Three key numbers on KU's defense during 0-3 start
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.