Things don’t get any easier for a Kansas football team still searching for its first win of the 2020 campaign.
The Jayhawks (0-5, 0-4 Big 12) might be back home after back-to-back road contests, sure, but that’s probably the extent of reasons for optimism. Iowa State (3-2, 3-1 Big 12) is favored by more than four touchdowns, which is the largest spread of the season for KU.
Iowa State has won five consecutive games against Kansas, which matches the third-longest streak over a league opponent in team history.
The Cyclones, who currently are third in the Big 12 standings, boast the second-best rushing offense in the Big 12 behind Wichita native Breece Hall. The NCAA’s leading rusher is averaging 143.2 rushing yards per game and has helped ISU reach 200 rushing yards in a game three different times so far this season.
In addition, Brock Purdy is the winningest QB in ISU history against league competition. He is now 14-6 vs. conference teams with at least one victory over every member. The Cyclones are also only giving up 21.2 points per game on the defensive end.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on FS1, with Eric Collins (Play-by-Play) and Ben Leber (Analyst) on the call.
BREAKING DOWN IOWA STATE:
Quarterback — Brock Purdy needs no introduction, as he has set 22 school records during his time at Iowa State. Purdy is fourth among active quarterbacks in passing yards per game, with an average of 260.9 yards per contest. Last time out, Purdy was 19-of-34 for 162 yards to go along with one touchdown and one interception in a loss to Oklahoma State.
During his junior season, Purdy has thrown for 1,074 yards on 159 attempts, completing five touchdowns through the air.
Running backs — Sophomore Breece Hall took over as ISU’s primary running back midway through the 2019 season, and he’s been effective ever since. Over the last 13 games, Hall is averaging 117.6 rushing yards per game with 19 total touchdowns. Hall has nine 100-yard rushing efforts in his last 13 games.
This season, Hall currently leads the nation in rushing yards per game (143.2), 100-yard rushing games (5) and 65+ yard runs (3).
Receivers — So far this season, Xavier Hutchinson leads the team with 28 catches for 297 yards and two scores. The transfer from Blinn JC chose ISU over Oklahoma and Nebraska after tallying 47 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Junior tight end Charlie Kolar and senior tight end Chase Allen each have 17 catches and 11 receptions, respectively.
Hall, who has 10 catches out of the backfield, is the only other Cyclone with double-digit receptions.
Offensive line — From left to right: Senior Sean Foster, sophomore Trevor Downing, junior Colin Newell, junior Robert Hudson and sophomore Joey Ramos are listed as starters along the o-line for Iowa State. According to PFF’s NCAA Premium Stats, ISU has a pass-blocking grade of 65.4 and that mark ranks fourth in the Big 12. Cyclones are fifth in run blocking with a grade of 64.9.
Defensive line — Iowa State’s starting defensive line is slated to be senior JaQuan Bailey and junior Zach Peterson at defensive end. Senior Enyi Uwazurike is the starting defensive tackle, while sophomore Isaiah Lee is atop the depth chart at nose guard.
Bailey is back for his fifth season after suffering a season-ending injury in the fourth game of 2019. His career 22.0 sacks is the best in school history and second among active FBS players.
Linebackers — A few upperclassmen make up the starting linebacker unit for Iowa State. Junior O’Rien Vance is holding things down as the middle linebacker. Junior Mike Rose handles the strong side, while senior Jake Hummell is listed as the starting WLB. With the play of the linebacker unit, Iowa State has held opponents to just 123.0 rushing yards per game to rank 31st nationally and third in the Big 12.
Secondary — It is a veteran group on the back end, led by seniors Lawrence White IV (FS) and Greg Eisworth II (SS) at the safety position. Anthony Johnson Jr., who is a junior, is one of the team’s starting cornerbacks as well. Iowa State has most notably improved on third down, thanks in large part to its pass defense. ISU ranks in the top-40 nationally on third downs, giving up a conversion rate of 35% to opponents.
SPECIAL TEAMS — Senior Connor Assalley is the team’s starting kicker, and he is 5-of-8 on field goal attempts this year. For his career, Assalley is 36-of-50 on field goals and has made all but five of his point-after-attempts. Senior punter Joe Rivery is second in the Big 12 in punting average at 44.0 yards per punt, which also ranks 22nd nationally.
VEGAS SAYS… Iowa State is considered a 28.5-point favorite by most sportsbooks, which would be the largest spread of the season for KU. Despite the big spreads, I haven’t backed the Jayhawks during Big 12 play and that only cost me once.
Still, four touchdowns and the hook seems like a lot to me. Give me the points, KU’s defense can help Les Miles and company at least cover the big number.
Prediction: Iowa State 35, Kansas 13
It is no secret that the Kansas football team has struggled to run the ball in 2020.
With or without standout running back Pooka Williams Jr., the Jayhawks have not been able to get much going on the ground game. Kansas has failed to reach 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games, including the team’s first contest without Williams this past weekend in a 55-14 road loss to Kansas State.
Benton Smith wrote about all this on Sunday, in case you missed it.
But to get a full understanding of how the Jayhawks have performed in the run game, let’s take a closer look at their numbers based on rushing direction. The idea of this blog came from a tweet via Frank Saunders, who is a favorite for the KU sports staff because of his number of quality questions for our weekly podcast.
Fortunately for us, and to save me from going back and doing a lot of charting, Pro Football Focus keeps track of this data for those subscribed to NCAA Premium Stats. So let’s take a look at what this information tells us about KU’s rushing direction numbers through five games.
