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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few takeaways:

KU's defense played horribly ... wait, no it didn't

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

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

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

So what gives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing is working for KU offensively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KU's defense not giving up big plays

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

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

Still ... KU's pass defense wasn't as good as past weeks

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

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

KU had some bad luck with turnovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KU killed by field position

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

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

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

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

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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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