Sunday, July 29, 2018

Air Raid alteration? KU football offense could shift toward ground attack

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a run during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a run during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.


Through three seasons of the David Beaty era, the University of Kansas version of college football’s trendy Air Raid offense has failed to yield the type of results that would make the program competitive, let alone turn it around.

Even after adding in 2017 new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and quarterback Peyton Bender, who has experience with the Air Raid system, the Jayhawks’ offense crashed far too many times to sustain any momentum.

Kansas finished its most recent loss-filled campaign ranked ninth in the Big 12 in passing offense (226.4 yards per game), and last in not only passing efficiency (106.4) and points scored (18.7 per game), but also in total offense (329 yards per game).

What Beaty’s teams have tried to pull off offensively at Kansas has failed. It seems this fall, the embattled fourth-year head coach might be through trying to prove KU can produce an effective passing attack.

Where exactly the strategy will fall on the spectrum of balanced to rush-prominent remains to be seen. But Beaty admits that now may be the time for Kansas to embrace its running game.

“Without giving anything strategically away, because that’s always the juggle here, I’ve always said that you’ve got to run the football well,” Beaty replied, when asked whether KU’s ongoing passing woes would inspire the offense to feature its running backs in 2018.

“The teams that win in this league, they run the ball well. They talk about throwing it, but they actually get you to look over here,” he said, pointing up, “and they’re running the ball straight down your throat.”


Kansas wide receiver Kerr Johnson Jr. (14) bobbles a pass before Iowa State defensive back Evrett Edwards (4) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Of course, the Jayhawks (1-11) didn’t come close to resembling that type of team in Beaty’s third and most recent season. Among their 851 offensive snaps, 57.5 percent were passes — resulting in either a completion, incompletion, interception or sack — and 42.5 percent went down as rushing plays. They finished last in the Big 12 in rushing offense (102.6 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry — averages that include the 188 yards lost on 29 surrendered sacks).

If KU indeed emphasizes its ground game in the months ahead, bringing those percentages closer to 50-50, or even favoring rushes over passes, then running backs Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams figure to benefit most.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Herbert, a junior back, said of a potential schematic shift. “I think the coaches know we can run the ball if we really trust in it. We’ve got the right guys on the O-line, we’ve got the right guys in the running back room. Being able to balance it out is going to help us a lot.”

The only game in which KU truly committed to running the ball this past season, racking up 50 carries compared to 34 pass attempts against West Virginia, the Jayhawks totaled 367 yards on the ground, with Herbert’s 291 yards on 36 rushes accounting for the bulk of the damage. West Virginia still prevailed, 56-34, but the Jayhawks totaled 564 yards of offense — easily its season high.

Most other weeks, KU coaches either didn’t like the matchups enough to run so frequently, were doomed by injuries to key rushing personnel or fell behind by so many points so early that trying to catch up via mostly passing calls seemed the feasible route.

Discovering an effective five-man combination upfront, on the line, will have as much to do with the offense’s fate this upcoming fall as any factor, and no one yet knows how feasible it is for that scenario to become a reality.

But Beaty at least seems open to the idea of letting Herbert, sophomore Dom Williams and true freshman Pooka Williams star behind some combination of linemen, such as juniors Hakeem Adeniji, Andru Tovi, Clyde McCauley III and Antione Frazier; senior Larry Hughes; transfers Alex Fontana and Kevin Feder; sophomores Earl Bostick Jr., Chris Hughes and Malik Clark; redshirt freshman Joey Gilbertson; and perhaps even true freshmen Nick Williams and Jacobi Lott.

“We’ve got to do a good job of creating a run game, and something I can say without giving away any strategy: We’ve always wanted to do that. We just need to make sure that we’re putting them in good positions and that they feel good about what they’re doing, and we’re limiting what we’re doing so we can get good at something,” Beaty said.

“We think there’s nothing more demoralizing than a team that can run the ball and you can’t do anything about it. That’s hard. It’s very difficult. And there’s not many teams that can do it,” he added. “But when you can do it, it’s pretty powerful.”

