(So. Mike Lee hits Jr. Ryan Schadler after catch… KUsports.com)
By: Steve Knowles, who you can follow on twitter here: @SteveKnowlesKU
Estimated read: 8.5 minutes
They did it again. On a weekend that featured Easter, the NBA and NHL playoffs, beautiful weather seemingly everywhere in the country, as well as the initial grumblings of what could possibly be World War III, the KU football spring game captured the hearts and minds of the nation. So it’s a safe assumption that if you’re reading this, you’ve already watched the game in its entirety at least twice, and have your own takeaways about what transpired. However, I didn’t spend months negotiating salary and benefits with Dive 35 brass to not give my extremely in demand KU football insight and opinions, so here’s what you should know from what transpired on Saturday:
- In general, the game itself was much more watchable than the score would indicate
(Insert joke here about a KU spring game, let alone any KU football game being somewhat watchable) While the 14-7 victory for Team Jayhawks over Team KU looks dull at face-value, the actual play between both sides was encouraging. I was unable to watch the game live, so when I checked in and saw the game tied at 7-7 midway through the fourth quarter, I was a little worried. But after the first of my 53 (and counting) viewings of the replay, you start to see some of the vanilla play-calling and realize neither side was necessarily going for kill-shots from the get-go. However, both teams moved the ball relatively well, and the overall team speed was noticeable even if execution in the red zone left something to be desired. It definitely seemed like there were opportunities there that they can capitalize on as they work towards the fall. All in all, I would’ve liked to see a little more vertical passing instead of the sideline to sideline approach we’ve become accustomed to under Beaty, but then again it is the spring game, and we weren’t going to see the full offensive gauntlet on display anyway. Lastly, did you know the spring game is meaningless and has zero bearing on what will actually transpire this season? Oh, you do? That’s good, because I’m going to say, it looked like I was at least watching a Big 12 caliber team on Saturday. That felt good to type that out, but having said that, let’s watch Kansas go winless for the second time in three years… Rock Chalk
- The battle between the uber-millennial-named quarterbacks This was obviously one of the biggest things to watch for on Saturday, the battle between Peyton Bender, Carter Stanley, and Jaxon-Aidan Starks. Ok, I may have changed that last one from Tyriek Starks’ name there, but Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley are real names and are the 2 front-runners for the starting QB gig this year. With a team that actually has a decent set of receiving options in Steven Sims Jr., LaQuivionte Gonzalez, Alabama-transfer Daylon Charlot, and even Tight End Ben Johnson, Quarterback play will determine if this team wins 1 game or 4 to 5+ this year. Crazy to think the Quarterback will play a big factor in how a football team does, but I’m going to die on this hill. Overall, I thought both Bender and Stanley played well, but let’s take a little deeper look at both of the main candidates for leading us to a miracle 3 win season.
Let’s start with Bender. Having not seen him play before, it was nice to finally see him in some action. The junior transfer from Washington State finished 11-15 for 143 yards and 2 TDs, and had a noticeable zip on the ball which was definitely encouraging. The book on Bender is that he’s more of a pocket passer with an above average arm, but a pretty quick release, which is pretty much what we saw from him on Saturday. While the play-calling was generally bland, with lots of underneath dink-and-dunks, when he got the chance to air it out, he didn’t disappoint. He seemed to hardly ever put the ball in harm’s way, yet he still found a way to put the ball in a spot where he could trust the receivers to make a play. One thing that did stand out to me about Bender was his ability to throw on the run, which was better than I anticipated. Even with an O-line that should be improved this year, there are still going to be a decent amount of breakdowns where he would have to improvise a little bit to create time, so it was promising to see that. My last takeaway for Bender that leads into Stanley’s play, is that Bender had the stronger receiving core on paper with Sims, Charlot, and Schadler, so that’s something to keep in mind when looking at how both guys performed.
