For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
I asked for requests on Twitter, and a majority of Kansas football fans wanted to know why the Kansas football running game was successful in the first half but not as much so in the second half.
With that in mind, I compiled some effective first-half run plays and some ineffective second-half run plays and had Coach give me notes on what he saw from each tape.
Here's the first-half run video:
The following are Coach's takeaways (said in his words) from watching KU's run plays in the first half:
• "OU brought edge blitz a couple times, and KU had a quick-hitting run right up the middle. The edge blitz didn’t really have any effect.
• KU used motion and got OU outleveraged a couple times. At 14 seconds, see how they motion the fullback from strong to weak right there? Then they run it weak, and they end up getting a cutback lane. OU overpursues just a little bit, and then end up finding a cutback lane and get about seven or eight right there. It changes the formation from a 3X1 to a 2X2 set. It changes the gap responsibility for OU, and they didn’t adjust very good until it was too late, and KU had a nice play out of it.
• "KU also used a couple counter plays, and OU overpursued. It left some nice cutback running lanes.
"On this play, see how the back takes a quick jab step to his left? That’s a counter. The right side of KU’s line, everybody’s blocking down. The left guard is pulling around to the right, and they’re running counter. You can see how OU’s linebackers overpursue to their right just a little bit. They get lost in the mix of defenders at the line of scrimmage. The OU defenders might not have done a good job of reading the puller (left guard). They’re coming downhill when maybe they should be scraping over the top to their left. The center (Gavin Howard) does a good job of getting off the ball and pinning back on that defensive tackle.
• "OU missed a couple tackles.
• "It looked like OU was on its heels, catching the running back instead of going to hit him and going to meet him. They were kind of catching. KU was doing a nice job of finishing their runs, falling forward for two or three extra yards instead of getting hit and stopping right where they were at.
• "It looked like KU was playing very hard in the first half. It looked like they were on a mission and were trying to take it to OU.
• "The thing I put a couple checkmarks by … the fullback (Nick Sizemore), he went in there and really demolished a couple OU defenders on a few different plays. He was coming downhill, and he was (smashing) some OU defenders.
"On this play, the fullback goes up in there and (smashes) that linebacker at the point of attack and gets No. 6 a nice big running lane.
"The fullback does a great job on the first play as well. They’re just running an iso. Everybody is iso blocking. It’s man-on-man at the point of attack, and it’s fullback on linebacker: old-school football. He just comes down and totally demolishes that linebacker and gives the tailback a nice running lane."
Here's the second-half video:
And notes from Coach:
• "Oklahoma was committing more guys to the box, more guys to the line of scrimmage. On the first play, see No. 14? He’s a safety right there. I think they’re playing Cover 1 right here. I think both of the corners are up top on the wide receivers. And there’s a safety deep on about the 40-yard line. Then there’s another safety here on the 33- or 34-yard line. I think he’s got the tight end man-to-man, but he realizes the tight end is blocking, so he can fit in in the run. They’re just playing Cover 1 (one high safety), saying, ‘You’re not just going to line up and run the ball against us. You’re going to have to throw it against us right here.’ I’m not saying you can’t run against Cover 1, but it’s not going to be quite as easy, because there’s going to be more guys in the box that you’re going to have to account for. They’ve got you outnumbered a little bit.
• "On the second play, Oklahoma brings an edge blitz. No. 19 does a nice job getting flat and running it down from behind. Your slot receiver up there could possibly take an angle to block him, but that’s going to be really tough on your slot receiver to get that guy blocked.
• "This play, same thing. They brought the same blitz off the edge. They brought 15 off the edge again. He ran it down, tripped him up."
• "The other thing was, on this last play (20 seconds), watch the D-lineman No. 90. He just takes the left tackle (Aslam Sterling on this play) and just shoves him right back into the backfield. The puller can’t take a good path to pull around here to the left. They’re running that same counter play again, and No. 90 just blows it up and puts it all the way back into the backfield and allows the linebackers to jump in there and get in on the play."
I asked Coach what KU's options were in the second half once OU started to run blitz more.
