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Kansas' Defensive Struggles are Epic


By Mitch Light

Toben Opurum spent his first season at Kansas on the offensive side of the ball, leading the Jayhawks in rushing as a true freshman in 2009. He scored a touchdown in each of his first six games. He knows what it’s like to score points.

The past two seasons, Opurum has learned what it’s like to give up points — a lot of points. In 2010, his first season on the defense, Kansas ranked 98th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of 34.4 points per game. This fall, the Jayhawks have taken several large steps back.

After five games, Kansas ranks 120th in the nation in total defense and scoring defense. The Jayhawks have given up at least 42 points in all four games against FBS opponents, including 66 vs. Georgia Tech and 70 vs. Oklahoma State. Last week, KU trailed O-State 56–7 at halftime.

“It is embarrassing, and is something I do not want to be a part of,” said Opurum, when asked what it’s like to see an opponent score 70 points. “We cannot do anything about it right now. We need to put it behind us and continue to work hard.”

Turner Gill is now 5–12 in his one-plus season as the boss in Lawrence, but only two of those wins (Georgia Tech and Colorado in 2010) have come against BCS conference opponents. Last season, Kansas was outgained by a staggering 219.4 yards in its eight Big 12 games. This year, the Jayhawks have allowed an average of 632.7 yards per game to three the BCS conference foes they have faced. To be fair, KU has played Georgia Tech, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — three of the top offensive teams in the country — but its defensive numbers are still alarmingly bad.

Here are a few more stats to chew on: The Kansas defense is allowing 7.8 yards per play, the worst in the nation by almost a full yard. The Jayhawks have given up 34 touchdowns, 15 more than any other team in the Big 12. They have yielded 21 plays of 30 yards or more, nine more than any other team in the Big 12.

“We just have to keep improving,” Gill said after the O-State game. “We have some work to do on that side of the ball, or all sides of the ball for that matter. We just have to keep working. We have to improve.”

The Jayhawks don’t have much time to figure things out. The mighty Oklahoma Sooners — featuring an offense that has scored 113 points the past two weeks — visit Lawrence this week, and KU still has dates with Kansas State (which beat the Jayhawks 59–7 last year), Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M and Missouri.

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“We have people getting mad and we have people that are sad,” cornerback Greg Brown said. “We need to keep our heads up because it is still early in the season and we can still turn it around.”


• Texas A&M lost seven straight games in Lubbock from 1995-2007, but has now won two in a row on the road vs. the hated Red Raiders. With the Aggies off to the SEC, it’s highly unlikely that these two teams will meet in the near (or distant) future.

• A big key to Kansas State’s 6–0 start has been on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 in total defense (298.8 ypg) and rank second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg). Last year, K-State ranked 11th in total defense (445.7 ypg) and eighth in scoring defense (29.1 ppg).

• The Big 12 is home to three of the top 10 scoring teams in the country — Oklahoma State (first, 51.4 ppg), Texas Tech (eighth, 45.8 ppg) and Oklahoma (tied for ninth, 45.0 ppg).

• Texas has given up 50 points or more three times in the Mack Brown era, all to Oklahoma — 63 points in 2000, 65 in ’03 and 55 in ’11.

• Iowa State’s three wins have come by an average of 2.7 points per game. Its two losses have come by an average of 23 points.

• The losing team has averaged 35.7 points in Texas A&M’s last three games.

• Missouri’s Henry Josey ranks 11th in the nation in rushing (117.6 ypg) despite not having more than 14 carries in any single game this season.

• Baylor has scored 35 points or more in five straight games (in the same season) for the first time in school history.