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Breakdown: Crazy? Yes. But KU fake punt ‘definitely had a chance’ if blocked correctly

For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."

Let's take a look at the Kansas football team's much-talked-about fake punt attempt in Saturday's 54-16 loss to Texas Tech. A reminder of the game situation: The score was tied 10-10 with 6:08 left in the second quarter, with KU facing fourth-and-13 from its own 16.

Right away, Coach can tell this is a punt return for Texas Tech by the positioning of its players.

How does he know? Look at each of Tech's players pre-snap and you can do the same.

giftimefakepunt

If a Tech player is going to rush the punter, he gets in a runner's stance, putting one foot in front of the other like a sprinter would.

If a Red Raider is blocking, he squares his feet up to the line to get ready to run backwards.

Ready to test your skills? Just for fun, here's a punt from later in the game. Can you tell me how many Texas Tech is rushing on the play?

Later punt formation

Later punt formation by Jesse Newell

If you said three, you are correct. Each of the players that had one foot in front of the other made it upfield, while the other players blocked.

Let's get back to the fake punt.

Coach says the two players going upfield for Tech (red circles below) are called "check kick" guys. Their job isn't to block the punt ... it's to make sure that KU punter Trevor Pardula actually kicks it and no fakes are on.

Coach notices that Tech isn't necessarily sound in its formation, though. He says when his team sends two "check kick" guys, it sends one guy from each side to make sure that they funnel the punter back to the inside.

In this play, Tech has one player coming from the right side of the line and one coming from the middle — potentially leaving the left side open for a big play.

Whether they know a fake is on or not, most of KU's line does a good job of clearing out space. They sprint downfield to cover the punt, dragging nearly every Tech player along with them.

That leaves KU three players in the shield (blue circle below) to block the two "check kick" guys.

From here, Coach says it's hard to tell why the play went wrong.

On his team, when a fake punt is called, every one of his players on the field knows it, as it is signaled to the team based on the call and cadence of the snap count.

From the video, Coach says one of two things happened to KU: 1. The three shield players didn't know a fake was on, or 2. They all failed miserably in trying to execute blocks.

One reason Coach doesn't believe the shield players knew about the punt is the action of No. 99 Tedarian Johnson, who is on the far left of the shield. When the Texas Tech player rushes toward him, he protects his inside shoulder. That makes sense on a normal punt, as he wouldn't want the Tech player to get to Pardula.

If Johnson knew it was a fake, Coach says this should be an easy block. Johnson could take a couple steps to the outside shoulder of the rushing Tech player, then pin him to the inside. The other personal protector (No. 91 Shane Smith) could then flow upfield to serve as a lead blocker on the play.

Notice at the top of the screen, No. 73 Damon Martin also doesn't try too hard at a block on Tech's other "check kick" guy, who eventually makes the tackle on the opposite side.

It's still hard for Coach to tell if it's bad execution or bad communication, as KU's shield players do run hard after the play is a few seconds in, making it difficult to know if they knew the fake was coming.

Either way, the Jayhawks had three players to block two, and they ended up blocking neither guy.

From Jayhawk Slant's Hawk Talk Recap from Monday night, here's what KU coach Charlie Weis said about the fake punt: "I think even when you are backed up in that situation and the look wasn't identical (to what team wanted to run the fake), if the two things that weren't done were done, it would have been an easy productive play."

Now, you know which two things he was talking about.

As for the situation is was called — on a fourth-and-13 at KU's own 16 — Coach said this might be a better play for fourth-and-seven or fourth-and-eight, which wouldn't put as much pressure on KU to make a big play.

Also, the field position definitely is a factor.

"It’s also an area where a team is not expecting a fake either, so it might work out even better," Coach says. "When we watch special teams film every week, we look for certain fakes or different things we can use against a team.

"Now, I’m not sure the head man would let us call it on our own 16-yard line, but it is something that we look at every week and try to have different wrinkles in."

The bottom line for this fake from KU?

"Big-time risk-reward," Coach says, "but it definitely had a chance."

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Breakdown: An example of KU’s offensive line getting out-physicaled by Rice

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.

7ojnQHF.gif

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 runs into Dent's back.

Smithburg runs into Dent's back. by Jesse Newell

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."

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/17/13

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

Full audio and the updated depth chart have been posted.

The KU coaching staff’s goal was to hold back and red-shirt one-third of the incoming transfers and play two-thirds of them. The coaches weren’t sure how the numbers would play out. Out of defensive linemen Ty McKinney, Tedarian Johnson, Marquel Combs and Andrew Bolton, the coaches were hoping to play two guys and save two. People were enamored with the names of the guys, while the staff was more enamored with the program. McKinney and Johnson being at KU a semester earlier has them way ahead. The staff thinks Combs and Bolton have huge upsides.