"There are different ways to adjust to it. There are different formations you can line up in. When they’re bringing that edge blitz, it’s harder to bring that edge blitz if you put an extra wing in there to block the edge blitzer, or if you have a two-tight-end formation. But the same thing is, then if you bring more guys into the box, then they have a chance to bring more guys into the box. So it’s kind of tough there.
"Sometimes, if you’ve got a quick pass go out to the receivers to negate the blitz and get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands in a hurry, then that might be something you take a look at as well. There’s different ways to do it, but OU had a good gameplan in the second half to stop some of those runs we saw the first.
"They were starting to run blitz and have some good calls against it, but it also looked like they maybe got their rear ends chewed a little bit at halftime. It looked like they were playing a little bit harder in that second half as well."
Through five games, what are Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps' strengths as a passer?
With help from charting data, let's take a look.
After each game, I've made an attempt to chart every play of KU's football season, which has included direction of passes, pass yardage, formation and other tidbits that can't be found in the box score.
Let's start with this: Here's how well Heaps has thrown by direction of the field:
A few caveats before we get too deep into the numbers:
• There are about seven passing plays from the Rice game that I didn't get on tape — six incompletions and one two-yard completion. That's seven throws out of 149, so our data set isn't perfect, but it's still large enough to make general observations about Heaps and his throws.
• These are pass yards thrown by Heaps in the air ... not the total yardage gained on the play. For instance, if Tony Pierson caught a pass five yards down the field and ran it 72 more, the pass yards on the play is five yards.
• These numbers do not count passes Heaps threw that were incomplete/intercepted because of pass interference or illegal contact penalties, but they do include plays that happened that might have been called back for other reasons (like offensive holding). This increases the sample size we're drawing from.
• I took out all throws that I labeled as "throwaways" in my charting.
As a right-handed quarterback, Heaps has definitely favored throwing to the right side, as more than 42 percent of his charted throws went that direction.
It's also the side where KU has been the least successful in the passing game. Heaps' 4.5 yards per attempt on those throws is much lower than that on the other two sides.
Heaps' "hot spot" appears to be the middle, where he's thrown three of his touchdowns and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt. It helps that Tony Pierson's 77-yard receiving TD against Rice was a throw in that area, but Heaps' numbers still would be better in that section even without that play.
Let's look at Heaps' throws by distance now:
Heaps has been accurate behind the line of scrimmage (88 percent), but those plays have been the least successful in terms of yards per attempt. Long throws also have been risky for Heaps, as KU is averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt on those 24 throws with two interceptions.
Heaps' strong suit appears to be the intermediate routes, and especially those that require throws 10-19 yards downfield. In that area, Heaps has thrown three TDs in 22 attempts while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt.
Finally, let's see how Heaps throws by distance and direction:
This only confirms what we've talked about above. Heaps is throwing more frequently to the right in both short and intermediate passes, despite the fact that KU's yards-per-attempt are poor in those areas.
Heaps' best passing numbers are coming in the middle of the field, with his most success coming in the center of the tic-tac-toe. Notice also that three of his five passing TDs were in that area as well.
I wanted to give you a look at one last chart. This shows the distances Heaps passes have been going, then compares that to the 2012 NCAA averages for quarterbacks.
If you look at the far-right column, you can see KU's throwing habits with Heaps. For those saying KU should throw more deep balls ... the Jayhawks actually are above the NCAA average when throwing passes over 35 yards, and that's without much success.
Also, KU has thrown a high number of passes behind the line of scrimmage compared to the national average, and while the Jayhawks are completing an OK percentage, those plays haven't been particularly explosive (5.3 yards per attempt).
The sweet spot once again (in a small sample size) for Heaps has been passes between 15 and 19 yards, as KU is averaging 10.5 yards per pass attempt while completing an impressive 55 percent of those throws.
The conclusion from all the data above? Though Heaps has thrown the largest number of passes to the right this year, KU's had much more success when he's thrown in the center.
