The football box score hasn't changed much over the past decade.
Some of the basic stats listed from box scores in the 1930s — like total yardage and passing yardage — still appear today.
But which stats are useful, and which are junk?
Advanced stats expert Bill Connelly examined that exact topic in his recently released book, and in one of the chapters, he proposes a "new" box score.
Basically, his goal is to leave in the important stats that are most telling while leaving out some of the garbage. For example, yards per play and possession are important, as they give some additional context in an age where some offenses are going faster than ever.
Some other stats, like penalties (studies have shown penalty yardage does not correlate strongly to wins and losses) and time of possession (total plays is a better stat) are left out.
With that in mind, I compiled the "new" box score for KU's 31-14 victory over South Dakota on Saturday. Let's take a look:
A few quick definitions:
• "Passes defensed" is the number of interceptions plus the number of pass breakups a team has in a game. About 21 percent of passes defensed are intercepted in college football, so this number can let us know if a team might have gotten a bit of luck in the turnover department.
• In this box score, sacks are counted against passing totals. If you think about it, that makes sense, as negative yardage from a team trying to pass shouldn't penalize its rushing numbers.
Here are a few takeaways from the box score:
KU's pass defense was stellar
Yeah, it's only an FCS opponent, but KU's pass defense still deserves praise for completely shutting down South Dakota. The Coyotes averaged just 2.8 net yards per attempt while managing only 55 net passing yards. Those criticizing KU coach Charlie Weis for taking a 15-yard penalty to make it third and 19 in the fourth quarter only need to look to these numbers to see why he did it. USD had no chance throwing it against KU until that one particular play, where the Coyotes completed a 37-yard pass for a first down. The odds were in Weis' favor when he accepted the walkoff.
KU's pass offense was pretty bad
The Jayhawks' 4.2 net passing yards per attempt has to be a huge concern considering KU's opponents only will get tougher in the coming weeks. This wasn't all on quarterback Jake Heaps, as he was victimized by a handful of drops on some well-thrown passes. KU's yard-per-completion number wasn't horrible (9.2), but the Jayhawks' efficiency was hurt because of the high number of incompletions.
Special teams played a huge role for KU
Here's a stat for you from Connelly's book: In 2012, when two FBS teams played and one team had an advantage of 12 yards or more per drive in field position, that team's record was 151-10 (.938). That stat held true Saturday for KU against an FCS foe, as the Jayhawks held a 12-yard advantage in the statistic, meaning special teams helped turn what could have been a close game into a three-possession win. KU's biggest edge was on punts, as contributions from Connor Embree (four returns, 92 yards), Josh Ford (blocked punt) and Trevor Pardula (42.2 net yards per punt) gave KU a nearly 20-yard per punt edge over USD.
The Jayhawks put themselves in some tough third-down situations
KU's average third-down distance needed was 7.7 yards, which was higher than I'd have expected against USD. Though the Jayhawks averaged 6.6 yards on first downs, most of that success came in the second half. On 16 first downs in the first half, KU gained 71 yards (4.4 yards/play); on 17 first downs in the second half, KU gained 147 yards (8.6 yards/play). You could take this a few different ways. Maybe KU improved in the second half because Weis committed himself more to the run. Perhaps KU was the better conditioned team, and that played a factor late. Either way, KU's 6.2-yard-per-carry average is a strong number, and with it, the Jayhawks should be able to avoid third-and-longs better than they did Saturday.
KU's running-back depth appears to be legit
The Jayhawks ripped off 10 12-plus-yard runs against USD, and five different backs had a 12-yard run of their own (James Sims, Brandon Bourbon, Darrian Miller, Taylor Cox, Tony Pierson). I've mentioned this before, but with so many options, there's no reason for KU's coaches to turn Sims into a workhorse back this year. The Jayhawks have enough talent to keep fresh legs on the field.
As good as the run game was, KU's pass offense was bad enough to make it a below-average offensive performance
You can see on the top that KU's yards (404), yards per play (5.5) and yards per possession (31.1) all were almost exactly on the NCAA average from a year ago. That average, though, only reflects games between two FBS opponents. KU's offense should have been expected to do better against USD, but as mentioned before, the Jayhawks' lack of passing efficiency dragged all the numbers down. The 31 points scored Saturday had a lot to do with KU's defense and special teams providing great field position and not necessarily the overall success of the Jayhawks' offense.
