NCF Nation: Brandon McAnderson


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Opposing teams have accounted for Kansas’ potent passing game early this season. Nickel and dime pass defenses have been the rule as teams have tried to snuff out Todd Reesing’s aerial attack on nearly every down.
Kenny Felt/Icon SMI
Jake Sharp has gained over 100 yards in both of Kansas' games this season.

It’s almost seemed like opposing teams have been willing to dare the Jayhawks to beat them with a ground game and an offensive line that were presumed to be question marks entering the season.

Consider the dare answered after the first two weeks of the season, thanks to the potent one-two rushing attack of senior Jake Sharp and bullish freshman Toben Opurum.

“Teams have realized that we have a great quarterback and receiver combination and have been willing to do what they can to try to stop our passing game,” Sharp said. “They’ve been willing to challenge us. And so far, we’ve been able to capitalize.”

The Jayhawks’ running game has been one of their biggest surprises as they have averaged a Big 12-leading 291.5 yards per game in their impressive 2-0 start.

Kansas started the season by gashing Northern Colorado for 334 yards. It was the Jayhawks’ top rushing performance since 2001. And they followed that with 255 yards against UTEP to spark a 34-7 victory.

“A lot of people have had questions about the offensive line coming in,” Opurum said. “They’ve had a lot of people moving around and some that maybe some people haven’t heard of. But they’ve done a good job of opening holes for me and Jake. They’ve played well, exceeded expectations and can only get better.”

Sharp has built on a fast 2008 finish to rush for 100 yards in both games, becoming only the second player in the Big 12 along with Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas to accomplish that feat this season.

And the muscular 235-pound Opurum has also had a blazing start, inviting comparisons to former Kansas tailback Brandon McAnderson because of his size and tough inside running ability.

Despite the offensive line's lack of experience together, Sharp has been impressed with their work.

“Everything came together with confidence and a better understanding,” Sharp said. “When I’m going to hit the hole, I have confidence it will be there. Our offensive line has done a great job so far.”

And Oburum has quickly shown that same kind of ability, averaging 70.5 rushing yards per game to rank ninth in the conference.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino credits some of Sharp and Opurum’s quick start to the growth of a precocious offensive line.

“Jake Sharp is quicker and faster than he was a year ago. And Toben is a young running back who is learning and has a lot of natural ability and a lot of tools,” Mangino said. “But the other key is our line. We have a bunch of young guys, but they are very talented.”

Mangino switched starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and inserted 285-pound redshirt freshman Tanner Hawkinson, a converted defensive end, into the starting lineup.

“The way I describe our offensive line is that you’d like to have experience, toughness and talent,” Mangino said. “We have the talent and toughness, but what we lack in experience we are making up because of the other two. It’s a combination of those things.”

But the real test for the Jayhawks will be when they start facing conventional defenses that aren’t skewed to the pass.

That trend, Sharp said, would be the biggest indicator that Kansas’ ground game finally has arrived.

“I would like to think they would have to do that before long,” Sharp said. “The spread offense we run is obviously very explosive and they have to account for that. But we take what people give us. We can throw the ball, no question. But we’ve shown we’ve got a balanced attack and can run the ball a little, too.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Marc Serota/Getty Images
 Kansas QB Todd Reesing is second in the nation in total offense.

During its last trip to Florida, Kansas grabbed a chunk of national credibility with an impressive victory in the Orange Bowl.

Less than nine months later, the Jayhawks are back in the Sunshine State looking for more.

The Jayhawks will be facing South Florida in an early battle of top 20 teams. It will be a litmus test for both programs, but especially for a Kansas team that has received unprecedented publicity earlier this season.

"I think this is a good measuring stick, to some degree," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "But I don't think it's a game where, if we win, we feel like we're going to win all the rest, and if we lose, we're going to have a bad season."

This year's game is a huge transformation from the first game of the series in 2006. Kansas eked out a narrow 13-7 victory that featured little pregame acclaim.

"I remember playing them two years ago and it meant nothing to the mass media," Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey said. "I was hearing from fans thinking that we should beat those guys because they hadn't heard much about them. They were a very good team then and they've grown a lot since then. Now, they are a phenomenal team."

