Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Opinion: Running on first down best bet for KU


Part of the self-study college football coaching staffs do during bye weeks involves statistical research. Second-year Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis shared one trend Tuesday that eats at him.

On third down with less than six yards to go for a first down, Kansas is doing “fine,” Weis said and added the Jayhawks are “crummy” on third-and-6 or more.

Juicing the offense, he continued, will require either becoming more efficient on third-and-long or getting into fewer such down-and-distance situations.

I did a little statistical research to see if there might be a way to help the second part of the equation, getting into fewer third-and-long binds.

First-down play calling always makes for interesting conversation, so I compared how Kansas does when it runs the ball on first down to how it fares when running a pass play. First-and-goal plays were excluded from the statistical study.

Loaded with talented running backs and shy of productive receivers, Kansas has a better running game than passing game, so defenses tend to shade their defensive game plans to stop the run.

Weis said Tuesday the essence of his play calling is to “play to our strengths and hide our weaknesses.”

For the most part, Weis has done so with his first-down play calling. Kansas has run the ball 57 percent of the time on first down.

Generally speaking, running on first down has been a good idea in the area of avoiding third-and-long mountains to climb. Passing on first down has resulted in far more third-and-6-or-more pickles.

Third-and-5 certainly isn’t a good outcome, but for the sake of this argument, we’ll put anything third-and-5 or better in the positive column, third-and-6 or worse in the negative. If there is a first down or touchdown on first or second down, that goes in the positive column, a turnover in the negative.

Running the ball on first down has led to a positive outcome 72 percent of the time, third-and-6 or worse 28 percent of the time. Passing the ball on first down has resulted in a positive outcome just 57 percent of the time, a negative result 43 percent of the time.

The greatest disparity came in the Rice game, in which Kansas called running plays 11 times on first-and-10 and called 12 passing plays. When running on first down, 73 percent went in the positive column outlined above, 27 in the negative. When passing on first down against the Owls, only 25 percent went positive, 75 percent negative.

Against a Louisiana Tech defense, the strength of which was up front, passing on first down actually worked better, with a 76-percent positive rating passing, compared to a 64-percent positive rating running on first down.

No matter the vantage point, Kansas grades out as a run-first offense. But can the line block well enough to support that approach? It can if the blockers improve technique and chemistry each week — always a possibility, never a given.


Jack Jones 6 months, 2 weeks ago

My head hurts. Between the absurd meaningless numbers {the outcome of any sporting event depends entirely on how well your guy (or woman) plays on a given day versus how well mine play} ~~ and the juvenile back-and-forth playground insults ~ Give me a break, please.


Ralster Jayhawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Texas Tech is like the perfect "next level" test for the KU team. Not the OU-monster, but better than any team so far.


troutsee 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Unlike many people on this board, I usually like what Keegs writes. However, I could not disagree more with the premise of this article. What makes offenses go (besides having the 5 star Jimmies and Joes) is unpredictability. I sit up in the stands and hear dimwits say over and over again, "Just run the ball." Offenses have to mix it up. Those that don't fail.

I am pessimistic about this O line, however. They seem to be over-matched. That Army team that made mince meat out of La Tech had lost 3 games. Tulane also ran all over La Tech on La Tech's home field. And, neither Tulane or Army are exactly powerhouses this year.

We have an accurate QB this year. Let's use him.


Kit Duncan 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Oddly enough, against a run oriented defense, you need to pass first to keep the linebackers from crowding the line of scrimmage. Once they stop filling the gaps, runs on first down can break for long gains.

Then, even better, a play action pass on first down when the LB's/DB's start inching forward after a couple of big gains on first down and, BAM! Down the field for a long gain or better yet, touchdown!


Joe Ross 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Keegs, your analysis fails in at least one respect. You simply compare passing on first down to running on first down. In reality, you should break down the passes into screens and short passes versus longer ones of say, 6 or more yards. The numbers I have chosen are arbitrary, but you get the idea. The logic is clear. Longer completed passes lead to fewer 3rd and 6th situations (if that is the distinction being used) than shorter completed passes. I have argued that Kansas needs to go down the field more. The passing game does not get vertical enough. When it did in the last game, great things happened.

Not just a question of passing versus running.


Ralster Jayhawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Great points, KG. Another point, is the writer mentions we did "better" with 1st down passing against LaTech "whose strength is their Dline"...but another factor is we shuffled our receivers and TE prior to that game, so the stats are not measuring the same players' performance, are we?

Anyway, this is all just academic. Good teams find a way to gameplan and execute against the foe-of-the-week. Lets see if we made any progress against a test like TxTech. RCJH.


KGphoto 6 months, 2 weeks ago

This is one reason I get annoyed with stats. They can only take you so far. They don’t really take into account the game situation. So many variables are not included.

-Was the play in the first quarter when defenses are amped, or the fourth when defenses are tired? I’d bet we have a higher success rate in the fourth quarter on running plays. Probably a higher rate on all plays, actually.