Of note, here is a key at the specific gaps and how they are labeled by PFF:
Rushing by Direction — Team totals
LE — 30 attempts, 79 yards, 2.6 YPA
LT — 17 attempts, 88 yards, 5.2 YPA
LG — 9 attempts, 66 yards, 7.3 YPA
ML — 13 attempts, 23 yards, 1.8 YPA
MR — 21 attempts, 106 yards, 5.0 YPA
RG — 11 attempts, 63 yards, 5.7 YPA
RT — 8 attempts, 33 yards, 4.1 YPA
RE — 31 attempts, 143 yards, 4.6 YPA
Jet sweep-R — 3 attempts, 11 yards, 3.7 YPA
QB scrambles — 22 attempts, 126 yards, 5.7 YPA
So what does this information tell us?
For starters, this offense obviously prefers to get its running backs the ball on the edge. A total of 61 of KU’s 167 rush attempts have gone toward the left or right end of the defense. That makes a lot of sense given the skill sets of the Kansas running backs.
Sophomore Velton Gardner, in particular, has 16 attempts for 94 yards toward the right end and 11 attempts for 37 yards in the direction of the left end. Gardner’s 61-yard run, the longest carry by a KU player this season, was labeled as a right end run by PFF.
That being said, the third-most attempts by the Jayhawks have gone to the right of the center. The 21 “MR” runs have turned into 106 yards, including four double-digit yardage plays. KU has picked up seven first downs on such carries, which is the second-highest clip behind eight first downs on running plays toward the right end.
Williams was responsible for most of these runs, though freshman tailback Daniel Hishaw Jr. has had some success on runs in this gap. Hishaw has 36 yards on four “MR” attempts, picking up two first downs in the process.
True freshman signal caller Jalon Daniels, meanwhile, is responsible for 16 of the 22 quarterback scrambles by Kansas. He has recorded 77 yards on his scrambles, while netting three first downs for the Jayhawks.
Daniels led the team with 17 rushing attempts against Kansas, which was his first game back from injury. Of those 17 runs, 10 of them were listed as scrambles by PFF and resulted in 37 total yards on the ground.
KU head coach Les Miles said earlier this week that Daniels will be the team’s quarterback moving forward. So it will be interesting to see if the freshman will be more involved in the designed run game based on his success as a scrambler.
And, honestly, that’s all this exercise was supposed to accomplish.
It has only been five games, but hopefully these numbers help show where the Jayhawks have done well — and where they haven’t — in the run game. Maybe KU will switch things up over the final five games, and it could be worth revisiting at the end of the season.
Either way, a big thank you for the suggestion to a loyal reader of this site. This was fun.
There will be no asking who is Kansas State this year. The Jayhawks know better than that after what happened last season.
Ahead of last year’s Sunflower Showdown, Kansas gave K-State some bulletin-board material during a “Miles to Go” episode on ESPN+. KU coach Les Miles fired up his players in the locker room after a win over Texas Tech by repeating a question to his team: “Who is K-State?”
Kansas State admitted afterward that they took that personally, which played a part in its convincing 38-10 win over Kansas in front of a sold-out crowd at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. This time around, the Jayhawks know better than to give the Wildcats any more fuel for this weekend.
After dropping the season opener to Arkansas State, K-State is off to a 3-0 start in the Big 12 conference for the first time since 2014. The Wildcats, who are coming off a bye week, are ranked No. 20 overall in the AP poll.
Last time out, Kansas State (3-1, 3-0 Big 12) earned a 21-14 victory at TCU two weeks ago even though it had true freshman Will Howard at quarterback following a season-ending injury to senior Skylar Thompson.
KU (0-4, 0-3 Big 12), meanwhile, has played three different quarterbacks in 2020 and is coming off a 21-point road loss to West Virginia. Kansas State has won 11 straight in this one-sided rivalry with Kansas.
Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on FS1 with Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Ben Leber (analyst) on the call.
BREAKING DOWN KANSAS STATE:
Quarterback — So far this season, true freshman QB Will Howard has completed 16-of-32 passes for 314 yards to go along with one touchdown and one interception. Howard threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Deuce Vaughn against TTU, while also connecting on a 66-yard pass to Briley Moore earlier in the fourth quarter. The last KSU signal caller to complete multiple passes of at least 65 yards in the same game was Jesse Ertz in the 2017 season opener.
Running backs — True freshman running back Deuce Vaughn has been a force to start his collegiate career. He is the only player in the Big 12 to lead his team in both rushing yards (248) and receiving yards (279) this year. Vaughn is one of only three players in the nation this season to tally at least 200 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards.
Receivers — Tight end Briley Moore, who is a transfer from Northern Iowa, has a team-leading 14 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Through four games, those numbers are already the best by a Wildcat tight end for a season since 2014. Chabastin Taylor, who has 10 catches for 169 yards, is the only other K-State player with double-digit receptions.
Offensive line — Kansas State has a brand-new offense line compared to the one that dominated the trenches against Kansas last year. The Wildcats did not return a single start along the o-line from last season. According to PFF’s Premium Stats, Kansas State has a pass-blocking grade of 37.4 this year. That mark ranks 73rd out of 77 teams, with Kansas having the worst mark (28.1) in all of college football.
Defensive line — The K-State defensive line is a strength of this team. Junior Wyatt Hubert is a force at defensive end, while senior Drew Wiley causes problems on opposing o-lines from his defensive tackle position. Wiley is the first KSU defensive tackle with at least 4.0 TFLs and two sacks in the first four games of a season since 2015. Hubert, a Topeka native, ranks 13th nationally among active players in career sacks per game with a clip of 0.48 per contest.
