University of Kansas

KU’s running game still can’t break free from offensive line miscues

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert was stopped by a swarm of Ohio defenders in a Sept. 10 loss.
Kansas running back Khalil Herbert was stopped by a swarm of Ohio defenders in a Sept. 10 loss. The Associated Press

The play appeared to be opening up for the Kansas offense.

KU’s Mesa Ribordy and Hakeem Adeniji double-teamed a Texas Tech defensive lineman, then Ribordy fired quickly ahead to get to a linebacker. Center Joe Gibson locked onto a defensive tackle, while receiver Shakiem Barbel moved forward to get his hands on a defensive back.

The first-quarter run play to Ke’aun Kinner appeared to be blocked beautifully … except that KU forgot to get a hand on a backside Texas Tech linebacker. D’Vonta Hinton sprinted to bring Kinner down for a two-yard gain, stopping a run that looked like it could have gone for 20 yards or more.

KU offensive line coach Zach Yenser admits he’s seen a lot of plays like this recently while replaying his team’s games.

“We’re close. Guys saw the Texas Tech film,” Yenser said. “When you sit down and watch it, it just always seems like we’re one guy away on a lot of the runs and some of the protection.”

The reality as KU prepares to host TCU at 11 a.m. Saturday is that the front five remains one of the team’s biggest issues as coaches try to rebuild an offense that can be competitive in the high-scoring Big 12.

The Jayhawks are last in the conference in points per game (25.5), and one reason for that has been an inability to establish a running game. Not only are the Jayhawks in the bottom 15 nationally with a 3.3-yard-per-carry average, but they also have been hesitant to commit themselves to that area with the second-fewest running plays of any FBS team.

“We can run the football effectively. I really believe that,” KU coach David Beaty said. “I think we’ve got to start faster and we’ve got to be more effective with what we’re doing schematically up front, because the plays, they are there.

“It’s not the calls. It’s not what we’re calling. We’ve got to execute better.”

To be fair, KU’s offensive line was expected to go through growing pains based on inherited roster issues. Following Jordan Shelley-Smith’s retirement from football earlier this week, only two of Yenser’s 16 offensive linemen have been with the program for more than two seasons. One of those players, center Joe Gibson, began his career as a walk-on.

Improvement is still expected, and the Jayhawks could get a boost with better health. The team should be able to play the same five linemen in consecutive games for the first time since Week 2.

“We know we’ve got to get better up front,” Yenser said. “I thought we played more physical in the Tech game, and a little more confident, and I think that keeps coming with playing together.”

No matter the circumstances, KU’s rushing numbers have to be considered disappointing. The Jayhawks had 28 carries for 46 yards against Texas Tech, and they’ve failed to surpass 200 rushing yards in the last three weeks combined.

“It doesn’t matter what offense you run — if you’re under center, gun — running the football is the key to I believe winning football games,” Yenser said. “Whether you run it 30 times a game or you’re running it 15 times a game, that defense has to know you can run the football, because it opens up everything else.”

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell