Neal.
“It seemed like they were making those throws fairly easy, and we weren’t passing it off well,” Beaty said. “We weren’t jumping through those pick plays down there.”
Hasan Defense allowed a touchdown when he focused in on Morris and was beaten by a double-move, and the Chippewas’ receivers also found frequent openings against KU’s safeties.
Beaty was especially frustrated that his team, which often played man coverage, finished with only four pass breakups and no interceptions.
“We need to be competing. It needs to be contested catches. It didn’t happen like that today,” Beaty said. “We’ve got to figure that out quick, or it’s going to be a long year. That can’t happen again.”
Central Michigan averaged 8.2 yards per play, the most by a KU non-conference opponent since Georgia Tech in 2011.
The Jayhawks, 1-1, played most of the game without top receiver Steven Sims, who was in early but sat out the second half because of an ankle injury.
“He tried, to his credit,” Beaty said. “When you’re missing a dynamic guy like that, it makes it a little bit difficult on you, but hey, we’ve got other guys that can do it.”
KU will play another MAC foe next week, going on the road to face Ohio. The Jayhawks fell to the Bobcats, 37-21, at home last season.
“We’ve got to coach them better. I’ve got to lead them better,” Beaty said after his team’s loss Saturday. “And all of our guys have got to work harder to get better.”