Box score breakdown: Don’t blame KU’s defense for Texas Tech’s 54-point outburst

New box score. Remember, sacks are counted against passing yards (and not rushing yards), as they technically were pass attempts.

Here’s a look at our “new” box score for Kansas’ 54-16 loss to No. 20 Texas Tech.

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.

New box score. Remember, sacks are counted against passing yards (and not rushing yards), as they technically were pass attempts.

Here are a few takeaways:

KU’s defense played horribly … wait, no it didn’t

This game is a perfect example that shows why it’s best to give football box score numbers more context.

A quick glance at the numbers, and someone would see that KU gave up 54 points and 518 yards to Texas Tech and assume the Jayhawks played lousy defense.

That wasn’t the case, as Texas Tech’s yards per play (5.2) and yards per possession (30.5) were actually below the NCAA average.

So what gives?

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas defensive lineman Tedarian Johnson brings down Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Much like basketball, raw numbers can be skewed based on possessions. If North Carolina’s basketball team leads the nation in scoring each year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Tar Heels have the best offense; it simply means they’ve scored the most points, which is affected by a team’s scoring and pace.

The same applies to football. On Saturday, Texas Tech — mostly because KU’s offense couldn’t stay on the field for any length of time — ran a whopping 100 plays, which is 26 plays above the NCAA average.

And while KU’s defense didn’t necessarily have a good game, it certainly played well enough against a talented offense to not allow 54 points.

It’s not easy to see at first glance (or with a standard box score), but Tech’s high scoring on Saturday said was much more a result of KU’s failures on offense rather than its defense.

Nothing is working for KU offensively

Let’s not sugarcoat it: This was a truly putrid performance by KU’s O.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps is sacked by Texas Tech linebacker Brandon Jackson during the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

The Jayhawks mustered just 16.1 yards per possession, which is barely half of the NCAA average (31 yards per possession).

But the bad news doesn’t end there. Even after taking sacks out of the rushing equation, KU averaged just 2.1 yards per carry on 34 carries. What’s scarier for KU: Just six of those 34 rushes (18 percent) went for five yards or more. Six. It can’t be easy to commit to the run when an inexperienced offensive line is only clearing a hole on every fifth play.

Meanwhile, the passing game — after showing better efficiency against LA Tech — also regressed, as the Jayhawks completed just 18 passes on 38 dropbacks (attempts plus sacks). It’s the third time this year in four games that KU hasn’t been able to complete passes on half its dropbacks.

KU can be proud that it did produce some explosive plays (seven total), but that also is a bit of a downer. Tony Pierson, who had three of KU’s 20-plus-yard catches, will most likely miss a few weeks after suffering a head injury in the third quarter.

In short, a KU offense that can’t move the ball will now have to go without one of its only explosive playmakers.

Weis has quite a task ahead of him in preparing an offensive gameplan for TCU.

KU’s defense not giving up big plays

Out of 100 plays, Texas Tech had just six that I would label “explosive” — runs of 12 or more or passes of 20 or more. Again, this is significant progress, as KU’s defense is making opponents earn the points they get with long drives.

Remember just a couple years ago when Georgia Tech had four, 50-plus-yard plays against KU in a 66-24 win? Those days of the Jayhawks getting gashed for huge yardage appear to be gone, thanks to better players and also improved organization with defensive coordinator Dave Campo and linebackers coach Clint Bowen in charge.

Still … KU’s pass defense wasn’t as good as past weeks

The Jayhawks allowed a season-high 6.8 yards per pass attempt and 10.9 yards per completion to the Red Raiders. While those numbers aren’t awful, they are the highest KU has allowed this year (The previous highs against KU: LA Tech averaged 4.5 yards per pass attempt, while Rice was at 9.8 yards per completion.).

Though most of the plays were small chunks — KU allowed just three, 20-plus-yard passing plays — the Jayhawks did finally show some vulnerability in their pass defense after an excellent first quarter.

KU had some bad luck with turnovers

No, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the final outcome, but the score would have been closer had KU gotten a few more bounces.

While forcing fumbles is a skill, studies have shown recovering fumbles is basically luck (and a 50-50 proposition for each team). Out of seven fumbles Saturday, KU fell on only one of them (14 percent). That might not seem like it would make much difference, but turnovers, on average, are worth about five points each when you take into account the field position lost by the offense and gained by the defense. Normal fumble luck (and three recoveries instead of one) could have resulted in a 10-point swing for KU.

The Jayhawks also continued to display active hands in the secondary. KU had 10 pass breakups, and studies have shown that over time, 21 percent of pass breakups result in interceptions. KU probably was “due” one extra interception based on the number of times it was able to knock away throws.

This is a big reason why I believe KU will win at least one Big 12 game this year: Turnovers make a huge difference in games, and the Jayhawks’ secondary has shown a tendency to always be around the ball.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald gets called for interference on an endzone pass to Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

The Jayhawks should be intercepting quite a few more passes before the year is out.

KU killed by field position

Another reason Texas Tech racked up 54 points that wasn’t KU defense’s fault? Terrific field position for the Red Raiders.

TTU’s average start was its own 44, while KU’s was its own 26 … an 18-yard difference.

In games between FBS teams last year, teams with a 16-yard-or-greater advantage in field position went 62-2 (96.9 percent win percentage).

Field position is a combination of many factors, but obviously the Jayhawks’ six three-and-outs, four turnovers and failed fake punt all contributed to Tech’s domination in the stat Saturday.