KU was hoping to sit one guy out of the secondary, and because of the NCAA circumstances, now that will be Kevin Short. Before Short was ruled out for the year by the NCAA, the staff thought Brandon Hollomon might sit out this year. Now, he’s playing and playing significant time. Thirteen of the juco guys are a significant part of KU’s plans this year. Receiver Mark Thomas and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore (injured knee) and receiver Nick Harwell (NCAA eligibility) are the other guys that will play a big part in the future.

Running back Taylor Cox had a death in the family last week and flew back to Seattle on Thursday for a funeral. He got back in just before the game Saturday. He has a nagging hamstring and groin. It’s been recurring for some time. If it doesn’t get better, KU will look to medical red-shirt him. If it gets better to the point that KU can play him, Weis says the team will do it. But right now, he would qualify for a medical red shirt, and that’s the direction the team is heading now.

The coaches weren’t pleased with the offensive line play in the last game. Right tackle Riley Spencer was a projected starter who has been slowed by knee ailments. He’s gotten better and better. Spencer is a strong man. Weis says he will bring more physicality. Zach Fondal is more athletic, but Weis wasn’t happy with the controlling of the line of scrimmage against Rice across the board.

Weis says tight end Jimmay Mundine has been moved to second team on the depth chart based on all aspects of his game. You have to go by what you see. Weis sees the same things as the reporters see, only he sees them a lot worse. Right now, Weis says the team has to give Trent Smiley the opportunity to see if it can get any better there. Smiley is more physical than Mundine. Weis wasn’t pleased with the physicality of his team last week.

The changes on the depth chart at receiver has some to do with drops and some to do with receivers not getting separation. The two guys at the top of the depth chart at receiver (Rodriguez Coleman, Tre’ Parmalee) are the two that get open the best in practice. They catch it pretty well, too. Coleman is probably getting force-fed being the No. 1 receiver before he’s ready, but KU needs to get better. KU can’t win games scoring 14 points.

Parmalee runs great routes and catches the football. He’ll never be a burner, but KU needs a guy that can run routes and get open.

Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson will have expanded roles this week. Weis said he hasn’t been sleeping well since Saturday night because of the offense. Rice rolled defense to Pierson the entire night. Even on his touchdown catch, Pierson had two guys on him. It’s hard to force feed him the ball to him in those scenarios, because the opponent isn’t respecting that other players can get open.

Weis was pleased with his defense Saturday. The only thing that made him a little upset was some players were a little late getting to the alleys to stop the run. The Rice running back had too many yards. But if you hold a team to 16 points, you should count on winning.

Weis says JaCorey Shepherd is becoming more comfortable with additional time at cornerback. Weis says the team should have high expectations for Dexter McDonald. He’s a big-time player.

Combs is on board with red-shirting. The team doesn’t do these things without involving the player. On the offensive and defensive lines, the guys that are on campus a semester earlier play better. You have to stagger the juco players so they don’t graduate at the same time. KU is taking a-third of them this year and pushing them another year with a red shirt. Combs will play on scout team this year.

Last year, Weis couldn’t identify dropped passes as a problem, because a lot of the passes weren’t close enough to be caught. Now, the ball is getting to the right spot most of the time. KU needs to be able to throw to score and win games. KU needs to do a better job of executing. That’s everyone, including the coaches.

The Rice game was different than any other loss, because KU’s guys went there expecting to win. They weren’t hoping for something to happen; they were expecting to win.

Linebacker Ben Heeney is playing faster than everyone else. He might not run faster, but he’s playing faster. That’s what Weis is used to seeing in the NFL. That’s how guys play in the NFL. When they come, they’re coming with a vengeance. He’s a pleasure to watch.

Christian Matthews is in the top five of the receivers. He’s involved in some other packages. He’s much more comfortable in the slot than he is outside, but most of the time, Pierson is the guy in the slot. Matthews is still in the mix, though.

KU’s secondary played great against Rice. Linebacker Samson Faifili has been a huge plus. Defensive lineman Ty McKinney has a chance to be a disruptive front-line guy.

Weis is a big fan of KU’s fans. He’s never been in a venue that feels like Allen Fieldhouse, and he’s been to a lot of arenas. Once you start winning more football games, that’s when you can more judge KU's football fans. Already, Weis likes the support, and that's with the team losing. Weis has an “incomplete” on his resume, because he wants to see what the fanbase is like once KU starts winning more. The fans, though, have been nothing but supportive from his perspective.