Linebackers — Justin Hughes is back in the mix after a season-ending injury during 2019 spring ball. Elijah Sullivan, who is a former high school teammate of Hughes, is also a starting linebacker for the Wildcats. Sullivan (27) and Hughes (26) lead the team in tackles through four games this season.
Secondary — Kansas State already has six interceptions in 2020, a number that ranks fourth in the nation and first in the Big 12. Former Lawrence High standout Ekow Boye-Doe is a starting cornerback for KSU, along with junior transfer Justin Gardner. Junior Ross Elder is listed as the starting free safety, while senior Jahron McPherson is the team’s starting strong safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS — As per usual, the Wildcats are better than most teams in this department. They rank second nationally in special teams efficiency according to ESPN. K-State blocked punts in each of the first three games of the season and recorded a blocked field goal at TCU. Senior kicker Blake Lynch has hit 84.4% of his 45 total field goal attempts in his career.
VEGAS SAYS… Kansas covered the spread for the first time all season against West Virginia, thanks in large part to a late kickoff return touchdown by Pooka Williams when the Jayhawks were a 21.5-point underdog. But don’t expect that trend to continue this week.
K-State is only favored by 19.5 points on FanDuel’s Sportsbook, which is somewhat surprising considering how one-sided the Sunflower Showdown has been as of late. KU can’t seem to find any rhythm on offense, and just lost its best weapon in Pooka Williams. I also expect KSU’s defensive line to be a problem all game. Give me the Wildcats.
Prediction: Kansas State 38, Kansas 14
Kansas hung around for nearly three full quarters before West Virginia eventually pulled away for a 38-17 win Saturday afternoon in Morgantown. But, for the first time all year, it was a sign of progress for the Jayhawks.
This past weekend was the first time Kansas really was competitive in 2020. Sure, the final score for the season opener against Coastal Carolina might have been closer, but this was the first performance that should give some reason for optimism for KU fans.
All of that is really a credit to the Jayhawks’ effort on the defensive side of the ball. With many young players making plays, it provided a glimpse of the potential for the Kansas defense.
KU recorded its first two takeaways of the year, and managed to hold West Virginia to just one score on its opening six possessions of the contest.
Eventually the Mountaineers found some success, though that’s more on the Jayhawks’ offense for not being able to get into any sort of rhythm all afternoon. Because of that, let’s take a closer look at what the defense showed us — both good and bad — during KU’s latest defeat.
How impressive a healthy Dru Prox can be
It took just one play for junior linebacker Dru Prox to make his presence felt after missing the Oklahoma State game last time out.
Prox came on a blitz on the first offensive snap, as West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege took a deep shot. Within two seconds of the snap, Prox had already got around the edge of the left tackle. Prox ended up reaching the quarterback right as the ball was leaving Doege’s hand.
It was a sign of things to come for Prox, who found himself in the backfield on multiple occasions. He came through with a sack on another four-man rush on 3rd & 10 at the 3:49 mark in the first period.
Prox simply beat the left guard in a one-on-one situation to record the third sack of his career, which marked his first in 2020. Prox attacked the outside shoulder of the left guard, and ripped through the initial hand punch at the point of attack.
Prox did a great job of wasting little movement, too, attacking the quarterback with a purpose.
Prox ended up filling the stat sheet, something that was common before he was sidelined with a season-ending injury last year. Prox registered a career-high three TFLs on his way to an eight-tackle performance. He was also credited with two quarterback hurries.
Stats aside, the play that really illustrated Prox’s impact came with 1:05 left to play in the first half.
Running back Leddie Brown lined up to the left of the quarterback, but was motioned to the right of the signal caller just before the snap. It was by design, as the ball was going to Brown on a swing route to the right.
Prox followed Brown toward the sideline, while taking a few steps forward in the process, right after the snap. As soon as the quarterback threw the ball that direction, Prox charged completely upfield. Prox met Brown at the catch, stuffing him for a 4-yard loss on the play.
That instinct and sudden footwork have honestly been what KU is missing when Prox isn’t involved in the linebacker unit. In fact, WVU ran a HB swing to the right a few plays later, but the linebacker wasn’t as quick getting to the ball and it resulted in positive yardage.
Especially when healthy, Prox brings a certain level of stability in the middle of the Kansas defense. He might not be in the backfield as often as he was on Saturday, but Prox’s instincts are unmatched and it leads to him being around the ball on a consistent basis.
KU’s defense struggled to stop screens
While the defense played fairly well for the most part, Kansas really struggled to stop West Virginia’s screen game on Saturday.
According to NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus, nine of Doege’s 26 completions came on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. He was 9-for-12 for 63 total yards on passes marked behind the LOS, which includes one that went for a touchdown and one that resulted in an interception.
For comparison, Doege finished the game by going 26-for-44 through the air to record 318 passing yards and three scores.
It just seemed like whenever Kansas sent a fourth or even a fifth rusher, West Virginia knew it was coming and had a screen pass called. The most notable play happened on 3rd-and-13 early in the second quarter, when Kyron Johnson came off the right edge as part of a four-man rush.
That play resulted in a 16-yard pickup for running back Alec Sinkfield, who actually did a nice job of letting his blocks set up to make it a bigger gain. It was one of three WVU screens that went for double-digit yardage in the first half alone.
