Know Your Foe: Rhode Island
The voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, visits with this week’s opponent in Know Your Foe, a weekly segment from KUAthletics.com and the Jayhawk Radio Network. As Kansas prepares for its season opener at home against Rhode Island, Hanni caught up with Rams analyst Terry Lynch.
Brian Hanni (BH): Looking forward to a resurgent season for both of these clubs, tell me about the outlook for a team that was 1-10 a year ago out of the Colonial Athletic Association but brought in the best recruiting class in that conference and feels like things are going to be much brighter in 2016.
Terry Lynch (TL): You would hope that they would. They’ve got a bunch of kids coming back that played last year. A bunch of people keep asking me, are they going to be better, and I’m like, yeah they’re going to be better. You come from winning one game last year and if you win three or four games, you’ve had a tremendous year as far as increasing your wins from last year, but you’re still and under .500 football team. It’s going to take them some time. This recruiting class that they brought in was one of the top classes in the CAA, but as you know, if those kids play early, then sometimes you have issues if you’re playing a lot of freshmen. Some of the transfers that they brought in are going to help them. It’s just a matter of can they consistently be good on offense and stop people on defense.
You look at our two-deep, we’re not the biggest defensive team so that could be a problem. We’re going to have to do some different things defensively to stem the tide so to speak. Offensively, we’ve got to be able to be consistent with our run game and our pass game. It’s going to come down to if Harold Cooper can stay healthy. We were moving the ball with him pretty well last year, but he got hurt late and that kind of stymied our offense.
BH: You alluded to Harold Cooper and I’m glad you did. Five all-conference picks from a year ago come back, but they come back in the form of four bodies because Harold Cooper was so good, he was all-conference on special teams and on offense. Give us Harold Cooper 101 because it sounds like he may be public enemy No. 1 for KU fans on Saturday night.
TL: He’s a 5-foot-9, 190-pound compact guy that has to be able to stay healthy. He’s probably not an every-single-down back, but he has to be in this offense. He’s more of a third down type of guy, catch the ball out of the backfield, run the ball a little bit more on third down. He’s the guy that they have to count on to be the back. He’s got really good speed. He was the Connecticut high school champion for the 100-meter dash when he was a senior, so he can run. He runs the ball well. His problem is just the pounding that he has to take, day in and day out on that frame, sometimes he can’t handle that. He’s going to be a guy that you’re going to have to count on. He can run, he’s got toughness, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, it’s just a matter of him staying healthy.
BH: Wesley McKoy appears to have won the quarterback job, and to some that was a bit of surprise even though he started the final four games a year ago. Tell us about what Kansas fans will see under center when the Rams have the ball.
TL: He won the job in fall camp, beating out Jordan Vazzano, who they thought was going to be the guy coming out of spring practice. Vazzano at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, is more of a drop-back, prototype quarterback throwing the ball down the field. Wesley McKoy brings that option game, that element of being able to run the football down the field. He’s 5-foot-11, about 180 pounds. He played the last four games of last year, had some success, had some drawbacks also. Doesn’t have the high-powered arm that Vazzano does, but he can throw the ball with what they want to do. They’re not throwing the ball down the field a ton. He’ll mix in the run a little bit. What he can do is help the offensive line with his escapability, because he can run around a little bit. He’s got some pretty good quickness back there. Kansas fans are going to see a guy that can run around a little bit, throw the ball on the run. He’ll drop back and throw, but more of his game is moving around that pocket.
BH: Schematically, what can we expect? Some of the film I saw from a year ago had them in the pistol at times, you mentioned the option, a dual-threat. Will it be a true option at times, what do you anticipate?
TL: No, it’ll be that speed option that people are going to nowadays. You’ll see us a lot out of the gun, you’ll see us a lot out of the pistol. Nothing will really change from last year as far as formations go. I do expect them to run a little bit more option. I’ve seen it a little bit more in practice lately with McKoy, but I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot of different stuff from last year. It’s a matter of can they execute it better.
BH: Defensively, who are some of the standout names to look for and how much have they improved on that side of the football?
TL: They weren’t bad last year. They got into some situations where the roof caved in on them a little bit. They’re not the biggest group going. You look at our defensive line, they’re not the 300-pounders in there. The kid, Ezirike and Duncan, both about the same size in the 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3 range, 260 to 270 pounds, they both run pretty well. They’re going to have to be guys that are able to hold that front line for a guy like Adam Parker, who was a preseason all-conference pick. He’s a 5-foot-11, 240-pound linebacker that made a lot of plays for them last year. Those guys are going to have to do the job to keep people off of Adam Parker so he can go make plays. I think a guy that people are going to like a little bit too is Justin Hogan. He’s a 6-foot-2, 235-pounder who played as a true freshman last year, is a true sophomore this year who is a prototypical linebacker. I think you’ll like what you see with him. On the outside, Abdul Ibrahim is a kid that was hurt last year, was counted on to be a starter last year. He’s coming back from injury. They like him at corner and think he’s one of the better corners in our conference.
BH: As we take a look at expectations for Coach (Jim) Fleming in his third year, how big of a leap, realistically, could they make and how competitive could they be come Saturday.
TL: They were picked 12th in the league, last in the league. I think this team has a chance to be a lot better than last year’s. What does that equate to in wins? You would hope they get to five wins, that would be a tremendous leap from having one win last year. They have to stay healthy, there’s not a lot of depth there – that’s the problem when you get into the situation of a 1-AA level. I look for this team to be able to sneak up on people so to speak, because they were picked 12th. I like the talent that they have, I like the speed that they have. Would I like us to be a little bit bigger? Absolutely, but I think the players that they have here are going to turn some heads and hopefully give the Kansas fans a good look at what CAA football is about.
BH: What do you think it is that concerns the Rams the most about KU? Is it the size or something else?
TL: I think it’s the size and the speed. You’re talking about the Big 12. I don’t care that Kansas went 0-for-last-year, it’s the Big 12. You walk into that stadium and I know Kansas has guys that can play. It’s a matter of can Rhode Island be able to hang with a Big 12 team? I think that’s a concern every year. When I was coaching, we played some 1-A teams and you just hoped that your kids could rise to that challenge. You know what, this is a Big 12 school and they’ve got to be able to hang out with them if you will and match them speed and size-wise.
BH: Before I let you go, I don’t have to remind Kansas fans about the tradition of Rhode Island basketball. Why don’t you give us 30-seconds on the tradition of Rams football, having played there, coached there and now been a broadcaster there for a long, long time.
TL: It’s a situation where I got there in 1979 and haven’t left. I’m getting older. When I played we won a conference championship, but when I coached we were one of the top teams in the country for a couple years there. For whatever reason – facilities, getting players – it’s just been tough to come by, but it’s a good tradition here at Rhode Island. We hope that we can put a good product on the field for you guys to see us out at Kansas on Saturday night. Maybe we can come out of this game with the thought that we can hang with some of the better teams in the country. That’s what they’re looking forward to this year and to see what happens on Saturday.