After last season, the perception of both programs has been transformed. Both teams were briefly ranked No. 2 in the nation last season. The Jayhawks won their bowl game, beating Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl for the first program's first victory in a BCS bowl game. USF started 6-0 before losing three straight games that knocked them out of the Big East title hunt.

"It's matchup of a couple of similar programs," Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. "They popped up on the scene much like we did last year. They got high in the ratings and made a lot of headway with some guys that weren't highly recruited. It's something that's been the same for both of us."

Despite outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 69-10 in its first two games, the Jayhawks will enter Friday's game with several lingering questions. Kansas has struggled running the ball so far, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. It's down more than a yard per carry from last year's average.

Some of the problems have been caused by breaking in new starting tackles Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch into the lineup after losing All-American Anthony Collins and four-year starter Cesar Rodriguez from last season.

And the Jayhawks have been slow to fill the contribution of running back Brandon McAnderson, who rushed for 1,125 yards last season. The biggest disappointment has been the play of junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford, who brashly predicted before the season that he would like to run for 2,000 yards. After the first two games, Crawford is still 1,951 yards from his stated goal.

Third-stringer Angus Quigley has emerged as the most consistent Kansas running threat, piling up 131 yards. Crawford and Jake Sharp, the most experienced Kansas back, have both been inconsistent as the Jayhawks rank 10th in the Big 12 with an average of 127 rushing yards per game.

Despite the running game struggles, Mangino has been pleased in how Reesing has moved the Jayhawks through the air. He leads the nation in pass completions, is second in total offense, seventh passing yards and is eighth in passing efficiency after the first two games of the season.

"Sure, we haven't run the ball as effectively as I'd like for us to," Mangino said. "But on the other hand, we've been throwing the ball so well. We're facing a situation where it's 'Are we being patient enough for the running game?' And the second question is, 'Do we need to be patient enough for the run game?' As long as the run game can complement the passing game a little bit, we feel good about it."

Some are still questioning the Jayhawks and their national credentials. The South Florida game starts a punishing stretch of their schedule which will also include games with South Division powers Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Kansas played none of those teams during last season's 12-1 campaign.

"This game will be an opportunity for us to establish ourselves in the national mindset," Stuckey said. "This will define us as a team and show that we weren't a one-year wonder. It's an opportunity to show we really deserve to be considered as a strong contender."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are five things we learned about Big 12 teams on Saturday.

1. Texas A&M's 18-14 loss to Arkansas State was the worst possible start for new A&M coach Mike Sherman. The debacle was even more galling than merely the program's first home opening-game loss in 21 years -- particularly to a Sun Belt team that finished 5-7 last season and had never beaten a Big 12 team in 15 tries. The Aggies missed two field goals, allowed four sacks, committed four turnovers and the defense was gashed for 280 yards rushing. Even worse, A&M turtle-backed in the second half, squandering a 14-3 lead by failing to score on its final eight possessions.

2. Gary Pinkel is no doubt happy this morning that he played Illinois sooner than later. The thought of playing a tough team without injured WR/PR Jeremy Maclin might have been too much for the Missouri coach to think about. The Tigers have three cakewalks approaching before their Oct. 4 conference opener against Nebraska. Look for Pinkel to show extreme care in how Maclin returns. Their national title hopes could be riding on it.

3. Kansas might miss leading 2007 rusher Brandon McAnderson more than coach Mark Mangino ever thought. The heralded replacement tandem of Jocques Crawford and Jake Sharp managed a mere 61 yards on 20 carries -- an average of barely 3 yards a carry.

4. All the ballyhoo about new Texas Tech coordinator Ruffin McNeill's transformation of the Red Raiders defense over the offseason might have been a tad overstated. After falling into an early hole, the unheralded Football Championship Series-affiliated Eastern Washington Eagles played the Red Raiders closely over the final three quarters in Tech's unappealing 49-24 triumph. Tech allowed 355 passing yards. And the Red Raiders' school-record 18 penalties in the game is clearly a matter of concern as well.

5. Bo Pelini still has his work cut out in fixing Nebraska's defense. The Cornhuskers had their moments early, but late breakdowns allowed Western Michigan two plays of at least 50 yards and three 80-yard drives that will have Pelini hopping when he watches the game film of his team's 47-24 victory. But he will be happier about his defense's big-play production -- especially four sacks and two turnovers that were in such short supply last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

And people thought it was known just for its jazz history and barbecue.  

