Lance Leipold wants Kansas to control the clock vs. Coastal Carolina. Here's how that can happen.

Jordan Guskey
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki works with players during a practice at the University of Kansas.

LAWRENCE — Kansas football coach Lance Leipold didn’t need much time Tuesday to think of things to highlight about his offensive coordinator, Andy Kotelnicki.

During Leipold’s latest appearance on "Hawk Talk with Lance Leipold," he described Kotelnicki as the most versatile member of his coaching staff, noting he has coached each position on offense. He commended Kotelnicki for being a part of what the two of them helped build at Buffalo, and recognized his willingness to adapt each year depending on where they want to focus their offensive efforts.

This year, at Kansas, it appears that area could be the backfield.

And considering how often Kansas tried — albeit unsuccessfully — to run the ball in its opener against South Dakota, it’s clear how much confidence there is in the running back room. Judging by the way Kotelnicki and Leipold talked about the running game this week, it doesn’t seem like Kansas will move away from it.

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But if the Jayhawks are going to control the ball and the clock Friday, on the road against No. 19 Coastal Carolina, as Leipold desires, that means they’ll need a better game from their offensive line. That means they’ll need running backs like junior Velton Gardner and freshman Devin Neal to step up, even in moments when the line struggles.

That would help keep the Chanticleers’ potent offense off the field as much as possible, and not put so much pressure on the Jayhawks’ defense to deliver. Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall was picked as the Sun Belt Conference’s preseason offensive player of the year and he isn't the team's only weapon.

"When things don’t go well and they don’t go the way you hope they do on game day, if it’s one person or one thing schematically, it’s pretty easy to make a change," Leipold said on the show Tuesday, discussing his team’s running game. " ... The unique thing about football is that ... you need 11 guys doing the right thing all the time, and on different things (last Friday) there were just different reasons that different plays weren’t working."

Kansas freshman running back Devin Neal works on running plays during a practice.

Against the FCS-level Coyotes last week, the Jayhawks averaged just 2 yards a carry on 41 attempts. That yards-per-carry average drops much lower if redshirt junior quarterback Jason Bean’s 15 carries for 54 yards are taken out of the equation. Gardner had only 21 yards on 19 carries, and the inability to develop much rhythm offensively played a part in why Neal was limited to just one carry for 1 yard in his college debut.

Leipold said this week there were times when the onus of what went wrong rested with the running backs against South Dakota. He said sometimes they needed to just push forward instead of stringing the play out.

Both Leipold and Kotelnicki touched on teachable moments with the offensive linemen, with Kotelnicki highlighting Wednesday how a player might not have progressed fast enough on a play. Kotelnicki said on "Hawk Talk with Lance Leipold" they’ve tried to correct different things and hope guys understand the "why" of what they’re being shown so there’s an "aha moment."

That process is a "work in progress," as Leipold described it Monday.

"It’s not that it’s not correctible, and there’s things that we definitely have to get better at," Leipold said Tuesday. "And I’m confident we will."

Of course, the offensive line's health is a significant factor here. Both redshirt junior Colin Grunhard and super-senior Malik Clark, starters for the opener, have been among those hampered. And for a line that’s trying to learn a new system with limited practice time, that doesn’t help when it comes to communication and chemistry.

Redshirt freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson could come back from injury, although Leipold described his status Tuesday for Friday’s game as questionable at best. Redshirt sophomore Torry Locklin, who’s listed at wide receiver but was a factor in the running game against South Dakota, could continue to be a "jack of all trades" for the Jayhawks. Without an effective offensive line, however, Kansas may not be able to use them, Gardner or Neal in the way they’d like.

But while who’s available and to what degree likely won’t be clear publicly until around kickoff, Kotelnicki did seem to have confidence in the line's trajectory. The current situation reminds him of when he was coaching with Leipold at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

"We had a different group of offensive linemen coming in, kind of learning a new system," said Kotelnicki, who also thinks Kansas’ depth at running back will become more clear as drives are sustained. "You don’t really have a spring football to do it, so you’ve got to come into fall camp. We talk about just from a program-wide (perspective), not necessarily just offensive line but certainly them, their growth from Week 1 to Week 2. And I expect it to be really, really high and sharp." 

Just how sharp the Jayhawks are against the Chanticleers, and how well Kotelnicki and the rest set their players up for success, will be determined Friday.

"One of my favorite quotes in all of football … there’s a Bill Walsh quote, and he said it in his book … 'You can never simply reduce the game to the point where you just blame players for not physically overwhelming the opponent.' Right?" Kotelnicki said. "So, it’s our job as coaches to make sure we’re doing a good job of putting our kids … in a position where they can execute."

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.