Rushing routinely instead of as an afterthought could create obvious benefits, such as keeping the game clock ticking, thus limiting the amount of snaps an opposing offense gets against KU’s defense. But the passing game could profit, as well.

Senior receiver Steven Sims Jr. actually thinks a run-heavy style would make him an even better target.

“When you’ve got guys like Khalil, Pooka, Deron Thompson, guys like that back there, they can help me out a lot. If they get going, it’s only going to open up the pass,” Sims said. “So we’ve got to do that first. We’ve got to be a run-first team. We’ve got to open up, start with the run, get the run going and everything else is going to open up.”

A drastic ideological revision might prove simpler to theorize than execute. And, at this point at least, Beaty wants to remain vague on the notion of doing a complete 180 when it comes to KU’s offense.

“Doesn’t mean that we’re not going to throw the ball,” Beaty advised, while discussing the Jayhawks’ potential to modify and spotlight its rushers. “You can’t be one-dimensional. But there’s some things we felt like we had to look at to make sure that we are giving ourselves the best chance to be successful moving forward, based on the information that we’ve got. Not just over the last four years, but we looked deep to see kind of what the trends are. Why are these things continuing to maybe show up? And then, how do we fix them?”


Frederick Heckel 3 years, 4 months ago

Beaty has no clue what he wants to do.KU has no QB and no Offensive Line at all. It will be another year full of the Jayhawks being blown out. Beaty will be gone before the conference schedule.

Mike Hart 3 years, 4 months ago

Frederick: Very astute observations. I see you have been following the offensive line developments all offseason. Thank you for your positivity and your experience-based assessment of the Miles Kendrick addition.

Gerry Butler 3 years, 4 months ago

Well he knows that the passing game isn't getting it done - -he knows that .Do you know if we have an offensive line or not? You don't know that we don't do you? like Mike said thanks for being there and checking in on their development always good to know we got THAT INSIDER good lookin out

Chris Condren 3 years, 4 months ago

Everything Beaty says is mere chatter. The only thing that means anythiing is winning. KUAD’s historic incompetence has brought all of this misery upon Jayhawk fans who ask only for entertaining games.

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 4 months ago

Actually, Beaty has not won, and still doubled his salary and received an extension.

Every game Beaty coaches has a $125,000 salary cost to it.

Jay Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

KU Sports headline and article - "Footballs are brown" Result - the crazies erupt. "Fire everyone!"

KU Sports Headline and article - "Football games will be played Saturdays" Result - the crazies go bananas..."This program has no clue about anything!!!"

Wash, rinse, repeat....

Mike Hart 3 years, 4 months ago

LOL --> Jay. At least we can agree on one thing: Footballs are indeed brown. Unless Beaty says that footballs are brown, and then many here will dispute that as well.

Jay Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks. A good first step. It's really best to agree with Jay on everything.

Warren Smith 3 years, 4 months ago

It's about time to run the ball, let the defense have some time to rest...

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 4 months ago

Run, pass, pass, punt.

If the first run garners 3 yards, it is run, run, pass, punt.

The problem is everytime we run its expected and 3.1 yards doesn't get it done.

Steven Haag 3 years, 4 months ago

This is old news. Meacham talked about this months ago. Obviously the offense wasn’t exactly tearing it up. Stands to reason that we do something different. Should have tried it earlier

[''] 3 years, 4 months ago

Meacham has proven that his play calling blows. Let Hull take over. He is about the only coach I have any confidence in at this point.

Chris DeWeese 3 years, 4 months ago

As long as we don't have RBs who run straight up the middle into a D lineman (a la Taylor Martin), then we might have a good running game. It goes without saying that all this is contingent on our O line making incremental improvements year to year (something that has yet to happen with this coaching staff). I hope Ricker knows what he's doing.

Jason Venable 3 years, 4 months ago

How is it even possible to exercise an air-raid offense when KU doesn't and/or can't even recruit a fairly decent QB???

Jay Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

What is the average Rivals ranking of a Texas Tech QB?

