When David Beaty announced he was becoming Kansas’ offensive play caller and quarterbacks coach in March, he did it partly because he enjoyed those roles.
More importantly, though, he did it for another reason.
“I think it can help us,” Beaty said at the time. “I really do.”
Whether that’s happened is up for debate at the halfway point of KU’s 2016 season.
Never miss a local story.
According to the advanced statistics from Bill Connelly at SB Nation, the Jayhawks haven’t made much progress offensively in Year 2 under Beaty. After ranking 116th in the all-encompassing and schedule-adjusted stat Offensive S&P+ last season, the Jayhawks have moved to 109th this season. That ranks as the worst mark in the Big 12 and also fourth lowest of any Power Five school.
“Assessing it right now, probably the biggest thing for me is the self-inflicted wounds that we’ve had throughout the season,” Beaty said. “You can’t take those away so you don’t get to say, ‘Hey, if we didn’t do that (or) didn’t do that,’ … you don’t get to do that because those things are a reality and they’ve happened.”
Most specifically, Beaty is talking about turnovers. KU has lost 22 this season, a number that leads the nation and is more startling when put in perspective. Connelly’s studies have shown the average turnover to be worth about five points in field position, meaning the Jayhawks offense has cost itself about 18 points per game with poor ball security alone.
“You’re not going to win many games when you turn the ball over eight times in two weeks or four times in a week. You’re not going to win many games when you do that,” Beaty said. “You’ve got to be able to take care of the football, and from that standpoint, we have to make sure that we find people that can manage the game for us. That’s where we have to start.”
OK, now some good news: This turnover pace almost certainly won’t last. Some of it has been bad fortune, including the fact that the Jayhawks have fallen on three of their 13 fumbles this season; the NCAA average recovery rate hovers around 50 percent each year.
Luck can’t be blamed for some of KU’s other struggles, though. The Jayhawks’ offensive line continues to labor as one of the youngest units in the nation, with most advanced stats putting it at or slightly below its poor performance levels from last year.
That’s put KU in a tough spot for two reasons. For one, the Jayhawks once again are one of the nation’s worst rushing teams, going from 123rd in Rushing S&P+ last year to 124th this season. And because of that, the Jayhawks have had to rely more on their quarterbacks, who haven’t been able to produce under those circumstances.
One advanced stat — ESPN’s total QBR, which measures quarterbacks on a play-by-play level while adjusting for schedule — appears to show KU’s issues clearly. Among 17 Big 12 quarterbacks, KU’s signal callers rank 14th (Montell Cozart), 16th (Carter Stanley) and 17th (Ryan Willis).
“The trajectory and how we are training them and how they are progressing in practice needs to carry over to the football field, and, hey, at the end of the day that’s my job to be able to make that thing carry over to the field,” Beaty said of his quarterbacks.
“So I’ve got to continue to do the things that I’ve got to do to make sure that it’s working for them as they pass it on to the field.”
There has been one clear bright spot for KU’s offense: the ability to create big plays. KU’s “explosiveness” stat from Connelly has improved from 118th last season to 29th, buoyed by the emergence of receivers Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Both players rank in the top 12 in the conference in receiving yards per game while pacing to become the Jayhawks’ first 600-yard wideouts since 2009.
They’ve only been able to do so much, though, because of KU’s inability to sustain drives. KU’s play-by-play efficiency actually has been worse this year according to Connelly’s metrics, while turnovers have stopped many promising drives as well.
Beaty says the quickest way to a turnaround is through his quarterbacks, who too often have failed to read defenses properly or have their eyes in the right place.
“That’s been frustrating for me and for them as well, but those are things that we can fix,” Beaty said. “And I’m going to expect them to get fixed in a hurry.”