KU's receivers and tight ends appear to have the most to prove heading into Week 2 against Rice.
I talked earlier this year about how Kansas football coach Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's football team. If you remember, one high-risk, potentially high-reward tactic was loading his latest recruiting class with 19 junior-college scholarship players.
So is the gamble paying off? Because we now have the Week 1 depth chart, let's look at where each of those 19 players are now.
• Ngalu Fusimalohi (LG)
• Mike Smithburg (RG)
• Zach Fondal (RT)
• Dexter McDonald (RC)
• Isaiah Johnson (SS)
• Samson Faifili (WLB)
• Cassius Sendish (FS)
• Trevor Pardula (KO, P)
• Kevin Short (RC)
KU had significant offseason losses at offensive line and in the secondary, so it's not too surprising that six of the nine starters above fit into those two position groups. Looking at it now, Weis most likely identified those two spots as his team's biggest needs coming into the year, and so far, the new guys have produced enough in practice to give themselves the first shots at playing time.
Second team (5)
• Darrian Miller (H)
• Rodriguez Coleman (Z)
• Tedarian Johnson (LE/T)
• Brandon Hollomon (LC)
• Marquel Combs (N)
The surprise on this list — so far — is Marquel Combs, who was ranked the No. 1 junior-college player in the nation last year by ESPN.com. Though he still should get playing time as part of the defensive line rotation, it's at least a bit surprising he hasn't performed well enough to step into a starting role. If Combs turns out to be a better player in games than in practices, as Matt Tait suggests, then there's obviously a possibility he could move his way up the rotation in the coming weeks.
Injured/Will take red shirt (1)
• Marcus Jenkins-Moore (LB)
An offseason knee injury kept Jeninks-Moore — a juco teammate of Combs' — from competing for a starting spot at linebacker.
Likely red shirts (2)
• Andrew Bolton (DE)
• Mark Thomas (WR)
Bolton is recovering from a knee injury, so Weis said his preference was to red-shirt him this year. If he was fully healthy, he appeared to be a guy that could have helped the Jayhawks' D-line immediately.
No longer on roster (2)
• Chris Martin (Buck)
• Pearce Slater (OL)
Martin would most likely have been KU's best pass-rusher this season had off-field issues not led to his dismissal from the team. Slater, meanwhile, is listed on the roster of his old junior college (El Camino College) after spending a few days this fall practicing with the Jayhawks. Had he stuck around, he would have competed for a starting spot at tackle.
Here's the full breakdown of KU's 2013 juco scholarship players:
Almost half of the junior-college guys have earned starting spots, while nearly three-fourths are expected to contribute Week 1 against South Dakota.
Though not all of the juco guys have been success stories, you'd have to think this kind of roster overhaul is what Weis envisioned — and hoped for — when he inked so many experienced players a year ago.
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
• KU’s coaches were happy with the play of nickels Victor Simmons and Coutrney Arnick in camp. KU’s staff decided to strengthen a weakness by moving Cassius Sendish to free safety. Simmons and Arnick are playing good enough where it allowed the team the flexibility to move Sendish back to safety.
• Weis said offensive lineman Pearce Slater is not on campus. The coach said he’s only going to talk about players that are here.
• The college football upsets got the Jayhawks’ attention. Weis says while FBS teams have more scholarships than FCS teams, typically no one is hurt early in the season, so that’s not as big of a factor as it might be late in the season.
• KU’s only injury list right now is linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, who is out for the year with a knee injury. If Weis had to do an NFL injury report, no one would be listed below probable. It’s a pretty healthy team as of now.
• Weis has showed his players video tapes regarding targeting. The staff has instructed players on the field as well. The bottom line is that Weis believes there is good and bad with the rule. The intent is good. Safety of the players should always be at the forefront. The bad part of the rule is that it’s very subjective.
• Weis says he’s looking forward to the offense being more balanced. Last year, when KU had to run so often, it was challenging, but that’s what had to be done. Weis believes his team did come out of last year with a staple. At the end of the year, Weis believed that almost every team KU played would say it could run the ball and run it with toughness.
