Kansas suffered a 47-14 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 opener this past weekend, which wasn’t too surprising given the recent results between these two teams.
What was interesting was looking at statistics from that game, using NCAA Premium Stats on Pro Football Focus. PFF’s grading system gives us an easy way to quantify how each player did for a particular game. Their process essentially gives a positive, negative or neutral grade for every player on every snap, which leads to an overall grade at the end of the game.
With this being the first year those stats are available to the public, I’ll do my best to share a handful of noteworthy numbers every week. The first version of this weekly feature revealed that Thomas MacVittie was better than Miles Kendrick.
Neither of those two signal callers played against Baylor, but we will still take a closer look at how KU’s quarterback performed this past weekend to kick this thing off.
A statistical look at Jalon Daniels’ first start
True freshman Jalon Daniels got the start against Baylor, despite not really being in the mix in the opener. Daniels played 76 total snaps in the loss, earning an overall offensive grade of 54.6 by PFF. His passing grade was 61.2, while his rushing grade came in at 47.2.
For comparison, MacVittie was given an offensive grade of 82.3 in 36 snaps against Coastal Carolina. His overall mark was enhanced by a 73.7 rushing grade. Kendrick, meanwhile, received a 58.9 offensive grade in 39 snaps against the Chanticleers.
What does all that mean exactly? Well, it is probably safe to assume that MacVittie would have been the signal caller against Baylor if he was healthy. But there were still flashes of potential by Daniels, and it would be understandable if the Jayhawks just wanted to roll with the kid all year.
Daniels went 0-for-3 on passes that were 20 yards or more downfield after both MacVittie and Kendrick combined for three such deep shots against CCU. Daniels showed off his arm strength on those plays, particularly on an overthrow in the first quarter.
A look at PFF’s passing chart for Daniels further illustrates what he adds to the team. Daniels has the arm strength to test defenses deep as well as outside of the numbers. It was certainly a different looking chart than what MacVittie or Kendrick had in Week 1.
KU’s o-line was better in pass protection
The Jayhawks had a historically bad pass-blocking performance against Coastal, posting its worst grade (19.3) in the PFF era which dates back to the 2014 season. So, in reality, KU’s offensive line only had one direction to go in that department.
KU still took a big leap in that area, recording a pass blocking grade of 58.8 against Baylor.
The right side of the line, in particular, was better this past weekend. Right guard Chris Hughes led the o-line for the second game in a row with a pass blocking grade of 84.9. Earl Bostick Jr., who had a 30.8 grade in pass pro against CCU, had a mark of 78.1 in that category in his second start at right tackle.
Malik Clark still struggled at left tackle, however, posting the lowest mark among linemen with a 50.7 pass blocking grade. Left guard Jacobi Lott finished with a 53.1 for the game in pass protection.
KU gave up 10 total hurries against Baylor, which included five that were charged to Clark.
The Jayhawks performed well in coverage
Other than tackling, KU’s highest mark against Baylor came in coverage. The Jayhawks received a coverage grade of 69.5 by PFF. It marked the highest coverage grade by KU since posting a 71.1 against West Virginia in Week 4 of last year.
Duece Mayberry led the way for KU’s secondary with a mark of 73.4 in coverage on 44 snaps, though plenty of his teammates had a strong showing as well. Cornerbacks Elijah Jones (72.4 coverage grade), Kyle Mayberry (66.2) and Karon Prunty (64) all played at least 61 snap and performed well.
The Jayhawks had four pass breakups as a team in the road loss to the Bears.
Kansas linebackers had a day to forget
Gavin Potter had the highest grade among defensive players with an overall grade of 83.9 on 41 total snaps. The rest of the linebackers finished at the bottom for KU’s defense, however.
Steven Parker posted the lowest mark on the team with a 30.1 defensive grade in 35 snaps, while Kyron Johnson finished with a defensive grade of 42.2 in 47 snaps. Denzel Feaster played 44 snaps and ended up with an overall grade of 45.0 on the day.
Missed tackles probably had the biggest impact on these low marks. The trio of linebackers combined for four of KU’s six missed tackles.
Karon Prunty was targeted six times in Big 12 debut
As mentioned in my initial takeaways, Prunty was targeted early and often in his Big 12 debut.
That was to be expected for a true freshman cornerback, of course. Prunty was targeted on six of Charlie Brewer’s 23 pass attempts, while the next highest KU defender was thrown at just three times.
Prunty gave up a reception on three of those six targets, but only allowed a total of 25 yards. R.J. Sneed caught two of his four targets against Prunty for a total of 19 yards. Jared Atkinson had a 6-yard reception on one of his two targets when Prunty was defending him. The two receivers recorded a total of two yards after the catch on those three plays.
Opposing teams will continue to test the rookie corner, but Prunty rose to the challenge for one week.
Following a loss in the Big 12 opener, Kansas is an even bigger underdog in a home meeting with No. 17 Oklahoma State this weekend.
KU opened as a 21.5-point underdog against Oklahoma State on FanDuel’s Sportsbook. It marks the second game in a row that the Jayhawks are a double-digit underdog, which will likely be a trend for the remainder of the season.
However, Kansas (0-2, 0-1 Big 12) might be in position to cover this big spread after failing to do so in either of the first two games. KU was favored by nearly a touchdown in its eventual 38-23 loss to Coastal Carolina, and was a 17-point underdog before suffering a 47-14 defeat to Baylor this past weekend.
The Cowboys are undefeated through two games, which includes one conference victory, but they haven’t dominated by any means. Oklahoma State earned a 16-7 win over Tulsa in the season opener, while coming away with a 27-13 victory against West Virginia this past weekend.
