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Can KU's defense keep from becoming historically bad?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, at 5:06 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, at 7:09 a.m.

Hey, did you know Kansas' offense is ranked No. 25 in the country. Yes, the Jayhawks are averaging 459.8 yards. Let's hear it for the O. Thank you and good night.

What's that, you say? Defense? What about KU's defense?

We don't really need to get into that, do we? Is it really pertinent to this discussion? After all, I'm trying to emphasize KU's improved offense. I'm trying to take the high road here.

But if you insist....

It's ranked No. 120, ahead of... ahead of... nobody.

KU's defense is giving up 556 yards, nearly 34 more yards than 119th-place New Mexico. And I doubt they're turning cartwheels in Albuquerque over that ranking.

The Jayhawks are giving up 49.4 points, 6.4 more than New Mexico, where the battle cry this season has been "Thank goodness for Kansas."

KU is on pace to break the NCAA record for yards per game allowed in a season, set by Maryland in 1994, when the Terrapins allowed 553 yards per game. And KU is in the ballpark for the most average points allowed in a season. The standing record is 50.3, established by Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997.

Kansas ranks No. 113 in rush defense and No. 119 in pass defense. Say this about the Jayhawks, they're consistent.

And maddening.

Hasn't this defensive meltdown gone on long enough? Last week, No. 6 Oklahoma State sent in the second string before the end of the first half. Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas fans will be absent in droves as No. 3 Oklahoma takes over Memorial Stadium to watch a football game that likely will morph into a Sooner track meet.

It's one thing to lose. It's another to be embarrassed, and the Jayhawks are making a habit out of being embarrassed.

Yet KU coach Turner Gill refuses to acknowledge the red faces of the fan base. I don't know if Gill is oblivious or just patently optimistic, but there comes a point when a football coach, publicly, has to address his team's shortcomings in harsh tones.

No, Coach Gill, there was nothing positive about the Oklahoma State game. Nothing. And it doesn't matter how many times you tell us there were. We saw it. We know it was a disaster. We're smarter than you think.

I'm not in the camp that thinks a coach has to be maniacal to get players to take him seriously. I like what former Los Angeles Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, says in his new television ad for Audi. After Jackson comes upon a restaurant chef berating an employee, he says: "You know, I've found that anger is the enemy of instruction."

But is anger the enemy of reality?

I'd say some clenched teeth by Gill might go a ways in soothing the feelings of Kansas football fans, many of whom have gone into seclusion accompanied only by their dreams of basketball season.

This week, according to the KU depth chart, the same starters will be out there that were out there last week. And the week before. Gill hasn't benched any of his defensive starters for lack of performance. He hasn't sent the message to those guys that what they're doing is unacceptable. If I'm a young defensive player riding the pine, I'm wondering what it's going to take for me to get my shot.

It's a shame that Kansas is wasting an improved offense because of a defense that is historically bad. And being historically bad at KU, where bad has been a big part of football history, is saying something.

Only twice since 1946 have the Jayhawks allowed more than 40 points per game: 42.3 in 2001 and 45.6 in 1989.

Only once has KU allowed more than 500 yards per game. That was also in 1989, when the Jayhawks were torched for an average of 536.

Kansas is on pace to break all of those terrible records with Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Missouri remaining on its schedule. The Jayhawks might need more Oklahoma State-style mercy to keep from becoming the worst defense in the history of college football.

So why isn't Gill shaking things up? Why isn't Gill even shaking his head? Why does he publicly refuse to scorch his team?

Perhaps he's a different guy when the doors are closed. I suspect not. I believe Gill to be a good man with solid principles. They might not, however, be serving him well as a football coach whose No 1 job is to repair a defense with more leaks than the State Department.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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