Gerry Butler 3 years, 4 months ago

How can you really honestly seriously say or try to say these QB'S aren't fairly decent? - -Hell you could put Tom Brady , Aaron Rogers behind these O-Line and get the same result. - AGAIN one more time if your QB is spending 3/4 of the time running for his life not having even three seconds minimum to let the play develop then no one is going to look fairly decent. out of the pct of incompletions we have I wonder how many of those was thrown away just to avoid a sack? OR the QB being smacked while trying to throw a pass? - doesn't matter who it is if you don't have an O-Line that cant substain any kind of block

Andy Godwin 3 years, 4 months ago

It all starts with the big uglies on both sides of the ball. You can have great running backs but they need holes to run through. We will know early on if the offensive line is greatly improved. Otherwise the offensive output will suffer and be at the bottom of the Big 12 and nation.

Dennis Strick 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes, we all want the clock to move as quickly as possible to end this misery for all of us. Running the ball will help us accomplish that and allow Meacham to not worry about dialing up a bunch of pass plays that obviously will never get caught for positive yardage. Hopefully, he is spending all of his free time figuring out what he is going to do as interim head coach to rally the team into a couple of wins.

I get, and admire that you writers have to put a certain number of words on the paper to get paid but this is all in the end just cannon fodder. Let's get on with it already. Schizophrenic coaching will not solve anything. We are a running wait we are a passing team... no wait we are a run and shoot team. no wait we are a hike, run for our lives, and get negative yardage team....oh yea that's it. One month til the name plate on the door changes and then and only then can we have any hope that any coaching strategy is going to work.

Is there a coaching rehab facility anywhere in the country? Anyone? Where "great guys" but horrible coaches can go to purge and detox all of the bad coaching and bad coach-speak, out of their bodies in order to return to a normal life? If there is we need to make some reservations for the month of September. Just put it on the Underhill's bill.

Jay Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for making my point so perfectly....

Mike Hart 3 years, 4 months ago

Dennis, you missed your calling. You should have either been a motivational speaker... or you should be working a suicide hotline.

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 4 months ago

Don't blame the media for reporting what they are able to get from a feeble coaching staff. If you review, they wrote a lot of positive articles during the Mangino ere. They wrote a lot of positive articles with the past three coaches, all three of these coaches have performed below expectations, and they do write articles. I always am surprised that we blame the writers for writing articles. Last week, someone complained about articles being written during the Big XII media days. I don't get it, we want articles, we want information. And we have a coach that is underperforming and hiding from the media.

Mike Hart 3 years, 4 months ago

Jeff: The problem I have... is that the information written is purely speculative and opinion sourced from the sportswriter himself. Either he has no interest in interviewing Beaty, Girod or the new AD directly... or they won't grant him an interview. The end result is the same. Article after article of stating the same ideas and statistics... in a different way. Report some NEWS. We've seen the same tired topics over and over ad nauseum. In my view, a certain sportswriter isn't try to "get" anything from the coaching staff or players directly via interview/phone call/sitdown... they instead prefer to ridicule the staff from a distance and from behind a keyboard... instead of meeting/asking questions face to face.

Aaron Paisley 3 years, 4 months ago

Keegan corrupted Benton on Beaty and now Beaty doesn't talk to either guy. Being critical of a coach is fine because Beaty's performance so far warrants that. Keegan crossed a line into being unprofessional in his criticisms of Beaty, Benton did so as well to a lesser extent, and Beaty called them out back in February or whenever signing day was.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 4 months ago

Bring back the wishbone with Nolan Cromwell, Laverne Smith and Billy Campfield. That was pretty much a run only offense but very difficult to stop with the right players, which we had.

Titus Canby 3 years, 4 months ago

That team was fun to watch. Cromwell just might be my favorite KU athlete of all time.

Gerry Butler 3 years, 4 months ago

Ahh ya, now those were some days. Billy I think was out of Derby right? - - Nolan was from where? - -( Ramson ) Ks, yes no? boy those guys could make some people look bad -- BUT then again we had a decent O-line to run behind. - -think they would be the same with this O-Line?