Kansas must have made an adjustment at halftime, because West Virginia didn’t pick up double-digit yardage on a screen over the final two quarters. In fact, Malcolm Lee’s first-career interception happened because he read a screen perfectly.
Lee took a few steps forward before realizing that the offensive line was letting him through. But Lee made a nice adjustment, and was able to get in position to make a play when the ball was thrown. Lee stepped in front of the receiver to intercept the pass on a ball that was thrown toward his inside shoulder.
Elijah Jones’ short-term memory was best part of strong game
Cornerbacks, especially those playing in the Big 12, have to learn to forget the bad moments. Quarterbacks and receivers in this conference are going to make defensive backs look silly every now and then.
That’s what stood out about Elijah Jones’ performance on Saturday. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior cornerback delivered two of his best plays immediately after two of his bigger mistakes on the day.
Jones was in coverage on West Virginia’s first score of the game. Bryce Ford-Wheaton got behind Jones on a post route for a 33-yard touchdown pass at the 4:53 mark in the first quarter. Jones was late to the top of the route by just a step, and it made all the difference in man-to-man coverage on the outside receiver.
On the first play of West Virginia’s next drive, though, Jones responded with an impressive pass breakup.
The ball went to Ford-Wheaton’s hands on a deep shot down the sideline, but Jones did an excellent job of never giving up. Jones got his hands in there to poke the ball free to force the incomplete pass.
Two possessions later, Jones was called for pass interference trying to make a play on a ball intended for his man on 1st-and-10. The penalty gifted the Mountaineers 15 yards, advancing them to the Jayhawks’ 34-yard line.
West Virginia threw a screen to the receiver on the very next play, but Jones was there to make the stop. He made a remarkable open-field tackle, forcing West Virginia to lose one yard on the play.
The screen game is designed to get individual matchups like that, so credit to Jones for making the play when his team needed it.
For the game, Jones recorded a career-high three pass breakups and added four tackles (three solo) to his final stat line.
Jones received the highest defensive grade by PFF for KU in that game, earning an overall mark of 78.1 in the loss. Per PFF, Jones was targeted seven times and only allowed three receptions for 40 yards.
But those two plays stood out to me because Jones made a mistake right before each of those memorable moments. That is a necessary trait for any quality cornerback, but not one that every player has.
Kansas remains winless on the year following a 38-17 road loss to West Virginia Saturday afternoon in Morgantown. The Jayhawks are now 0-4 on the year, which includes an 0-3 clip in Big 12 action.
But maybe the latest loss was a sign of progress for the Jayhawks? At least that might be the case when comparing this performance to their previous two conference defeats. KU finally covered the spread for the first time all year, as it was a 21.5-point underdog against WVU.
For nearly three full quarters, the game was at least competitive. Leddie Brown iced the game with an 87-yard touchdown run to put the Mountaineers up 24-10 at the 3:37 mark in the third quarter.
KU’s defense deserves a ton of credit for keeping the team within striking distance up until that point. Yet the offense did the Jayhawks no favors, failing to find any sort of rhythm all day.
That actually leads me to my first main takeaway from KU’s latest defeat.
Kansas offense struggles on 3rd down
The Jayhawks weren’t able to sustain many drives on offense, and that’s because they struggled to convert on third down. Kansas went 2-for-13 on third down in the loss to WVU, with one conversion happening on the first drive of the game.
Joshua Eargle, who served as the acting head coach for Les Miles this past weekend, acknowledged the team’s struggles on third down in his postgame interview. Eargle believes KU has to do a better job on first or second down to get in more manageable third-down opportunities. He might have a point, too.
Kansas faced 3rd-and-10 or longer on six of its 13 third-down plays. Put it another way, KU only had three plays where it faced 3rd-and-5 or shorter. In fact, the Jayhawks had an average of 9.31 yards to go on their 13 total third-down opportunities.
To make it worse, KU rarely had any semblance of success on these plays. Kansas averaged 1.69 yards per play on its 13 such snaps. A seven-yard pass to Pooka Williams on 3rd-and-16 in the second quarter and a seven-yard pass to Andrew Parchment on 3rd-and-6 in the fourth quarter were the two longest plays by Kansas on third down.
Quarterback Miles Kendrick was also sacked three different times on third down, all three of which were obvious passing situations. So, yes, the Jayhawks could do a better job of getting into more manageable situations on third down. But there also weren't many positive plays when they were able to do so.
Full list of KU's third-down opportunities:
1Q: 3rd & 6 — 12-yard pass to Stephon Robinson
1Q: 3rd & 8 — Incomplete pass intended for Pooka Williams
1Q: 3rd & 5 — Incomplete pass intended for Andrew Parchment
2Q: 3rd & 16 — 7-yard pass to Pooka Williams
2Q: 3rd & 11 — 4-yard pass to Takulve Williams
2Q: 3rd & 11 — 5-yard pass to Pooka Williams
3Q: 3rd & 2 — 1-yard run by Pooka Williams
3Q: 3rd & 7 — Miles Kendrick sacked for loss of 7 yards
3Q: 3rd & 15 — 3-yard pass to Velton Gardner
3Q: 3rd & 18 — Kendrick sacked for loss of 6 yards
4Q: 3rd & 14 — Kendrick sacked for loss of 2 yards
4Q: 3rd & 6 — 7-yard pass to Parchment
4Q: 3rd & 2 — Loss of 2 yards on Gardner run
KU’s play calling is called out on broadcast
With Kansas at West Virginia being the only Big 12 game on Saturday, we got the pleasure of listening to Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt on the call in a game nationally televised on Fox.