Oklahoma State hasn’t looked flashy, but it has done just enough to get the job done. Freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth got the start last week because signal caller Spencer Sanders was sidelined with an ankle injury. Sensational running back Chuba Hubbard, who is considered one of the better backs in the nation by many, had a pair of fumbles against WVU.
The Cowboys have really been led by their defense through two weeks, which could be the case again this week against a KU offense that has scored a total of 37 points in two games. So, if it ended up being another defensive battle this Saturday, then three-plus touchdowns could be too many points in a game with an over/under of 54.5 total points.
Kansas will still likely lose this game, of course, even with fans allowed in attendance for the first time in 2020. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Jayhawks just a 7.9% chance of victory against the Cowboys, who have won 10 consecutive meetings in this series.
But covering the spread is in play this week, which is not something I even considered last week. KU lost last year’s meeting in Stillwater by 18 points, and hasn’t been outscored by a three-touchdown margin in this series since 2017.
Find out later this week in my opponent preview blog if I'm brave enough to pick the Jayhawks to cover.
Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Rest of the Big 12 spreads — All lines via FanDuel’s Sportsbook
Texas Tech (+3.5) at Kansas State — Over/under 63.5 points
Baylor (-3.5) at West Virginia — Over/under 55.5 points
Oklahoma (-8.5) at Iowa State — Over/under 62.5 points
If Saturday’s Big 12 opener was any indication, it is going to be a long season for the Kansas football team. And I know that’s technically not true, because KU is playing two fewer games than normal.
But a 47-14 drubbing by Baylor was a harsh reminder of just how difficult this season will be for the Jayhawks, who fall to 0-2 on the year. Wins — and possibly even competitive contests — will be hard to come by for Kansas during a 10-game slate that features nine conference games.
To make matters worse for KU, the team is playing a lot of young players during Les Miles’ second year at the helm.
So determining progress for the Jayhawks will be more than just about what the final score was. While Saturday’s result was completely lopsided, KU had signs of growth in certain facets of the game compared to the season opener. There were also plenty of issues that need correcting before Kansas plays host to Oklahoma State next weekend.
As I did following KU’s loss to Coastal Carolina, this blog will feature a handful of quick takeaways from the latest game. I plan to rewatch the game on Sunday to get a better idea on most of this stuff, but this is a nice exercise for me before doing just that.
Feel free to put your own takeaways in the comments sections, as well.
A rare fast start by KU
The Jayhawks actually jumped out to a 7-0 lead after scoring on the opening drive of the game. True freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels made his first-career start, and led KU on an 8-play, 79-yard drive that took up 3:31 of the clock. Pooka Williams capped the possession off with a 21-yard touchdown run.
Now, KU did benefit from a personal foul on 3rd-and-13 that really kept the drive alive. But it was early momentum that the team has rarely shown in the Miles era. Coastal Carolina jumped out to a 28-0 advantage in the season opener just two weeks ago.
In 2019, Kansas only scored first in three of its 12 games and faced several double-digit deficits out of the gate.
No excuse for miscues on special teams
The Bears scored on two different kickoff returns in the second half to really blow the game open.
Trestan Ebner delivered a 100-yard kickoff return on the first play of the third quarter, giving the hosts a 24-7 advantage. Ebner then came through with an 83-yard kickoff return following a Kansas safety early in the fourth quarter.
According to Game Finder on College Football Reference, it is just the 18th time since 2000 that a team has scored on multiple kickoff returns in a game. It is the first time since Duke took two kicks to the house against Wake Forest on Nov. 23, 2019.
Kansas seemed to create more pressure early on
The TFL numbers were concerning for KU’s defense in the opener, but the unit showed progress in that department this time around.
Kansas recorded six tackles for loss, while delivering one sack. Especially early on in the game, it looked like the Jayhawks were actually creating pressure and forcing Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer out of his comfort zone.
Part of that is probably attributed to Baylor’s offensive line, which was ranked 95th out of 130 FBS teams in PFF’s 2020 College Football Magazine. But I thought the Jayhawks also involved more players in the pass rush, which was something that was lacking two weeks ago.
Pooka Williams has to touch the ball more
This is a no-brainer, but probably worth mentioning real quick.
Sensational running back Pooka Williams only carried the ball 14 times and netted three receptions. He finished with 76 yards and two scores on the ground, while adding 24 receiving yards.
I usually chart personnel usage for every game when watching the replay, but I noticed live that Williams was lined up at receiver a bit more. While that is probably smart to do, it felt like Williams could have been utilized more as a running back as well.
Williams has only had six other games in his career with fewer rush attempts than he had Saturday night, which includes his 12-carry showing against Coastal Carolina. I’m not a coach, of course, but figuring out ways to get him the ball would seem like the right move for a stagnant offense.
Karon Prunty looks like the real deal
It is no secret that Big 12 teams are going to test true freshman cornerback Karon Prunty.
That seemed to be the case early on, when Brewer kept throwing the ball to the player Prunty was defending. Prunty was called for a questionable pass interference call on one play, but he also nearly had an interception at some point in the first half.
The game did ultimately get out of hand, but it seemed like the Bears chose to stop throwing Prunty’s way after he had some early success. So that will be something worth exploring when rewatching this game.
There is a lot unknown entering Saturday’s Big 12 opener at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.
Baylor has a new coaching staff, led by former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda who took over the BU program in January after Matt Rhule left to become the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. So the Bears, who made it the Big 12 championship game during an 11-win campaign a year ago, have to adjust to a new staff that includes new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
In addition, Baylor has yet to take the field in 2020 after its season opener was canceled.
As a result, the Kansas football team (0-1) doesn’t know what to expect in its first road test of the season. The Jayhawks did have two weeks to prepare, though most of that time was likely spent correcting issues that were on displays in their own 38-23 season-opening defeat to Coastal Carolina.