• Receivers Justin McCay and Josh Ford aren’t afraid to mix it up. They aren’t guys who don’t want to get hit. Both will play a bunch of special teams. Weis says McCay is anxious to get going. Watching him day in and day out, Weis says he has a lot of attributes that still look desirable. The passing game is going to have to be a group effort, though. Weis is still expecting big things from McCay. McCay will never run a 4.3 40-yard dash. When you’re bigger, you have to find different ways to get open.
• Linebacker Samson Faifili’s advantage over Jake Love was that he was about 30 pounds bigger and ran about the same. Weis says Faifili and linebacker Ben Heeney look good next to each other out there. KU now has depth at the position, too. Weis says he doesn’t hold his breath when the No. 2s are in there now. Schyler Miles and Love are pretty good, too. If you play only one deep in this league, you have no chance. KU’s coaches expected Faifili to challenge to be a starter at inside linebacker when he came to KU. Love isn’t going away, but Faifili is just a bigger, more physical presence right now. He also plays with a lot of passion.
• Weis says cornerback Kevin Short is probably as good of a talent as KU has on its whole team, but he’s catching up because he got in late. KU’s coaches were concerned about the safety position because of a lack of depth. Watching Simmons and Arnick develop has allowed the team more flexibility so that KU can roll corners and safeties into the game. Sendish has been practicing at safety the last two weeks. That wasn’t based off his play at nickel; it was based on KU’s concern at safety.
• Linebacker Schyler Miles has had a nice camp. This is the healthiest he’s been since he’s been at KU. The staff is high on him.
• Weis is confident with Trevor Pardula for punts and kickoffs. Pardula also made a 57-yarder in practice last week by about five yards. He won’t make all of his kicks, but he’ll give you a chance at those long kicks because of his big leg. One of the biggest surprises for KU’s coaches has been starting field-goal kicker Matthew Wyman. He moved up from originally being fourth on the depth chart this year. Wyman won the field-goal kicker competition, and it wasn’t really close. He has no problem making it from 50 yards.
• The advantage for KU having a first-week bye was that the team got to go through last week like it was a game week. Now, the players know what the routine is. The negative for the team is that once school starts, you want to play a game. Weis said Saturday was awful for him, as he only was able to watch football instead of coaching a game. It was one of the least favorite days he’s had in the last six months.
• Right tackle Zach Fondal is the best pass blocker KU has. He doesn’t have as much girth as left tackle Aslam Sterling has, but you have to be able to do something really well. KU’s coaches believe they have two good pass blockers at both tackle positions. Fondal is at about 290 pounds, and he’s getting better as a run-blocker every day. He’s very athletic. Weis imagines a year from now he’ll be a left tackle. The coaches were counting on Fondal coming in and competing to play. The coaches thought he might even play at left tackle this year, but Aslam Sterling has done a nice job. If something happens to Sterling, Fondal will move over to left tackle.
• Weis isn’t worrying about the Rice game yet or potentially showing too much of the playbook in the first game. KU struggled in its opener last year. KU isn’t at a point in its development where it can save a bunch of things for the next week. Adding some new things to the offense each week, though, is part of the natural progression.
• Nose tackle Marquel Combs is more comfortable inside, and Kevin Young was playing better at left end/tackle. You have to go with what you see. Young, other than Keon Stowers, might have the second-best camp of anyone. The best guy plays.
• Weis went to running back Taylor Cox when KU signed Darrian Miller and told him it was his call on a red shirt. Weis told Cox he’d play this year, but he wasn’t beating Sims out as a starter. Cox told Weis he’d like a chance to play on Sundays, and he’s an older guy. Usually, running backs have a short shelf life. Cox’s concern was that he’d be too old to have a shot to play professionally if he sat out with a red shirt. He’s had a great camp. Weis says he’s worrying about this year now. The team will worry about next year next year. Cox has beaten out Miller for the No. 2 spot. Cox is playing really well.
• Weis says every time his team goes into a game, it better be counting on winning. If KU loses, it loses. Weis says part of the problem when you get in an organization that is used to losing, losing becomes OK. Losing’s accepted. If you play close to winning, it’s OK. Weis says that’s a pile of garbage. That’s a loser’s mentality. It shouldn’t matter who you’re playing; the first thing you’d better do is change the team’s mentality to where it believes it can win every game, and that’s partly his responsibility. Weis says he wants to beat South Dakota, then Rice, then Louisiana Tech, then Texas Tech. That’s what he wants to do, and the team better be thinking the same way.
