Trying to make sense of the KU offense’s season-opening struggles

photo by: Associated Press

Coastal Carolina cornerback Derick Bush (23) and safety Shi'heem Watkins (28) break up a pass intended for Kansas wide receiver Andrew Parchment (4) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Twenty-three points and 367 yards, including just a field goal by halftime, was not exactly the offensive explosion Kansas football fans were expecting to see in the debut game of Offensive Coordinator Brent Dearmon’s first full season in charge of the Jayhawks’ offense.

But as unimaginative and ho-hum as the KU offense looked for much of the game on Saturday night, there were a couple of reasons why.

The reasons are not excuses, which you can come with for days. Instead, we’re talking about actual factors that had an impact on the offense’s slow and sluggish night. Here are a few of them.

• No Stephon Robinson – We still don’t know the reason for Robinson not playing in this one, and we may never. But not having him out there made things harder. The senior who was one of the Jayhawks’ most dangerous and reliable threats in the passing game in 2020 definitely would have made impact somewhere on the field had he been in uniform instead of street clothes. Heck, on the first drive alone, it almost certainly would have been Robinson on the field instead of freshman Lawrence Arnold, who allowed a perfectly throw ball from Thomas MacVittie to slip through his hands and into the arms of a Coastal Carolina defender, thus jumpstarting the early onslaught of KU miscues and CCU points.

• That 21-0 hole – Speaking of that early onslaught, Coastal Carolina’s ability to jump out to a 21-0 lead by the 11-minute mark of the second quarter had to impact that way KU’s offense called this one. Sure, there was still plenty of time to settle in and execute, but staring into a 21-0 hole — that eventually grew to 28-0 — does not exactly create a sense of calm for the players or the coaches. KU’s opening drive looked promising and featured a good run/pass blend. But once the deficit grew to three scores, the Jayhawks surely had to adjust their game plan from what they had envisioned throughout August. I get it. If you don’t want to play from 21 points behind, don’t get down 21 points in the first place. But the offense can only control so much of that, and that specific situation certainly contributed to what they called.

• Neither MacVittie & nor Miles Kendrick is as talented as Carter Stanley – No one knew at this point last year, of course, just how good of a season Stanley was going to have. But it seems a little more certain that neither MacVittie nor Kendrick is in line for that type of season in 2020. And while that’s obviously significant in terms of what it means for the calls Dearmon can make, it also is important to remember when evaluating what happens at the QB position from here. As much as it would be nice to see KU pick one guy and go with him, the fact that the coaches did not do that in Week 1 tells you all you need to know about their confidence in either quarterback.

• The O-line struggled mightily – MacVittie or Kendrick, Pooka Williams or Velton Gardner — it often did not matter who was in the game at either position, as the Coastal Carolina defensive line physically won at the point of attack far too often for the Jayhawks to find any real rhythm or comfort on offense. That was to be expected to some degree, given the fact that KU’s O-line featured a few new faces from a year ago. But it also has to get better, and fast, if the Jayhawks hope to enjoy the kind of offensive season that their talented group of weapons at the skill positions could deliver.

• Dearmon’s still relatively new in his role – Sure he has experience calling plays at lower levels and also possesses extensive knowledge about how to coach football and call offenses, but he’s still doing it all at Kansas — and under Les Miles — for the first time. Maybe that means Miles still has some say in how the offense runs. Maybe that means Dearmon still needs a few weeks with this particular group to find his footing. Remember, the Jayhawks, like the rest of college football, got no spring practices and had a limited and spotty preseason camp before kicking things off for real. The hype surrounding Dearmon and his impact on the program has certainly created the expectation for the Jayhawks to be a juggernaut on offense. And they might become that in time. But the personnel is still too limited and Dearmon is still a little too green for Kansas fans to expect their team to light up the scoreboard week in and week out with consistency.

Growing pains are real, and the Jayhawks were always going to experience some of them in the season opener. Especially against a Coastal Carolina team that returned 75% of its production from 2019 and a talented defense.

It’s totally fair to expect more and better, and it’s also fair to criticize the effort that the Jayhawks put forth on Saturday night.

But let’s see how things play out over the next few weeks before making any final judgements about the 2020 season.

Remember, Stanley completed just 13 passes for 107 yards while also tossing two interceptions against these guys a year ago. He followed that up by passing for at least 230 yards and 3 TDs in five of his next six games.

The Jayhawks don’t have Stanley anymore. But they do still have Dearmon. Now’s when he earns his money.


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