Still, we will do our best to provide a glimpse of what to expect from Baylor this weekend. Earlier this week, I took a stab at what I believe the Bears will try to do scheme wise. But now it is time to shift our attention to the personnel on this team prior to kickoff.
Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPNU with Roy Philpott (play-by-play) and Kelly Stouffer (analyst) on the call.
BREAKING DOWN BAYLOR:
Quarterback — Senior Charlie Brewer is one of Baylor’s constants, as he has started 30 of his previous 31 games as the team’s signal caller. Brewer, who has an 18-12 clip as a starter, needs seven more games to match the modern record for most games played by a quarterback in program history. He is also the only returning FBS quarterback to pass for 20-plus touchdowns and run for 11-plus touchdowns in 2019.
Running backs — JaMycal Hasty is now in the NFL, but the Bears still have a pair of strong options at running back. Seniors John Lovett and Trestan Ebner are both listed on the initial depth chart for BU. Lovett enters his senior campaign with 1,673 career rushing yards, while Ebner’s versatility has led to him accumulating 1,787 all-purpose yards in his career.
Receivers — Baylor brings back a ton of experience at the receiver position, led by a trio of veteran playmakers. Juniors RJ Sneed, Tyquan Thornton and Josh Fleeks have combined for 15 touchdowns over their two seasons. Sophomore Gavin Holmes, who has missed the last two years due to injury, also figures to be involved in the passing attack.
Offensive line — The Bears return four starters along the offensive line from 2019, while also bringing in graduate transfer Jake Burton. According to the team's game notes, Baylor’s 45 starts from a year ago ranks fifth in the Big 12. But not all experience is a good thing. Per PFF’s 2020 College Football Magazine, Baylor’s o-line unit ranks 95th out of 130 FBS teams.
Defensive line — After a poor showing in the season opener, don’t be surprised if we see a bounce back performance by KU’s offensive line. For starters, Baylor’s defense line has three sophomores TJ Franklin, Josh Landry and Cole Maxwell slated to start. The Bears will also likely move their defensive ends in the ‘B gap’ under Aranda, so that could make creating pressure on the edge more difficult.
Linebackers — Junior Terrel Bernard is back to anchor Baylor’s defense at the weak-side linebacker position. Bernard was an All-Big 12 selection last season after only starting in 11 of 14 games. He posted a team-high 112 tackles to go along with 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Sophomore Dillon Doyle is expected to start at middle linebacker for the Bears.
Secondary — Despite losing some key safeties, Baylor’s strength might be in the secondary because of a formidable duo at cornerback. Junior Kalon Barnes and senior Raleigh Texada will be a tough test for KU’s receivers this weekend. Both corners have a lot of speed, and have the ability to run with most college wideouts. Barnes especially was a former receiver himself, and could limit any Jayhawk he chooses to defend on Saturday.
SPECIAL TEAMS — Sophomore John Mayers is the team’s kicker after scoring 101 points a year ago. He went 16-for-19 on field goal attempts in his freshman campaign, which included a career-long of 51 yards. He also made all 53 of his point-after-attempts last year. Sophomore Issac Power is listed as the team’s starting punter.
VEGAS SAYS… Kansas opened as a 16.5-point underdog on FanDuel’s Sportsbook, and the line hasn’t moved much this week. As of Friday, the Jayhawks were still getting 17.5 points in the Big 12 opener. As I wrote on Monday, I thought the line could have been closer to 20 points even though Baylor has a new staff and has yet to play a game.
Assuming the offensive line has a better game, KU should have more success moving the ball this weekend. So while I think this game might feature plenty of points, I don’t think the Kansas defense can slow Baylor’s offense down enough to cover the spread.
Prediction: Baylor 48, Kansas 28
To some extent, it is like another opener for the Kansas football team. It might even be more difficult in terms of preparation.
KU’s coaching staff at least had an idea of what to expect from Coastal Carolina prior to an eventual 38-23 loss in the season opener, which was thanks in large part to the game film from the 2019 matchup in Lawrence.
But that won’t really be an option for the Big 12 opener, as Baylor has a new staff in place after Dave Aranda took over the program in January. He replaced Matt Rhule, who left to become the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
What adds even more mystery to Aranda’s squad is the fact this weekend will be the first time Baylor takes the field in 2020. So there really isn’t much information out there on this year’s version of the Bears, especially with an offseason that was impacted by a pandemic.
All of that has helped Baylor fly somewhat under-the-radar entering league action, at least compared to most teams coming off an 11-win season that included a trip to the Big 12 title game.
“We're trailblazing a little bit in not playing a game,” Aranda told local reporters during his weekly press conference. “That is one way to look at it. I hope people have got a lot of film on us after this week.”
It doesn’t mean Kansas will just simply not watch any tape, however. With an extra week to prepare, KU has spent time studying what Baylor’s coaching staff has done at previous stops.
That means watching film on LSU’s run to a national title in 2019 to get a better idea of what Aranda likes to do on the defensive side of the ball. Aranda served as defensive coordinator at LSU over the previous four seasons. New defensive coordinator Ryan Roberts, who directed the defense at Louisiana-Lafayette over the last two years, will probably add some of his touch to that unit as well.
On the other side of the ball, Larry Fedora is Baylor’s offensive coordinator after serving as head coach at North Carolina between 2012-18. Fedora’s teams as both a head coach and play caller have averaged more than 30 points per game 11 different times since 2006.
“We are looking at where people came from,” KU head coach Les Miles said. “We feel comfortable that we are in a position to play this game in terms of strategically.”
Baylor could always reveal something completely new on Saturday, of course, but creating a game plan based on what these coaches did at their previous stops seems like KU’s best plan of attack. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out this weekend.