Is it going to happen like that? Weis can’t say. He has no idea, but that’s what he wants to do. He’s counting that the players are thinking the same way. Weis would like to think his team has made strides, but it doesn’t mean anything until you’ve done something. Realistically, KU is picked at the bottom of the pack, and until you win games, that’s where you’re going to stay. When you start winning, those close games become wins instead of losses. The light switch comes on, and the team isn’t waiting for something bad to happen, but instead is making something good happen when it comes to crunch time.
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
• KU junior college offensive lineman Pearce Slater came into Weis’ office early Saturday morning and told Weis there was a family emergency at home. KU got him to the airport, and Slater went home. Slater said everything was going OK when he first got there. The two communicated several times over the next few days. Weis suggested — if everything was clear — that it would be best for Slater to be back at least by this Sunday, as classes start Monday. Weis says he has no idea if and when Slater will be back on campus. Weis texted Slater this morning and hasn’t heard from him, and he’s taking him for his word that he'll return. Weis said when he hears something more on Slater, he’ll make sure everyone knows.
• Weis says there have been good players at center in the past — Kevin Mawae of the Jets is an example — that have been taller players like KU's Pat Lewandowski. Sometimes shorter guys play at center because they can’t play at other positions on the line. Short arms are not a good attribute for a snapper, but sometimes, those guys can get their hands inside a nose tackle quickly. That’s the only advantage of having arms like that. Weis says there’s no disadvantages to having a tall center. Weis said he knew things were going to be rough in the beginning with Lewandowski. It took him a week to settle in with his shotgun snaps. There was a transition period, but for the last week and a half, his snaps have looked good.
• Weis says he’s going to do everything he can to make sure junior college defensive lineman Andrew Bolton doesn’t play this year. He wants to red-shirt him. Weis has had a conversation with him, and Bolton is not 100 percent about it, even though he’s recovering from a previous knee injury. Weis said you can’t bring in this many juco kids in one year and play them all and have them all graduate at the same time in two years. That would put KU in trouble with its numbers on its roster. Right now, both Weis and Bolton would favor him not playing this year so he could get his knee fully healthy.
• Weis’ next depth chart will come out a week from Tuesday. The depth chart is already done. If a junior-college guy doesn’t show up in the two-deep, you can assume that guy is probably going to red-shirt.
• Weis has had to have his scout team practice how to run a fast tempo to give his team’s defense the best look. The scout team’s goal is to get a new snap at least every 12 seconds. That’s faster than almost all the Big 12 teams’ fast-tempo offenses.
• Weis says a lot of coaches will tell TV announcers stuff they can use during telecasts. When announcers go into analysis, they usually don’t know that on their own; they are told that. Weis pays attention to what the TV analysts say when he watches TV replays of opposing teams because he can gain insight into what the coaching staff is thinking. When Weis gets coaches’ tape, he watches that without sound and uses that for scouting purposes.
• Weis says in the NFL, coaches are more cognizant of playing complementary football. That’s an art that’s lost in college. Part of the job of the offense in the NFL is to score, but part is to help save the defense. A quick three-and-out with a fast tempo doesn’t allow a defense to rest. The college game lends itself to this, as there are more players available to play. NFL players have 45 or 46 guys that can play, and college teams basically have two teams on each side of the ball to play when guys are tired. In college, there is no concern for how fast the defense has to be on the field again. When looking at the gameplan heading into the week, KU’s coaching staff has to look at which offensive tempo gives the team the best chance to win. Sometimes, the old college basketball “four corners” stall offense is best. Sometimes, a fast tempo is better. Weis says his offense has to score more points this year or it’s a moot point anyway.
• KU's players watch the tape and hear the critique from coaches after practice and can tell who is playing well and who’s not playing well. You play the guys who deserve to be out there and not necessarily the ones with reputation or so-called entitlement.