Kansas City is undoubtedly the northern hub of the Big 12. It was always the center for the old Big Eight Conference and some of the locals still haven't forgotten the interlopers from Texas who pushed the Big 12's offices to Dallas when the conference opened.

But "The City of Fountains" is bigger than just a few fax machines and file cabinets. And it will be proved again today when Iowa State and Kansas State announce they are coming soon.

Multiple newspapers reported this morning that the Cyclones and Wildcats will move 2009 and 2010 games to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Sources told the Topeka Capital-Journal the two teamswill receive payments of at least $1.8 million per game. KSU nets about $1 million from a normal game in Manhattan, according to the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle.

Kansas City is on a roll attracting Big 12 events. Arrowhead Stadium will be the site for the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 6. The breathtaking new Sprint Center was the host for the Big 12's men's basketball championships in March and will be solidly in the rotation for future tournament events. And the venerable Municipal Auditorium, with its stately art-deco ambience, is the best arena around for the women's title.

It's surprising that more regular-season Big 12 games don't end up in facilities like Arrowhead Stadium. The Missouri-Kansas game last season was one of the most ballyhooed sports events I've ever seen and the atmosphere lived up to the hype.

That game was bigger than any Texas-Oklahoma game I had ever attended because it had significant championship ramifications penned solely on that game. Now if we could get those Kansas City engineers to figure out how to get traffic moving a little faster, the next time might be easier.

The Kansas City Chiefs' organization appears more than willing to shell out big guarantees for games that it feels will be successful. I'm surprised that Nebraska hasn't convinced an opponent to move a home game to Arrowhead for those kind of windfall profits after a successful game there in 1998 against Oklahoma State.

So don't be surprised to see more Big 12 events end up at "The Paris of the Plains" in the future.  

Just save a few extra cinnamon rolls for me at the legendary Stroud's Restaurant when you get there.

Until then, here are some tasty Big 12 links. They are almost as habit-forming and not nearly as gooey on your fingers.

  • Club Med in cleats? Colorado prepared for its opener against Colorado State earlier this week by playing dodge ball, having a diving/belly flop contest, a 3-point basketball shooting competition and playing video games at a Boulder-area restaurant. "I just really believe there is so much magic in the world and so much magic in people, and sometimes we let life trample that down," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Boulder Daily Camera.
  • Missouri TE Chase Coffman was back catching passes for the first time Wednesday as he recovers from a broken right pinkie finger. Coffman scored touchdowns on consecutive red-zone plays.
  • After watching Usain Bolt perform in the Olympics, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach believes that Jamaica could be a recruiting and vacation paradise. (Tip to the Dallas Morning News)
  • Heralded Nebraska WR prospect Khiry Cooper talks about his early practices in a video interview with huskers.com.
  • The Oklahoman's Jake Trotter details how important Bob Stoops has been in turning the Oklahoma program solidly in the black financially. "We can tie everything back to Bob Stoops," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told the newspaper. "The success of our football program has been like the high tide in the harbor that has raised all of the boats." 
  • Billionaire financier T. Boone Pickens is pumping up support for Oklahoma State across Nebraska.
  • The Tulsa World's Guerin Emig writes about Oklahoma backup QB Joey Halzle, who earned his teammates' respect with a strong relief performance last season against Texas Tech.
  • The dog days of training camp brought a water balloon fight to Texas A&M on Wednesday. "Humor is one of the greatest components of having great chemistry when you can laugh at things together," A&M coach Mike Sherman told the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
  • Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger expanded on his comments about his team's opener with Texas with the San Antonio Express-News' Natalie England. "I was trying to explain to the kids on campus here that the University of Texas has a long tradition of winning," Schnellenberger said. "They have such great players. There's no way we're going to match up with as good as players as they have, but we're coming down there to try and win the game."
  • Massive 305-pound T Rylan Reed is back healthy for Texas Tech after suffering a serious ankle injury in last year's Gator Bowl.
  • Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are set as Texas' top receivers. But after that the Longhorns' receiving rotation is a jumble, Austin American-Statesman's Alan Trubow reports.
  • Colorado and Colorado State appear to have different ideas where they want future games in the series to be played, according to B.G. Brooks of the Rocky Mountain News. The Buffaloes want games played at Boulder to provide a six-game home package of games, starting next season. The Rams are interested in continuing the series in Denver.
  • WR Howard Morrow's return from an injury could settle one of Texas A&M's biggest questions, San Antonio Express-News reporter Brent Zwerneman writes.
  • Brent Nickerson and LaRon Moore are emerging as likely replacements for injured starting Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed, whose condition remains undetermined.
  • Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton told the Lincoln Journal-Star he's energized after spending last season as a volunteer assistant coach at Ames (Iowa) High School. "As hard as it was getting fired," said Cotton, who previously was an offensive coordinator three years at Iowa State, "it was also a blessing in disguise, because it kind of gave me a chance to re-energize myself and refocus on why I was a coach."
  • Nebraska QB Joe Ganz tells the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel that he grew up in suburban Chicago wanting to be Tommie Frazier.
  • NFL scouts are telling Kansas State coach Ron Prince that QB Josh Freeman could be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. "That's what NFL people tell me," Prince told the Manhattan Mercury.
  • Iowa State freshman DE Cleyon Laing, a Canadian native,  is adjusting to American football before the new culture. "I haven't really had time to get culture shock yet," Laing told the Ames Daily Tribune. "It's just practice, sleep, meetings, sleep, and repeat. It's football 24/7."
  • Baylor coach Art Briles is intent on boosting production from a running game that ranked 113th nationally last season and last in the nation in 2006.
  • Heralded freshman TB back Darrell Scott sprained his left thumb at Colorado's morning practice, but returned for the Buffaloes' afternoon work.
  • Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas still will have a productive running game this season, despite the loss of two starting offensive tackles and leading rusher Brandon McAnderson.
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel expects his younger players will receive most of the snaps Thursday at his team's final training-camp scrimmage.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I was struck looking at some pictures on the Oklahoman's web site of Bob Stoops and how he has changed as he begins his 10th season coaching the Sooners.

