By Wendell Barnhouse
Will the third charm – the third quarterback, in this case – be the charm?
Charlie Weis goes into this third season as Kansas' coach committed to a third different quarterback to start the season. Sophomore Montell Cozart, who played seven games and started three last season, was named the starter after spring practice.
"It helped me a lot, going out there every day in the summer and getting extra work with the receivers," Cozart said. We're coming together as a group, we're developing chemistry and a stronger bond. "
Cozart admitted recently that he "questioned" the decision the coaches made. But new offensive coordinator John Reagan said there was no doubt that Cozart should be the starter after competing with Jake Heaps, last year's starter in the opener.
"Montell deserved it. So naming him was just telling the truth," Reagan said. "It was good for him in the sense that, 'OK, here's one thing I'm not thinking about. Now I can just focus on playing quarterback.' It's good for our team as well, that they know who our clear quarterback and who our leader is, and that's who we're going to be following and supporting."
Quarterback play has only been one reason for the Jayhawks winning just four games in Weis' first two seasons. The former Notre Dame coach has had to make over the program and rebuild the roster. The defense, with seven starters returning, is expected to be capable of slowing down Big 12 attacks.
An anemic offense, however, needs to make huge strides. The Jayhawks were 117th out of 123 FBS programs in passing yards per game last season, averaging just 140 yards passing per game. Three different QBs completed just 46.8 percent of their passes for nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Regan's offense is designed to spread the field and emphasizes the running game as much as the passing game. Weis believes that his group of skill players are capable of producing yards and points. Two transfer receivers - Nigel King from Maryland and Nick Harwell from Miami (Ohio) - are expected to make an immediate impact.
"He knows what he's doing," Harwell said of Cozart. "He's shown that he has the ability to throw the ball in the right spots. I feel like moving the ball through the air really isn't a barrier to our offense being successful,"
In his limited playing time, Cozart completed just 37 percent of his pass attempts. Weis attributed the inaccuracy to nerves and inexperience.
"Accuracy is never an issue when you watch him throw in practice," Weis said.
Plus, the sophomore's running ability is expected to bring an added dimension to Reagan's scheme that is predicated on making the defense cover lots of territory.
"I think what we're doing on offense (now) gives us a better chance to win," Weis said. "Montell will fit John's scheme much more than Montell would fit my scheme. In (Reagan's) scheme, he's another guy you have to defend."
Coach: Charlie Weis, second season at Kansas, seven seasons overall.
2013: 3-9 overall, 1-8 in Big 12.
Bowl: Did not participate.
Returning starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense.
Key players: Soph. QB Montell Cozart, Sr. TE Jimmay Mundine, senior WR Nick Harwell, senior RB/WR Tony Pierson, senior LB Ben Heeney, senior OL Ngalu Fusimalohi, senior OL Pat Lewandowski, senior S Cassius Sendish, senior DL Keon Stowers.
Three Points To Ponder
1. While sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart is a dual threat, he's also inexperienced. Kansas believes its skill players are the best the team has had in some time. The hope for improved offensive production likely rests with an offensive line that has improved depth but a number of question marks. Senior Ngalu Fusimalohi at left guard appears to be the only certain starter.
2. Kansas needs to replace its most consistent offensive player. Running back James Sims, despite a limited threat for the passing game, rushed for 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. This week the Jayhawks lost their top two returning backs as seniors Brandon Bourbon (ACL) and Taylor Cox (torn Achilles) have been lost for the season. Junior-college transfer De'Andre Mann and freshman Corey Avery are now KU's top running backs. Freshman Joe Dineen Jr. has been moved from safety to running back to add depth.
3. For a team where points have been precious, the performance of special teams becomes more critical. With 30 seniors on the roster, more depth and more talent, the coverage teams should improve. John Duvic, a freshman kicker from Chicago, has a good shot at winning the job in a competition with Matthew Wyman, a walk on who kicked the game-winning field goal against Louisiana Tech.
All-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney, who has played on Kansas teams that have compiled a 6-30 record, on his senior season:
"It's all or nothing right now. This is my last opportunity to leave an impact on this program and that's what I'm trying to do. I want to go to a bowl game more than anything else just to experience that because I know it's one of the best experiences you could have as a college football player. I think that's our goal. I don't want to be at home for Christmas."
Numbers To Note
As offensive coordinator at Rice, new KU play caller John Reagan was in charge of attacks that were productive. Last season, the Owls were 17th in rushing offense and averaged 30.5 points per game – about twice what Kansas averaged. In 2012, Rice averaged 32 points and 427 yards per game. … After going 1-11 in 2012 and 3-9 in 2013, the Jayhawks were picked to finish last again in the Big 12 in 2014. … Kansas broke its 27-game conference losing streak last year with a 31-19 victory at home against West Virginia. The Jayhawks haven't won an away Big 12 game since 2008. … Cozart's 37 percent completion rate could be explained by the fact that 29 of his 63 pass attempts last season came on second or third downs with seven more yards to go.
|Sept. 6||Southeast Missouri State|
|Sept. 13||at Duke|
|Sept. 20||Central Michigan|
|Oct. 4||at West Virginia*|
|Oct. 11||Oklahoma State*|
|Oct. 18||at Texas Tech*|
|Nov. 1||at Baylor*|
|Nov. 8||Iowa State*|
|Nov. 22||at Oklahoma*|
|Nov. 29||at Kansas State*|
*- Big 12 Conference.