Big 12 internal affairs: Kansas, OU look to fix leaky special teams
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look at some tidbits from around the league that are transpiring as teams get ready for games this week.
1. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have added more playmakers to their special teams after recent struggles for both teams covering and returning kickoffs. Bob Stoops plans to add four new members to his kick coverage team that has been blistered for two TD returns, including a pivotal 96-yard return by Texas' Jordan Shipley last week that turned the game around. And Kansas coach Mark Mangino has talked about placing starters like James Holt and Joe Mortensen on his special teams as the Jayhawks rank last in the nation in kick returns. The Jayhawks are averaging 12.4 yards per kickoff -- almost three yards per return less than the next-lowest team, Kent State at 118th.
2. Iowa State has inserted freshman Jerome Tiller as its backup quarterback after Phillip Bates left school. Coach Gene Chizik hopes that he can still make it through the season using only Austen Arnaud as the quarterback and keeping the redshirts intact for Tiller and fellow freshman Bret Bueker. Early word is that Bates likely won't resurface at another Big 12 school because it would cost him an additional season in the transfer. A more likely location would be a FCS school where he could play immediately or an FBS school like Ohio University, where his family already has a strong association with coach Frank Solich. Bates' father, Phillip Bates Sr., was a running back at Nebraska who played there when Solich was his position coach under Tom Osborne.
3. Texas ditched using a tight end in favor of a four-wide receiver look as its base offensive formation against Oklahoma. And the unit's success -- 438 total yards and 20 combined catches from Quan Cosby and Shipley -- make it likely to be used more during the rest of the season. Starting tight end Blaine Irby's season-ending injury robbed the Longhorns of their top receiving threat at the position. The four-receiver sets have made the Longhorns lethal in terms of big-play capabilities, but a little weaker trying to consistently run the ball.
4. Considering the recent injury to Lamark Brown, it wasn't surprising that quarterback Josh Freeman emerged as a key rushing threat in the Wildcats' victory last week over Texas A&M. Freeman produced career-high totals of 18 carries, 95 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. In the philosophy of Kansas State quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero and offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the quarterback is used as more of a rushing weapon. Freeman has gained positive rushing yards in each of his six starts this season. Before this season, Freeman had netted positive yards in only eight of his 20 previous career starts.
5. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is doing what he can to instill discipline on his team, even if it affects its performance in the short term. Key players Michael Bennett andMike Goodson weren't in the starting lineup last week against Kansas State after discipline issues, paving the way for the Wildcats to jump to an early 27-3 lead over Sherman's beleaguered team. Sherman is hoping that his struggles bottom out as he tries to make the Aggies know they've got a firm leader running the program.