Heaps' best numbers have come on intermediate passes between the hashes, meaning that the Jayhawks might benefit if they gave Heaps more options in that area: a perfect spot for tight end Jimmay Mundine or KU's receivers on routes over the middle.
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
After asking for requests on Twitter, it appears most Kansas football fans want to know what exactly is going on with the Jayhawks' struggling offense.
With that in mind, I decided to switch it up this week. Instead of Coach singling in on a single play, I had him take a look at every offensive play for KU from the first quarter of the Jayhawks' 27-17 loss to TCU on Saturday.
I asked him to take notes, then share with me any general observations he had based on the film.
The following are his takeaways (said in his words) from watching KU's offense in the first quarter:
• "One thing I noticed, TCU was stacking the box pretty good. They had a lot of guys within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That means they think your passing game isn’t good enough to beat them. They’re going to force you to try to pass to beat them, but they don’t think you can. They’re not going to let you just line up and run it.
• "I thought KU had some nice play designs with motion to give some different looks. Even though they might run some similar-style plays, they were motioning to get into different looks and to try to help out with spacing.
"On the play above, you see how they motion the back out of the backfield? It widens a couple of these defenders down here. I think TCU basically starts out in a seven-man box. It gets the outside linebacker out of the box right here to the right of KU. It makes it a six-man box instead of a seven-man box, which is a little easier to run against.
"On this play, they motion the receiver all the way across the field. It makes the linebackers shift over. They could have run that motion to set up a play for later in the game. It looks like after they hand off to the fullback, they’re looking to see if they’ve got the pitch to Sims going out there to the left. Now they’ve motioned their other receiver over there for an extra blocker if they do come back to run that play later.
"On this one, they’re just motioning from a two-by-two (receiver) set to a three-by-one set, trying to probably get a different matchup, maybe get a slot receiver lined up on a safety or a linebacker. In this case, I think they end up getting him on a corner. Not necessarily the look they wanted, but they were trying to motion to get a matchup they wanted. I’m sure if (the QB) wouldn’t have been pressured, he would have had a little better chance to go to maybe one of these other receivers that was getting a better matchup.
• "I thought the quarterback was sloppy with the ball. He hit the running back on his hip that one time when he was running a play-action fake and put the ball on the ground.
• I also thought he was inaccurate with his throws. He threw it to the running back in the flats one time and didn’t give the running back an opportunity to run after the catch. He also threw one behind his receiver over the middle that could have resulted in a first down if he was more accurate.
• "I thought he forced the ball in there a couple times into coverage. TCU is obviously very good on defense, so they had a lot of tight coverage. Sometimes, you have to throw it to a guy who might be covered, and you expect your guy to go and make a play, but I thought he forced the ball a little bit too much.
• "One of the biggest things — and I put three or four checkmarks by it — (the Jayhawks) were getting beat up front. Period. If you’re not going to be able to block the down linemen, it’s going to be hard for you to win a football game. It all starts up front on both sides of the ball, and they were getting physically manhandled up front.
"On this play, you see No. 96 (red circle)? He just takes the offensive guard [Mike Smithburg] and shoves him back into the backfield there. The two D-tackles are just wearing out the guards right there, blowing them up all the way into the backfield. The tailback’s got no chance right there. He could be the best tailback in the world, and it’s going to be hard for you to get yards.
"I will say this: (Running back James Sims), he’s doing all he can. He’s running hard and going downhill and trying to find yards. I’ve got to commend him for his effort.
"On this play, there’s a party at the ball-carrier in the backfield. (Sims) does a good job for getting two or three yards here, carrying a defender for two or three yards. But there are three or four guys that are unblocked right there. I don’t think it's (bad O-line) communication at all. I think it’s guys missing their blocks. When it comes down to it, it’s a one-on-one game. It’s ‘I’ve got to go beat the guy across from me.’
