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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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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: Should we still consider KU a run-first team?

Here's a look at our "new" box score for Kansas' 13-10 victory over LA Tech.

A note for first-time readers: 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-LA Tech "new" box score

KU-LA Tech "new" box score by Jesse Newell

Here are a few takeaways from the box score:

Turnovers saved the Jayhawks

Kansas defensive lineman Keon Stowers comes away with the ball after recovering a Louisiana Tech fumble late in the fourth quarter to give the Jayhawks the ball back.

Kansas defensive lineman Keon Stowers comes away with the ball after recovering a Louisiana Tech fumble late in the fourth quarter to give the Jayhawks the ball back. by Nick Krug

One glance at our "new" box score shows that LA Tech was the better team Saturday. The Bulldogs were better in yards per play, yards per possession, average field position, explosive plays ... pretty much any category you want to look at.

That sometimes isn't enough, though, when you can't hold onto the football.

Though Tech had only one more turnover than KU (3-2), the Bulldogs' miscues were much more costly. If we look at equivalent points — the number of points a team is likely to score on a drive from a certain yard line, plus the average number of points the opponent is likely to score on the ensuing possession — we see that quarterback Ryan Higgins' fumble cost his team an estimated 6.79 points (the ball at the opponent's 2 is worth 7.11 points; KU getting the ball at its own 20 is worth -0.32 points to KU) and Kenneth Dixon's fumble cost his team an estimated 5.54 points.

Add it up, and those 12 points given to KU — along with some timely offense from the Jayhawks — made up for KU's other deficiencies.

It's time to be concerned about the run game

Remember, for this box score, any negative yards on sacks go in to "Passing Yards" category, which makes the Jayhawks' 3.8-yard-per-carry rushing average look even worse.

KU coach Charlie Weis said after the game that his offensive line was getting beaten routinely inside by Tech's front four, so he altered his game plan to try to attack the Bulldogs with the passing game on the edges.

Playing musical chairs with the offensive line probably didn't help, either. At times, the right side of KU's line (Dylan Admire, Damon Martin, Riley Spencer) featured three players that didn't even start in the team's previous game against Rice.

After watching this year's struggles, it seems likely we probably didn't give enough credit to offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson, Trevor Marrongelli and Duane Zlatnik for clearing the holes they did for the running game a season ago.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with our Div. II assistant coach from the breakdown blog last week.

After I showed him the video of KU's offensive line getting blown up by Rice's front four, "Coach" made the comment that there was a possibility that this year's Jayhawks might not be suited to be a run-first team.

"You have to tailor your offense around the type of players that you have," Coach said. "Last year was the 2012 KU Jayhawks. The 2012 KU Jayhawks are only going to happen once ever. The 2013 Jayhawks are a new team, so maybe they’re not going to be as great at running the ball, so maybe they need to do other things."

It's looking more and more like that with each passing week.

KU's passing game much more efficient

Kansas receiver Christian Matthews hauls in a pass with Louisiana Tech defensive back Xavier Woods on his back during the fourth quarter.

Kansas receiver Christian Matthews hauls in a pass with Louisiana Tech defensive back Xavier Woods on his back during the fourth quarter. by Nick Krug

For the first time this year, KU completed more than 50 percent of its passes in a game, as Jake Heaps was 28-for-46, good for a 61-percent completion rate.

One encouraging sign for KU was that many of its pass plays were simpler. Heaps said after the game that the Jayhawks took quite a few "free" yards on rollout plays, simply taking advantage of what the defense was giving to pick up some short yardage.

The Jayhawks still aren't much of a threat to break a deep pass play, but some passing game is better than none. With KU's run getting stuffed all game, Heaps at least showed the ability to get moderate gains through the air, while the receivers limited their drops to help the pass game's efficiency.

KU's run defense starting to show some holes

KU's pass defense once again was a bright spot, coming up with nine pass breakups while holding Tech to an excellent 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

On the other hand, the Jayhawks continue to get gashed by a variety of running plays.

Against Rice, it was the read- and speed-option that burned KU. Against LA Tech, KU struggled against more traditional running plays, allowing an "explosive run" (12 or more yards) on nearly a-fourth of the Bulldogs' rushes (seven of 29 run plays).

Almost every team in the Big 12 is pass-happy, so KU is better off having a team that is built to defend the pass rather than the run.

Still, KU is about to face better running backs, so some improvement is needed to get opposing offenses into passing downs so KU can take advantage of the impressive secondary it has assembled.

Take a bow, Trevor Pardula

I believe I'm safe in saying this is a game KU definitely would have lost a year ago without punter Trevor Pardula.

The juco transfer saved the Jayhawks on Saturday when it came to field position. Though KU didn't get good field position often (average start of own 19), Pardula made sure that Tech didn't have better field position, as his booming punts ensured that Tech's average drive start was its own 28.

Field position matters, too. Tech had a nine-yard advantage on average field position, and in 2012, FBS teams won 71.6 percent of the games when their field position was eight-to-12 yards better than their opponents.

As mentioned in the first week's blog, when two FBS teams played in 2012 and one team had an advantage of 12 yards or more per drive in field position, that team's record was 151-10 (.938). And without Pardula netting 55.8 yards on his five punts, KU most likely loses the field-position battle by at least 12 yards.

Through three games, Pardula has probably made the biggest impact of any juco player Weis brought in for this season.

Playmakers needed

Kansas receiver Rod Coleman has a pass broken up by Louisiana Tech defenders Thomas McDonald (33) and Le'Vander Liggins (13) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Rod Coleman has a pass broken up by Louisiana Tech defenders Thomas McDonald (33) and Le'Vander Liggins (13) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

KU had more possessions and more plays than an average contest, yet the Jayhawks mustered just six "explosive" plays.

What's also troubling is that KU had quite a bit of issues on first down — a down where a team should have most of the playbook open. KU averaged just 3.1 yards on first down, with the same number of first-down plays going for negative yards (three) as 10-plus-yard gains (three).

The Jayhawks performed some second-down miracles while doing a good job of avoiding sacks to keep their third-down distances manageable (6.1 average yards to go), but the fact is, KU's offense is going to continue to struggle if someone doesn't emerge to break off 30-plus-yard plays every once in a while (KU had none against LA Tech).

Weis did a better job of getting speedy Tony Pierson the ball on Saturday, but there's still work to be done to get him more opportunities in the open field.

Through three games — and a 2-1 record — I'd argue that Pierson and receiver Rodriguez Coleman are the most significant players for this team moving forward.

Those guys provide KU with the best hope at breaking off big plays, which will be vital if the Jayhawks can't get their offensive line — and running game — back to last year's form.

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