The Kansas football team’s biggest weakness this season has been its defense, and that continued to be an issue during Saturday’s 65-19 loss to Texas Tech.
So what breakdowns are causing problems? For help with that answer, I sent Texas Tech’s three first-quarter touchdowns to a Division I assistant coach to tell me what he saw.
Touchdown No. 1: Justin Stockton 13-yard run
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Biggest issue: Execution
Start here: This is a well-designed play by Texas Tech, a zone-read that actually uses a fullback to block the read man, No. 17 Josh Ehambe.
The Red Raiders get two good blocks — one from the fullback and also one from the slot receiver, who seals off KU’s Bryce Torneden (red lines).
The problem for KU comes in the blue circles. Linebacker Keith Loneker is fooled by Texas Tech’s offensive line coming right, charging in from above the hash marks to the middle of the field. The misread results in three false steps, and he can’t recover in time when he finally realizes Stockton has the ball to his right.
KU cornerback Shakial Taylor also does a poor job at the top of a technique called “crack replace.” When Texas Tech’s receiver goes to block KU’s safety (orange line), Taylor must see this and switch responsibilities, taking on the safety’s run-stopping role because he is now the unblocked defender.
Instead, Taylor backpedals to the middle of the field, then doesn’t have an angle to recover, allowing Stockton a free run to the end zone.
Touchdown No. 2: Desmond Nisby 47-yard run
Biggest issue: Miscommunication
On this third-and-short play, KU is running a “Double Smoke” blitz, meaning it is bringing both safeties off the edge while leaving all the other defensive backs in man coverage.
There’s one huge issue for KU, though: It has two defensive players in one spot.
In football, the spaces between offensive linemen are labeled as gaps, ranging from inside (A) to outside (C or D). Notice at the bottom of the screen, KU’s Dorance Armstrong (No. 2) does a good job with the play call, shading inside into the B gap so that blitzing safety Mike Lee (No. 11) can cover the C gap.
Do you see the issue above? KU’s Ehambe (No. 17) goes to the outside of the left tackle. So when Torneden (No. 1) blitzes from the outside, both defenders are in the C gap … which leaves the B gap wide open.
It’s the only crease Nisby needs. Texas Tech’s fullback blocks KU linebacker Osaze Ogbebor, and KU’s safeties can’t quite close quickly enough to make the tackle.
If Ehambe was in the B gap, the play would likely be muddied up a bit more. Ogbebor could potentially take a step or two more forward, causing the running back to hesitate, which could allow one of the closing safeties to make the play.
Instead, it’s a 47-yard touchdown for Texas Tech, a quick-hitter made possible because the Jayhawks were in the wrong spots.
Touchdown No. 3: Quan Shorts 37-yard touchdown reception
Biggest issue: Blown assignment
KU is in Cover 2, meaning each safety has a deep half of the field. No receiver should ever get deeper than the safeties.
This makes the Jayhawks’ mistake even more glaring.
Safety Tyrone Miller is the one out of position. When Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek throws, Miller is not positioned behind the deepest receiver; instead, he’s desperately trying to play catch-up.
Texas Tech’s fast tempo might have added to the confusion. Here’s what KU’s other safety Mike Lee said after the game.
“We were just getting the calls, I want to say late. If we were getting the calls late, (coaches) were thinking of another call that they might have called on the sideline,” Lee said. “Both of our safeties were on two different-type plays. Like on that touchdown, we were in Cover 2. (One guy) said he was in Cover 2, (another guy) was playing flats. We can work on that.”
The three examples above show that KU’s gaffes — both small and large — were exploited by Texas Tech’s high-powered offense.
Though the Red Raiders had some good play design and strong blocking, KU’s biggest issue was its own doing, as poor execution, miscommunication and blown assignments led to an early 21-0 hole.
The solutions will have to come quickly with seven Big 12 opponents remaining.