Klatt had made a few comments about KU's play calling throughout the game, but he certainly made his opinion known with an interesting point in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-2, Velton Gardner was denied a first down on a short run over the middle. That’s when Klatt turned his attention to the play call.
“This is one of those definitions of insanity for me watching a play call like that on third-and-short,” Klatt said on the Fox broadcast. “There is nothing — whether it’s on film all year or today — that would suggest you can get in the shotgun and just hand the ball up the middle if you are Kansas and get that first down. So why call that play?”
Without being in the huddle, it is hard to know what exactly the play call was. It looks like it could have been an option, in which maybe Kendrick made the wrong read since the left end comes crashing down. There wasn't an unblocked player though, so maybe it wasn't a read after all.
That said, it was probably the first real sign of public criticism for offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon.
Dearmon took over as KU’s play caller midway through last year, and the team had a lot of success right away. The Jayhawks scored 48 points in a narrow loss at Texas in Dearmon’s first game calling plays. They then posted 37 points in a win over Texas Tech the following week.
Since then, Kansas has scored a total of 121 points over its previous eight games for an average of 15.1 points per contest. KU has only scored more than 17 points in a game in two of those eight outings, which includes a 23-point effort in the 2020 season opener against Coastal Carolina.
For comparison, seven Big 12 teams are averaging at least 30.0 points per game in 2020. Texas leads the conference with a mark of 49.5 points per contest, while TCU is ninth with an average of 27.0 points per game.
None of that is to suggest Dearmon deserves all the blame for KU’s offensive struggles.
This offseason was supposed to be Dearmon's chance to implement his offense, which was obviously impacted by a pandemic. The Jayhawks have played three different quarterbacks this year, and don’t seem to have an answer there. The offensive line has been abysmal in pass protection for much of the season.
Still, it does make me wonder if the hype got a bit out of control after Dearmon’s first two games. I know I was guilty of that too. At one point, I thought KU might lose Dearmon after the 2019 season.
I just think we all forgot that this is his first opportunity to be a play caller for a Power Five program. There will be growing pains, and a proper evaluation of Dearmon shouldn’t really take place until he has his quarterback behind a competent o-line.
But Dearmon shouldn't be able to avoid any criticism either, especially when the offense has played as poorly as it has. Klatt’s commentary late in Saturday's game was proof of that.
Jayhawks' decision to close the first half
It was a subtle sequence to end the first half, but one that I think is worth circling back to.
West Virginia took a 17-10 lead into the half following an 8-play, 53-yard drive in the final minute of the second quarter. The possession ended with a 33-yard field goal by Evan Staley with 16 seconds remaining in the first half.
Yet Kansas made an interesting decision on the play just before that field goal. On 3rd-and-10, quarterback Jarret Doege threw an incomplete pass while targeting Ali Jennings. WVU was called for holding on that play, but KU chose to decline the penalty.
It obviously didn’t end up mattering, but I thought Kansas might have considered accepting the penalty. After all, Staley had missed a 44-yard field goal earlier in the second period and there was a chance he would have ended up with another attempt in that range.
Because Kansas had surrendered a few big plays on screen passes already to that point, there is a good chance that the coaching staff made the right call. It is hard to argue with the Jayhawks being content with a one-score deficit at the intermission in a game where they were more than a three-touchdown underdog.
I just thought KU’s coaching staff would have considered accepting the penalty in the moment. Perhaps the Kansas staff will if a similar situation presents itself again down the road.
Playing without its head coach on the sideline, the Kansas football team will travel to Morgantown to take on West Virginia.
Les Miles, who is in his second year directing the program, will not make the trip as a precautionary move after testing positive for COVID-19. So if the Jayhawks (0-3, 0-2 Big 12) are going to get in the win column for the first time in 2020, they will have to do so without the captain of their ship.
West Virginia is off to a strong start in Neal Brown’s second year at the helm. The Mountaineers are 2-1 through their first three games, which includes a 1-1 clip in Big 12 action. WVU is coming off a 27-21 win over Baylor just two weeks ago. For comparison, KU suffered a 47-14 loss to BU in the league opener.
Statistically speaking, West Virginia has one of the better defensive units in the conference so far this season. The Mountaineers rank first in the Big 12 in total defense (268.0 yards per game), first in passing defense (166.3 yards per game) and fourth in run defense (101.7 yards per game) so far this season.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Jarret Doege is also having a strong showing in his second year with the program. It all has led to West Virginia being considered a 22.5-point favorite on FanDuel’s Sportsbook.
To determine if Kansas can cover for the first time in 2020, let’s take a closer look at West Virginia ahead of this weekend. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m and it will be televised on FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt on the call.
BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA:
Quarterback — The transfer from Bowling Green could be on his way to a breakout season for WVU. Doege has completed 69-of-104 attempts through the air for 724 passing yards and five scores. He has thrown for at least 211 yards in each of his previous two outings. Doege is having more success when targeting the middle of the field, so it will be up to KU’s defense to figure out a game plan to take that away.
Running backs — Junior running back Leddie Brown already has 320 rushing yards through the first three games of the season. He’s getting a decent workload, too. Over the last two games, Brown has tallied 53 carries (26 at Oklahoma State, 27 against Baylor) and is the first WVU player to finish with 26 or more carries in back-to-back games since 2006.
Receivers — Four receivers tallied at least four receptions against Baylor, marking the fifth time in the last six games that three or more WVU players have hauled in four or more catches in the same game. Sam James leads the team with 17 catches for 160 yards, while Winston Wright has 15 receptions for 180 yards.