"(TCU has) a four-man rush right here. They’re not blitzing anybody. KU’s got six guys in to protect, including the running back. So it’s six-on-four right here. If I was the (coach) … it’s just a little disappointing that we’ve got six guys into protect, they’re rushing four, and it’s a party in the backfield, essentially. The D-ends both get upfield. You’d like to think your quarterback could step up in the pocket, but then again, both D-tackles are getting great push back into the backfield as well. So the quarterback doesn’t have anywhere to step up and get rid of the football.
• "I also saw that TCU was blitzing a couple times, and KU didn’t check out of the play. A lot of times, if you see that blitz or you go on a double-cadence [bluffing the snap call, then backing off the snap to get a chance to change the play if needed], sometimes you can get out of the play and get into a play that might be better versus that blitz. Also, that’s tough sometimes if a team disguises their blitz, but the blitz jumped off the screen at me like that just watching the video one time, you think they’d be able to read it and figure out a better play to run.
"On this play, TCU brings those two linebackers right there up the middle; just a pretty standard ‘Bullets blitz' is what that’s called. They’re both blitzing the ‘B’ gap [space between guards and tackles on each side]. If you see those two guys coming, you know you’re probably going to have man-to-man out on the edge. You might think about checking out of this run play and getting in a pass play. They stick with it, and the one 'backer goes unblocked and makes a big play in the backfield.
"We’ve got certain checks that we give our guys: ‘If you see it, get out of it.’ Sometimes we’ll go on double-cadence to make sure we’re seeing exactly what they’re doing. That’s how we do it, but I know other guys do it a little bit differently. Sometimes with these blitzes, you’d want to get out of a play.
• "I also notice they ran a couple read-option plays with no real run threat. There’s a read-option, they weren’t blocking the defensive end, but the quarterback isn’t really a run threat. He just was basically giving the football to the tailback without one guy blocked on the edge and expecting him not to bend back in and make the play."
So what were Coach's overall thoughts after watching the film?
"You’ve got to give the other team credit, too. I know TCU has a good defense," Coach said. "They’ve got great players on their team. That’s obvious.
"But there’s things on this tape where a guy is getting physically whipped one-on-one. I’ve got to man up. I’ve got to step up to the plate and do my job. It’s 11 guys across the board doing their job. That’s why football’s the greatest game on earth: It takes all 11 guys for success to happen.
"It just looks like they’ve got a lot of improving to do, and if not improving, they’ve got to do a better job in recruiting as well to go find better players to match up with some of these better teams."
Here's a look at our "new" box score for Kansas' 27-17 loss to TCU.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Kansas coach Charlie Weis has made a few mentions this week about how he was disappointed in his offensive line play.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at a failed running play from the Jayhawks' 23-14 loss to Rice on Saturday. At this point, KU was leading, 14-13, with possession in the fourth quarter.
This is a basic "Power" run play. Those offensive linemen on the "play" side — the direction where the ball is going to be run — are down blocking, meaning they are blocking the defenders to the inside of them (with the left tackle going upfield to take out a backside linebacker). Meanwhile, the right guard pulls around to kick out a linebacker in the hole.
I've made a GIF showing each KU player's blocking assignment.
This play falls apart on multiple levels, the most glaring of which coming in the battle between Rice's defensive tackle Christian Covington and KU's left guard Randall Dent (No. 64).
Right after the snap, Dent is driven backwards by Klare, in essence getting "his (stuff) pushed in," Coach says.
This disrupts the entire play. KU right guard Mike Smithburg tries to pull around to block, but he bangs directly into Dent instead.
Smithburg's blocking assignment on this play is Rice linebacker James Radcliffe (No. 10), and with a free path, Radcliffe is able to get to the backfield to trip up KU running back James Sims.
"That’s a good indication of a defensive tackle not getting in on the stats and making a tackle or tackle-for-loss, but the defensive tackle is the one who makes this play," Coach says. "He’s getting a pat on the butt in the film room after this one."
Sometimes a team can help out its left guard on this play, as the left tackle can combine with him to form a double-team on the defensive tackle. After that block is secure, then the left tackle can move forward to take out the backside linebacker.
"I guess KU just thought that the left guard could handle this block one on one with the defensive tackle," Coach says, "and really, it didn’t end up working."
