The new signs on the sideline included a blown up image of chocolate donuts, some buttered toast and a traffic sign. This was the first … well, symbol that something was different.
Before Saturday’s 60-14 loss here at McLane Stadium, Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen announced that receivers coach Eric Kiesau had been elevated to co-offensive coordinator and would now be calling plays from the sideline. Offensive coordinator John Reagan, a former Mark Mangino assistant in his first year back with Kansas, would remain in the booth.
So who is Kiesau? Before arriving at KU last spring, he’d spent the previous two seasons as the offensive coordinator under Steve Sarkisian at Washington. When Sarkisian took the head coaching job at USC, Kiesau didn’t follow to Los Angeles.
Before his stint at Washington, he served as the passing game coach and receivers coach at Cal in 2011; he also spent 2006-10 at Colorado after a prior stint at Cal from 2002-05.
So what does this mean for the offense?
“We wanted to try to open things up a little bit more, create a little bit more of an offensive identity that we want to move to,” Bowen said. “Eric has more experience running that type of offense with his experience at Washington in the past and what he’s done as an offensive coordinator in the past.”
In the short term, the change appears to be predicated by an added emphasis on the passing game. On Saturday, junior Michael Cummings was 21 of 30 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. From a purely statistical standpoint, it was the best performance of Cummings’ career — and better than any quarterback performance during the two-plus seasons under Charlie Weis.
For the better part of two years, the Kansas offense followed a familiar script. The running game was productive; the passing game was woeful, and the overall productivity was non-existent.
Now with Cummings under center, the passing game has climbed to respectable — and the running game has disappeared. The Jayhawks rushed for 16 yards on Saturday, just one week after averaging 3.2 yards per carry (40 for 128) in a loss at Texas Tech.
For the season, the KU passing offense now ranks 93rd in the country (198 yards per game) ahead of such teams as Missouri, Georgia, Michigan and Washington. Then there’s the rushing offense: It ranks just 97th, averaging 134 yards per game.
The Jayhawks’ offensive line has struggled to find a consistent push, and the KU coaching staff has resorted to drastic measures. On Saturday, senior linebacker Ben Heeney was lined up as a short-yardage back for the first time in his career. On a fourth and two, he failed to get the first down.
Yes, that kind of Saturday.
The road losing streak
Barring a miracle — which would consist of a road victory at Oklahoma or Kansas State during the season’s final weeks — the Jayhawks will go another season without notching a road victory. The streak, which dates back to Sept. 12, 2009, at UTEP, hit 28 straight road games on Saturday.
The stretch also includes 31 straight losses away from Lawrence. That number includes three neutral-site losses against Missouri.
Looking for the next possible road victory? Try next Sept. 26, at Rutgers, in Piscataway, N.J.
Stuff you might have missed
Junior running back De’Andre Mann missed Saturday’s trip to Baylor with an undisclosed injury. Bowen said he could return this Saturday against Iowa State.
Junior Fish Smithson, a junior college transfer, finished with a career-high nine tackles against Baylor. True freshman linebacker Kyron Watson had his first career tackle in the fourth quarter. True freshman running back Darious Crawley saw the most playing time of his young career.
He hauled in one reception, had one rushing attempt and also fumbled on a kickoff return.