University of Kansas

The secret sauce behind KU football’s offensive explosion vs. Boston College

Let’s start with facts:

  • Kansas football scored seven points — at home — against a Sun Belt opponent in a Week 2 loss to Coastal Carolina
  • Just six days later, following a short week, the Jayhawks put up 48 against ACC foe Boston College in a 24-point road victory
  • After going with mostly old-school, run-heavy formations against Coastal Carolina, a majority of the Jayhawks’ plays against Boston College were run-pass options (RPOs)

So what led to the dramatic offensive switch to calling more RPOs in a few days’ time?

Eccentric coach Les Miles was asked during his weekly media session Monday ... before going into full Mad Hatter mode.

“It’s not in the playbook; we found it under the shelf while we were at Boston College,” Miles joked, talking about RPOs. “We said, ‘Hey, guys, what do you think? Maybe we could just put that in today while we’re here,’ and luckily it was there.”

The serious answer came a few seconds later: Those RPO calls were always available to the Jayhawks, but they weren’t utilized much until after Week 2’s abysmal offensive showing against Coastal Carolina.

“It’s not like we just reinvented the wheel this week and just threw in some new plays,” KU quarterback Carter Stanley said. “It’s stuff we’ve practiced for a while now. And our guys did a good job of it.”

The results, certainly, were astounding.

KU’s 48 points were the team’s most in a road win since 1996. In addition, the Jayhawks were named the Football Writers Association of America’s national team of the week following their 24-point upset victory over the Eagles.

Much of that success was thanks to the team’s offense. KU scored on seven straight possessions in the second and third quarters while building a 17-point lead.

Stanley, more than anyone, faced the biggest change week to week.

Against Coastal Carolina, even when seeing frequent run blitzes and 10-man defensive boxes, KU’s quarterback said he was partly helpless while not allowed to audible or change the play at the line of scrimmage.

Enter the new RPOs. Not only is Stanley asked to make pre-snap reads based on the defense’s formations, but he’s also asked to potentially change the play after the snap, taking advantage of the player movements across from him to put the Jayhawks in the best scenario possible.

“I think you look around all levels of football nowadays — high school, college, and NFL — and so many people are doing the RPO, because it really simplifies so much for the offense,” Stanley said. “And essentially, if your quarterback’s making the right reads, the defense, numbers-wise, can’t really be right. It’s cool stuff for sure, and I’m happy we’re implementing it.”

Stanley said he figured early in the week that KU was changing to more RPOs based on the offensive game plan. His understanding was the change in offensive philosophy was made thanks to “bits and pieces from everyone” on the offensive staff.

He also gave specific credit after the game to KU offensive analyst Brent Dearmon, saying he had helped the Jayhawks put in the RPO plays that were successful Friday. Dearmon, who came to KU after serving as coach at NAIA school Bethel last season, is considered an RPO expert nationally while writing numerous books on the topic.

For Stanley, the new style was a natural fit; he’s been running RPO packages since his freshman year of high school in Vero Beach, Florida. He admitted that last week was “definitely the most we’ve focused on” RPOs since the new staff arrived.

“It didn’t feel like we’re doing anything extraordinary by any means, like I talked to the guys on the offense (about),” Stanley said. “It was just kind of cool how we thought, like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t crazy.’ It just felt like what we were supposed to do.”

The final numbers suggested KU should be using it more moving forward. The Jayhawks had two 100-yard rushers, a 100-yard receiver and also 567 yards of offense — their most since 2016.

Miles, for his part, doesn’t see KU shying away from the RPOs following Friday’s standout effort.

“That’s been in the playbook all along,” Miles said. “The opportunity for us to continue that direction, certainly as long as we stay accomplished at the things that we’re doing while in that style of offense ... we’ll stay right with it.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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