• Right now, juco defensive lineman Marquel Combs is not a starter. There are a lot of guys in that category: their reputations are high and their ceilings are high, but are they better than the guy in front of them? Combs is indicative of a group of guys. Different guys have performed at different levels. Juco safety Isaiah Johnson has been the best safety since he got to KU, so he’ll be the starting safety. At some positions, it’s not as easy to step in and perform well early, just because of the demands of the position. Juco cornerback Kevin Short, who just arrived last week, will be playing Week 1. That might be starting or backing up. The best guy plays.
• Weis says one of the guys that has had a great camp that he wasn’t expecting is Buck linebacker Michael Reynolds. Everyone’s been waiting for this, but he’s starting to deliver. He’s turned a corner. Last year, he had the most pass-rush ability on the roster, but KU couldn’t get him on the field because he wasn’t an every-down player. He hasn’t beaten Ben Goodman out, but Reynolds’ development has made Weis even more encouraged about that position, especially after Chris Martin’s dismissal from the team earlier this year.
• Everything starts with the quarterback in Weis’ system. It takes about a year for quarterbacks to figure out the system, but once you get it down, it’s pretty easy. Talented transfers have some advantages, because they have a year to get the system down before playing. KU tries to cater to do what the quarterback does best. Last year, the passing playbook got smaller and smaller because KU didn’t show it could execute the more complicated plays. Weis says he turned into an option run coach — he had never done that in his career — because that was KU’s strength. He joked that his father would probably roll in his grave if he heard him say that, because Weis has always been a guy that has believed in 50-50 run-pass split on offense.
• Quarterback Jake Heaps is unquestionably the team’s No. 1 quarterback and it’s not close. Michael Cummings has gotten significantly better from last year. The guy in the future of the program that is going to be tough to keep off the field is freshman Montell Cozart.
• Weis says KU’s offense has always had a fast pace it could go to, but it goes back to the fact that if KU goes three-and-out a lot, a fast tempo doesn’t benefit the team’s defense. Weis loves going no-huddle, up-tempo, but you have to do what’s best for your team to give yourself a chance to win the game.
• Weis wants to take another week to look at returners and especially Kevin Short, who could complete for a job there. Weis all but said Matthew Wyman will be the team’s starting kicker. Wyman came from the dorms. KU advertised to try to find walk-ons last year. He walked on in the spring and went through conditioning. He kicked OK, got to the spring game and made a few. He came into camp down on the depth chart, but he’s moved up because he’s kicked so well. He’s got good pop and good range. He has no problem making it from 50 yards. He’s been consistent.
• Weis says that KU has some bumps and bruises, but other than linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore’s knee injury that will keep him out this season and a couple of appendixes that needed removed, it looks like KU won’t have anyone that’s not ready to go for the opener. Cornerback Tyree Williams also is a question mark for the opener, but Weis said it looks like he might be ready too.
• Weis said he didn’t have to recruit new quarterback commit T.J. Millweard much. Millweard's high school coach reached out to one of KU’s staff members. He’s a top-line talent. This is a kid who’s going to come in to compete to play. His mom went to KU and lived in Kansas. Millweard spent his first eight years in Kansas. Weis had a long conversation with him. Weis said after watching him on tape, this was any easy decision. It’s nice when a top-line player wants you. Weis said he was only going to give a scholarship for a quarterback next season if a special situation presented itself, and he was was a special situation. KU is glad to have him. He’s a bright student.
Today's Sideline Report is with Kansas junior linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, who will sit out the 2013 season after suffering a knee injury in the summer.
Jesse Newell: Who’s the funniest teammate you have?
Marcus Jenkins-Moore: Marquel (Combs).
JN: Is he even funnier in person?
MJM: In person? He’s funny anywhere. I’m with him 24/7, so my jaw is hurting from laughing so much. Real talk.
JN: What do you guys do together?
MJM: We just hang out. Play games. I haven’t beat him in 2K. He’s a really good 2K player.
JN: Do you play as a bad team?
MJM: He’s just been getting lucky. (smiles)
JN: What do you remember about the first time you met Charlie Weis in person?
MJM: The first time I met coach was when I came on my visit. I went up to his office, saw him. I was like, ‘OK, it’s real. It’s real.’ After seeing him on TV every Saturday on NBC, to finally get to meet him … the guy offered me a scholarship. It was a blessing.
