2. Linebacker play
Many of the issues with KU’s run defense start with the flawed linebacker play. Although the position group appears stacked on paper — it boasts team captain Rich Miller, Ohio State transfer Craig Young, Taiwan Berryhill Jr., and JB Brown — the results are simply not transferring to the gridiron.
There were far too many occasions in the Oklahoma State loss when the linebackers failed to make a tackle they should have. Cornell Wheeler has been a pleasant surprise in the tackling department, but his emergence as an impact player moreso reflects on the weak performances of others.
Pass coverage has been an issue. Craig Young plays “Hawk” for Kansas football, which is essentially a “do-it-all” position between linebacker, safety, and slot cornerback. He is tasked with guarding running backs and tight ends. An example of a recent assignment of his is Cowboy running back Ollie Gordon, who not only ran for 168 yards against the Jayhawks but also caught six balls for 116 yards.
If the linebackers don’t start to execute their duties, the run defense will continue to be inadequate. Their struggles also affect the team’s edge rushers, because if opposing teams feel they can pound it up the middle every down, playmakers like Austin Booker won’t be able to do their jobs. They need to work hard during this bye week.