College football analyst Phil Steele’s favorite catch-phrase has held true for the Kansas football team this year: Turnovers equals turnaround.
Through three weeks, KU leads the nation in turnover margin ... and it’s not close. The Jayhawks’ plus-12 margin is four(!) ahead of the next-best teams, with Fresno State and North Texas both well behind at plus-eight.
Here’s something else: KU has 13 takeaways, marking the first time that any FBS school has registered that high of a number in its first three games since 2014.
This pace isn’t sustainable, and obviously some of it is good fortune. But with turnovers being worth about five points each in college football, there’s no questioning what the biggest part of KU’s recent turnaround has been.
Steele can tell you. It’s turnovers.
Here are grades for all three units, a highlight from Saturday’s loss and a look ahead to Baylor.
Play of the game
Mike Lee ... to SC’s Top 10: Two plays after former Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing delivered his final fist pump at Booth Memorial Stadium, KU safety Mike Lee continued the good vibes, intercepting a pass that breaking numerous tackles for a 31-yard pick six. That play was No. 6 on ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 Sunday morning. “I tried to tell (coaches) I’ve got running back skills, but they don’t listen to me,” Lee said with a laugh after the game.
Offense: A. This was easily KU’s best offensive game of the season, as offensive coordinator Doug Meacham’s guys showed huge improvement in Week 3. The Jayhawks accrued a healthy 7.5 yards per play and also were dominant in the run game, averaging 8.3 yards per rush with three 50-plus-yard runs. The passing game was fine, with both quarterbacks making good reads while generally avoiding mistakes. KU has appeared to quickly solve any offensive line questions that hung over the team from a Week 1 loss to FCS opponent Nicholls State, with O-line coach A.J. Ricker deserving credit for a super-quick rebuild.
Defense: A+. It’s the second straight perfect grade for defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s group, which forced six turnovers but also has posted strong numbers outside of that. KU has been effective at filling run gaps, which has forced teams into passing situations. From there, an improved secondary has given the team a boost, as quarterbacks aren’t finding many openings deep down the field. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks had allowed just 3.6 yards per play while holding the Scarlet Knights to 47 passing yards. The defense — more than anything else — is the reason to believe KU football might exceed expectations in 2018.
Special teams: D. A mostly solid effort was ruined by two bad plays. A field goal block (and return for touchdown) can’t happen, while a dropped snap on a field goal also cost KU another chance at points. On the positive side, Liam Jones’ kickoffs were much better, Gabriel Rui was perfect on non-blocked field goals and punter Kyle Thompson dropped three of four attempts inside the 20-yard line.
KU will travel to Baylor for a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday, and it should be a good test to see how KU’s current level of play compares with another opponent considered to be at the bottom of the Big 12. The Bears, who were picked ninth in the preseason conference poll, are coming off a 40-27 home loss to Duke, and at 2-1 will desperately need a victory to keep their faint bowl hopes alive.
One would expect KU, despite two good performances in a row, to remain a significant underdog. Recent history is not on the Jayhawks’ side either; KU has been outscored, 205-42, during its last four games in Waco, Texas.