Offensive line — According to PFF’s NCAA Premium Stats, West Virginia’s offensive line has a pass-blocking grade of 60.7 this year, which ranks sixth out of 10 teams in the Big 12. WVU has been charged with 28 quarterback pressures allowed on the year. For comparison, KU’s offensive line has given up 43 total pressures.
Defensive line — West Virginia is holding its opponents to 268 yards of offense per game this season, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 8 nationally. Senior defensive lineman Darius Stills is coming off a 2.5-sack performance against Baylor. WVU has only allowed seven quarterbacks to reach 300 yards passing in a game since 2017.
Linebackers — It was another strong outing for senior linebacker Tony Fields, who finished with 10 tackles (five solo stops) against Baylor. It marked his second 10-plus tackle performance of the season. But these linebackers as a unit have helped stop opposing run games this season. According to PFF, West Virginia has the top run defense in the league with a grade of 85.6 on the year.
Secondary — The Mountaineers are just as good on the back end, posting a coverage grade of 87.1 on the year to lead the Big 12 in that category as well. Cornerback Dreshun Miller, in particular, has been targeted just eight times on his 89 coverage snaps. He’s allowed four receptions for 29 yards. West Virginia’s secondary has averaged 1.14 interceptions per game over the last six seasons.
SPECIAL TEAMS — Kicker Evan Staley is back to lead the special teams department after going 11-for-17 in field goals last year, including a long of 44 yards. Transfer punter Tyler Sumpter joined WVU this past offseason from Troy, where he played for WVU coach Neal Brown from 2016-18.
VEGAS SAYS… West Virginia is a 22.5-point favorite, and somehow that still might not be enough based on what Kansas has shown the last two Big 12 games. Until I see KU cover a large spread, or show any signs of being competitive in this league, it is going to be tough to pick Kansas to cover any number. Give me the Mountaineers in this one.
Prediction: West Virginia 42, Kansas 17
It is no secret that the Kansas offense has had a slow start to the 2020 season. The Jayhawks have averaged just over 14 points per game during their 0-3 start, which includes a total of 21 points in two Big 12 defeats.
There probably isn’t one obvious solution to help get this offense back on track, but I don’t believe Kansas is attempting enough deep passes this year. That could be why the Jayhawks haven’t looked as explosive in Brent Dearmon’s second season as the play caller.
Shortly after Dearmon took over as offensive coordinator midway through the 2019 season, Kansas scored a total of 85 points in back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech. It was a stretch that illustrated how good a Dearmon-led offense can look when the unit is clicking.
That offense did a great job of taking advantage of specific matchups. Just when an opposing defense would load the box to stop the run, former quarterback Carter Stanley would get the ball to one of his playmaking receivers.
It is not like Stanley constantly launched the ball downfield, but he did it enough for opposing defenses to respect it.
According to PFF’s NCAA Premium Stats, Stanley attempted a pass that traveled 20-plus yards on 16.1% of his pass attempts. It was a higher percentage of deep passes than six other Big 12 quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts in 2019, including both Charlie Brewer of Baylor and Brock Purdy of Iowa State.
Stanley was 25-of-60 for 853 yards to go along 12 touchdowns and three interceptions on passes that went 20-plus yards last year. Stanley had an adjusted completion percentage of 46.7% on such passes, which is a PFF stat that essentially factors in the number of passes thrown on target. He actually ranked fourth in the Big 12 in that category.
Kansas hasn’t been nearly as effective on deep passes in 2020, but part of that is the lack of emphasis on those plays. The three quarterbacks — Thomas MacVittie, Miles Kendrick and Jalon Daniels — have completed one deep pass on eight attempts through three games.
Kendrick, who was named the starting quarterback for this week’s matchup at West Virginia, actually connected on the lone deep pass of the season. He is 1-of-4 for 37 yards on such plays this year, throwing a deep pass on just 9.3% of his total attempts.
MacVittie has the highest deep pass percentage on the team with a mark of 11.1% in the early going. For comparison, Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson has thrown a deep pass on 34.9% of his 63 attempts and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has done so on 20.4% of his 162 attempts this year.
Some of the Kansas-related numbers can be attributed to small-sample size, of course, but the lack of deep shots was especially evident in KU’s 47-7 loss to Oklahoma State two weeks ago. Daniels did not have a single pass go beyond the first-down marker on his four possessions under center prior to his injury. Kendrick, who came in for Daniels, only had two attempts travel more than 10 yards against OSU.
There could be plenty of reasons why Kansas has failed to truly threaten opposing defenses over the top. The quarterback carousel hasn’t allowed a signal caller to find a groove. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection, limiting the number of chances to connect on a deep pass.
But until KU figures out a solution for the lack of deep passes, I don’t believe this offense will be able to reach its full potential.
Following a bye week for both teams, Kansas and West Virginia are slated to square off this weekend in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers might not be near the bottom of the Big 12 conference, like some predicted entering the 2020 season. West Virginia is 2-1 through three games, which includes a 27-21 home victory over Baylor.
For comparison, KU suffered a 47-14 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 opener and is 0-3 overall on the year. The Jayhawks, who have been outscored by a total of 88 points so far this season, are considered 22.5-point underdogs this weekend on FanDuel’s Sportsbook.
West Virginia earned a 29-24 win over Kansas in last year’s meeting between these two teams. But the Mountaineers appear to be better this year, at least from what they have shown through the first three games.
