While Kansas football and new head coach Lance Leipold got their season started off on the right foot last Friday with a win against South Dakota, the feet of Kansas running backs left a lot to be desired.
Against the Coyotes – who gave up over 200 yards rushing per game in their COVID-shortened season this past spring – the Jayhawks mustered just 82 yards rushing on 41 attempts, with 54 of those yards coming from quarterback Jason Bean.
That measly average of 2 yards per carry is not going to get it done against the Jayhawks’ next foe, the No. 17-ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Last season, the Chanticleers defense ranked No. 47 in the country in yards allowed per game (147.7). And with 19 starters back on their roster, it’s likely their defense will only improve this year.
Still, Kansas should see improvement from week one to week two for a few reasons.
The first game is never pretty for a lot of teams when it comes to executing on offense. It was the first live-action against an opponent in months, and for KU, it was the first game testing out their new offense under a new offensive coordinator, a new head coach, and a new quarterback under center.
Another week of practice after evaluating the game tape should allow the Kansas coaches to make the necessary adjustments to improve what needs improving before Friday – the offensive line being one of those things.
The offensive line was not impressive against South Dakota, but it’s important to note that it was the first game these five linemen all played together. Just like any position group, it will take time for them to gel and work out the kinks, and I think they will look like a more cohesive unit against Coastal Carolina.
If the offensive line can improve, that will mean more running lanes for this Kansas backfield – a backfield which should see a more equal split of carries between its two ball carriers (running back Amarui Pesek-Hickson doesn’t sound likely to play this week).
Running back Velton Gardner took most of the carries against South Dakota but it resulted in essentially zero production as he rushed for just 21 yards on 19 carries, good for an average of 1.1 yards per rush.
Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki said they wanted to see more of him but couldn’t because of the offense’s inability to maintain drives.
“Honestly, we probably didn’t get to see what we wanted with Devin Neal because we just didn’t get any sustained drives going, especially early in the game,” Kotelnicki said.
Expect Neal to receive a lot more handoffs this game as the Jayhawks try to establish the run and keep the dangerous Chanticleers offense off the field. Of all the running backs on KU’s roster, Neal appears to have the greatest upside, and that upside should shine more on Friday.
If all these things align, KU should see an improved rushing attack – which is something they’ll need if they hope to avoid the series sweep against Coastal Carolina on Friday night.