Moving on to Stanley, the redshirt sophomore started the last 3 games of last year, including the world-famous win over Texas last year (did you know Kansas beat Texas in football last year?) One would think he would have the inside track to the starting job, as he played relatively well when given the opportunity last year. However, his one consistent drawback seems to his arm-strength. Though he’s a pretty accurate passer, a good runner, and seemingly a pretty strong overall leader, his arm-strength really limits the play-calling, and consequently allows defenses to not have to worry about getting beat deep. He did play well on Saturday, going 13-24 for 114 yards and no TDs. Despite being “sacked” 4 times (refs blew the whistle anytime a defender got close to the QB, as they weren’t allowed to get hit) he ran the ball 4 times for 25 yards (6.25 ypc), and overall did a pretty good job of making quick decisions in terms of throwing versus tucking it and running. The arm looked a little bit stronger, but when you could make direct comparisons to Bender or even Starks on every alternating series, the difference was pretty noticeable.
Overall, I would say Bender looks like the front-runner to start this year as anticipated. However, if things go south, which you have to pretty much accept as a certainty when you’re a KU football fan, I still think you could win some games with Stanley as well.
A lot on the QBs there, so here some quick notes about the rest of the offense, before switching over to the other side of the ball:
– Those talented receivers I mentioned earlier? They didn’t disappoint, putting up the numbers below:
– One under the radar receiver to watch this year is Chase Harrell. The 6’4” sophomore is great at jump balls and could be a nice lower option target with Sims, Charlot and Gonzalez attracting most of the attention
– The running game left a little bit to be desired. Taylor Martin led the way with 43 yards on 7 carries, with Khalil Herbert going for 27 yards on 6 carries. There didn’t appear to be a whole lot of room to operate, especially for Herbert, as he was up against the Daniel Wise (DT) and Dorance Armstrong (DE) led-line that should be one of the strengths of this year’s team.
– Not much to take away from the O-line, nothing really stood out too strongly in either a positive or negative direction. Hopefully working against a strong D-line in practice every day will have them ready to take a big necessary step forward this year.
- Why does Mike Lee hate Ryan Schadler? Poor Ryan Schadler. The former Wichita State track star had to sit-out last year due to an organ disorder that required an extremely complicated surgery and recovery process just to make it back on the field for Spring-ball and this upcoming season. Unfortunately, he got welcomed back to the field on one of the first plays of the game by catching a ball with his back to rest the play and getting absolutely lit up by Mike Lee, probably crushing his organs as soon as he tried to make the turn up-field. Nearly the exact same thing happened in one of the opening plays of the second half with Lee again being the one causing the damage. Luckily, Schadler was able to walk away from both plays unscathed, but it brings up the question as to why does Mike Lee hate the golden boy of Hesston, Kansas? The answer: Mike Lee hates everybody equally. Which is touching in its own way. The former 4 star Louisiana Safety, and national freshman All-American last year, plays like an absolute wrecking ball. To me, he’s basically a small Sean Taylor, which is exciting in the way that they’re able to close gaps and deliver huge hits in the secondary, but also kind of terrifying for Lee, in that Sean Taylor probably had 40 pounds on what Lee plays at. At 5’11” and 176 pounds, playing the way he plays could take a toll on him physically; I’m hoping that isn’t the case as he will be one of the lone bright spots in a secondary that lacks experience.
Other Defensive Notes:
– Defensive end Josh Ehambe had 3 sacks, he would be a nice compliment to the returning 1st team All Big 12 defensive end on the other side of the line, Dorance Armstrong
– Linebackers Joe Dineen Jr and Keith Loneker each tallied 5 tackles
– Secondary looked okay for both sides, allowed a lot of short passes but weren’t burned deep a whole lot which is a good start
Gratuitous Todd Reesing picture:
(Todd Reesing 2008, Zimbio)
Overall, a decent outing on Saturday. Definitely saw some things to get excited about and obviously still some areas to have concerns. Its Kansas football, you should always have concerns. But I’m looking forward to this year, granted I’m an idiot and I look forward to every KU football season with an optimism that really has no ties to reality or past history trends. Regardless, it should be an interesting fall in Lawrence.