Using NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus, here is a look at a few key numbers on how West Virginia has performed in 2020:
WVU led by a stellar defense
Even the surface stats show how impressive West Virginia’s defense has been this year. The Mountaineers rank first in the Big 12 in total defense (268.0 yards per game), first in passing defense (166.3 yards per game) and fourth in run defense (101.7 yards per game) so far this season.
PFF’s grades reflect that, too.
West Virginia’s total defensive grade of 84.6 is the seventh-best mark in the nation. The Mountaineers’ lowest single-game defensive grade in 2020 was a mark of 67.7 against Oklahoma State. They then followed that up with a defensive grade of 79.8 against Baylor last time out.
It also helps that WVU has a nice balance between run and pass defense thus far. West Virginia’s run defense grade of 85.6 ranks seventh in all of college football, while the team’s coverage clip of 87.1 is also seventh in the nation.
The Mountaineers aren’t as productive in pass rush, however, ranking 51st among qualified teams in that department. But they have performed well enough on the back end to hide some of those concerns.
A closer look at West Virginia in coverage
This area warrants a closer look, particularly because Kansas has struggled to get much going through the air to this point in the year. West Virginia’s success in coverage could cause a big mismatch this weekend for KU.
Safety Sean Mahone has only allowed one reception on 55 coverage snaps this year, and it was a catch that went for 14 yards. Safety Tykee Smith has given up five catches for 42 yards on 11 targets during his 88 coverage snaps.
Cornerback Dreshun Miller has been targeted just eight times on his 89 coverage snaps. He’s allowed four receptions for 29 yards, including 22 yards after the catch. Reserve safety Jake Long has only surrendered a 16-yard reception on his 39 coverage snaps.
As a team, the Mountaineers have recorded a coverage grade of 71.6 or better in each of their three contests in 2020.
Jarret Doege off to a strong start for Mountaineers
While the defense has led the way for WVU, quarterback Jarret Doege could be off to a breakout season in his second year with the program.
Doege has the second-highest PFF offensive grade through three games among players with at least 72 snaps on the year. He has posted a mark of 70.4 overall, which includes a 67.6 passing grade, on his 212 total snaps. Only guard Michael Brown (77.0) has a better offensive grade for WVU.
Part of the overall offensive grade is inflated by Doege’s brilliant performance in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky, when he finished with an overall offensive grade of 93.1. He went 19-for-25 for 228 yards and three touchdowns against EKU.
Doege, who transferred from Bowling Green, has still thrown for at least 211 yards in each of his last two outings. For the year, Doege has gone 69-for-104 through the air for 724 passing yards and five scores.
Per PFF’s passing chart, Doege is currently having more success in the middle of the field. He has a 92.6 grade on his pass attempts between the numbers and 20-plus yards downfield, while recording an 81.5 grade on such passes between the 10-19 yard range.
Doege does not have a passing grade higher than 69.3 in any other area of the field.
Kansas is off to an 0-3 start, and staring down a possible winless campaign in Year 2 of the Les Miles era.
The offense certainly deserves a ton of blame for the slow start, which was highlighted by a few key numbers in yesterday’s blog. But now we are going to do the same thing with KU’s defensive unit by revealing a few key nuggets of information via NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus.
Kansas has given up 44.0 points per contest through three games, which is a mark that ranks 71st out of 74 teams in all of college football.
Yet the unit has probably performed better than that number might indicate. KU’s inability to sustain offensive drives has often put the defense in a bad position.
None of that is to say the Jayhawks have been perfect on that side of the ball by any means. But hopefully these three numbers will help give a better idea as to how KU has really done defensively thus far.
KU’s lack of pass rush has been a problem
KU’s pass-rushing grade of 60.6 doesn’t seem all that bad on the surface, especially when you compare it to the team’s pass-blocking grade of 25.9 for the season. But it is a pass-rushing mark that ranks near the bottom in the nation.
Only four teams in the country have a lower grade in pass rushing, according to PFF. Georgia Southern (59.1), Charlotte (55.4), TCU (53.7) and Navy (49.9) all are worse than Kansas at this point in the year.
For the season, PFF has only credited the Jayhawks with 15 quarterback hurries as a defense. Caleb Sampson has been credited with four such hurries, while Steven Parker has posted three in as many games.
DaJon Terry, Kenny Logan Jr. and Nick Channel have all been responsible for the three sacks recorded by the Kansas defense in 2020. Parker, Kyron Johnson and Denzel Feaster have all registered one hit as well.
Pro Football Focus also has a special metric called “Pass Rushing Productivity” that measures pressures created on a per snap basis, which is weighted toward sacks. Parker is the only Jayhawk with at least 15 pass rushes on the season to rank inside the top-40 in the conference in that metric. Parker’s PRP mark of 7.4 is good for 24th in the Big 12.
The Jayhawks only blitzed five-plus players on 13 total dropbacks through the first two games, as highlighted in my defensive notes blogs from the first two contests. So part of the lack of pass rush could simply be not coming up with enough designed blitzes, or creating unique ways to get after the quarterback.
In the game against Oklahoma State, Channel came through with a sack on a delayed blitz that the offensive line just didn’t see coming. So figuring out ways to do more of that after the bye week could help Kansas get after the quarterback more frequently.
Karon Prunty’s numbers in coverage
The play of Karon Prunty will be one of the more interesting storylines this season for KU’s defense. After all, it is not that common for a true freshman to be tasked with shutting down Big 12 receivers as a starting cornerback.