Dent isn't the only one who struggles, though.
Notice the left tackle Aslam Sterling (No. 77) almost completely whiffs on his block of Michael Kutzler (No. 42), who is listed at 110 pounds lighter than Sterling. Because of that, Kutzler is able to get to Sims and help finish off the tackle on the one-yard gain. Look closely at the end, and you can even see Sterling slap his hands together in frustration.
Coach also says KU tight end Trent Smiley (No. 85) isn't perfect here against Rice defensive end Tanner Leland (No. 13) either, as he allows quite a bit of penetration and at least needs to work for a stalemate to keep Leland out of the backfield.
Bottom line: Coach says this a good example of KU getting "out-physicaled" up front.
And while many fans have questioned why Weis didn't run the ball more against Rice, Coach says no play call is going to work if it isn't run correctly.
"You can call the hook-and-ladder, you can call the double-reverse pass, you can call this simple power play, you can call a simple inside zone running play," Coach says. "No matter what you call, you have to execute it."
Following Kansas' 31-14 victory over South Dakota, I heard many Jayhawk fans suggest that coach Charlie Weis should ditch the Wildcat (or Jayhawk) formation altogether.
I wanted to ask our expert "Coach" to see what he thought. Below are three of KU's unsuccessful Wildcat plays from Saturday's game.
After watching the clips, Coach says KU has different issues on each of the three plays.
On the first play, KU actually has a numbers advantage if you look before the snap. KU has five blockers on the left side of the line to take care of five South Dakota defenders: two linemen, two linebackers and a safety.
Coach says KU is trying to execute a "pin-and-pull" technique here. The two tight ends (Trent Smiley and Jimmay Mundine) have the objective of "pinning" the South Dakota players in front of them back to the inside. KU's left tackle (Aslam Sterling) and left guard (Ngalu Fusimalohi) then "pull" around the outside to block, along with Tony Pierson out of the backfield.
So where is the breakdown? As the red arrows show above, USD's linebacker and defensive tackle stunt on the play, in essence looping around each other to confuse the offense.
With this extra movement, Mundine — the inside tight end (yellow line) — misses his pin block completely.
Instead of three on three, it's now USD with a four-to-three numbers advantage toward the bottom of the screen.
Though the linebacker that got by Mundine doesn't make the tackle, he does force the left guard Fusimalohi to block him (blue circle above). That leaves a second USD linebacker unblocked and unimpeded, and he's able to pull down Matthews.
Coach says the Mundine missed block is the key to the play. If he's able to seal his man — or if he and Smiley communicate better on the fly and switch their assignments to block the two stunting USD players — then Matthews likely scores a touchdown. Instead, he's dragged down at the 5.
The second play actually is a different play from the Wildcat formation, with Coach diagnosing it as a double-option. Here, Matthews can either run it himself or pitch to Tony Pierson behind him.
Once again, KU appears to have a numbers advantage. With good KU blocking, South Dakota is left with one linebacker to defend both Matthews and Pierson.
Coach says Matthews job here is to attack the linebacker's outside shoulder to make him commit. If the defender shades toward the outside, Matthews should cut inside and run past him. If the defender commits to Matthews, he should pitch it to Pierson, who then would have lots of running room.
There's one problem, though: As you can see from the picture above, Pierson is in no position to accept a pitch. Coach labels this as "bad pitch relationship," saying Pierson should be further back and toward the sideline to make himself an option for Matthews.
He never makes it there. With no other options, Matthews is forced to turn upfield right into the linebacker, who makes the open-field tackle.
Coach says Pierson's positioning isn't necessarily his fault. Remember where he was to start the play?
Pierson is aligned on Matthews' right when the play is going left, meaning he will really have to hustle to get in proper position on the other side of Matthews.
Coach says KU can do a few things to help him. Many times, teams will motion that back presnap to the left side, which gives him a bit of a head start. KU also could run this play out of the Pistol formation, which would put Pierson directly behind Matthews instead of to his right.
Coach also says a lot of times on these types of plays, the quarterback will catch the snap then take a step back, which allows the back to get an extra step to the outside.