I recalled interviewing Stoops soon after he took over the Sooners' job. His reputation preceded him after a strong run as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida. But I will still struck at how young Stoops appeared to be back then -- barely older it seemed than some of his players.

His career has provided for much of the juice in the Big 12. He led the Sooners to a bowl game his first season and to the national championship the next -- the first time a Big 12 team ever claimed an undisputed football national championship.

Since Stoops started, 13 Big 12 coaches have come and gone and every job in the conference has turned over with the exception of Texas.

All of those coaches were fired except for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who helped give Stoops his start.

Today, three Big 12 coaches -- Kansas' Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach and Nebraska's Bo Pelini -- once worked for Stoops. And another, Baylor coach Art Briles, is a second-generation descendant of the Stoops' coaching tree after earlier working with Leach at Texas Tech.

The beginning of Stoops' 10th season has prompted a week-long series of stories this week in the Oklahoman. The first two days were compelling reads and I'm expecting the rest to be as similarly strong.

Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel started the series Sunday with a definitive analysis of Stoops' place in Oklahoma's storied football history.

Today's group of anecdotes about Stoops gave an interesting picture about him from those who know him best. My favorites included how Stoops demanded a practice field with no more chicken bones; his fastidious nature he inherited from his father: how he once stood up to Spurrier; and how he got his point across to the 2000 championship team to eat their breakfasts before practice. Good stuff.

Stoops' place in Big 12 history is secure. But looking at those pictures sure did make me think about how quickly time slips away.

Here are today's links. I can only hope they can have the staying power of Stoops.