In the meantime, though, let’s do our own homework on what the Bears might look like. Based on my research, which included reading a lot of smart people and watching old games on Youtube, here is my best guess at what Baylor will try to do on both sides of the ball under its new staff.
Aranda will bring his 3-4 base defense to Baylor, which had already previously played with three down linemen. The Bears can throw a few different looks at opposing offenses with this base defense, but Aranda will likely have his own unique wrinkles to the defensive scheme.
For starters, expect the three defensive linemen to be lined up differently compared to what Baylor did last year. The Bears often had their defensive ends lined up on the edge of the tackles in a five-tech, while throwing a three-safety look on the back end in a defensive scheme that has become more popular as of late in the Big 12 conference.
LSU’s defense, meanwhile, elected to put the two defensive ends inside the tackles in a 4i-technique. This screenshot from PFF’s 2020 College Football Magazine perfectly illustrates the subtle differences between Baylor’s defensive formation last year compared to what LSU did under Aranda.
This formation is called “Tite” by Aranda, and it’s been his base look since he switched to a 3-4 scheme. The nose tackle is in a 0-tech, and will fill in either A gap. Both B-gaps are then handled by the two ends.
It is designed to clog up the middle in an attempt to force things horizontally. It is a defensive scheme built to slow down RPO teams, because linebackers won’t be forced into as many run-pass conflicts if they don’t have to step up to fill in the B-gap.
Where things get really interesting is when Aranda uses one of his sub-packages. This package called “Peso” is used against a spread offense. It is essentially Aranda’s version of the Nickel package.
A normal Nickel formation features three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Aranda uses two linemen instead, while employing four linebackers and five defensive backs. The idea is to have a lot of speed out there to combat a spread option, while using that quickness to find different ways to get to the quarterback.
This is how Aranda explained it to The Advocate in 2018:
Peso is playing two down linemen, four linebackers and five DBs. You’re playing an over defense, but you’re playing it from a 3-4 perspective with the two D-linemen over the guards and your outside linebackers being over the tackles and your inside backers being in the core. Out of those six, you can play games with who the four rushers are. We made a lot of hay with that at some (other schools, including) the first year (at LSU in 2016), especially at the bowl (win over Louisville), (we played) a fair amount of it.
Aranda has many more different looks he can throw at Big 12 offenses, but those are some of his core concepts. I'll be curious to see if Baylor still has a three-safety look on the back end, because that wasn't a common formation for Aranda at LSU.
Aranda has shown the ability to adapt, and it has worked for him every step of the way so far. Aranda's defense has ranked in the Top 12 nationally in total yards in five of his six seasons as a defensive coordinator at a Power 5 program.
LSU’s defense was tied for the sixth-best team run defense grade in 2019, according to PFF’s NCAA Premium Stats. The Tigers only allowed 18 points per contest over their final five games of the 2019 season.
Baylor will have to find a way to replace several starters from last year’s squad, but Aranda’s philosophy might just get the most out of this defense. For an even better explanation on this defensive scheme, I highly recommend checking out this video:
Despite a new offensive coordinator, don’t expect much to change for the Bears schematically.
Having senior quarterback Charlie Brewer in place makes it difficult to completely revamp an offense, especially since he has started 30 of the last 31 games for Baylor. Yet it just might be a perfect match between Brewer and his new play caller.
Fedora’s offense at North Carolina leaned on the power run game out of 11 personnel, which is a one back and one tight end grouping. This involved a lot of plays that featuring a pulling lineman, while building run-pass options off that original look. It really put opposing defenses in a lot of difficult situations.
It is not that uncommon from what Baylor has been doing as of late, either. From a rushing standpoint, Baylor has a history of success with the power run game. It helps set up the passing game, particularly with Brewer’s success on RPOs and play-action shots.
Brewer actually has the third-highest PFF grade (86.4) on RPOs since 2018. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence leads the way in that department with a grade of 90.5. Per PFF, Brewer averaged 10.3 yards per attempt off play action compared to just 7.2 yards per attempt without play action.
It won’t be shocking if Baylor’s offense features plenty of RPOs this season, but it will be interesting to see the added wrinkles to that overall concept.
This wasn’t supposed to reveal Baylor’s entire playbook, but rather focus on key concepts that might be worth watching on Saturday.
Great coaches are constantly evolving, and they find creative ways to exploit certain mismatches on any given week. The Bears seem to have a good staff in place, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for players to adjust after an unusual offseason.
In the end, I still think I’d prefer to be in Baylor’s situation this weekend. The element of mystery is probably more advantageous than a team like KU coming off a letdown in the season opener.
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.
For the second game in a row, the Kansas football team won’t have 2020 tape on its upcoming opponent.
There is a certain level of mystery regarding the Baylor Bears ahead of the Big 12 opener, perhaps more than usual for a team coming off an 11-win season. Baylor, which lost in the Big 12 championship game a year ago, has a new head coach after Matt Rhule left the program to take over the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
Dave Aranda, who is the 28th head coach in program history, replaced Rhule in January after spending the previous four seasons as defensive coordinator at LSU. To add even more unknown to this football team, Baylor has yet to play a game in 2020 after its season opener was canceled due to COVID-19.
As a result, Kansas (0-1) doesn’t have a lot of information to go on when preparing for this week’s matchup, which is slated to take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. So for the purpose of this blog, 2019 statistics will have to be used again to get more background on the Bears.
Similar to what I did for Coastal Carolina in the season opener, this will be five noteworthy numbers from Baylor’s 2019 season using NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus. I tried to focus on statistics involving returners to help give KU fans a better idea of what to expect this weekend.
