What lessons did the Kansas defense learn in win over Texas? Here's what they had to say.
LAWRENCE — There were two plays that occurred this past weekend during Kansas football’s win over Texas that junior linebacker Rich Miller recounted clearly Wednesday.
The first came in the first quarter, with the Jayhawks up 7-0, on the Longhorns’ opening drive. Miller had his eyes on Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy, before Miller noticed super-senior defensive end Kyron Johnson coming around the edge toward the quarterback. Once Miller saw the ball fall out of the quarterback’s hands on the sack, he took off to go get it and recovered the fumble.
The second came in the third quarter, with the Jayhawks still leading, on another Longhorns drive. Texas faked a run and had its quarterback leave the pocket to his left, creating multiple scenarios that could divert Kansas defenders’ attention away from their assignments. Casey Thompson then stopped, looked back to the right and delivered a pass to running back Bijan Robinson for a 25-yard touchdown that cut into what was a 42-21 lead for the Jayhawks prior to that play.
And while they’re both key plays in their own right, in a game Kansas ultimately won 57-56 in overtime, they also help illustrate how well things went for the Jayhawks’ defense at times and how poorly things went for it at other times. Kansas forced four meaningful turnovers against Texas, two interceptions and two fumbles, and still allowed 56 points and 574 yards of total offense. It creates a situation where the defense has to grapple with numerous, vast extremes of outcomes.
“Well, number one is we need to allow ourselves to feel good about winning and being really part of a win, despite the points and the yards and stuff,” Jayhawks defensive coordinator Brian Borland said Thursday. “We were a big part of that win, so we have to allow — we have to gain confidence from confidence-building situations and that’s certainly something. That’s, quite honestly, no Kansas team has been able to do for, I don’t know, maybe forever, I’m not sure. But the other part is we also need to be realistic enough to know that our offense is … not going to score 57 points every week. So, we’ve got to look at some of those things that went wrong.”
Borland thought his team’s run defense, which allowed 164 yards and a score on 32 carries, was largely pretty good. There were four touchdown passes that he alluded to, though, that went for at least 25 yards. There are clear areas of improvement that can be found.
Borland added there is still a long way to go as a defense, something head coach Lance Leipold alluded to Tuesday. Borland thinks they have to keep emphasizing discipline and focus, because history has shown this season how thin their margin for error is. Of course, there may have been things Borland could have called better, he admits, but he also thinks the calls they had could have worked and sometimes players just try to do too much.
Freshman safety O.J. Burroughs, who had an interception in the fourth quarter, expressed a similar sentiment Wednesday, saying when things went wrong they weren’t as disciplined and didn’t communicate as well. Burroughs thought the turnovers Kansas made, which included a fumble forced and recovered by Johnson and a pick-six by freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant, came due to communication and people making plays.
“That film day after the game was still, ‘OK this is what we need to do,’” said Miller, who saw his team score 21 points off turnovers against Texas. “… It was not one of those, ‘Oh, we did great with this. We did great with this’ … No, it was still, ‘OK we need to fix this. We need to fix this.’ You can’t settle for just winning two games.”
There are challenges that TCU will present, during their scheduled Saturday contest. One of them, Borland said, is the fact that due to injuries the Jayhawks aren’t quite certain which Horned Frogs athletes they’ll see. Another is that TCU likes to spread out while playing up-tempo.
The Horned Frogs are seventh in scoring in the Big 12 Conference, as well as fourth in total offense, fourth in rushing offense and fifth in passing offense. The Jayhawks are 10th in scoring defense in the conference, as well as 10th in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and eighth in passing defense.
“We’ll be ready for whoever’s out there and whatever they do, and I think we have a pretty good plan and hopefully we’re catching them at the right time as well,” said Borland, who thinks Kansas needs to be better at finishing games. “So, I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like our guys are confident. They talk confidently and I think they understand that no game is going to be easy by any stretch, but this is certainly a game that for a lot of reasons we feel like we can get in there and compete and have a great chance of winning again.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.