Box score breakdown: KU has no chance if offense remains this bad

KU-TCU new box score

Here’s a look at our “new” box score for Kansas’ 27-17 loss to TCU.

A reminder: This box score is meant to give some of the most relevant stats so we can take a deeper (and better) look into the numbers.

KU-TCU new box score

Here are a few takeaways:

Buddy Bell could have been talking about KU’s offense

After his team’s 10th straight loss back in 2006, Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell famously uttered a quote that has come to define much of the last 25-plus years of Royals baseball: “I never say it can’t get worse.”

And that’s about the point we’re at with this KU offense.

In last week’s blog, I marveled at the fact that KU’s yards per possession against Texas Tech’s defense were only half the NCAA average.

Turned out, it could be worse. This week, KU was at roughly one-third of the NCAA average for yards per possession, squeaking out just 11.6 yards each time it touched the ball.

Yes, KU’s best playmaker Tony Pierson was out, but take a look at the Jayhawks’ stats from the first five games. KU’s offensive numbers are plummeting … and in a hurry.

KU's last five games

The ugly numbers against TCU didn’t stop with what was posted above. KU gained just 4.0 yards per first down, but take out a 50-yard pass to receiver Andrew Turzilli, and KU’s 24 first-down plays mustered 50 yards (2.1 yards). And remember, first down is the best play for the offense, as defenses have to respect the run and pass.

Quarterback Jake Heaps was inaccurate most of the day, completing just half of his passes and averaging a measly 3.9 yards per pass attempt.

There’s also this: None of KU’s 17 possessions lasted more than six plays. Seriously. KU’s longest offensive possessions went six plays: one went for 10 yards and another for 12.

In his book, Bill Connelly discusses the term “six-and-outs,” meaning those possessions that are six plays and shorter and end in a punt. Teams that had zero or one six-and-out in 2012 games won 76 percent of the time (77-25) and had an average winning margin of +14.7 points.

On the other end, there were only 48 instances a year ago where a team had nine or more six-and-outs. Those teams went 11-37 (23-percent win percentage) and had an average margin of -20.1 points.

KU had 10 (10!) six-and-outs against TCU on Saturday.

photo by: Richard Gwin

Kansas receiver Josh Ford (8) looks to catch a pass but behind TCU's Keivon Gamble (16) on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. KU lost, 27-17.

No matter what KU coach Charlie Weis tries to say about playing conservative or playing field position, know this: An offense that played as badly as KU’s did Saturday has virtually no chance of winning, even if its defense and special teams do excel.

KU was good — and lucky — with turnovers

Connelly generally has found turnovers to be one part skill, two parts luck, and KU definitely had a bit of both in the TCU game.

photo by: Richard Gwin

KU’s defense and special teams combined to force five turnovers, though you wouldn’t necessarily have expected that based on the statistics.

After recovering just one of seven total fumbles a week ago against Texas Tech, KU’s luck swung the other way against TCU, as the Jayhawks recovered four of five fumbles.

KU, which led the nation in passes defensed per game coming into this weekend, tied a season-low with just four passes defensed against TCU. That didn’t stop the Jayhawks from getting two interceptions, which again appears to be a bit fortunate (21 percent of all passes defensed nationally end up as interceptions).

KU’s offensive line shuffle didn’t help the run game

Moving Gavin Howard to center, Pat Lewandowski to left tackle and Aslam Sterling to right tackle didn’t provide any run-game improvement against TCU.

Though KU had 30 running plays, none of them went for more than 12 yards (to compare, TCU had five 12-plus-yard runs in 38 attempts). Eight of KU’s 30 runs (27 percent) went for no gain or a loss and 19 of 30 (63.3 percent) went for three yards or fewer.

Maybe this switch will pay off down the road for KU, bit the reshuffling of the offense line certainly didn’t provide any quick fixes against TCU.

KU continues to impress with its pass defense

photo by: Richard Gwin

Kansas safety Isiah Johnson (5) gets all over TCU's Aaron Green (22) during a tackle in the second half on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

This is easily the most positive development for KU this season. The Jayhawks have one of the top pass defenses in the Big 12, and though it didn’t have its best game Saturday, it also didn’t take a step back from its previously high level of play, either.

TCU managed just 6.2 yards per pass attempt (though that sounds OK, it’s actually not great as far as passing numbers go), and that’s even with a 75-yard reception from TCU’s David Porter where KU’s Dexter McDonald and Cassius Sendish converged but missed the tackle for what would have been a short gain.

All plays count obviously, but if you did take out that reception, TCU would have been under 100 passing yards in a game it had the ball 18 times. That’s a pretty impressive showing by KU’s pass defense, no matter the opponent or location.

KU’s pass defense also created the two aforementioned interceptions (including a pick-six from JaCorey Shepherd) and was the main reason TCU averaged just 21.1 yards per possession.

With that kind of defensive effort, KU would have had a great chance of winning Saturday if it had an NCAA-average (or even slightly worse) offense.

KU even on field position … but not because of the kicking game

The field position for the two teams was nearly even, as KU’s average starting position was its own 31, while TCU’s was its own 33.

Normally, special teams have a lot to do with this, but Saturday was an exception. KU punter Trevor Pardula did fine (10 punts, 38.7 net), but those numbers were nearly identical to TCU’s (seven punts, 38.4-yard net). TCU held a slight advantage in kickoffs, meaning most of KU’s positive field position was created by the defense.

KU’s special teams did recover a muffed punt that helped the Jayhawks with field position, but other than that, KU’s defense was the unit flipping the field with four other turnovers.

It’s amazing when you look back at KU’s scoring drives. One touchdown drive was a pick-six, the other TD drive was 27 yards and the field-goal drive was six yards. KU also received the ball another time on the TCU 34 before going back 11 yards and punting.

If instead of trying to run offense, Weis decided to put his field-goal team on the field right where the defense gave him the ball, KU would have had seven points from the pick-six, plus potential field-goal attempts from 42 yards, 51 yards and 51 yards.

So if KU decided to not play offense against TCU on Saturday, it most likely would have had 10 points instead of 17 and could even have gotten to 13 with a 2-for-3 day from kicker Matthew Wyman.

Like last week, the final score was misleading. Those who glanced quickly at the score might have thought KU’s 17 points was an improvement for the offense when that certainly wasn’t the case.

Zone-read still effective against KU’s defense

photo by: Richard Gwin

Kansas junior Michael Reynolds eyes TCU's quarterback Trevone Boykin (2) on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, during the teams' game in Fort Worth, Texas.

In the Big 12, you’d rather have a good pass defense than a good run defense, but the Jayhawks still have improvement to be made when trying to defend a mobile quarterback.

TCU had plenty of success on the ground against KU’s D, averaging 5.9 yards per carry once you take out the sack numbers. The Horned Frogs also busted five “explosive” runs of 12 yards or more; Texas Tech had just three 12-plus-yard runs on 42 attempts a week ago with a less-mobile QB.

The Jayhawks will be seeing more of this type of running game in future weeks, and while KU shut the zone-read down better in the second half against TCU, it’s the one part of the game keeping KU’s defense from becoming elite.