Weis says Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is in a no-win situation. When a former star at the school like Tommie Frazier hammers you in comments, you’ve got two choices: say nothing or say something. Usually, it’s better saying nothing.

Smiley is a short-to-intermediate pass-catching threat. Mundine is more athletic and can get downfield better. But you still have to go by production.

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Box score breakdown: KU’s running game against Rice wasn’t what we’re used to

Let's take a look at our "new" box score for Kansas' 23-14 loss to Rice.

For those who didn't check out last week's blog, this box score is meant to give some of the most relevant stats so we can take a deeper (and better) look into the numbers.

KU-Rice updated "new" box score

KU-Rice updated "new" box score by Jesse Newell

Here are a few takeaways from the box score:

KU's pass defense, once again, was stellar

Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald celebrates his interception during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Kansas cornerback Dexter McDonald celebrates his interception during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. by Nick Krug

If you're looking for positives, this has to be the biggest one. After a dominating pass defense performance in Game 1 against South Dakota (2.8 pass yards allowed/attempt), the Jayhawks backed it up with an effort that was nearly as impressive against respected Rice QB Taylor McHargue (4.1 pass yards allowed/attempt).

Not only that, KU's secondary is making plays on the ball. KU's 11 passes defensed (pass breakups plus interceptions) is a huge number that hints the Jayhawks should me more competitive defensively this year in the pass-happy Big 12. Through two games, KU's 7.5 passes broken up per game leads the conference, while Dexter McDonald is tied for fourth nationally with five pass breakups of his own.

KU's pass offense, once again, was pretty bad

Remember, in our "new" box score, sacks are counted against the passing totals, as technically, they are passing plays. Through this prism, KU's passing numbers go from bad to cover-your-eyes awful.

The Jayhawks mustered just 4.2 net passing yards per attempt after posting an identical 4.2 net yards per attempt against South Dakota the week before. Notice that if you look at yards per completion, KU's passing numbers jump up to 9.8 yards per catch. So what does that tell us? In short, KU isn't completing enough passes. For the second straight week, quarterback Jake Heaps failed to complete more than 50 percent of his throws, and once again, costly drops kept KU from having a more efficient passing game.

Trevor Pardula had another great game

Again, if optimism is your thing, KU punter/kickoff guy Trevor Pardula is another reason to believe KU can be competitive in Big 12 games. After seven punts, the junior still maintained a healthy 40.4-yard net punt average, and that was a big reason KU stayed close in the field-position game (KU's average start was its own 27; Rice's was its own 30). Pardula also blasted three more touchbacks, and through nine kickoffs this season, his six touchbacks are already more than KU had in all of 2012 (five in 47 kickoffs).

KU's offensive numbers were even worse considering the opportunities

In 2012, during games between two FBS teams, the average squad had 13 possessions per game. The Jayhawks had it 15 times against the Owls and still never managed to find a rhythm. To be fair, one of those possessions was a kneeldown at the end of the first half, but the numbers are ugly regardless. KU managed just 18 yards per possession, which is barely half of what an NCAA team averaged a year ago (31.1 yards per possession). Remember, that was against a Rice defense that allowed 52 points in 14 possessions to Texas A&M two weeks before.

It was a weird game for KU's running game

The last few years, KU has had success in the running game by getting modest gains to keep the chains moving. Against Rice, the Jayhawks were the total opposite of that, featuring a boom-or-bust tendency while playing without backup RB Taylor Cox.

Kansas running back Darrian Miller is upended by Rice linebacker Nick Elder during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Kansas running back Darrian Miller is upended by Rice linebacker Nick Elder during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. by Nick Krug

KU had three rushes of 12 yards are more, and all were by James Sims, who has been more of a grinding back during his career. On the opposite side of the spectrum, though, KU had seven rushes that went for no gain or a loss, indicating the Jayhawks' offensive linemen were getting overpowered too often.

That made for some weird stats. KU's 4.2-yard-per-carry average might be more acceptable if the Jayhawks were better able to avoid losing plays. Instead, KU averaged just 2.6 yards on first down because of all the run stuffs, and that put the team in tough situations on third downs, where the Jayhawks' average gain to go was 7.9 yards — much too high for a team that is still trying to find itself in the passing game.

The pick-six was a killer

The box score above shows this game wasn't dominated by Rice. The Owls had slightly better numbers across the board, but statistically this game was close enough for KU to win if it had a positive turnover margin.

Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, Heaps' pick-six in the first quarter put the team in a huge hole. Bill Connelly has done the math to compile an NCAA football chart for equivalent points — the number of points a team is likely to score on a drive from a certain yard line.

When Heaps threw the pass, KU was on the Rice 46 — a yard line worth 1.62 equivalent points to KU. The interception return for TD then gave the Owls seven points, and the ensuing kickoff was a touchback, putting KU on the 25 — worth 0.01 equivalent point.

Do the math, and that was a 8.61-point swing because of a single play — definitely enough to swing the balance of a game that the Owls won by ... nine points.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/10/13

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

The updated depth chart (only second-team changes) and full press conference audio have been posted.

Most weeks, KU’s opponents are running schemes where the quarterback is involved as a runner. Weis says KU is going to have to do a better job of tackling the quarterback than it did a week ago against South Dakota, or Rice’s QB Taylor McHargue will gash the Jayhawks. You have to be ready to defend him. You can’t just treat him as a passer.

Weis feels a lot better about his team after it got a game under its belt. He says going on the road can be good for a team, because there are fewer distractions. It’s a lot more of a business trip on the road than people would think.

Connor Embree has had good punt returns the entire spring. This is the first chance he’s had to do it in a game. Weis says he stepped up to the plate and delivered. Embree catches the ball really well on punt returns and makes good decisions. Weis says one of Embree’s best plays was the return when he only gained a couple yards. The ball was bouncing, and he decided to catch it to keep it from rolling. That probably saved KU 20 yards.

From what Weis understands, Rice typically doesn’t have good home crowds. Weis says that’s probably a good thing for his team’s first road game. To go on the road and not have it be 80,000 people going bonkers is probably a good way to ease into a road schedule.

KU’s offensive line had good run-blocking against South Dakota. The pass protection is yet to be determined, because KU didn’t throw it as much. Any time you rush for close to 300 yards, though, obviously the offensive line had something to do with it. Weis believes what KU lost in experience on the offensive line this year, it gained in physicality. He especially believes that’s the case with KU’s two guards Ngalu Fusimalohi and Mike Smithburg.

Weis says he’ll use last year’s Rice game as a teaching tool. He says Rice deserved to win the game last year, and KU deserved to lose it. KU didn’t close out the game. Give credit to Rice. KU played not to lose instead of playing to win.

Rice offensive coordinator John Reagan has a lot of familiarity with KU defensive backs coach Clint Bowen from their time together on KU’s staff a few years ago, so there shouldn’t be many surprises with Rice’s offense for Bowen on Saturday.

Weis says the situation this week for the coaches has been utopia after a win, because it’s allowed them to be harder on the players to make them better. It’s been a bad week for some of KU’s players, because you can really get on them hard because they’re feeling good about themselves after a win. Weis says it’s great as a coach when you can give constructive criticism after a victory, because players are more open-minded and listen to you better.

The entire night against South Dakota, the only real throw that quarterback Jake Heaps would have liked to have back was the deep throw to Rodriguez Coleman that he overthrew by a few yards. Weis liked that Coleman laid out for the ball. Weis says Coleman’s on the cusp of taking a meteoric rise up the depth chart. When he gets it, it’ll be tough for others to get him off the field. He’s playing from behind a little bit, because he got in late and was banged up a bit in fall camp. He’s healthy now. He has plenty of time to catch up.

Weis has no update on cornerback Kevin Short’s status (he missed Saturday’s game because of personal reasons). Short has some personal things he’s working through that were a bit of a surprise to KU’s coaching staff. When Weis knows something, he says he’ll be sure to tell everyone.

Running back Taylor Cox is going in practice today after suffering a leg injury at the end of the South Dakota game. Weis will have to see visual evidence to see what he looks like out there. No one else on the roster would be in the “questionable” range if an injury report was released.

Weis says it is too early to determine for sure if some guys are red-shirting. You have to see how things go at each position. Especially with freshmen, Weis tries to not make a decision with them until it gets closer to halfway through the season. If Weis is going to use a true freshman, he’s going to use him. He doesn’t want to burn a red-shirt year to get a guy a couple scrub snaps at the end of a game.

Weis says KU’s passing game against South Dakota was nothing like any game last year. No games last year looked anything like that. KU had four or five dropped balls and three throwaways out of 20, and KU completed 10. KU had two or three balls that were clear incompletions out of 20 throws. If KU gets that percentage this week, Weis will take it. Throwaways are part of what you do. They’re a good thing. Weis writes them down as a smart play.