JN: Kind of a crazy moment, then?
MJM: Exactly. The man’s a legend. He’s a legend.
JN: Who’s a person you admire?
MJM: My mom. She’s strong. After she heard what I’ve been through (with a season-ending knee injury), she didn’t cry. I did, but she didn’t. She just encouraged me to keep moving, stay strong, do what I’ve got to do to get back. All the stuff she’s been through, being a single parent, dealing with me … I admire her the most.
JN: Were you tough to deal with growing up?
MJM: I was. I was a little hard-headed, but she got through to me, told me what I had to do.
JN: What makes her so strong?
MJM: She’s been working at one job for 36 years. She had a tough time growing up. She told me some things she’s been through, and I was like, ‘Man.’ I didn’t know until she told me. I just see her as one of those parents that doesn’t ever give up on their kids.
JN: What’s a food you can’t live without?
MJM: Chicken. If I don’t have chicken, I’m not living. (laughs)
JN: Is there any restaurant that does that best?
MJM: Back home (in Memphis), we’ve got this place called 'Big Momma’s.'
JN: That sounds like a good place.
MJM: Sweetest cornbread you’ll ever eat.
JN: Are they popular?
MJM: It’s popular in the city. If you come, you’ll see.
JN: What’s something that not many people know about you?
MJM: I’m a very good bowler. I’ll beat anybody.
JN: What scores are we talking here?
MJM: My high score was 289. … I’m 250s, 260s. But 289 was my high score.
JN: What was the toughest part about the injury for you?
MJM: Thinking about it. Just thinking about my whole situation: what I’ve been through to get here. It was really hard for me.
JN: When you called your mom, how did that conversation go?
MJM: Man. I started crying. I didn’t want to tell her. She asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Something bad happened to my knee.’ She was just encouraging me the whole time. She was like, ‘I don’t care what happened. Everything’s going to be all right. Just keep praying.’ And that was it.
JN: Your favorite Disney character?
MJM: Goofy. He’s goofy. Goofy is funny.
JN: Was he your favorite growing up?
MJM: Yeah. I used to watch him and Donald Duck. Him, Donald, Bugs (Bunny). I’m a Mickey Mouse fan, too.
JN: If I walked into your room, what’s something that would stand out to me?
MJM: My shoes. I’m an Air Force Jordans guy. People are like, ‘Dang, why do you have so many shoes?’ And I don’t even wear them all.
JN: How many you have?
MJM: Right now, I’ve probably got like 15. Well, you know, I couldn’t take everything from Cali.
JN: What’s an embarrassing TV show you watch?
MJM: The Parkers.
JN: What do you like about it?
MJM: Man, they are cracking up. Professor Oglevee (laughs), he’ll be dissing Nikki. But it’s funny, though. It makes me laugh.
JN: What’s something unexpected about Lawrence that you didn’t know until you got here?
MJM: Man, the people. I thought it was just going to be just land, land and then a couple people. There’s people out here, and they’re really cool. I really like the city. They like the team. They support the team. I met a couple people that are really expecting us to do good things this year. So they’re really exciting me.
JN: Is there anything interesting or unexpected that I’d find in your refrigerator?
MJM: Unexpected … I’m not a yogurt guy, but I just started eating it. Interesting would probably be Kool-Aid.
JN: Man, I love Kool-Aid.
MJM: Kool-Aid’s the thing, man. Kool-Aid will take you as far as you want it, but you’ve got to have sugar. You can’t drink Kool-Aid without sugar.
JN: What’s your favorite flavor or color?
MJM: See, the trick is, you’ve got to get Tropical Punch, Grape, Orange, but you’ve got to have a Lemon to mix it with. Always mix a strong flavor with a Lemon, so it tastes like lemonade, but it’s really Tropical Punch.
JN: But that makes it look kind of brown, doesn’t it?
MJM: Nah. If it’s green, it’s going to be green, because it’s yellow.
JN: Oh, the yellow mixes into it.
JN: What do you hope to accomplish before your career is over at KU?
MJM: Just to build this program back up.
Just to get all the people off coach Weis’ back. Everybody’s doubting him, so I want to be a part of the team that helped him accomplish something big — (when) people weren’t planning on us to even be a talked-about team in the nation. I just want to help him have that story from what he did with this team a year ago to what we’re going to be.
