Quigley Gives KU Their Best Chance

KU's Angus Quigley (Steve Puppe photo)

Kansas RB Angus Quigley got the first start of his college football career Saturday, and it looked like he was going to come up big, responding with 46 yards on eight first-quarter carries.

From there, he carried the ball just three more times in the first half. He didn’t touch the ball again until the fourth quarter and finished the game with 62 yards on 16 carries.

“Angus ran hard in the beginning,” KU coach Mark Mangino said after the game. “He still runs high; he takes a lot of hits. He has a hard time in short-yardage situations because his pads aren't down. But he goes hard, and that's good.”

Jocques Crawford got the carries in the third quarter – nine of ‘em – for 36 yards. He finished with 12 carries and 47 yards. Jake Sharp traded places with Quigley, running for 24 yards on five carries in mop-up time.

I’ve tried to be patient, but we’re four games in now. There are real problems with the Jayhawk run game.

Last season, KU averaged 4.8 yards a carry on the way to 188 yards per game. Rushers scored 30 of the Jayhawks' 66 offensive touchdowns. Kansas running backs topped the 100-yard mark eight times.

Four games into the 2008 season, Kansas is rushing for 3.4 yards a carry and 119 yards a game. Only five of 16 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground. KU’s longest run from scrimmage so far isn’t that long: 20 yards. The biggest single-game output by a Jayhawk running back heading into the bye week is Quigley’s solid 84-yard effort in the second half against Louisiana Tech. That’s also the closest anyone’s come to the 100-yard mark all season.

Quigley's performance so far this season – or that of any KU's running back, for that matter – won't make anyone in the college football world sit up and take notice. At this point in the season, though, a decision has to be made. Which running back gives KU the best chance at a balanced attack and the best chance to win? Two years ago, it was Jon Cornish. Last year, it was Brandon McAnderson. Mangino has to put his eggs in someone’s basket.

I nominate Angus Quigley.

Let's be clear about this: Quigley is not the best running back on the Kansas team. He's not nearly as fast, quick or athletic as Jake Sharp or Jocques Crawford. Yeah, he does run straight up and down, which makes him a bigger, more vulnerable target for opposing linebackers and defensive backs. He does have two qualities, however, that make him uniquely suited to being the number one running back.

First, he's a patient runner. He's comfortable running behind his offensive line, waiting for blocks to get set. Then he has the vision to see a gap or crease and accelerate through it. That kind of patience and vision can make a big difference when a back is running behind a line that struggles to open up holes.

Second, Quigley's a big, powerful guy, to use Mangino’s words. At 6-2, 222, he can move a pile when a hole doesn't open up.

With all due respect to Sharp and Crawford, neither of those are exactly qualities they're known for.

It’s also important to mention Quigley’s blocking. Quigley’s a good blocker who’s big and strong enough to take on a blitzing linebacker. He’s fearless enough to chip an oncoming lineman just enough to give QB Todd Reesing somewhere to go.

When it comes to blocking, Jake Sharp has improved greatly in his first two years at KU, but his size (5-10, 190) can still be a liability. As for Jocques Crawford’s blocking, well, there’s no reason in the world someone as quick as he is should whiff as often as he does.

Of course, the real concern here is the Kansas offensive line, which is somewhat surprising. Many people thought that two very talented redshirt freshmen could blend with three seasoned veterans and the mix would be pretty productive. Sure, the newbies – Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes – would experience some growing pains, but that comes with the territory.

The issue is that Adrian Mayes, Chet Hartley and Ryan Cantrell are all seniors and proven Big 12 offensive linemen. So far in 2008, though, they haven’t been able to consistently move people around and create holes. Maybe they’re trying to do too much with the losses of 2007 senior Cesar Rodriguez and new Cincinnati Bengal Anthony Collins. Maybe they’re trying to help out the two young guys rather than focusing on their own man and they’re getting beat. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, this offensive line isn’t very good right now. They may get a little better as a result of building chemistry, but with October right around the corner, it's reasonable to think that what we see is what we get.

The 2008 season is one-third over. Occasionally you hear about a team that was subpar defensively in the nonconference season only to get better every week and end up being pretty tough by the end of the season, but when was the last time a weak running team or bad passing team in week four was significantly improved by season's end?

And that brings me back to Angus Quigley. His patience, size and ability to block make him best-suited to run behind this particular offensive line and give KU a balanced attack. If the Jayhawks don't find someone soon who can run with some consistent success, every defensive end in the Big 12 will know they can just pin their ears back and head upfield. If that happens, Reesing may get killed.

And if there's one thing this Kansas football team doesn’t need, it's another question mark – especially at quarterback.

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