The Les Miles experiment in Kansas has not gotten off to the start that the Jayhawks may have hoped.
Since the beginning of last season, the Jayhawks have won just three games and lost 12 — including a trio of disappointing losses to start 2020. Many of those struggles can be credited to the lost spring season and subsequent rocky summer, especially when much of their personnel needed replacing.
The first loss of the season was especially hard: a 38-23 loss at home to Coastal Carolina — their second straight loss to the Chanticleers.
“Kansas was already having to replace half of its defensive starters from a year ago, they were having to replace a senior quarterback, so to miss out on that and to have kind of a herky-jerky preseason stopping, starting, starting again — it led, obviously to a slow start out of the gates,” said Brian Hanni, the team’s play-by-play announcer.
There were some positive signs for the Jayhawks, however, mostly in the form of quarterback Jalon Daniels. For the first time in years, Kansas fans felt that they had a solid starter in Daniels, but they were forced to make other arrangements after he left their third game against Oklahoma State with an injury.
“It’s just kind of been a microcosm of the entire first month of the year,” Hanni said. “Glimmers of hope, flashes of potential, but overall, we’re still a ways away unfortunately and that’s to be expected when you’ve got this many young players breaking in, this much turnover and not a lot of preseason opportunities to get those guys reps.”
Of course, adding to the turmoil in Lawrence was the recent COVID-19 diagnosis for Coach Miles, who has been away from his team since last week — but Athletic Director Jeff Long said on the coach’s weekly radio show that Miles may still make an appearance in Morgantown on Saturday.
Here are some of the other major storylines for the Jayhawks so far this season:
Turnover and Turnovers
These two concepts are similar in name only, but equally important in deciphering KU’s struggles so far this season.
Kansas returned just 12 starters this season, including seven on offense and five on defense. As Hanni stated, the Jayhawks really lacked cohesiveness in the opening weeks of the season, likely due to a lack of reps. That doesn’t mean they lack experience, however. Kansas starts just two freshmen on defense, with much of the rest of their starters slotting in as seniors and juniors.
Their high turnover really shows on the offensive side of the ball, however. Daniels was a new starter before his injury, while he was being protected by two new offensive tackles. Now, it appears Miles Kendrick will get the nod for Kansas in his first career start.
Now on to the other turnovers. The Jayhawks are currently at the bottom of the conference in this critical stats column, having given up four turnovers without forcing any for themselves. Three of those have come as interceptions by Daniels, while the fourth was a lost fumble from wide receiver Takulve Williams.
Scouting Miles Kendrick
Kendrick will provide a change of pace from Daniels as more of a dynamic running quarterback. In just two games, however, Kendrick surpassed the typical starter in passing, totaling 246 yards and two touchdowns with a 60.5-percent completion rate.
“He’s got the ability to do both, and that’s the reason why that type of guy is a want or a necessity for about every offense in the country right now,” said WVU head defensive assistant Jahmile Addae. “That adds an element that defenses hate preparing for, and quite honestly, it’s tough to defend.”
Even with the limited sample size, however, there are still some things that the Jayhawks and their fans want to see out of Kendrick.
“You’d like to see him connect on a couple of passes down the field, not just to the sides, but downfield over the middle, to build some rhythm and some confidence for him at the quarterback spot,” Hanni said. “And then, find a way to get [running back] Pooka Williams the ball in space.”
Pooka Williams is still *the* Jayhawk threat
Now a junior, Williams is now in his third year as the scariest man on the Kansas roster with the ball in his hands.
“He’s the most dynamic, game-breaking talent we’ve had maybe in two decades,” Hanni said.
Williams has been the Big 12’s second-leading rusher in both his seasons at Kansas, garnering a total of 2,342 yards and 12 touchdowns so far in his college career. A speedy back, he also provides a threat in the pass game as well and has 4 receiving touchdowns in his career.
His early success has even drawn some comparisons with the greatest Jayhawks ever, and one of the top ballcarriers in the history of the sport.
“A lot of people in the last couple of weeks have been comparing him to Gale Sayers, because obviously the late, great Gale Sayers just passed away,” Hanni said. “Pooka is the only other guy in the history of Kansas football…with 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. The only guy to do it other than him is Gale, so he’s special.”