Offensive Line, Off and Running

Sept. 16, 2009

LAWRENCE, Kan. — There are no seniors on the KU offensive line two deep in the depth chart, but that has not stopped the No. 22 ranked Associated Press poll and No. 23 ranked Coach’s poll Jayhawks from major success in their offensive game.

In fact, the starting offensive line consists of two juniors, Brad Thorson and Sal Capra, two sophomores, Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes, and one freshman, Tanner Hawkinson.

Capra, right guard, had a standout game at UTEP, helping the Jayhawks win 34-7 last Saturday.

“Sal Capra did just about everything well (in the game against UTEP),” said Kansas head coach Mark Mangino. “His run blocking was very good, his past sets were very good and he did good job in the protection. He is an intelligent guy who communicates things on the offensive line. He is not the biggest or the fastest, but he plays well fundamentally. He plays the game over bent knees, he uses his hands very well and he is a great competitor.”

The Jayhawks are just one of two teams in the country to currently average at least 250 yards passing and 250 yards rushing, joining top-ranked Florida. Their current averages are 291.5 yards rushing and 270.0 yards passing in the last two weeks, to have a combined total of more than 500 yards rushing..

If those numbers are not impressive enough, the Jayhawks rushing is ranked seventh in the nation, while its passing is ranked 24th.

These numbers would not have been possible if the offensive line had not been on top of its game.

“The most encouraging thing right now for us is how well our run game is doing,” said quarterback Todd Reesing. “Obviously Jake Sharp has had two fantastic games running the ball, and that is because of the offensive line. I think the offensive line has played great in the last two games as a group together. I would say that they have exceeded my expectations of where I thought they would be at this point in the season. “

The offense supports each other play by play, and the success in the offense can be credited to the hard work in live game situations and in practice.

“Knowing that we have guys that can step in, and knowing that guys are going to take full responsibility to understand what they need to do every game to get the job done,” said junior left guard Brad Thorson. “You can count on everybody across the offensive line has made it a great experience for the whole offensive line.”

Thorson could perhaps be referring to the situation which occurred in the game against UTEP when center Jeremiah Hatch was not feeling well. Hatch went out of the game in the second quarter and Thorson moved from guard to center for the rest of the contest.

“Thorson is our backup center and he plays it well, and we also feel good about our backup guards,” Mangino said. “We would like to play the way we started the game with Hatch, but we were forced to do that and that is okay. It is good we were forced in that situation because we know now what kind of work we can get out of Thorson at center.”

Based on the performance of the offensive line on Saturday they are going to do nothing but get better in the games to come.

“We would love to stay at one sack every other game,” Thorson said. “Hopefully that is possible. We recognize we are pretty raw. If everyone has great numbers rushing and passing, then that is a huge success for us (the offensive line).”

One player that is reaping the benefits from the strong offensive line is Sharp. He rushed for 104 yards with two touchdowns and had six receptions, including a touchdown catch against UTEP.

“Sharp has been better on his reads because the blocking has been better on the offensive line and his passing holes have been crisper,” said Ed Warinner, Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator.

Even though the offensive line is young, they have helped the Jayhawks to two victories. The Jayhawks will be looking for victory number three when Duke comes to Kivisto Field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday at 11 a.m. The game will be televised nationally on Versus.