Though these might be tweaks for a future game, they don't happen here, and the result is no gain.
Coach says there's little KU can do to prevent the third play from being a failure.
The Coyotes have seen enough of Matthews to realize he's not much of a threat to pass, so they send a corner blitz. Though receiver Josh Ford at the bottom is supposed to block the corner, he can only watch as his man runs right by.
This is a read-option play, so Matthews is reading the outside defensive end, whom KU leaves unblocked on purpose. That end immediately crashes towards running back James Sims, and Matthews makes the correct read to keep the ball.
It doesn't make a difference, though, as the cornerback has a running head start and immediately is there to wrap up Matthews for no gain.
Notice at the bottom of the screen that because of its blitz, South Dakota has rolled a safety to cover KU's No. 1 receiver Josh Ford with minimal help deep. If Ford were to run a vertical or out route, he'd basically be going one-on-one against a safety — a huge mismatch in football terms.
Basically, South Dakota is daring Matthews to throw it, and Weis' next step could be calling for Matthews to heave a pass. Doing that not only would take advantage of the mismatch, but it also might prevent run blitzes like this in the future.
Though KU didn't have much success with its Wildcat plays Saturday, Coach says it's not time to ditch the formation. Having this package on tape — if nothing else — makes KU more unpredictable and a tougher scout for opposing defensive coordinators.
"It’s easy to give up on things real quick," Coach said, "but I would say the problems they had are very minimal problems, and they’re easily fixed."
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.
"Why is James Sims a good running back?"
If I asked the average Kansas football fan that question, my guess is that I would get two main responses.
• In only nine games in 2012, Sims was second in the Big 12 with 1,013 rushing yards.
• Sims led the Big 12 in 2012 with 112.6 rushing yards per game.
At face value, those feats are impressive. Still, we need to give them the proper context.
Though it is true that Sims only played nine games in 2012, did you know he was still second in the league in carries (218)? Sims averaged 24.2 rushes per game a year ago, while no other back in the league had more than 22.
This greatly impacts how we should look at his numbers.
Out of the Big 12 running backs who played in 75 percent of their team's games and had at least four carries per game, Sims ranked 18th out of 23 with a 4.65-yard-per-carry average last year.
Yards per carry doesn't tell us everything, though. My favorite running back stat is an advanced one called Adjusted Points Over Expected, or Adjusted POE for short. The number compares the production of a running back to an average back given the same carries against the same opponents with the same offensive line. A runner with a plus-6.0 Adjusted POE would have created a touchdown more for his team over that of an average back.
Here's how Sims compared to other Big 12 non-quarterbacks in Adjusted POE a year ago.
While the top of the list has names we'd expect (Lache Seastrunk, Tavon Austin, Tony Pierson), Sims is nowhere to be found, as he ranks 48th out of 50 Big 12 non-QBs a year ago.
To be fair, having so many carries probably allowed Sims to go further into the negative than some other backs. On the flip side, some of these players probably had their carries limited when they weren't giving better production.
Sims doesn't rank much better in Adjusted POE in his two previous years at KU.
His freshman year was his best in the measure, and even then, he produced below what would have been expected from an "average" back.
The biggest issue for Sims appears to be that his lack of speed keeps him from breaking off big runs.
Looking at the raw numbers, we might not see that from the number of "explosive" runs in 2012.
Again, those numbers above need more context. Remember, Sims had more opportunities for big runs (228 carries) compared to his teammates (Pierson had 117 carries; Cox had 91).
Breaking it down further, let's take a look at how many explosive runs each player had a season ago per 25 carries ... or roughly one game of being a workhorse back.
In this measure, Sims doesn't even appear to be as strong as Cox in explosive runs, especially in 10-plus-yard plays. Cox doesn't appear to be an explosive back either, but given the same opportunities, the numbers show he might be able to put up the same sort of line (or even slightly better) than Sims.
Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece on Derek Jeter earlier this week, talking about how the eye test and defensive metrics don't agree on Jeter's defensive abilities. It's hinted in there that perhaps, because Jeter's a great player and his jump-throw from the hole at shortstop has become famous, that as humans we start to see what we want to see with his ability instead of what's actually there.
It made me wonder if we're doing the same thing with Sims. Are we noticing his great vision because we assume his high-yardage totals make him a great running back? Are we ignoring his lack of speed because he seems to move a pile a couple extra yards each game?
On a personal note, I like Sims. He's a nice guy and is respected by his teammates to the point that he was named a team captain.
He talked to me at Big 12 media days about working hard in the summer to improve his speed, and maybe we saw a glimpse of that when Sims had a 62-yard touchdown run in a team scrimmage a couple weeks ago. He also talked about how he likes to clip articles from people who doubt him next to his bed — and I'm sure I might be making an appearance soon.
The numbers are the numbers, though. Sims has lots of room to improve, and if he isn't going to break big runs, he needs to be even better at squeezing out extra yards on the shorter ones.
Either way, KU coach Charlie Weis shouldn't be looking to make Sims his workhorse back this year. With the talent he has at the running back position with Cox, Darrian Miller and Colin Spencer (and the versatility of Pierson), the coach shouldn't hesitate to get fresh legs into the game.
Given the opportunity, those backs have the potential to give KU better production than they've received from that spot the past few years.
More from Jesse Newell
Today's Sideline Report is with Kansas sophomore long snapper Reilly Jeffers.
Jesse Newell: What’s the best part about long snapping?
Reilly Jeffers: The opportunity to get on the field. Being a part of the team and playing my role. There’s not a whole lot to it, but at the same time, there’s a whole lot to it.
Compared to other positions that I’ve played in the past, it’s a lot more mental. Just being focused, and if you screw up, you’ve got to go get the next snap.
JN: Is the toughest part mentally, then?
RJ: Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely the mental. Because it becomes a point where it’s muscle memory. You’ve got to focus on where you do it the same way every time. And if you screw up, it’s different from other positions. If a guy misses a tackle, you’ve got the next play. It maybe 20 or 30 plays before you get your next snap.
You’ve got to stay locked in mentally. I think that’s the biggest thing as far as the specialists go, kicker or snapper. If you screw up, you’ve got to go get it the next time. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself.
JN: When did you start long snapping?
RJ: My dad taught me how to do it in the third grade. I used always throw the ball around when I was younger. I looked up to Eric Crouch at Nebraska and quarterbacks.
I like throwing the ball, but I was a lineman-sized kid. So my dad was like, ‘Well, bend over and throw it between your legs.’ I did it in high school a little bit. I got hurt my junior year when I would have snapped it. Then my senior year, they were like, ‘Well, there’s no point. You didn’t do it last year.’ But I always knew how to do it. I was good at it. Coach Weis brought me in as a walk-on lineman, and they needed a backup long snapper. ‘Well, I know how to do it.’ The rest is history.
JN: How did that conversation go? They were looking for somebody to long snap?
RJ: They had some struggles as far as a backup long snapper my freshman year. They knew that I knew how to do it, because I had mentioned it. They were like, ‘Well, let’s check you out.’ After practice, I gave about five to 10 snaps, and they were like, ‘OK, you’ve got a job.’ I was like, ‘All right, well that works for me.’
JN: So all that happened when they took you out there?
RJ: Yeah, it was just after practice. Coach Bowen, when he was running punt team, was like, ‘All right, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I threw a couple back there, and it worked out.
JN: What’s a common misconception about long snappers?
RJ: Not athletic. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Dexter McDonald out there flying around.
I guess it would be they’re not really football players; they’re just kind of out there doing their thing. I think (teammate) John (Wirtel) and myself, we’d be able to play another position if we had to.
JN: What position would you play?
RJ: I’m not fast enough. I’d play offensive line. That’s what I played the whole time. I’d say that’s probably the biggest misconception.
JN: So you could play elsewhere?
RJ: Ah, if they needed me in a pinch.
JN: What was the highlight of your offseason?
