Defensive issues typified KU football’s 2019 season

Baylor Bears running back JaMycal Hasty (6) gets into the end zone for a touchdown past Kansas cornerback Kyle Mayberry (8) during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

In a season full of highs and lows for the Kansas football team, the valleys outnumbered the peaks for the Jayhawks’ defense.

Although the unit got off to a somewhat promising start, with KU’s three nonconference opponents scoring only 17.7 points a game, the Big 12 often proved too punishing for the defense.

By the end of his first season as Kansas head coach, Les Miles saw his new team’s defense turn into one of the worst in the country.

The Jayhawks (3-9 overall, 1-8 Big 12) surrendered 450 or more yards in each of their final eight games of the season. In Big 12 play, they gave up 42.2 points per game.

Scan college football’s national statistical rankings and Kansas ranked 100th or worst out of 130 FBS teams in multiple defensive categories.

In the first season under defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot the Jayhawks allowed 36.1 points per game (120th), 225.7 rushing yards (124th), 249.5 passing yards (100th) and 475.2 total yards per game (122nd).

They were one of the very worst teams in the country on third downs, as opponents converted 52.27% of their chances (128th).

All of this stemmed from KU’s inability to consistently create the type of pressure and disruptive plays that can swing games.

Senior linebacker Azur Kamara led the team with 3.5 sacks, indicative of KU’s lack of quarterback pressure all year long. The Jayhawks averaged only 1.42 sacks per game (110th).

They weren’t making many stops behind the line of scrimmage, either. Senior linebacker Najee Stevens-McKenzie led the way with 8.5 tackles for loss. But as a team KU averaged only 5.0 TFLs an outing (108th).

Although the KU defense in 2018 racked up takeaways (27), that type of thievery didn’t carry over to the following season. A defensive back didn’t even lead Kansas in interceptions. Stevens-McKenzie earned that distinction with his two picks. The KU defense as a whole finished with six interceptions (tied for 110th) over the course of 12 games.

Forced fumbles were a rarity, too, with just seven all year. Senior safety Mike Lee forced two of those.

With so few chances to recover loose balls on the turf, KU ranked dead last (130th) in fumbles recovered, with two.

While Eliot, Miles and KU’s defensive coaches have an entire offseason to address their issues, they will go about it while also having to replace a bulk of their contributors from the recently completed season.

The defense’s final depth chart of 2019 included 12 seniors: defensive ends Darrius Moragne and Codey Cole III, nose tackle Jelani Brown, linebackers Azur Kamara, Najee Stevens-McKenzie, Willie McCaleb and Shaq Richmond, and defensive backs Bryce Torneden, DeAnte Ford, Hasan Defense, Elmore Hempstead Jr. and Mike Lee. The final depth chart didn’t include senior safety Jeremiah McCullough, who was out for the year due to injury and has exhausted his eligibility.

KU football’s 2019 defensive stats

Scoring defense: 36.1 points allowed per game (120th)

Rushing defense: 225.7 yards allowed per game (124th); 4.9 yards allowed per rush (106th)

Passing defense: 249.5 yards allowed per game (100th); 8.0 yards allowed per pass (90th); 63.8% opponent completion percentage (106th); 148.84 opponent passing efficiency rating (101st)

Total defense: 475.2 yards allowed per game (122nd); 6.15 yards allowed per play (100th)

Sacks: 1.42 per game (110th)

Tackles for loss: 5.0 per game (108th)

Interceptions: 0.5 per game (tied-110th)

Passes defended (broken up or intercepted): 3.58 per game (100th)

Fumbles forced: 0.58 per game (tied-93rd)

Fumbles recovered: 0.16 per game (130th); 18.2% fumble recovery percentage (130th)

Third down defense: Opponents converted on 52.27% of chances (128th)

Fourth down defense: Opponents converted on 50% (8 of 116) of chances (tied-56th)

Red zone defense: Opponents scored on 86.89% (53 of 61; 43 TDs and 11 FGs) of red zone trips (96th)

Opponent long scrimmage plays: 201 plays of 10-plus yards allowed (123rd); 62 plays of 20-plus yards (tied-90th); 23 plays of 30-plus yards (tied-49th)

Opponent long rushing plays: 80 runs of 10-plus yards (120th); 20 runs of 20-plus yards (tied-90th); 8 runs of 30-plus yards (tied-69th)

Opponent long passing plays: 121 passes of 10-plus yards (tied-104th); 41 passes of 20-plus yards (tied-81st);15 passes of 30-plus yards (tied-34th)

Statistics from


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