Let’s just start with the quarterback
It is usually the position most football fans want to focus on first, so let’s look into a few key numbers from Charlie Brewer’s junior campaign. Brewer has the second-highest PFF grade among returning signal callers in the Big 12, behind only Sam Ehlinger of Texas.
Brewer threw for 3,161 total yards on 215-of-389 passing with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions a season ago. A majority of his success came from RPOs (run-pass option) and play-action passes. In fact, Brewer has the third-highest PFF grade (86.4) on RPOs since 2018. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence actually leads the way in that department with a grade of 90.5
In addition to all that, Brewer has a knack for making plays with his legs. Brewer posted a PFF rushing grade of 74.4 last year, while picking 47 first downs in 13 games on quarterback keepers. He went for 10 or more yards on 16 of his runs in 2019, including four such plays against Texas in Week 13.
KU’s defense will likely be put in a lot of run-pass conflicts this weekend.
Baylor’s dynamic duo at cornerback
The Bears rolled past the Jayhawks for a 61-6 win last season, so there were plenty of high PFF grades to go around. But Baylor’s best performance came in coverage, where it posted an 80.3 PFF grade against KU. And that wasn’t just a one-time thing.
Baylor had three different games with a grade of 80 or higher in coverage. The secondary figures to be a strength for the Bears this fall, with some notable returners coming back to help solidify the back end of that defense.
Despite losing a pair of talented safeties from last year’s unit, Baylor has a strong cornerback tandem of Kalon Barnes and Raleigh Texada coming back. The duo posted PFF coverage grades of 75.6 and 73.1, respectively, during a 14-game season last fall.
Barnes, who is a former receiver, is actually the highest-graded returning cornerback in the Big 12. Both players have a lot of speed at their position, and will be able to keep up with KU’s receivers on Saturday.
Bears tackled poorly in last year’s win against KU
Since we covered an area where Baylor had success against Kansas, let’s take a look at one category that the Bears could clean up this weekend.
Per PFF, the Bears had a tackling grade of just 43.3 in their lopsided win over the Jayhawks. It was the team’s worst performance in that department all season, though Baylor had three other games where it posted a tackling grade lower than 50.
It is interesting to note that the Week 1 version of this blog also pointed out Coastal Carolina had trouble tackling Kansas in 2019. CCU was better this time around, but perhaps it is a trend worth monitoring and is really just a credit to Pooka Williams’ ability to make defenders miss.
The loss of Denzel Mims will hurt
Talented wide receiver Denzel Mims is now a member of the New York Jets, and his skill set won’t be easily replaced. Mims had 45 more targets than any other wide receiver on Baylor’s roster in 2019, and was one of the more productive players in all of college football.
According to PFF’s Twitter account, Mims had the second-most contested catches (39) in college football since 2017. He also had 43 receptions that were 10 or more yards downfield, which was the fourth-most in the nation last season.
Tyquan Thornton, a speedy receiver, might need to take a big leap after catching 45 balls for 782 yards and five scores as a sophomore last year. Jared Atkinson, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior, could also be in line to replace Mims but only had seven catches a year ago.
It will be interesting to see if KU’s secondary, which now has Corione Harris back in the mix, can win this matchup in the conference opener.
Watch out for this Arkansas State transfer
Senior outside linebacker William Bradley-King, who is actually from Kansas City, Mo., will be a key player in that Baylor defense right away after transferring from Arkansas State.
Bradley-King was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection last season, as he led Arkansas State with 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also recorded six quarterback hurries and forced three fumbles.
From a PFF perspective, Bradley-King’s season was even more impressive than those surface stats. He posted a pass-rush grade of 91.4 on 447 pass-rush attempts, which was the sixth-best mark in all of college football last year.
Bradley-King even moved around the football field as a pass rusher. Per PFF, 153 pass rush attempts came from the left side, while 270 such plays came from the right side. He recorded five sacks from the left compared to three sacks when coming at the quarterback from the right.
This could be another big problem for a Kansas offensive line that struggled in the opener.
As expected, the Kansas football team is back to being a double-digit underdog.
KU’s brief moment as a favorite, in which the team was favored by 6.5 points in the season opener, ended with a 38-23 home loss to Coastal Carolina in Week 1. Even if KU had won that game, however, it likely would have been a double-digit underdog this week and perhaps throughout its entire nine-game slate in Big 12 action.
Following a bye week, Kansas opened as a 16.5-point underdog in its road tilt with Baylor in the league opener. The Bears, who are coming off an 11-3 campaign that featured a loss in the Big 12 championship game, have yet to play this season and the status of Saturday’s game remains unknown.
If the game does happen, kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. It would be the debut for Dave Aranda, who became Baylor’s 28th head coach in program history in January after serving as defensive coordinator for LSU the previous four seasons.
Despite the lofty line with a new coach, the early numbers suggest that the Bears might actually have value at this current number via FanDuel’s Sportsbook. Action Network’s model, which had Coastal as a favorite against Kansas even when the sportsbooks didn’t, believes Baylor should be favored by 22 points in this matchup.
According to the Football Power Index on ESPN, the Jayhawks have just an 8% chance of victory in their Big 12 opener. For comparison, FPI gave KU an 11.1% chance of a win against Baylor before the start of the 2020 season.
Bill Connelly’s latest SP+ rankings, which is essentially a tempo-adjusted and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency, has Kansas ranked 88th out of 91 teams. Baylor, meanwhile, comes in at 23rd overall in the latest update.
The over/under for this game is currently set at 59.5. Like when the KU/CCU total was set at 55.5, the over would probably be my favorite bet for this game.