RJ: Really seeing the guys come together as a team.
I think when you go 1-11, it can really run a team down. I don’t think that happened with this team at all. I think we came closer together as a team. I think we worked harder together as a team. I think we worked smarter together as a team. I think you could really see things start to mold together, and you could see that these guys really cared and bought in and wanted to win games. As far as me — because I want to win games as much as anybody else — I think seeing that, it gives you hope that, ‘No, we’re going to get this done.’ That would be the highlight for me.
JN: Do you have any routines or superstitions?
RJ: No, I’m kind of a chill guy when it comes to that. When I walk out there, I just kind of feel it. Like last year, when I played against South Dakota State, I thought I was going to be real nervous and everything. I kind of just went out there and was like, ‘All right, I got this.’ You just get loosened up and get ready to go. Just lock in.
JN: Do you have to be like that to be a long snapper?
RJ: At least for me, I know if I start thinking about something or I start tensing up, that’s when I’m going to screw up. I’m a relaxed, outgoing guy to begin with, so if I start locking up and start thinking about too much, that’s when I know I’m going to screw up. So I need to be out there kind of having fun.
I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Don’t turn it into a pressure situation for myself. Because when you get out there in front of 60,000 people, there’s going to be enough pressure already. So don’t put it on yourself. I’ve just got to go out there and have fun, sling it back there and I’ll be all right.
JN: Do you remember the first time you met Charlie Weis?
RJ: Sixth grade. My dad is in the media in South Bend (Indiana), and I used to tag along with him around Notre Dame and see what’s going on. I remember him just being out there. I introduced myself. He introduced himself, and that was it. It kind of just went on from there.
JN: What was the first impression when you met him?
RJ: This guy’s in charge. I don’t think that’s changed since. Through camps and school and sports and everything, I developed a pretty good friendship with Charlie Weis Jr. Tre' Parmalee and I have been friends since freshman year of high school. We would always be hanging out together.
It’s kind of crazy how it all worked out and we all ended up in Lawrence, Kansas.
JN: So did you have some interest in KU when Weis came here?
RJ: Definitely, yeah. My uncle had gone to KU. I’d always been a mild fan of KU. When coach Weis got the job, it was really like, ‘Oh.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Then they asked me if I wanted to walk on, and I was like, ‘I definitely need to check this out.’ I kind of took a chance, and it all worked out.
JN: How much do you guys talk other sports in the locker room?
RJ: Right now, it’s the awkward time in sports. Football hasn’t really started. You’ve got baseball that some of the guys talk. We talked a lot of basketball when the playoffs were going on. You had a lot of LeBron supporters, you had a lot of anti-LeBron guys. It’s fun to watch them jaw back and forth.
Sports are the channel that is pretty much always on downstairs. We go back and forth on it. Then during football season, it’s always … you’ve got a bunch of Cowboys fans, a bunch of Texans fans.
JN: Who’s the loudest when it comes to cheering for their team?
RJ: Probably Ty McKinney talking about the Heat.
He’s not even from Miami, so I can’t even take him seriously as a Heat fan.
JN: Ever cried at a movie?
RJ: I’m sure I have. I can’t remember. Oh … when I was in third grade, I cried at Monsters, Inc., because it made me miss my mom or something.
It was weird. I was a little kid, and looking back, I was like, ‘What was I doing?’
JN: That’s not the usual response, you know.
RJ: I know. It got me.
JN: What’s something that would stand out if I walked into your room?
RJ: It’s actually clean. (laughs) Yeah, (offensive lineman) Joe Gibson and I try to keep our apartment pretty tidy. I think that would be your surprise: two college football players actually keeping their apartment pretty tidy.
JN: What do you hope to accomplish here at KU?
RJ: Win a lot of games. And get to that point where you’re like, ‘KU’s a basketball school, but their football team is damn good.’ I want the culture to change, and I want to win a lot of games, and I want to win bowl games. I want to get back to that level of the Orange Bowl victories and the Insight Bowl victories and year in, year out, you’re competing for the Big 12 at the highest level.
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.