Dane Pratt 3 years, 4 months ago

The Ransom Rambler was a great athlete. I believe he still holds the KU record in the 400 meter or 440 yard hurdles. Seeing him go down just before halftime against OU was one of the most devastating injuries a KU fan could witness. They had beaten OU the year before in Norman and would have repeated had Cromwell not sustained a season ending injury that ended a promising season. Their only win after the injury was against lowly K-State.

Bryson Stricker 3 years, 4 months ago

I'd be curious to know where your stats came from.. PFF has 54-46 pass-run...

Dirk Medema 3 years, 4 months ago

Glad to see Deron mentioned. Hoping he has a successful SR season.

Dillon Davis 3 years, 4 months ago

Let's hope he follows through on this. We have had good, solid RBs for years now and good RB coaches with Mitchell and now Hull.

We have a slew of great RBs this year and we need to feed them. We need to get them the ball in creative ways too and not just run it up the middle or throw it to them laterally for zero yards...that's the worst...

Our line will determine how effective they are but Herbert has proven himself and Pooka and Dom seem to have all the talent to succeed. But with this line and lackluster QBs it's very clear that it should be run first, pass second this year.

Doug Roberts 3 years, 4 months ago

From "Air Raid" to "Ground Assault". I don't care. Whatever it takes, just win baby!

John Fitzgerald 3 years, 4 months ago

I said earlier in the year Beaty should switch to an option style offense and start Miles Kendrick. Not saying it'll save the season or even Beaty's job but it's better than going three and out and watching the QB get sacked or hurried into a bad throw every other down. I'm down for whatever keeps us in the game and limits the arse beatings every week.

Gerry Butler 3 years, 4 months ago

sounds like a pretty good idea to me I think I would like to see Kendrick get a shot. I also just wanna see us be competitive, give the fans at the game something to stay engaged in after the 1st set of downs I think we have the backs to do some damage , now we jus HAVE TO HAVE a line to substain blocks

Brad Sherp 3 years, 4 months ago

When you run the ball, you keep the clock moving. If KU really does embrace the run, the defense will look better because they will be on the field less.

Also, Big 12 defenses have figured out how to get KU QBs to check down to the screen pass on almost every attempt. It seems like every game, I would say to myself "Why are they calling another WR screen pass? It seems like every other play is a WR screen pass." They weren't calling screen passes, but defenses were taking away the rest of the field, so our QBs would constantly throw there. Defenses knew we couldn't get YAC yards, so it was a safe bet to take the rest of the field away, and forcing the non-explosive KU WR group to get the ball with 11 men to beat. That is how to stop the KU offense for the last three years.

I have said for years that KU needs a running, ball control offense. It is also easier to run block than pass protect, so KU should be more productive if making it easier for the OL. Then play action pass to keep defenses from stacking the box.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 4 months ago

Obviously, the key to any running game is the o-line. Backs can make an O-line look a little better, but the key is still getting movement from the O-line. My biggest take away from the line the last couple of years is they are slow, overweight and easily get overpowered. Not every 300 pounder is created/built the same. In order to get movement you have to have splits, ours are normally 6". We have the narrowest splits in the country. This has to change. You can't have narrow splits unless you can overpower the defenders and we can't do so. My assumption is they are so narrow because they are too slow to cover wider splits in pass protection. Unless the 5 up front made huge, monumental improvements, it is going to be hard to run the ball consistently.

Aaron Paisley 3 years, 4 months ago

This flipping back and forth between philosophies is why Beaty has failed at KU so spectacularly. Just choose a path and follow it. There will always be speed bumps early on, but had Beaty chosen one direction and stuck with it, KU's offense would be in a much better place now than it is because the players would actually know the system now instead of having to learn a new one every year.

Randy Bombardier 3 years, 4 months ago

Okay, fine. Been a long time coming. So if you're going to do it go all in. Take out the 188 yards in sacks and running gets us a first down every time. Run 4 plays to get 10. Commit to never punting and every kick is onside. Fight! Then work on that zone read, toss sweep, and the jump pass. A few variations of screens, the deep ball, the quick slant and don't neglect the TE.

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