Kevin Haskin: Dorance Armstrong itching to record sack for struggling KU defense

Junior drawing additional attention coming off big sophomore season, preseason acclaim

Kansas’ Dorance Armstrong gets hand on Southeast Missouri quarterback Jesse Hosket during the first half of the Jayhawks’ home opener against Southeast Missouri at Memorial Stadium. Armstrong, the Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year, has yet to record a sack this season. (Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal)

LAWRENCE — Often in the Big 12, the pocket is too secure, the routes are too precise, the quarterbacks are too crafty to give opposing defenders opportunities for sacks.

 

This is not lost on Dorance Armstrong.

“Sometimes you don’t even get to work a move,’’ said the Kansas defensive end, “so sometimes it’s really frustrating.’’

Applying pressure and disrupting a pass connection has its place defending up-tempo aerial assaults.

Yet it can be difficult for a rush end to gain satisfaction merely from pressuring a quarterback. Sacks are desired, but Armstrong has been blanked during the Jayhawks’ 1-3 start after recording 10 a year ago, the most by a KU defender since 2008.

“When you get the opportunity to get there, you’ve got to cash those sacks,’’ Armstrong said. “Lately, as a unit, we haven’t been doing that. We’ve been letting them get away with third-down completions or fourth-down completions, and that’s not us. We’ve got to get back to making those plays.’’

Indeed, pressure generated by the defensive line was expected to be a strength for the Jayhawks, who sit 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big 12 entering an 11 a.m. homecoming clash Saturday against Texas Tech (3-1, 0-1).

Instead, the Jayhawks have just three sacks collectively. They also have just two interceptions and rank 123rd nationally, among 129 Bowl Subdivision members, in defensive efficiency.

The KU pass rush, said coach David Beaty, “was something that we felt like was going to be a big advantage for us. It’s been disappointing for our players, for our coaches, our guys that are playing that position because they expect more out of themselves.’’

The first finger to point is at Armstrong, who also happens to be the first KU defender opponents look to contain. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound junior does not use a preseason hamstring injury as an excuse, and said the inability to record is sack is humbling, while also fueling his determination.

Armstrong speaks of the frustrations from double-teams — applied because of the success Armstrong had a year ago, which led to his selection as the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year — but realizes the attention he draws will not diminish.

So, Armstrong must adjust.

“I think I’m seeing too much,’’ he said. “I see a lineman coming my way, a back coming my way. I have to find other ways to get around him, rather than just beating the man in front of me.’’

Armstrong has not been neutralized entirely. Remember, disrupting an opposing quarterback can yield a positive result too, and Armstrong has five QB hurries.

Still, defending a ton of passes without dragging down a passer can be maddening.

“I’ve got to cash those in,’’ Armstrong said.

To do so, Armstrong feels he cannot divert his own attention and stare down the QB.

“I kind of have my eyes in the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ Armstrong said. “That’s where I’m getting caught at, looking at other people when there’s somebody there trying to block me.’’

Ending the sack drought could be essential to slowing Texas Tech and its quarterback, Nic Shimonek.

The Iowa transfer had to give up his side hustle restoring furniture after taking over this season as the Red Raiders’ starter, succeeding Patrick Mahomes.

A year ago, Shimonek subbed for Mahomes against KU and engineered Tech to 27 points in fewer than 20 minutes as the Raiders rolled 55-19. Shimonek, a senior, ranks second nationally with a 394.5-yard passing average.

“Everybody we play is throwing the ball pretty quick,’’ Beaty said when asked about the release Shimonek possesses while protected by five linemen who stand 6-foot-5 or taller and four who weigh 320 pounds each.

“I know our defensive line in particular has taken it on their shoulders to get better. … We’ve got to be able to push the pocket, contain the pocket and get to him and get him down a few times.’’

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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