Rest of Big 12 odds: — All lines via FanDuel's Sportsbook
Kansas State (+28.5) at Oklahoma — Over/under 59.5 points
Iowa State (-4.5) at TCU — Over/under 47.5 points
Texas (-16.5) at Texas Tech — Over/under 68.5 points
West Virginia (+8.5) at Oklahoma State — Over/under 55.5 points
KU’s updated FPI numbers:
Game 2: at Baylor — 8% chance of victory (Was 11.1% before Week 1)
Game 3: vs. Oklahoma State — 10% chance of victory (Was 9.3%)
Game 4: at West Virginia — 9.8% chance of victory (Was 16.2%)
Game 5: at Kansas State — 12.3% chance of victory (Was 10.8%)
Game 6: vs. Iowa State — 17.8% chance of victory (Was 14.1%)
Game 7: at Oklahoma — 3.1% chance of victory (Was 3.5%)
Game 8: vs. Texas — 3.2% chance of victory (Was 5.4%)
Game 9: vs. TCU — 7.2% chance of victory (Was 10%)
Game 10: at Texas Tech — 21.6% chance of victory (Was 13.9%)
Given the roster turnover for the 2020 unit, along with the lack of practices in the spring due to the pandemic, some growing pains for KU’s defense should have been expected.
The final result for the season opener would indicate that, too, as Kansas fell at home to Coastal Carolina for the second year in a row with a 38-23 defeat. But the second half did feature some noticeable adjustments by the Jayhawks on the defensive side of the ball.
Coastal Carolina raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first half, which included three touchdowns on the team’s first three possessions of the night. The first two scores came off turnovers committed by the Kansas offense. But the Chanticleers only scored one touchdown on five second-half drives, while being forced into a pair of three-and-outs.
So what exactly changed?
Well, perhaps the biggest adjustment KU’s defense made in the second half was utilizing a fifth defensive back more frequently as opposed to rolling with its standard 3-4 base defense. It allowed senior linebacker Kyron Johnson to focus strictly on using his speed on the edge, which seemed to produce better results against Coastal’s option attack.
It remains to be seen if that tweak will be something KU can use against Big 12 foes in league play. However, in order to see what worked and what didn’t for the Kansas defense, I have compiled some notes worth sharing after watching the replay of the season opener.
KU’s starting defense was Caleb Sampson (DE), Sam Burt (DT), Malcolm Lee (DT), Steven Parker (LB), Denzel Feaster (LB), Dru Prox (LB), Kyron Johnson (LB), Davon Ferguson (S), Karon Prunty (CB), Kyle Mayberry (CB) and Ricky Thomas (S) in the opener.
Base 3-4 defense: 27 total plays, 144 total yards allowed (5.33 YPP)
This is KU’s standard defensive look since second-year defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot came to Lawrence. It features three defensive lineman, four linebackers and four defensive backs. Steven Parker and Kyron Johnson served as outside linebackers, while Denzel Feaster and Dru Prox manned the inside linebacker positions.
Not really surprising, but Kansas used this package more than any other defensive look against CCU. In fact, the Jayhawks had this exact grouping for the entire 10-play drive on Coastal’s first possession. Kansas gave CCU this look on 19 of the first-half snaps, including 13 of the first 14 plays of the game.
It is a package commonly used when offenses run two-receiver sets, which was often the case for the Chanticleers. Coastal had most of its success in 21 personnel — two backs and one tight end — against KU’s 3-4 defense by picking up 72 total yards on 11 such plays. CCU only threw the ball six times when facing this defensive package.
Standard Nickel: 26 total plays, 162 total yards allowed (6.23 YPP)
The only time KU really gave CCU a different look is when it utilized a fifth defensive back. When the Jayhawks chose to do that, it usually meant bringing in safety Nate Betts and taking Parker out of the game. Betts often lined up near Parker’s position, as Coastal Carolina didn’t run many three-receiver sets.
Still, this grouping was KU’s go-to for much of the second half when it was having some success on that side of the ball. The second half featured 18 snaps with this defensive look, including a stretch of 12 consecutive plays.
Parker was usually on the sideline for this formation, but it had more to do with utilizing Johnson’s speed off the edge. CCU recorded 87 rushing yards on 15 attempts against this grouping by KU’s defense.
Kansas never used more than five defensive backs on a given snap, which probably had more to do with Coastal rarely being in third-and-long situations. KU also had seven snaps using its jumbo package in goal line situations.
It didn’t seem like KU tried to scheme up too much from a pass rushing standpoint. That could be because of the unusual offseason or it could just be that Coastal Carolina’s offense didn’t allow for many stunts and twists.
Mayberry was brought on a cornerback blitz on the first drive in what was one of the few noteworthy blitzes by the Kansas defense. There was also a delayed blitz in the third quarter that resulted in an incomplete pass on third down.
Here is a breakdown of KU’s pass rush against CCU by number of pass rushers:
When KU rushed four players — 10 plays, 92 yards
When KU rushed five players — 6 plays, 37 yards
Kansas did not record a single sack in the season opener and actually only finished with two tackles for a loss all night. KU’s lack of presence behind the line of scrimmage played a big part in deciding the final outcome.
Final snap counts for KU’s defensive players: — Information via NCAA Premium Stats at Pro Football Focus
OLB Kyron Johnson — 60 snaps
SS Ricky Thomas — 59 snaps
WLB Dru Prox — 58 snaps
RE Malcolm Lee — 55 snaps
LE Caleb Sampson — 51 snaps
CB Karon Prunty — 46 snaps
CB Kyle Mayberry — 45 snaps
NT Sam Burt — 41 snaps
MLB Denzel Feaster — 41 snaps
SS Kenny Logan Jr. — 35 snaps
OLB Steven Parker — 34 snaps
SS Nate Betts — 30 snaps
RE Marcus Harris — 23 snaps
MLB Gavin Potter — 19 snaps
NT DaJon Terry — 18 snaps
SS Davon Ferguson — 18 snaps
CB Elijah Jones — 18 snaps
By now, you have probably seen the clip on social media. Just before a crucial fourth down attempt of KU’s 38-23 loss to Coastal Carolina, senior left tackle Malik Clark needed a moment to vomit on the turf at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium before eventually getting in his stance in time for the snap.
