Monday, October 14, 2013


Opinion: Kansas defense showing progress


The frustrating ineptitude of the Kansas University football team’s offense has overshadowed signs of progress on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And the signs are as real as they are encouraging.

The Kansas offense ranks 117th among 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 305.4 yards per game. The defense checks in at 69th with 399.4 yards allowed per game. But that’s a misleading statistic because the abundance of three-and-out series from the offense puts the defense on the field for an excessive number of plays.

A more true indicator of performance lies in tracking yards per play from scrimmage. In that statistic, the offense ranks 119th with a 4.43 average, the defense an impressive 35th with 5.13 yards allowed per play. A year ago, the national average was 5.5 yards per play.

KU ranked 116th last season in total defense and 122nd in yards per play (6.78) among 124 schools.

That’s a great deal of improvement in one year. It’s a reflection that a whole lot right is happening on that side of the ball for the Jayhawks.

Player development — proper teaching of football techniques and strength and conditioning — ranks as a key factor. So does the recruitment of three junior-college players starting in the secondary. Head coach Charlie Weis’ decision to juggle assignments from his defensive staff also has had a positive impact. Plus, KU is about to enter the toughest stretch of the schedule, so look for the numbers to get worse, but that doesn’t taint the amazing turnaround.

The best news: Just two of the 11 starters are seniors.

Every unit of the defense has at least one player who has made significant strides, a sign the defensive coaches quietly are doing a nice job of coaching up the talent.

Up front, seniors Keba Agostinho and Kevin Young and juniors Ben Goodman and reserve Michael Reynolds without question are having their best seasons. That’s the way it’s supposed to work in college football — players improving from year-to-year and contributing as upperclassmen — but it’s not always the case. Clearly, defensive-line coach Buddy Wyatt knows what he’s doing.

Junior middle linebacker Ben Heeney is better than ever, and his backup, Schyler Miles, has grown under position coach Clint Bowen.

In the secondary, junior Victor Simmons, seldom used a year ago, has stood out at nickel back. His backup, red-shirt freshman Courtney Arnick, shows promise and figures to improve as his body grows. Converted receiver JaCorey Shepherd, a junior cornerback, is coming off his best game and will continue to improve under Dave Campo, one of the planet’s most respected teachers of defensive backs.

Cornerback Dexter McDonald, originally recruited to Kansas by Turner Gill and re-recruited by Charlie Weis after a year at Butler County Community College, has performed like a candidate for all-conference honors.

The two big-name junior-college D-line additions before they became distractions and subtractions, Marquel Combs and Chris Martin, didn’t work out, but juco recruits have been the salvation of the secondary. Cassius Sendish is undersized by safety standards, but since that’s where the biggest need was, the versatile athlete has been used there. Isaiah Johnson, a sophomore, has two interceptions and is hitting harder each week.

KU ranks second in the nation in passes defended (pass break-ups, plus interceptions). Although Tulane ranks first, it’s a statistic usually dominated by perennial powerhouses who have the best athletes and tend to have teams playing in catch-up mode. (Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and LSU were four of the past six national leaders). McDonald and Shepherd are among 15 players tied for 10th in the nation in passes defended with an average of 1.8 per game.

Weis’ decision to have Bowen coordinate all three levels of the defense from the middle also has worked out well. Bowen’s experience defending spread offenses and the lack of ego and selfishness from Wyatt, Bowen and Campo has resulted in a defense maximizing its ability and staying upbeat despite having so much pressure placed on it by the offense.

Believe it or not, this football team isn’t half bad. The other half? Sorry, I need a break from writing about that.


Doug Cramer 8 years, 3 months ago

Clearly the bright spot on this defense is the secondary. This is where the JUCO experiment is working out. I credit Coach Campo for this. Not sure if Bowen has much to do with it. Taking Bowen away from special teams duties was the best thing that could of happened for those units.

Another bright spot is Heeney.

Aaron Paisley 8 years, 3 months ago

Clint Bowen is the one calling plays on gane day so he has a lot to do the improvement because he's the one putting the defense in position to make the plays they have made this year.