-Were we playing from behind or with a lead? You know, are we trying to milk the clock or stop the clock?

-Were they playing prevent defense? Do we have to move that ball all the way down the field in just over a minute? (Our last drive of the game vs. LaTech.)

-Were we bottled up inside our own ten yard line, or were we in the red zone? Are we trying to get into field position for a field goal or do we need a TD?

-How does a QB sack fit into this? Is that a run or a pass? I think it counts as a negative rush, but the idea is to pass.

I could’ve done a much better job with my examples but the point is, you don’t make a call by looking at a bar graph. You make a call you think will work on that particular down, in that particular situation.


HighQ 6 months, 2 weeks ago

There are short passes

With a three-step drop back that

Equal running plays.


mikehawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

OK. Running on first down statistically shows positive results. This, however, can't turn into predictability. We need creative play and play calling on offense. You have to always have a defense guessing as much as possible because we don't have the horses to just line up and beat people. To me, that means calling plays in a sequence which is difficult to predict. You can't have a defense playing run on every KU first down. Meaning, you have to throw some on first down, and throw some on 3rd and one or two. Almost any team at any level does poorly statistically from 3rd and 6 or longer. Sometimes you throw it long on third and six from mid field even if intercepted (sometimes as good as a punt) to just let defenses know you can and will throw long. Shoot...what do I know? I've looked and I don't have one Super Bowl ring on my dresser. But I do know you can't become predictable at this level on 1st down.


NebraskaJayhawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Looking forward to being in Memorial Stadium this weekend to cheer on the 'hawks. Might be the only game I catch this season, so I'm hoping for some big improvements and a huge win!


741hawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

To be perfectly honest . . . it is simply talent (or lack there of).

Watch SEC games involving their lead teams. The qb is accurate. The receivers get open. The receivers catch the ball. The line blocks. The offenses run smoothly. Those games are things of beauty. KU games are still very painful to watch. Even successful ex-NFL coaches can only do so much with inferior talent.


namohcan_99 6 months, 2 weeks ago

6 and long pickles? Interesting word choice. Anyway...we lack either talent or development in our wideouts. Same as Keegan's last article.


FCCoHawk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

One other thing to consider is clock management. It keeps the defense off the field a little longer if we are running it more (and hopefully making some first downs). Granted one play not a big deal when running vs passing but we can't afford hurry up offense with a lot of incomplete passes resulting in 3 and outs or our defense will get crushed. Go 'Hawks.


Keith Hummel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

As dagger pointed out above, our passing offense was completely dysfunctional in games 1 and 2, but started to get some rhythm in game 3. That early lack of success has a big impact on the statistics cited in this article.

All things considered I think it's true that you want to run on first down. But it's also true that you have to tailor your game plan to what you do well, and what your opponent gives you. Texas Tech is ranked 9th in the conference in pass defense (ours is 2nd) while their rushing defense is ranked 4th (ours is 9th). Given the struggles our OL has had controlling the line of scrimmage I would be surprised if we were able to run the ball effectively against this team, first down or not. Our passing game, on the other hand, showed signs of competency in the last game.

Given that, I think our better option on first down in this game may very well be passing the ball. As always, it will be interesting to see what Charlie has up his sleeve.


jhox 6 months, 2 weeks ago

You have to continue to mix it up. Even if your first down passing success isn't great you have to show your opponent you're willing to throw it, to keep them honest. This is not an O line that can force its will on its opponents. One or two yards and a cloud of dust is not a successful first down play.

I'd like to see more play action. With conference season starting, I hope to see more of that. Teams are selling out big time to stop the run. We need to use that aggressiveness against them.


JHWKDW 6 months, 2 weeks ago

If it works, stick with it!Dance with who you came in with. Pardon the cheesy old sayings, but hey the running game is our thing, just got to get the passing game to get on board and help the cause of winning. Come on Heaps,TE, and WR Step up fellas!Offensive line had not forgot about you, step up and play better also.


Dirk Medema 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Jesse must be rubbing off on TK. Breaking out the stats! Sort of seems inappropriate to call it an opinion article.


Adam McEwen 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The bottom line is we won't win in this league if we can't pass, we proved that last year. Unfortunately, we aren't very good at it yet, but you can't develop a passing game by running all the time. Painful as it may be at times, we have to pass, even if it means failure now, for the long term success of the program. Patience.


pizzashuttle 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Where does TT's defense rank in stopping the run? Is it a strength?


Doug Cramer 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Regarding the last paragraph...I disagree that our O-line can effectively block well enough for a heavy run first offense. Last year's O-line was talented enough to facilitate the run game.

What I fear is La Tech exposed something with our run game...that other teams will use. I realize that La Tech has a couple quality D-linemen...but we should have been able to run the ball more effectively.

Historically speaking...I just don't get why the hell we can't recruit the trenches like every other team in the league does. Why would a kid go to Lubbock over Lawrence...or even Aimes ?

Why is it so difficult to get the talented big boys in Lawrence ?


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