Part of the self-study college football coaching staffs do during bye weeks involves statistical research. Second-year Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis shared one trend Tuesday that eats at him.
On third down with less than six yards to go for a first down, Kansas is doing “fine,” Weis said and added the Jayhawks are “crummy” on third-and-6 or more.
Juicing the offense, he continued, will require either becoming more efficient on third-and-long or getting into fewer such down-and-distance situations.
I did a little statistical research to see if there might be a way to help the second part of the equation, getting into fewer third-and-long binds.
First-down play calling always makes for interesting conversation, so I compared how Kansas does when it runs the ball on first down to how it fares when running a pass play. First-and-goal plays were excluded from the statistical study.
Loaded with talented running backs and shy of productive receivers, Kansas has a better running game than passing game, so defenses tend to shade their defensive game plans to stop the run.
Weis said Tuesday the essence of his play calling is to “play to our strengths and hide our weaknesses.”
For the most part, Weis has done so with his first-down play calling. Kansas has run the ball 57 percent of the time on first down.
Generally speaking, running on first down has been a good idea in the area of avoiding third-and-long mountains to climb. Passing on first down has resulted in far more third-and-6-or-more pickles.
Third-and-5 certainly isn’t a good outcome, but for the sake of this argument, we’ll put anything third-and-5 or better in the positive column, third-and-6 or worse in the negative. If there is a first down or touchdown on first or second down, that goes in the positive column, a turnover in the negative.
Running the ball on first down has led to a positive outcome 72 percent of the time, third-and-6 or worse 28 percent of the time. Passing the ball on first down has resulted in a positive outcome just 57 percent of the time, a negative result 43 percent of the time.
The greatest disparity came in the Rice game, in which Kansas called running plays 11 times on first-and-10 and called 12 passing plays. When running on first down, 73 percent went in the positive column outlined above, 27 in the negative. When passing on first down against the Owls, only 25 percent went positive, 75 percent negative.
Against a Louisiana Tech defense, the strength of which was up front, passing on first down actually worked better, with a 76-percent positive rating passing, compared to a 64-percent positive rating running on first down.
No matter the vantage point, Kansas grades out as a run-first offense. But can the line block well enough to support that approach? It can if the blockers improve technique and chemistry each week — always a possibility, never a given.