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Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas can maintain momentum against Ohio with passing game

Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire
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While some Big 12 teams are debating where they should stand in the latest polls, Kansas is focused getting its first back-to-back wins since 2011. With Ohio next on the schedule, that is a distinct possibility after the Jayhawks routed Rhode Island. But in order to ensure that 2-0 start, coach David Beaty will have to keep fine tuning his Air Raid offense to keep the momentum going.

That momentum is precisely 399 yards passing and six touchdowns on the wings of not one quarterback, but three. All told, Montell Cozart, Ryan Willis, and Carter Stanley had QBR’s over 90 against Rhode Island, completing 70 percent of passes. Against an FCS school? Yes. But it’s by far the best performance in recent Rock Chalk memory, even against similarly downtrodden programs.

Six players set personal bests for Kansas, including receiver LaQuivionte Gonzalez. The Texas A&M transfer sounded off for 78 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, working great as a possession receiver. He was only bested by sophomore receiver Steven Sims Jr.’s 124 yards and two touchdowns thanks to a 71-yard score.

But Beaty is positive that things could go even better with Jeremiah Booker entering the equation. The would-be starter missed the opener with an ankle injury.

“Jeremiah, man. I’ll tell you what. You’re talkin’ about a hard-workin’ dude,” Beaty said Monday morning on the Big 12 coaches media teleconference. “I know that he was crushed not getting on the field. But, you know, he had kind of a high ankle sprain that he was dealing with and he wasn’t completely ready yet, and hopefully he’ll be back ready to go full tilt this week.”

Last season, the 6-foot-2 Booker played in eight games, catching 23 passes for 228 yards. Only Sims (349 yards) and Tyler Patrick (255 yards) had higher returning marks.

“He’s a big part of what we want to do offensively,” Beaty said. “We didn’t want to take any chances on that thing getting any worse — and we were in a position where we could do that [against Rhode Island].”

Adding another layer of intrigue to Booker’s debut is how one more body will affect the use of tight ends. Junior tight end Ben Johnson was named to the John Mackey Award watch list and got off to a proper start, scoring the first points of Kansas’ season on a two-yard reception. But he and the rest of the talent mentioned have a shot of turning these performances into habit against the Bobcats, as Beaty noted Ohio’s lack of experience in the secondary.

Last week, against Texas State (a rather weak passing team) lit up the scoreboard in a 110-point shootout against Ohio. The Texas State was good for 418 yards and five touchdowns through the air, giving hope that Kansas could perform similarly if not better.

Those chances to make a statement will also dramatically increase should left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith be on the field. He missed last week recovering from a concussion. Beaty said he is being cautious with Shelley-Smith to “make sure that his health is great before we put him back in for full activities.”

Skeptics will still exist should Beaty and crew rout another outmatched opponent. But for a program as downtrodden as Kansas, these first two weeks are vital to keep building upon.

Kansas can maintain momentum against Ohio with passing game

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