McDougald a bright spot for Jayhawks

The rebooting process at Kansas has come with a few bumps and bruises already. It's included a couple blown fourth-quarter leads and a 1-3 start under Charlie Weis after winning just five games and one Big 12 game in two seasons under Turner Gill.

It's been far from all bad, though. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo has the Jayhawks -- the nation's worst defense a year ago in both yardage and points -- looking a whole lot better.

"There’s a lot more urgency on the field. There’s a lot more hunger, and of course we have a couple better players in different positions, but guys have just honed in on their responsibility," safety Bradley McDougald said. "Guys are still making mistakes and doing things wrong, but we’re playing at a much higher level than last year."

Kansas has ascended from 120th in scoring defense to 54th, but the biggest change has been a ballhawking defense tied for fifth nationally with 13 forced turnovers a year after forcing just 18 for the season.

McDougald has helped produce a handful of them, ranking second in the Big 12 with two interceptions and second with a pair of forced fumbles.

"Bradley is one of the few guys on defense that you can count on to make plays," Weis said. "He’s one of those athletic types that wants to come up to the line of scrimmage and make plays, but he’s also made some in the secondary and in pass coverage, as far as pass breakups and a couple interceptions, so he’s kind of been invaluable to our group."

The former wide receiver caught 33 passes for 318 yards as a true freshman in 2009 before moving to safety under Turner Gill and staying there once Weis arrived, retaining his starting spot.

"I wasn’t really sure what to think, because athletically, from the day I saw him, he looked special," Weis said. "But when I watched on tape, I didn’t see that same verified thing from what I saw in person."

So far this season, that's all changed.

"He’s certainly backed up what I’ve seen since I’ve been here," Weis said. "He looks like a heck of a player."

McDougald leads the team with 34 tackles (27 solo). He's got three tackles for loss and has broken up a pass, too.

"I feel like I’m playing well, but like Coach has said, on film, I think I’ve left a couple plays out there," McDougald said. "Each week I just want to focus in on a different area of my game and improve it slowly but surely and by the time we get to the last couple games, just play as flawless as I can."

Said Weis: "He’s playing with a lot more confidence and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger, both going after a ball and going up to the line of scrimmage to make a tackle. You have to be willing to pull the trigger, because if not, you’ll end up a little late to the rodeo."

This week, McDougald will take the Jayhawks on the road to face a Kansas State team that's hung 59 points on KU's defense in each of the past two seasons.

"It’s of course a rivalry game, and since we no longer have Missouri, this is the rivalry game," McDougald said. "Everybody comes to watch rivalry games, and they’re times to do something special."

He'll get his chance on Saturday.