LAWRENCE — The scariest part about Kansas football — a program that lost again Saturday in a slop-show performance at TCU — is that the Jayhawks’ defense is actually quite good.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Maybe not great, of course. And maybe the KU defense still will occasionally buckle under the stress of a top-flight Big 12 offense, as it did Oct. 5 in a 54-16 loss to Texas Tech. But here is a number that may surprise you in the aftermath of the program’s 34th Big 12 loss in 35 conference games:
After five games, the Kansas defense is allowing 5.13 yards per play.
Compared with the rest of the country, that’s a fairly respectable number — and better than LSU (5.16), Kansas State (5.47) and Missouri (5.46). The Jayhawks are still just 68th in the country in total defense, allowing 399.4 yards per game. But that’s mostly because of the huge volume of plays the defense is being asked to defend each week.
Which brings us to the Kansas offense.
After this latest loss, which featured seven first downs and just 198 yards of total offense, KU has now averaged 15.8 points in its last 11 conference games, dating back to last year.
What does 15.8 points per game equal in the Big 12? A recipe for disaster.
Coach Charlie Weis often uses the phrase “complementary football” — and he means playing a certain style on offense to help the defense, or the other way around. On Saturday, KU (2-3 and 0-2 in the Big 12) tried to be as conservative as possible on offense. It’s not the first time Weis, the Jayhawks’ offensive coordinator, has simplified things on offense to complement a solid defense. But the KU offensive unit still couldn’t sustain drives or hold possession against TCU.
“I’ve had plenty of offenses that were complementary offenses to good defenses,” Weis said. “I’ve had plenty of times to do that. You know you’re frustrated as an offensive coordinator and play-caller.”
The search for answers continues. The offensive line has been unable to protect quarterback Jake Heaps on a consistent basis, and the receiving corps has been a glaring weakness. After Saturday’s game, Weis was adamant that he’s looked into the far reaches of the playbook to find ways to get the offense going.
“I do that every single week,” Weis said emphatically. “That’s why every week you see a different approach. There’s always the same core plays that show up, but like (we ran I formation) and we’re running right at them. When’s the last time we’ve done that? Because if you’re gonna run right at them, that’s the best way of doing it.
“Every week, you have to say, ‘What gives you the best chance to win this game?’ And I don’t think like you do. I don’t think like the offensive coordinator, I think as the head coach.”
As Kansas prepares for a three-week stretch that includes home games against Oklahoma and Baylor and a road game at Texas, here are three more offensive numbers that stood out after another anemic performance.
10: The number of punts from Trevor Pardula.
Before Saturday’s game, Weis walked up to Pardula, a junior transfer, and told him he would be Kansas’ most valuable offensive player. The Jayhawks were about to unleash a conservative game-plan, hoping to shorten the game and grind out an upset. And Weis was hoping the strong-legged Pardula could flip field position.
Pardula did end up punting 10 times — averaging an impressive 46.2 yards per punt — but if you look closer, his punting wasn’t as effective as you might think by looking at his average.
He pinned just one punt inside the 20, while TCU punter Ethan Perry placed five punts inside the 20-yard line. His net average (38.7 yards) was also just a shade better than Perry’s (38.4).But this isn’t necessarily on Pardula; if anything, it’s another indictment on the offense. When TCU pinned Kansas deep, the Jayhawks couldn’t even gain one or two first downs to get the ball closer to midfield. Pardula was bombing away all day — but he was usually kicking from deep in KU’s side of the field.
Two of 16: KU’s conversion rate on third down.
That’s not good. But here’s a breakdown of KU’s third-down attempts against TCU:
Third and 2: James Sims runs for 6 yards
Third and 3: Darrian Miller runs for four yards
Third and 7: Heaps fumble
Third and 4: Incomplete pass
Third and 9: Incomplete pass
Third and 12: Heaps sacked
Third and 5: Heaps intercepted when ball goes through receiver’s hands.
Third and 12: Heaps sacked
Third and 5: Pass complete to Brandon Bourbon for 2 yards.
Third and 18: Pass complete to James Sims for 8 yards.
Third and 3: Heaps sacked for loss of 8
Third and 7: Incomplete pass
Third and 11: Incomplete pass
Third and 9: Incomplete pass
Third and 12: Pass complete to Brandon Bourbon for 11 yards.
Third and 6: Pass complete to Tre’ Parmalee for 5 yards
That’s 16 third-down plays … and an average down and distance of nearly third and 8. The best way to have a poor third-down completion percentage: Be bad on first and second down.
5.8. Jake Heaps’ yards per passing attempt after five games.
There probably is not a better number* to illustrate a passing game’s potency than yards per attempt, and at the moment, Heaps ranks 106th in the country in the category. The reasons for Heaps’ struggles are many; he was sacked four times on Saturday, and when he does have time throw, it’s rare that one of KU’s receivers is all that open. But whatever the factors, KU has been one of the worst in the country at throwing the football.
*Here’s the country’s top six passers by yards per attempt:
1. Bryce Petty, Baylor, 14.9
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State, 11.7
3. Zach Mettenberger, LSU, 10.9
4. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville, 10.6
5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, 10.4
6. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 10.3