  • Texas Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell hasn't set a timetable for settling on a starting tailback. Shannon Woods, Aaron Crawford and Baron Batch are hooked up in a tight battle for the job.
  • Bryan-College Station Eagle columnist Robert Cessna liked what he saw from Texas A&M's offense at their most recent scrimmage. TB Mike Goodson looked recovered from a tweaked groin muscle after scoring on an 80-yard screen pass from Stephen McGee.
  • Baylor struggled through a turnover-fest at its most recent scrimmage, upsetting new coach Art Briles. "It (the turnovers) just makes you sick to your stomach," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. said. "I'm not sure if we were as mentally prepared as we needed to be ... We've got to perform better, but I'd rather this happen now than on Aug. 28."
  • Colorado sophomore TB Demetrius Sumler has emerged as the Buffaloes' likely starter against Colorado State in their season opener with heralded freshman Darrell Scott set for goal-line and short yardage duty.
  • Scott and his uncle, Colorado WR/PR Josh Smith, still flashed some big-play potential at the Buffaloes' most recent scrimmage. Scott contributed kickoff returns of 50 and 47 yards, while his uncle, Josh Smith, returned a punt 44 yards for a score and added a 62- yard kickoff return.
  • Iowa State coach Gene Chizik has beefed up his secondary with the realization that every Big 12 North opponent will be playing a spread offense this season.
  • Sign of the times? Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas' football team will be better than its defending national championship men's basketball team.
  • Check out the Kansas City Star's video log of a recent Kansas practice to see how Coach Mark Mangino doesn't like to be crowded during a media scrum. Ah, coach, that's what happens when you start having a winning team.
  • Kansas State coach Ron Prince doesn't know what to think about his team's top 25 ranking in Playboy Magazine -- its only top 25 preseason ranking this season. "I'm not even going to try to say anything clever regarding that," Prince told the Topeka Capital-Journal. There are six Big 12 teams ranked in the magazine's preseason issue, or so I've been told. Oklahoma is No. 1, with Missouri fourth, Kansas 10th, Texas Tech 11th and Texas 13th among the top 25 heading into the 2008 campaign.
  • No catchy nicknames yet for the package where Texas QB Colt McCoy and QB John Chiles both are in the lineup for the Longhorns. Coaches, for now, are referring to it as the "Q Package."
  • So much for all of the talk about open football practices at USC. Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido recently got booted from a Trojan workout at the L.A. Coliseum.
  • Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne recently made a trip to the Omaha World-Herald offices to chat up members of the Fourth Estate. Osborne had an interesting comment to World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel. "There are some places where they have a Boone Pickens -- they are always going to be OK," Osborne said. "I think we'll be in good shape, as long as that football stadium stays filled. If that goes south, it could be a problem." Interesting comments from the leader of a school that had a near 100 percent renewal rate in season tickets.
  • Andrew Hartsock of the Lawrence Journal-World analyzes Kansas' options in replacing Brandon McAnderson at tailback. Heralded 2007 national junior-college rushing leader Jocques Crawford had an interesting take: "It puts a lot of pressure on me," Crawford said. "You look at the status of the numbers he put up, how he helped the team, I've got big shoes to fill. But everyone's replaceable."
  • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was perturbed with his team's performance after a sloppy, turnover-filled second scrimmage. I told our football team, 'We've got to get better.' It was sloppy in a lot of ways
    ," Pinkel told the Kansas City Star. And offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was even madder. "I can understand having some type of those errors with the twos, threes and fours, but it's intolerable with the No. 1 offense," Christensen told the Star.
  • Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News has an interesting retrospective of Mack Brown's first 10 years coaching at Texas.
  • The defensive effort by Missouri was a little brighter. The Tigers' first-team defense held its opponents out of the end zone for the second-straight scrimmage. And All-Big 12 LB Sean Weatherspoon provided a pair of interceptions, including one to punctuate the scrimmage.
  • The Kansas City Star serves up a passel of position ratings. Most interesting findings included Kansas State's Josh Freeman ahead of Texas' Colt McCoy at quarterback and Texas A&M's Stephen McGee ranked 10th, behind Colorado's Cody Hawkins and Nebraska's Joe Ganz.
  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News analyzes the preponderance of top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
  • Oklahoma RB Chris Brown says he's finally healthy after struggling with a right knee injury that requred microfracture surgery after the season.
  • The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue suggests that Coach Gene Chizik play both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates in the Cyclones' Aug. 28 opener against South Dakota State.
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went through a box of Sharpies as he pressed the flesh at the Cornhuskers' annual Fan Day. Attendance was 8,125.
  • Logan Dold and Keithen Valentine have emerged as Kansas State's top two running backs for the Wildcats Aug. 30 opener against North Texas.
  • Texas coach Mack Brown refuses to get in a war of words with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, who reportedly called the Longhorns soft last week. "I haven't called anybody out in 56 years,'' he said. "And I'm not about to start now." But give Schnellenberger credit for one thing. His team will be earning $900,000 for the Aug. 30 game -- highest guarantee ever paid to a visiting non-conference opponent in Austin.

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