Monday, October 31, 2005

The Best Defense That Never Was

As many of the people that regularly read this blog know (all 5 of you), I live no where near Atlanta - I'm out in the middle of the heartland in Lawrence, KS home of the University of Kansas. Since my wife is a student here, and because I enjoy college sports, I have purchased season tickets this year for KU football. Make no mistake about it, KU football is one of the most downtrodden programs in recent memory, and I didn't exactly have high expectations of watching brilliant play on the field each and every Saturday. Football is football though, and college football on a crisp fall afternoon is great, no matter who is on the field. Or so the idea went.

A funny thing has happened along the way, at least half of KU's team has turned out to be good. I mean really good. I mean, best in the country good. KU's defense is as good as any I've seen anywhere in my years of following college sports. When you consider how brutally horrible KU's offense is, the fact that their defense is ranked in the top 10 in the country is astounding. There have been many times watching them this year that you are just hoping they can go 3 and out and punt without turning the ball over, and several games the only hope they had of scoring was if one of the defenders took a turnover to the house. Somehow still though, the defense has strapped it on and gone back out there completely gassed and still gotten the job done. Because of that horrendous offense though, KU's record is a measly 4-4 in the bad Big XII North and the total number of column inches dedicated to this defense can be measure with a single Crayola ruler.

Here's a quick summary of KU's defense this year in Big XII play:

They held Texas Tech to 23 offensive points, in Lubbock - despite the offense turning it over 3 times, including fumbling in their own end-zone. KU had 5 sacks on the day, turned TT over twice and held TT to their lowest yardage total of the season (380 total yards).

The next week on the road against Kansas State was probably the finest defensive performance of the year that I have seen by any team. KU's offense held the ball for only 18 minutes, and yet despite being on the field for just over 42 minutes of game time, the KU defense held K-State to 0.7 yards per carry. On 45 attempts. Thomas Clayton entered the game as the nation's leading rusher, and he left the game with 16 carries for 13 total yards. K-State ran 69 plays for only 182 total yards, and yet won the game because KU's offense giftwrapped a 3 play -7 yard scoring drive for a field goal and later on a safety. The defense surrended a single late TD that ended up being completely meaningless - when your offense gives up 5 points and only scores 3, it doesn't matter what the defense does.

I was sitting about 10 rows up behind the end zone at Arrowhead stadium for the Oklahoma game, and unfortunately was forced to watch an offensive perfomance perhaps even worse than the previous week in Manhattan. When your offense only manages 22 minutes of total possession, your QB goes 11-30 with 3 interceptions including one run back for a TD on the 3rd play of the game, you have no hope of winning no matter what your defense does. But oh, did the defense try anyways. After spotting OU a quick 10-0 lead on back to back interceptions, one returned for a TD, the other so deep in KU terrority that a field goal was automatic, KU's defense almost single handedly won the game. They picked off a pair of passes, held OU to under 2 yards per carry and once even gave the offense the ball on OU's 18 yard line after an Adrian Peterson fumble ... which the offense promptly managed to not even get a score out of. After the game, All-American LB Nick Reid said he wanted to punch the offense. He wasn't the only one, and the saddest fact of the game is that in one of the best football venues in the world, the defense barely even got the crowd noise it so deserved because the offense had completley deflated everyone in attendence. Every soul in the place knew they couldn't score a single TD, and there was no way to win the game, but it wasn't a blowout - so you had to stick around and keep up hope for a miracle which never came.

Finally, in Colorado all those minutes on the field the past two weeks caught up with KU in the second half - after having a punt blocked for a TD, and then another punt returned for a TD the KU defense looked mentally beaten down. There was just no way to keep playing at the level they had for the first 3 conference games without any sort of rest or reward. KU fell to 0-4 in the conference, only scoring 9 points per game over that span, and going almost a month without a touchdown. A month.

So last weekend, nobody really knew what to expect when Missouri rolled into town fresh off blowing Nebraska out. Brad Smith was on fire and had just run over, through and around the vaunted Blackshirts and most of the experts were predicting a comfortable MU win. Almost as if on script, KU threw an interception on their own end the field on their first possession. Cue the KU defense for the first stuff of the day. Short punt into the wind on KU's next possession, MU has the ball inside the 50 again. Again KU's defense stuffs them. The first 3 times MU had the ball, they started at the KU 38, 45 and 43 yard lines, and got a grand total of 3 points. Once KU's offense managed a single first half TD, it was over. MU could have played another 60 minutes and never scored again as KU's defense just physically whipped them every time they took the field. Brad Smith entered the game as the leading rusher in the Big XII ... he got 38 yards on 20 carries, and as a team MU only had 33 total yards on 30 carries. MU was averaging 36 points per game coming in, they got 3.

Later this season, KU is at Texas, and we'll see how well they contain Vince Young. Last year they almost pulled off the upset in Lawrence, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see UT struggle to move the football. Heck, what I would be surprised by would be UT running up the score. Of course, KU's offense can unfortunately be counted on for at least one brutally backbreaking turnover per game and I expect Texas to win, but I expect it to be much tougher than some people on the national stage seem to think.

Nick Reid, Charlton Keith, Charles Gordon, Brandon Perkins, Banks Floodman and Jerome Kemp deserve some love. They are playing at least as well as VT, UGa, Alabama or Ohio State and unfortunately get none of the same attention. If Nick Reid was a Buckeye he'd be getting the full on A.J Hawk worship, instead he's at a basketball school with very little football success and 95% of football fans in the country don't know his name. It's not fair, but that's life. This weekend KU has a chance to break their 37 game losing streak to Nebraska, and if they can win 2 of their final 3 they might play in a bowl game. If they do, maybe then someone will pay attention to the group of defensive players out here. Then again, probably not - it's just Kansas after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen KU play a couple of times and I was VERY impressed by their defense. Like you say, too bad their offense sucks, all of that wasted effort.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Nick Reid is an absolute animal. He's kind of what I'm hoping Philip Wheeler ends up as, an outside LB with a nasty streak a mile wide. The guy is a tackling machine.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KSU fucking destroyed KU.

12-3 bizzzatch!

9:13 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Ladies and gentlemen ... KSU fans!

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow fatty! you said it... destroyed you are soo right! So does that mean CU and ATM destroyed you? I mean they did beat you pretty bad! right? 23-20 and 30-28, what a massacre

10:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

nathan, you should send raiderrich at CheapSeats a link to this. He does a great job of covering Big 12 ball. He'd enjoy it.

Good job.

1:33 PM  
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9:34 PM  
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