As expected, Prunty has been tested by opposing signal callers during the early part of the season. Prunty’s receiver has been targeted on 13 of his 64 coverage snaps, allowing a total of seven receptions for 69 yards. Per PFF, Prunty has allowed an NFL passer rating of 69.1 when targeted.
Prunty has been targeted the 10th-most times among Big 12 defenders with at least 30 coverage snaps. Within that group of players, though, Prunty has surrendered the second-fewest receptions and second-fewest receiving yards.
The rookie cornerback has a long way to go before he’s in the conversation with the elite cornerbacks, such as Oklahoma State’s Rodarius Williams, who has only given up one catch for zero yards on his 79 coverage snaps. Still, it is a promising start for a player that was playing at the high school level just 12 months ago.
One player in top-30 in Big 12 for overall grade
While certain individuals have had strong moments or decent games, no KU defensive player has been completely consistent through three games. That much is obvious when scrolling through the leaderboard of the top individual defensive grades in the Big 12.
Sophomore linebacker Gavin Potter has the best overall defensive grade by PFF with a mark of 71.3 in 61 total snaps played. That grade ranks 30th in the entire conference among players with at least 50 snaps on the season.
It is important to note that Potter barely cracks the minimum for snaps played for this stat, because he’s played as a reserve linebacker and missed the Oklahoma State game entirely. Defensive lineman Caleb Sampson actually ranks 38th with an overall defensive grade of 70.0 in 152 total snaps.
But Potter’s play is worth mentioning because it illustrates some signs of growth in his sophomore season. Potter was essentially thrown into the fire as a freshman last year when Dru Prox was sidelined with a season-ending injury. Potter's PFF defensive grade of 30.0 in 673 snaps shows his struggles in 2019.
Yet, if Potter truly has taken a leap this year, it could be a much-needed positive sign for a program playing plenty of young players in 2020.
With it being a bye week, now is as good of a time as any to see where the Kansas football team stands with nearly one-third of the 2020 season in the books.
To say KU’s offense has been underwhelming during the team’s 0-3 start would be a massive understatement. The Jayhawks have averaged 14.7 points per game so far this season, a number that only ranks better than three teams in all of college football.
Kansas fans certainly were expecting more from this unit, especially with all the returning weapons and offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon coming back to call plays for a full season.
But the Jayhawks haven’t had consistency at quarterback, and they have had poor offensive line play through three games.
Let’s dive into some statistics to better highlight KU’s offensive struggles to this point in the season. Using PFF’s NCAA Premium Stats, here are a few numbers that stood out to me during this 0-3 start by the Jayhawks:
Andrew Parchment’s yards after the catch
The play of receiver Andrew Parchment is the least of KU’s concerns, but his lack of yards after the catch was somewhat surprising.
Parchment has caught 11 balls on 20 targets in 2020, recording 75 yards and one score in the process. But only 22 of those yards have come after the catch for Parchment, who is averaging 2.0 yards after the catch per reception through three games.
The talented KU receiver was much more productive after the catch a season ago. Parchment produced 301 yards after the catch in 2019, averaging 4.6 yards after the catch per reception. For the season, Parchment caught 66 balls on 111 targets for 838 yards and seven touchdowns.
Parchment’s total numbers will likely take a hit at this current pace, especially given KU’s quarterback play, but his yards after the catch is concerning considering his playmaking ability. Still, I have to imagine this won’t be a trend that continues over the final seven games of the season.
KU’s pass-blocking grade is very low
One major talking point so far this season has been KU’s struggles along the offensive line. In particular, the o-line has had some major issues in pass protection for all three of the Kansas signal callers.
The Jayhawks have a pass-blocking grade of 26.0, according to PFF. Only Mississippi (23.7), South Alabama (20.3) and East Carolina (20.3) have a worse pass-blocking grade in 2020. Memphis, meanwhile, has the best mark in the country with a 92.0 pass-blocking grade.
PFF’s premium stats only go back to the 2013 season, but here is a look at how KU has performed in pass blocking in the PFF era:
2019 — 60.8 grade
2018 — 71.4 grade
2017 — 82.1 grade
2016 — 70.7 grade
2015 — 71.6 grade
2014 — 68.1 grade
Those numbers suggest that small-sample size could be playing a part in this historically poor performance by the o-line. And it is true that, perhaps more than any other position, the offensive line needs reps to learn how to play together.
But that unit has struggled in the early going, and the entire offense will keep having issues if that continues.
Just 4 runs of 10+ yards for Pooka Williams
Prior to last week’s 47-7 loss to Oklahoma State, players and Kansas coach Les Miles mentioned that the team needs more explosive plays. That obviously didn’t happen against the Cowboys.
Running back Pooka Williams, in particular, didn’t have a single run that went for 10-plus yards against Oklahoma State. He carried the rock a season-high 14 times, but only managed 32 yards for an average of 2.3 yards per attempt.
This season, only four of Williams’ 39 carries have ended up being a gain of 10 or more yards. Williams has put together a career out of making big plays, but his longest run of the season was a 21-yard carry against Baylor. It was one of two explosive plays by Williams against the Bears.
For comparison, Williams recorded 31 runs that went for 10-plus yards a season ago. He had 34 such carries as a freshman in 2019. His longest rushing attempts went for 65 yards and 72 yards, respectively, over the previous two years.
Perhaps the lack of big plays can be blamed on the o-line for not sticking with blocks. Maybe it is opposing defenses keying in on Pooka on every play. It might even be Williams himself, as he has appeared shaken up on multiple occasions this year.
Regardless, it is a big reason why KU’s offense has looked so lethargic through three games.