The play was successful. Miles Kendrick delivered a 14-yard touchdown strike to Andrew Parchment to end a 15-play, 89-yard drive that used up 8:12 of the clock in the third quarter. But the sequence was really emblematic of a key battle that played a part in deciding the outcome.
KU’s offensive line, which was playing its first game without former left tackle Hakeem Adeniji in five years, was completely outmatched by Coastal Carolina’s defensive line on Saturday. Even when the Jayhawks had success moving the ball — like they did in the third quarter — it took a lot out of the players up front.
As a unit, the Kansas offensive line gave up five sacks in its second consecutive loss to Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers recorded 12 tackles for loss, which was tied for the fourth-most TFLs in a single game in CCU history and the most by the defense since 2013.
Most of the struggles were especially evident in pass protection. According to NCAA Premium Stats on Pro Football Focus, Kansas posted a pass blocking grade of 19.7 in the loss. PFF’s premium stats only go back to the start of the 2014 season, but KU’s previous worst mark in that department was a grade of 34.4 against TCU in 2017.
But even all of those statistics don’t tell the whole story. In order to better illustrate what went wrong for the Kansas offensive line, let’s break down some of the tape to see if there are issues that this unit can fix before Big 12 play.
Using what the Scouting Academy taught me this past summer, I will share my thoughts on each lineman after rewatching the game. I also went ahead and created a three-minute video using clips from the FS1 broadcast, which includes 10 bad plays and one good rep by KU in pass protection, so you can have an idea of what happened on Saturday.
Game notes: Malik Clark (LT), Jacobi Lott (LG), Adagio Lopeti (Center), Chris Hughes (RG) and Earl Bostick Jr. (RT) all started up front for KU. Api Mane mixed in at center in the first half before taking over on every possession after Lott went down with an injury at the 10:06 mark in the third quarter. Lopeti slid over to left guard when Lott was sidelined.
With that, let’s take a look at my notes on each lineman, which will also include individual numbers provided by PFF:
LT Malik Clark (61) | Senior
Total snaps played: 79 | PFF offensive grade: 27.4
The second play of the game served as a sign of things to come for Clark, who was making his first start at left tackle after playing left guard over the previous two seasons.
Clark took a small lead step with his right foot at the snap in an attempt to take the inside away, but defensive end Tarron Jackson chose to test him on the edge. Jackson swiped Clark’s initial punch away and got past his outside shoulder, where running back Pooka Williams Jr. had to help. Clark then had nobody else to block.
Jackson, who was actually PFF’s highest-graded pass rusher with a mark of 92.0 last weekend, continued to expose Clark the rest of the night. Jackson had the speed to beat him to the edge, but often relied on his inside spin move when Clark got caught going too far to his left.
It wasn’t just Jackson, either. CCU took advantage of Clark in passing situations for much of the game. It was obviously supposed to be an adjustment for the 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior, but there were some glaring issues for Clark in his first try at tackle.
Clark rarely won the initial punch with a defender, and didn’t have the lateral quickness to avoid being beat on the edge. His change of direction was concerning, particularly when defenders attempted a counter move against him.
It was just one game, but some of these issues are much harder to hide for a tackle who is often in one-on-one situations with a defensive end. Based on what we saw Saturday, it wouldn't be surprising if there was at least a conversation about moving Clark back inside.
LG Jacobi Lott (71) | Sophomore
Total snaps played: 41 | PFF offensive grade: 49.8
Lott’s biggest mistake during the first start of his career came on the very first play in the second period, when defensive tackle C.J. Brewer powered his way past the left guard to sack Kendrick.
On that play, Lott’s first step was left because Brewer was lined up as a 3-tech, which basically means he was to the left of Lott. Brewer immediately crossed Lott’s face, and made first contact by lowering his shoulder. Brewer eventually charged through the 'A gap' — the hole between the center and guard — and made the play on Kendrick.
The play highlighted some of Lott’s issues, as his initial hand placement was often outside the shoulders and late against most defenders. When he doesn’t have the physical strength to win a matchup, Lott needs to do a better job of keeping a solid base with his lower body.
In fact, I thought Lott did a better job anchoring after giving up initial ground on 3rd-and-4 at the 9:12 mark in the second period. His defender ended up deflecting the pass attempt, but Lott held his ground better than the rest of the o-line on that play.
C/G Adagio Lopeti (72) | Senior
Total snaps played: 65 | PFF offensive grade: 55.3
There weren’t a whole lot of individual mistakes by Lopeti that were noticeable on the broadcast version. His ability to start at center and move over to guard when necessary is important for any offensive line to have.
In Lopeti’s first rep at left guard, which came at the 10:07 mark in the third quarter, Kansas actually ran behind him for a 9-yard pickup. Lopeti fired off the snap and removed Brewer from the play by staying low and having solid use of hands until the whistle.
Lopeti, who made four starts a year ago, did have to pull more often when he moved to guard. He didn’t always seem to have the speed to get out in the open field for a block, which led to some improper angles every now and then.
In the passing game, Lopeti was charged with two quarterback hurries by PFF.
RG Chris Hughes (76) | Senior
Total snaps played: 73 | PFF offensive grade: 76.7
Hughes was only charged with one quarterback hurry, and one of his bigger mistakes came at the 8:05 mark in the final period. He got caught sliding a bit to his right, creating a bit of a jam with the right tackle and two Coastal defenders.
