By: Steve Knowles
KU’s National Championship aspirations are still intact after topping Southeast Missouri State 38-16 last weekend to move to 1-0. While the game itself left something to be desired, especially against an FCS opponent, the Jayhawks flashed some signs of why there was some optimism heading into this season.
Quarterback Peyton Bender looked relatively sharp, and looks to be the first competent signal caller Kansas has had since (*kneels while saying his name*) Todd Reesing. Bender finished with 364 yards passing, with 4 touchdowns. He showed off the quick release we’ve been hearing about, and was better at navigating within and outside of the pocket than expected. However, Bender did throw 2 interceptions, and had an additional 3-5 throws he probably wanted back as well. Hopefully, it’s nothing more than shaking off some rust in the first game of the year, but it’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on this weekend facing off against a Central Michigan team that picked-off Rhode Island six times in their season opener last weekend.
The running game however, was only able to pick up 73 yards on 25 carries (2.9 YPC). That’s not ideal, especially when facing an FCS team that KU had a significant size advantage against. Freshman Dom Williams led the way with 41 yards on 10 carries along with a touchdown. So it’s encouraging to see a freshman show some promise early on, but KU is going to need to get some production from Taylor Martin and/or Khalil Herbert if they want to start sustaining more drives this year.
The defense played as expected, giving up 253 yards and 16 points to SEMO (I predicted SEMO to score 16 points in my preview last week, so no biggie there). All Big 12 performers, Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Wise, did their jobs causing havoc from the defensive line, slowing down the run and applying pressure on the Quarterback. However, the star for KU was Joe Dineen Jr, who had 15 tackles and was flying all over the field, seemingly in the middle of every play SEMO was running. The secondary, for the most part, looked good as well. There were a few miscues, but Mike Lee had a decent game by his standards, and Sophomores Bryce Torneden (Safety) and Hasan Defense (Cornerback) definitely had an impact breaking up passes and finishing hits on SEMO receivers. I wasn’t quite sure how the defense would come out for this first game, but overall I would say it was a good starting point for them to build off of, and they should only get better as the season goes on.
Know Your Foe:
The Chippewas from Mount Pleasant, Michigan play in the Western Division of the MAC, and finished last season at 6-7 losing to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl (55-10). They are currently 1-0 coming off a 27-24 (3OT) win against FCS Rhode Island last week. Struggling against FCS Rhode Island who has a record of 3-19 the last 2 seasons has given KU fans some hope, especially considering KU beat Rhode Island 55-6 last year (Why do they play games? Just use transitive property from past seasons and give KU more wins please, thanks). While Rhode Island, may not be a traditional power, the CMU defense played pretty well, giving up only 108 yards on the ground, and as mentioned earlier, intercepted Rhode Island 6 times. On the offensive side they were able to rush for 246 yards, so it will be a good test for Armstrong, Wise, Dineen and Co. upfront.
Famous CMU Alum: The Chippewas made this tough, they have broadcasting legend: Dick Enberg and Marquette/Indiana/Dead-stare extraordinaire: Basketball coach Tom Crean. But I’m going to go with Jeff Daniels of “Harry Dunne” fame in Dumb and Dumber. Tough to skip over a man who played such a pivotal role in a movie that helped define my early development as a human (ultimately leading to me as a blogger at The Dive 35!) Additionally, he was great in Speed.
Outlook and Prediction:
This is a pretty big game for KU. Compared to the Turner Gill and Charlie Weis years, where KU seemed to routinely get blown out by 50+ points regardless of who we were playing, we’ve seen some progress in the Beaty era in terms of competitiveness from KU football. Playing teams closer has been nice, but at some point KU has to turn these close losses into wins, and beating Central Michigan is the perfect way to start. With Bender at the helm at QB, the allotment of receivers of KU has (Sims, Booker, Harrell, Ben Johnson, Kerr Johnson, and Schadler), and the defensive studs (Armstrong, Wise, Dineen and Lee), I’m saying KU makes their first statement that they are back to respectability.
While the spread is only KU -5.5, I’m going with the Jayhawks winning comfortably, 45-24.