And, you know, I want to be a cool guy. I like people. As long as they’re nice, it’s cool.
SB Nation college football writer Bill Connelly never understood why former Kansas football coach Turner Gill ran the type of offense that he did.
Because KU faces a talent discrepancy against nearly every program it faces in the Big 12, Connelly believes Gill would have been better suited with an offensive philosophy more creative — or at least something that would give Big 12 defenses a different look.
“The bottom line is if (Big 12 heavyweights) are well-coached and recruiting well, you can’t beat them just trying to push them around and staying conservative,” Connelly said. “You have to figure out ways to take chances.”
According to Connelly, that’s the continuing mission for second-year KU coach Charlie Weis, whose team will most likely be an underdog in each of the nine conference games it plays this season.
Connelly — his advanced college football metrics like S&P+ and PPP+ have been used by teams like Texas and Ohio to get a deeper understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses — devotes a chapter in his recently released book, “Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats, and Its Stories” to underdog tactics. In that section, Connelly examines strategies that less-talented teams should use to try to gain an edge.
It basically comes down to this: As an underdog, you want to increase the variance — or the number of possible outcomes — in a game.
“You might lose by more sometimes,” Connelly said, “but you’re more likely to steal a win here or there, too.”
Connelly says Weis is off to a good start already as far as risky strategies go. The coach has brought in more than 20 junior-college players this year while looking for a quick fix to KU’s talent woes.
“If it weren’t high risk, then everybody would be doing it. Everybody would just be recruiting half their class from jucos,” Connelly said. “So clearly there is a downside to it, and it could very much not pay off. But if you’ve got a situation like what Weis inherited, where Gill just didn’t recruit very well … (Weis) is trying to win quickly, and this is the path to that.”
So what are some other high-risk, high-reward strategies that Weis should consider to increase his chances of pulling off a Big 12 upset or two?
Give different looks
One way an underdog can get a slight edge is by giving opponents something completely different to prepare for in the span of a week.
A good example of this was Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense under former coach Mike Leach. The Red Raiders found their own niche with the offense and thrived by doing something that no one else was doing.
Connelly believes KU might already have some of that covered with the pro-style offense that Weis runs. The coach’s announcement that he was going to play Tony Pierson as both a running back and wide receiver — much like West Virginia’s Tavon Austin was used last year — also could give KU a new offensive wrinkle.
Connelly says there are other ways teams can succeed by being different. For example, Iowa State has been able to pull off some upsets in recent years with a run-based offense that works because instead of trying to get smaller and quicker, the Cyclones have focused on making their players bigger and stronger.
Defensively, Connelly says a team that plays a base formation out of the ordinary — like a 3-3-5 — can potentially gain an advantage by making opponents prepare for something they don’t normally see.
Go for it
Many statistical studies have said the same thing in recent years: Football coaches don’t go for it enough on fourth downs.
In many instances, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Connelly gives the example of fourth-and-goal at the opponent’s one-yard line.
“Really, not going for it is the risk,” Connelly said. “In those types of situations, the field position that you give your opponent if you don’t convert the fourth down, it’s still worth something.
“A lot of coaches play it safe to their own detriment, because it’s less risky to go for it at that stage, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way.”
Though there are situations when a field goal is the call on fourth-and-goal at the 1 — down two with three seconds left would be one — for the most part, teams are giving away potential points because of conventional coaching wisdom that actually isn’t beneficial. These types of fourth-down decisions aren’t limited to the red zone either. Connelly said once a team crosses the 50, going for it on fourth-and-short isn’t tremendously risky, and in fact, could pay off big.
One coach who believes in this is Bob Stitt, who has led Colorado School of Mines — a school with major recruiting obstacles because of its high academic standards — to 11 winning seasons in the last 13 years.
Stitt views a fourth-down conversion as a “turnover” for the offense. If his offense converts on fourth-and-3, then the opposing defense has to stay on the field after believing it had already accomplished its goal on third down.
“That’s a great situation to take advantage of a defense that might be more talented than you,” Connelly said.