Robert Brown 8 years, 3 months ago

I do think the defense looks much improved. They seems to understand where they need to be on the field. Unlike the offense, they are clearly benefitting from good coaching. But let's not compare statistics from last year to statistics for five games. Of the first five opponents, only Tech has what one would call a strong offense. The other four do not score a lot of points.

Also, I would expect this year's statistics to be better because the offenses in the Big 12 are worse. KSU, WV, OU, OSU are clearly not as prolific as last year so statistically the defense should improve.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 3 months ago

Players on the defense that I've been specifically impressed with this season, in no particular order: Agostinho, Heeney, McDonald, Simmons

Players who seem to be ready to really break out: Reynolds, I. Johnson, Shephard, Myles,

Players whom I expect to continue meeting expectations: Love, Sendish, K. Young

Players who need to step it up: Stowers, McKinney, Tavai

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 3 months ago

Just took a peek at some stats, and I'm surprised that Agostinho only has 10 tackles, 2 for loss, and 1 sack. He seems like he's in on a lot more stops than that and he seems to be in good position to blow up the offensive plays quite a bit. He's the one Dline guy who seems to consistently be in the gaps when he's supposed to be.

Aaron Paisley 8 years, 3 months ago

Keba does seem like the one creating a lot of the havoc in the backfield from the DLine spot along with Reynolds. Tedarian Johnson also seems to be a guy who makes a ton of plays down around the goal line for the defense. I'd like to see this defense go with a true 4-2-5 look with 4 down linemen because a 4 down linemen look will help against the run. In college, DLinemen just aren't big enough to be true nose tackles and truly cover the two 1 gaps they're supposed to be responsible for and if they are big enough, they don't have the stamina to stay in. With 4 down linemen, everybody is responsible for a single gap and I think is a better suit defense to stop the zone reads that are killing the defense.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 3 months ago

at first I put T. Johnson on the break out list, then after I looked at his stats I decided to take him off the list and let him get some more snaps in. Don't remember what his numbers were, but something like 5 tackles and 1 sack in 2 games played.

Joe Ross 8 years, 3 months ago

@Tom Keegan:

RE: "A more true indicator of performance lies in tracking yards per play from scrimmage. In that statistic, the offense ranks 119th with a 4.43 average, the defense an impressive 35th with 5.13 yards allowed per play. A year ago, the national average was 5.5 yards per play."

...I'd be interested in knowing the strength of the offenses in the five games our defense has played thus far. When considering stats, one MUST factor in the strength of the opponents, otherwise you are giving misleading information. These numbers seem likely to change in the coming weeks, and while I am as hopeful as anyone that the defense will continue to perform at the level they have, the logical side of me warns me to be cautious and wait to see the evidence on the field.

Someone once said that if you torture statistics long enough, you can make them confess to anything.

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 3 months ago

The defense has played well. What more evidence you want. When you compare our numbers to last year it has improved. You're like a dog with a bone! Week after week you can't give the defense a compliment when it has been a bright spot this year. So at the end of the season when oiler overall stats are better than last year you going to say we still stink? Maybe you're going to say you need to see more games? The defense is improving.

Joe Ross 8 years, 3 months ago


I'm not saying the defense hasn't played well. I'm saying they've played well against middle or low-tier competition. This is more than a hair splitting issue. It's a reality that is pending and will come into complete focus in a handful of days. If we get to the other side of Saturday and the defense performs as it has been, I will GLADLY eat all the humble pie you can serve up. But to be VERY clear, I'm not down on the defense. I'm down on over-hype. There is still a lot of room for improvement. The way the Kansas defense should reckon their success so far is in the following way: take it as an encouragement and validation that they have the potential to play against high-powered offenses. POTENTIAL, mind you, that can be polished...which is what I'm hoping for.

Your histrionics are needed down the hall. Use a leveler head to keep things in perspective.

Doug Cramer 8 years, 3 months ago

I'm with J-Ross. Lets see what happens the next 3 games before determining if the defensive line has improved that much.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.