Continuing our weekly series checking in with the beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s upcoming opponent.
Matt Tait covers Kansas for the Lawrence Journal-World. You can read his work here or follow him on Twitter at @mctait.
1. The Jayhawks are in the middle of yet another winless season. Can you point to any areas where this program is making progress?
Despite the record, KU has made major strides on both defense and special teams. Trevor Pardula, a junior-college transfer punter, has made a serious impact and is among the best punters in the nation, and the defense, which has struggled to do much of anything during the past three seasons, already has delivered more sacks and interceptions this year than during the past few seasons. The defense’s numbers and rankings aren’t great, but that’s largely because the offense’s struggle to score points and sustain drives has kept the defense on the field way too long week in and week out.
2. Some thought quarterback Jake Heaps could be a possible contender for the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award. Why has he struggled so much this season?
Although Heaps certainly has had his own issues, with pocket presence and accuracy being the biggest, the offensive line’s poor play has been the main reason for his struggles. Heaps rarely has had the time he needs to sit back there and make throws, and, with no chemistry or continuity in front of him, I’m not sure he’s been able to trust that he’ll get the protection he needs, so even when it has been there, he’s still found a way to make mistakes. His past two games have been two of his best and KU coach Charlie Weis said this week that he thought Heaps’ time on the sideline, when true freshman Montell Cozart has been on the field, has given him a chance to see the game differently and led to better play.
3. Running back James Sims is one of the most underrated players in the conference. What allows him to still have success, depsite playing on a bad team?
In a word, heart. Sims is one of the most unselfish athletes I’ve ever covered. He truly does not care about individual success and only wants to do his part to contribute to the good of the team. It’s that attitude that leads him to get every inch he can, even when facing eight- and nine-man boxes and getting beat up at the line scrimmage. Weis has said multiple times that Sims has the chops to play in the NFL and his ability to run, catch, block and adjust to anything make that a likely prospect for the Irving, Texas, native’s future.
4. Who are some other Jayhawks that could make an impact on Saturday’s game?
KU’s secondary has been fantastic this season, so look for cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, along with safety Isaiah Johnson to continue their strong play. Linebacker Ben Heeney is as good a player as there is in the Big 12. And KU expects to get a whole pack of wide receivers back from injury this week, so don’t be surprised if Tony Pierson, Rodriguez Coleman or Andrew Turzilli make some plays to help spark KU’s struggling offense.
5. Is Charlie Weis in danger of losing his job after the season?
I can’t see it. Those in charge at KU understand that changing coaches every couple of years is no way to go about a rebuilding project. And Weis still has the support of the university, largely because of the signs of progress mentioned above. KU’s final four games of 2013 will be big for the program in terms of momentum heading into Weis’ third season in Lawrence, and there are still plenty of people here who believe KU can get another win or two before Year 2 is finished.