Weis already appears to be a high-risk guy when it comes to fourth downs, as the Jayhawks’ 32 fourth-down conversion attempts in 2012 tied for the eighth-most in Division I.
Playing against tendencies
Connelly groaned every time he heard a TV announcer talk about how much Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had improved his throwing mechanics in 2012.
Connelly knew from watching that wasn’t the case.
“His passing motion still was just awful to watch,” Connelly said, “but they were much more successful because they were passing at times that opponent really thought they would run.”
The Cornhuskers were putting Martinez in a position to thrive by passing on downs like first-and-10 and second- and third-and-short.
By being unpredictable, the Huskers allowed Martinez to complete a high number of short passes while also keeping themselves out of third-and-longs.
“They took advantage of defensive tendencies and defensive assumptions,” Connelly said, “and stole free yards via the air.”
In the end, Connelly says it comes down to doing whatever you can to keep a defense that might be bigger, stronger and faster than you from becoming comfortable.
So what can a high-risk, high-reward strategy do for a team?
Connelly says it’s a lot like a college basketball team shooting a lot of threes and pressing against a heavy favorite.
“It might fail miserably,” Connelly said, “but if it succeeds, you can actually pull an upset here or there.”
In college football, where wins are most important, a coach can be rewarded if he’s not afraid to “risk it up,” even if that means that a blowout loss is possible.
Connelly gives the example of going for it on fourth-and-4 from an opponent’s 40-yard line. Yes, an incomplete pass could give the opponent the ball near midfield.
But what would a conversion do for the underdog?
“You’re giving yourself a chance to win that you didn’t have before,” Connelly said. “ If you’re at a program that has hardly won any games over the past two years, why wouldn’t you do that?”
Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.
• Weis says part of the reason that some of the newcomers are so high on the depth chart is because he's had the spring to evaluate what he has and he figures those new guys will compete at their positions based on the knowledge he has.
• Weis says you start by judging a team by wins and losses. Did you win all the games you were supposed to win, and did you win some of the games you weren't supposed to win?
• Weis says he was disappointed going back to tape of last year and seeing how many games the Jayhawks "got the crap kicked out of them." He said he knows there are sometimes talent discrepancies, but there were too many games last year where games got away from KU way too early. He said that if he were a KU fan last year, he would have probably left at halftime and not come back in certain games.
• Weis joked tight end Mike Ragone is a legend in his own mind. Weis said he'll be a great interview. He's a hungry young man, as he knows this is his last shot. This is as healthy as he's been in a long time.
• The players will go through a conditioning test at 6 a.m. Thursday, and there will be a penalty if players don't reach a certain mark. The test is based on stamina, and the time needed is based on a player's position.
• Weis says he can't see why anyone would rank KU football anything but last in the Big 12. KU has hired a new coach, has a new staff and has changed things to match up with the personality of the new coach. KU has to go out and prove it is better than that. That's why you play the games.
• Weis says offensive lineman Aslam Sterling is competing for first team mostly based on his size. Weis joked he's about a cheeseburger short of 400 pounds.
• Right now, Toben Opurum is a rush end. But if teams try to mismatch you in games and get bigger on you, then Opurum becomes a linebacker, and KU will put another defensive end on the field.
• Weis says he's more motivated than he's ever been to make this program successful. There might be more unknowns, but he has the same obligation to get this team as good as it possibly can be as quickly as possible. Fans are fans. Alumni are alumni, whether you are at KU or Notre Dame. Weis is here to make this program successful.
With everything going on at Big 12 media days, there's not always enough time to get every video downloaded and posted into the live blog.
With that in mind, here are five more short video responses from KU players and coach Charlie Weis that we weren't able to get up Tuesday.
• KU senior defensive end/linebacker Toben Opurum explains specific instances where he's already seen leadership from new quarterback Dayne Crist.
• Speaking of Crist, I asked him which players he thought might surprise fans in 2012. He actually came up with five.
• During his time on stage, Weis made a few reporters laugh when he referred to Notre Dame transfer linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone as 'my blockheads.' Weis explains what he meant by the nickname here.
• Opurum talks here why he's optimistic about this season, hinting perhaps that this offseason has been different from past years at KU.
• And finally, Crist also talks about why he's optimistic for 2012, saying he can sense a desire from KU's players to win and improve.