Football Team Off to a Fast Start

Sept. 23, 2005

Football is a game of yards, if not inches. All those yards and inches create the stats of the game, the raw numbers calculated to derive an assortment of averages and varying levels of success. And while it is usually quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers that garner the spotlight created by these stats, it is the importance of those in less heralded roles, the offensive lineman, the defensive line, that can truly define the quality of the team, a figure that is entirely immeasurable. Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers coach and legend, once said, “the achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” So far this season, it is apparent the University of Kansas football team has ascribed to Lombardi’s credo.

With victories over Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State, and Louisiana Tech, the University of Kansas football team has utilized the efforts of many to create a renewed sense of confidence as it embarks on the Big 12 schedule. The 3-0 start marks the first by the Jayhawks since 1997. There is a burgeoning sense of confidence that has emerged with the three victories. On both sides of the ball and on special teams, fourth-year head coach Mark Mangino and his staff have compiled units ready for the challenges of the Big 12.

The Jayhawk defense entered the season highly-regarded and has lived up to those lofty expectations thus far. Led by preseason All-Big 12 selections linebacker Nick Reid and cornerback Charles Gordon, the Jayhawks have stymied opponents through a concerted team effort. Reid leads the Big 12 in tackles with 39 and has recorded eight tackles for a loss. Senior linebacker Brandon Perkins had five sacks against Louisiana Tech, setting a new school record and earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. In the same game, the secondary snagged four picks, including two by safety Rodney Fowler, while cornerback Theo Baines had a sack and an interception. Meanwhile, Gordon leads the secondary in total tackles and became Kansas’ all-time leader in punt return yards.

In addition, the rushing defense has been especially stout. The Jayhawks are surrendering only 2.4 yards per carry to their opponents, good for third in the Big 12 and 18th in the nation. Anchored by a combination of seniors Tim Allen, Jermial Ashley and Charlton Keith, juniors Rodney Allen and Paul Como, and sophomore James McClinton, the defensive line has proven to be a formidable unit. They are creating pressure up field, having registered four sacks as a unit. The stifling presence is also manifesting itself on third down, where the Jayhawks are currently holding opponents to a 27% conversion rate. The team has yet to yield a rushing touchdown on the season, forcing opponents to pass upon entering the red zone, another area of success for the defensive unit.

So far this season, opponents have found little success deep in Jayhawk territory. In 10 trips into the red zone, the Jayhawk defense has limited opponents to a 40% success rate, good for third in the Big 12. They have also forced three turnovers and one turnover on downs by their opponents.

An especially bright note for the Jayhawks this season has been the emergence of senior quarterback Brian Luke. In his last three starts, Luke is undefeated, including a victory at Missouri last season. He has a quarterback rating hovering near 130 and is showing poise and command in the pocket. Against Louisiana Tech, Luke tossed a career-best three touchdowns and amassed 236 yards through the air. So far, Luke has thrown for 569 yards and four touchdowns. He has found success distributing the ball amongst his many weapons, including senior Mark Simmons and junior Brian Murph. Sophomore tight end Derek Fine and wide receiver Jeff Foster have also been on the receiving end of Luke touchdown passes, each notching the first of their collegiate careers. Of course, it helps the quarterback to have a potent ground game to alleviate some of the pressure on the passing game and that is where the Jayhawk offense has truly shined.

The rushing attack has been especially potent for the Jayhawks. Through their first three games, the Jayhawks are averaging 150 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. Senior Clark Green opened the season with 107 yards against Florida Atlantic, leading a team effort that saw the Jayhawks rack up 201 yards on the ground. The following week, junior Jon Cornish rumbled for 104 yards on only 10 carries while tallying rushing scores of nine, four, and one yard. Quarterbacks Luke and junior Adam Barmann have also added rushing scores and the emergence of freshmen Marcus Herford gives the Jayhawks several dynamic options that will allow them to pound the ball on a consistent basis.

However, none of their success would be possible without the play of an offensive line that returned four starters from a year ago. Anchored by junior center David Ochoa, the Jayhawk offensive line has done a stellar job opening running lanes and protecting the quarterback. The have allowed only three sacks thus far and will be counted on to continue winning the battles in the trenches.

Special teams have also been a source of achievement for the Jayhawks. Sophomore kicker Scott Webb has been nearly perfect, booting five field goals, including a career long 47-yard kick against Louisiana Tech. Sophomore punter Kyle Tucker has also done his part in the battle of field position, downing six punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. All of which would make Lombardi one very happy coach.

There is a reason Lombardi is quoted often. He was good. He won. When a team wins the Superbowl, the trophy they receive is named after him. And so when he stresses the importance of the team through the contribution of the individual, you listen because he knows a thing or two about football. Through three games this season, it is apparent the Jayhawks are listening too. As they begin their Big 12 season, the Jayhawks hope to build upon their early success to reach their goals and do so as a team. Something tells me Lombardi would certainly approve.

— by Geoff Herberg, KU media relations