When Kerry Was in Lawrenceland...Let My QB Go

(Puppe photo)

Dickens said, "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times." I'm betting Mark Mangino said something similar to his team Saturday night after their narrow win over a highly-competitive Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks team in KU's Memorial Stadium.  Mangino probably said it with a little more…color.

Long story short: KU had 13 possessions Saturday.  Their 21 points came on three very impressive 80-yard scoring drives of 11, 13 and 8 plays.  Each drive ate plenty of time, too.

Two scoring drives were highlighted by long completions by quarterback Kerry Meier (29 and 46 yards).  The other series included four Kerry Meier completions and was capped by a 10-yard scoring run by – you guessed it – Kerry Meier.

On all three scoring drives, KU clearly looked to put the ball down the field, and there was a palpable feeling that Kerry Meier and the KU offense were looking to bite off yards in big juicy chunks.  And good things happened.

The other 10 possessions?  Not so much.

In between what seemed like dozens of bubble screens, 4-yard sideline patterns and inside handoffs to RB Jon Cornish (who picked up 103 yards on 23 blue-collar carries), the KU offense sputtered.  Six times, KU went three and out.  One possession ended after just two plays on a Meier interception.  One eight-play drive managed to go 29 yards before Kansas turned the ball over on downs.

Did Meier’s success incline KU head coach Mark Mangino to go vertical more often? 

“We run a lot of routes,” Mangino explained.  “We want Kerry to learn all of them: out routes, underneath routes, deep routes, digs.  I don’t want him to be a one dimensional player.”

Okay, maybe not.

Mangino said that the overmatched Warhawks centered their defensive game plan on stopping Jon Cornish.  In large part, they had some success, putting six, seven and sometimes eight men within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

In a related note – and I’m not sure this was intentional – but this defensive approach also gained them some success in keeping KU’s short passing game in check.  After all, if you’ve got that many men so close to the line of scrimmage, chances are a three-yard slant pattern isn’t going too far.

WR Dexton Fields said, “We wanted to run more deep passing plays, but they came up with good defensive play calls to take us out of that.”

Kerry Meier said he enjoyed the opportunity to throw the ball down the field and seemed itchy to open the offense up a little.  “When the defense is out there, I can’t wait to get back on the field.  You can never have enough points,” he said.

Maybe it’s because it’s the nonconference.  Maybe Louisiana-Monroe was better than many KU fans (and, maybe, players thought).  Maybe offensive coordinator Nick Quartaro was chasing his Gatorade with NyQuil.  The bottom line is that KU’s conservative offensive game plan made things much more difficult Saturday night than they needed to be.

For the first time since Bill Whittemore left Memorial Stadium, KU has a mobile quarterback who can throw the football down the field with accuracy.  If you don’t believe me, watch the tape of his flawless 29-yard pass completion to Marcus Herford that got KU going in the first quarter.  Look at either of his two TD passes, for that matter.

But some time soon, the KU coaching staff is going to have to trust Kerry Meier and let him do what he was brought to Lawrence to do: make plays.

Yeah, yeah.  I know it was only his second game as a college quarterback.  But Meier doesn’t have to throw the ball 50 times to be effective.  K-10 doesn’t have to throw a post pattern every third pass.  No one is asking him to be the gridiron version of Danny Manning and put the Jayhawks on his back.

However, it’s tough for him to be as effective as he can be with both his arm and his feet when he’s throwing bubble screens and four-yard slant patterns.

The 15-yard crossing pattern has at least temporarily disappeared from the KU playbook.  But I think that’s precisely the play that will cure what ills the KU offense.

Remember that play?  The one that kept opposing defensive backs honest and opened up the field for Whittemore, the scrambler?  The pass that accelerated the emergence of young receivers like Brandon Rideau, Mark Simmons and Charles Gordon?  The one that opened up the running game?  The mere threat of the play made KU one of the quickest-scoring offenses in school history.

Combine Meier’s capabilities with the speediest and strongest receiving corps KU has had in years and you have to wonder why the leash on Meier is so short.  More downfield passes will also translate to less pounding and more yards for Jon Cornish.

We all understand the risks inherent in putting too much pressure on a young quarterback who seems to have all the tools.  See one Adam Barmann.

All evidence points to Kerry Meier being a very special player.  His teammates say so, his coaches say so.  To some extent in his young career, his numbers say so.

But against an always-tough Toledo team in a nationally-televised Friday night game, he’s going to have to do all he can to put himself and his teammates in a position to be successful.  The better the opponents get, the more that means spreading the field.

I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see Kerry Meier throw the ball all over the field Friday night.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to get a rerun of Saturday night’s game plan.

Something tells me that if Quartaro and Mangino give Meier just enough leash to choke himself with, he’ll use it to trip Toledo.

Free Kerry Meier!

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