For the program, winning last week got the losing streak out of the way. Winning this week could get the road losing streak out of the way. Winning against Texas Tech could get the conference losing streak out of the way. Saturday is a chance for another KU to get another stepping stone.

Weis says receiver Justin McCay was excited for his first game. It’s been a while since he played. The same could be said for Heaps. Weis expects both to be better this week.

KU’s pass defense didn’t really get threatened against South Dakota. KU did give up the one long gain on third and 19. There will be more time for evaluation of the unit in future weeks.

Weis liked having all his defensive coaches on the field. They were able to work through some kinks against South Dakota, too. People want to make a big deal about how KU is coordinating the defense. The only position that ties all the units together is the linebacking corps, and that’s why Bowen puts the defense together.

KU has a whole package for the Wildcat (or Jayhawk) formation. You have to put it in there so other teams have to work on it. There were a lot of things that KU did in that game on purpose. As the season plays out, it won’t be the last time you see Christian Matthews out there in that formation.

Defensive lineman Ty McKinney is playing really well, and defensive lineman Marquel Combs isn’t getting many reps. So KU bounced McKinney out to end so Combs could potentially get more time at nose tackle behind Keon Stowers, who is playing at a high level. McKinney also will have a chance to get first-team minutes at end, because he’s not beating out Stowers. So KU could get two positive residuals out of that.

KU has been practicing getting the ball snapped in 15 seconds or less. Weis doesn’t stand there with a stopwatch, but that’s probably close to what it was. Weis figured if he was going to have his defense practice against a high-tempo pace, he might as well do it on offense as well.

Victor Simmons has finally found a home at nickel back. He’s bounced between safety and linebacker at KU. Now, he’s settled into a position that he seems to be comfortable at. If you’re a good athlete and know what you’re doing out there, usually you start to make plays. That’s what’s happening with him.

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Breakdown: Why KU’s Wildcat formation didn’t work against South Dakota

For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."

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.

Pin and pull

Pin and pull by Jesse Newell

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.

4 on 3.

4 on 3. by Jesse Newell

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.

Double option

Double option by Jesse Newell

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.

Matthews' attack point.

Matthews' attack point. by Jesse Newell

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?

Alignment

Alignment by Jesse Newell

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.

Corner blitz

Corner blitz by Jesse Newell

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.

End crashes.

End crashes. by Jesse Newell

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."

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Box score breakdown: 3 positives and negatives following KU’s win over South Dakota

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:

The "new" box score

The "new" box score by Jesse Newell

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

Kansas safety Dexter Linton snags South Dakota recevier Terrance Terry by the jersey before bringing him down during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas safety Dexter Linton snags South Dakota recevier Terrance Terry by the jersey before bringing him down during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps turns to throw against South Dakota during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps turns to throw against South Dakota during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

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.

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Here’s how Charlie Weis’ juco gamble is looking so far

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.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt confer during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. by Nick Krug

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.

Starters (8)
• 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)

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16.

Offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi participates in practice Friday, August 16. by Mike Yoder

Co-starter (1)
• 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)

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt.

Kansas University defensive lineman Andrew Bolton stretches during practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at the Jayhawks’ fall camp. Bolton, a juco newcomer, has star potential once he knocks off some rust, according to his coach on the KU defensive line, Buddy Wyatt. by Nick Krug

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:

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players.

KU's 2013 scholarship juco players. by Jesse Newell

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.

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Cliff’s Notes: Charlie Weis press conference, 9/3/13

Here is the Cliff's Notes version from Kansas football coach Charlie Weis' comments at his press conference today.

KU's updated depth chart and full press conference audio from Weis have been posted.

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.

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Why James Sims shouldn’t be a workhorse running back for KU in 2013

"Why is James Sims a good running back?"

James Sims.

James Sims. by Jesse Newell

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.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs.

2012 Adjusted POE for Big 12 non-QBs. by Jesse Newell

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.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders.

KU's 2011 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

2010 Adjusted POE leaders.

2010 Adjusted POE leaders. by Jesse Newell

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.

KU's explosive runs in 2012.

KU's explosive runs in 2012. by Jesse Newell

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.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries.

KU explosive runs per 25 carries. by Jesse Newell

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

  • Examining grips with KU's Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings
  • Charlie Weis should embrace risk with this year's Jayhawks
  • How does KU basketball rank compared to other blue bloods in terms of playing fast?
  • Ranking the top 10 dunks of 2012-13
  • How a fingertip, a late rotation and a great player contributed to Michigan's frantic comeback over KU
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