LAWRENCE (AP) — With a full year to get to know his program, Kansas coach Turner Gill came away from Saturday’s spring game feeling much better than he did a year ago.
“It’s hard to put a percentage or grade or whatever, but there’s no doubt we are a better football team than we were last year,” said Gill, who had only a few months with the Jayhawks before spring practice in 2010.
The Blue team, consisting of mostly starters, defeated the White team, made up mostly of backups, 17-6 in front of about 6,000 fans in the shortened scrimmage.
In the quarterback battle between Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham, there was little separation. Webb, a sophomore-to-be, who started seven games last season, connected on 8 of 14 for 108 yards, one score and one interception. Mecham, who will be a senior but started four games in 2010, was 6 for 11 for 102 yards and one touchdown.
Eleven players recorded receptions, with former quarterback Kale Pick pulling in a team-best four for 38 yards.
The edge for right now, said Gill, would go to Webb. He does not expect to make a final decision until next fall.
Most players agreed their confidence level has soared after getting a better feel for one another as well as their new coaching staff.
“It’s a complete 180,” Webb said. “Everybody’s more comfortable. We know what the coaches want out of us and we’re trying to execute that.”
Mecham had the game’s longest pass, hitting Christian Mathews on a 53-yard touchdown play that bounced out of the hands of cornerback Anthony Davis and into Mathews’. Mathews led the game in yards receiving, but former quarterback Kale Pick had the most receptions with four for 38 yards. D.J. Beshears had two catches for 39 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown reception on the game’s first drive.
The Jayhawks were without last year’s leading receiver Daymond Patterson, who recently returned to practice from a foot injury.
Webb also led the team in rushing with three attempts for 23 yards, but newcomer Darrian Miller led all running backs with four rushes for 23 yards. Gill said he felt Miller and James Sims, the team’s leading rusher last season, would be the primary running backs in the fall.
Toben Opurum, who came into last year’s spring game as the leading rusher from the previous season, was instead a standout on the defensive side this year. Opurum had two tackles, including a 4-yard sack in Saturday’s game. A former running back, Opurum was converted to defensive end midway through last season.
“I think Toben’s definitely a guy that’s going to be reckoned with in the Big 12,” Gill said. “I think he’s going to be a guy that people are going to be talking about as time goes along with the rest of the season and his career.”
Opurum is expected to be the strongest pass rusher on a defense that has lost most of its core players. Kansas only had 14 sacks last season, and 4½ of those came from Jake Laptad, who graduated. Opurum finished last year with just 21 tackles in 10 games, but expectations are much higher for him this year.
“He’s definitely come a long way,” Webb said. “He’s going to be one of our best players and he’s one of those guys with unlimited potential.”
Opurum could also be joined on the defensive line in the fall by D.J. Marshall, who played in his first game since being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during the 2009 season and spent 2010 in treatment. Marshall, playing mostly on the second team, had three tackles, including two sacks for a total of 15 yards.
“If I get to where I want to be, with my weight and everything like that, the fall’s going to be a real good experience,” he said. “And I think that our team is going to shock a lot of people.”