Quarterback runs continue to trouble KU defense

photo by: AP Photo/Andy Barron

Nevada's Brendon Lewis (2) is chased by Kansas' Jereme Robinson during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Reno, Nev.

In each of Kansas’ three wins so far, the opposing quarterback has been his team’s leading rusher. Jacob Clark, Luke Altmyer and Brendon Lewis have combined to carry the ball 32 times for 164 yards and four touchdowns.

It’s not for lack of trying on the Jayhawks’ part. The week after Kansas football’s season-opening win against Missouri State, defensive coordinator Brian Borland said, “We kind of opened up some rush lanes for (Missouri State’s) quarterback to run through. We’ve kind of addressed that and what we got to do better in that area.”

He added that the Jayhawks’ defense couldn’t give the same lanes to Illinois’ quarterback, Altmyer.

When it came time to play, though, Altmyer took off for a 72-yard touchdown run to kickstart an Illini rally — one of his two scores on the night — and made it to 70 net rushing yards even as he got sacked six times for minus-28 yards.

Then, Saturday night in Nevada, Wolf Pack quarterback Lewis converted an early third down with a 17-yard run, shot up the middle just before the half for a 20-yard gain to set up a game-tying Sean Dollars touchdown run and ultimately ended up evening the game twice more later on with rushing scores of his own.

“We just got to get back to doing the small things, just paying attention to our keys,” safety Kenny Logan Jr. said Saturday. “Those are little things that we’re going to build on to make sure we kind of clean up for next week.”

KU head coach Lance Leipold suggested that the Jayhawks could employ a spy to limit quarterback runs and do better in containment generally. But he noted that there isn’t one specific problem the team can pinpoint that specifically hurts it in those moments.

“Especially on defense, we talk a lot (about), ‘You got 11 guys, do your one-11th of the job,’ and at different times there’s just a different breakdown,” he said Monday. “… We just had too many of those situations. I think again, it’s a great learning time, something we got to work on and improve this week, as we’re playing an experienced quarterback, and I think our guys are ready for that challenge.”

Some plays on Saturday saw the Jayhawks maintain decent containment, particularly via their linebacking corps and the play of Rich Miller. But others found the defense poorly aligned. Leipold said Monday that on one play, the KU defense was running a stunt and wasn’t able to rotate back over appropriately to get to the outside (“We didn’t get the other guy wrapped around, he got pinned in”).

On one of Lewis’ second-half touchdown runs, pass rusher Austin Booker drifted far enough over to Lewis’ right to give him space to his left, and Miller and Cobee Bryant couldn’t come down from the end zone quickly enough to limit his scramble to the goal line. On another, Lewis kept the ball for a bootleg as most of the KU defensive line converged on the running back Dollars, and Davion Westmoreland couldn’t beat him to the pylon. And those came during the latter portion of the game, when the Jayhawks generally did better against the quarterback runs.

KU might not need to immediately confront this problem when it hosts BYU for its Big 12 Conference opener this weekend. The Cougars’ quarterback, Kedon Slovis, has carried the ball 129 times for minus-220 yards in his five collegiate seasons, including minus-2 this year so far. (In fact, BYU’s rushing offense as a whole has been one of the worst in the country, 124th out of 130 teams in yards per game while averaging just 2.67 yards per carry.)

The same cannot be said for the quarterbacks in the conference at large, and even specifically for the Jayhawks’ opponents this season. UCF’s John Rhys Plumlee, currently injured, could be back in time to face KU in Lawrence on Oct. 7. Cincinnati’s Emory Jones and Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough are also experienced signal-callers who rank No. 15 and No. 16 in rushing yards in the Big 12, respectively. They’ll have a chance to boost those numbers against the Jayhawks when the season enters its home stretch in November.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.