The defensive player who was Hughes’ responsibility, Brewer, then had an open path to the quarterback just moments later. It forced Kendrick to roll out to his right before launching the ball out of play.
Hughes, who started at right guard for KU last year, had a lot of success in run blocking against the Chanticleers to kick off his final campaign. That could be something worth monitoring, since he graded out better as a pass blocker last year by PFF.
RT Earl Bostick Jr. (68) | Junior
Total snaps played: 79 | PFF offensive grade: 67.5
The former tight end made his first start on KU’s offensive line in the opener, and he will likely have better days in pass protection.
Like Clark, I thought Bostick was susceptible to getting beat off the edge by Coastal Carolina’s defensive front. Bostick was also vulnerable against inside spin moves, as he was charged with three pressures allowed in the loss.
The difference for Bostick, however, is that this might be more of a technique issue. At the 14:20 mark in the second quarter, when Jackson flew by him off the edge, Bostick messed up by standing tall at the snap and not being decisive enough with his initial steps.
Bostick’s bigger issue was on display at the 4:46 mark in the third quarter. Bostick was simply tossed to the ground by Brewer, which could be concerning when he has to go up against defenders with more functional strength than him.
C Api Mane (58) | Senior
Total snaps played: 58 | PFF offensive grade: 69.2
Mane appeared in the first half before taking full control of the center position due to an injury early in the third quarter.
It’s tougher to find mistakes by a center on the broadcast version, but we got a good look at a miscue that led to a sack with 5:08 left in the game. Jeffrey Gunter, who was a standup defensive end on the play, came all the way around to burst through the right side of Mane for a sack on Kendrick.
It was one of the few times we saw the Chanticleers get creative to generate pressure, as most of their success came from winning one-on-one battles. In this instance, Mane probably should have come off his block a bit sooner to catch the late twist in time.
After all, having that level of mental processing is what helps a center have success in pass protection. I think Mane has it, especially since he posted the best PFF grade among KU linemen against Coastal.
Before getting to my final thoughts, I wanted to take this time to acknowledge that PFF's grading system essentially comes down to whether a lineman won or lost a rep on any given play. Most plays end up being graded neutral by the PFF staff.
This podcast mentions that PFF isn't putting as much emphasis on technique by a lineman, at least compared to winning or losing a rep, which could occasionally lead to some differing opinions between tape evaluators and the grading system.
The numbers and film might be scary, but it’s probably not time for KU fans to panic just yet. Because of the pandemic, this is a unit that didn’t get as much time together in the offseason as they would have liked, and it does take several reps for an offensive line to truly come together.
I do think a majority of these issues are correctable for each lineman. This unit also had a lot of success in the run game, which could be another film breakdown down the road since I still have plenty of those clips that didn't make the cut for this blog.
The problem for Kansas is that it won’t get any easier, of course. After a bye this weekend, the Jayhawks will now have to square off with faster and stronger defensive lines in the Big 12. But it still wouldn’t surprise me if better days are ahead for KU’s o-line.
Although Brent Dearmon took over as the Kansas offensive coordinator midway through last year, there was certainly a level of intrigue entering the 2020 season opener against Coastal Carolina. Many were interested to see what KU’s offense would look like when Dearmon had a whole offseason to implement his playbook.
The result — a 38-23 home loss to CCU — was not what KU fans wanted to see or expected, especially with the hosts being nearly a touchdown favorite prior to kickoff. Even the offensive production, which featured 23 points and 367 total yards, felt like it was below expectations when you consider how explosive that unit looked at times under Dearmon in 2019.
But Dearmon’s offense did look different on Saturday, particularly when you compare formations and personnel used when Kansas dropped a 12-7 defeat to Coastal in Lawrence.
To better illustrate that, I have charted KU’s personnel usage just as I did during last year’s 3-9 campaign. I will share that information in this blog, while also providing a few of my own takeaways from what it all means.
Please note that personnel groupings are used to help identify the different types of skill players on the field for an offense. This information will be using the standard numerical identifier, a two-number system that lists the number of backs on the field first and number of tight ends on the field second. For example, ‘21’ personnel would be a formation with two backs and one tight end.
For a full explanation on this system, please feel free to check out this article on Inside The Pylon.
Four-receivers sets led the way for KU
It only took until the seventh play of the night, which occurred on the game's opening drive, for KU’s offense to give Coastal Carolina a completely different look.
That’s when the Jayhawks used a four-receiver, one running back formation (10 personnel) on 2nd-and-10. Quarterback Thomas MacVittie, who earned the start and played the first two drives of the contest, linked up with Takulve Williams for a 4-yard connection.
It marked the first time Coastal Carolina had to face Kansas in that particular personnel grouping. The Jayhawks didn’t run a single play with one running back and one tight end against the Chanticleers last year, which played a part in the many stacked boxes that the hosts had to face.
However, Kansas never really attempted to use the numbers advantage when in its four-receiver formation. KU only attempted a run on five of its 33 plays in 10 personnel, picking up positive yards on three of those carries that included a 10-yard run by Pooka Williams.
KU finished with 11 rushing yards on five attempts in 10 personnel because of one play that ended in a 7-yard loss.
Overall, Kansas finished with 143 total yards on 33 plays when going with 10 personnel for an average of 4.33 yards per play in such situations. The total number of plays in this look was inflated due to game script, as KU only had eight plays in 10 personnel through the first four drives, but it was worth noting after the team didn't try it once against Coastal last season.
Not as many plays in 21 personnel this time around
Another noticeable difference in this year’s rematch was the lack of formations with two backs and one tight end.
On Saturday, Kansas had 13 plays in 21 personnel while picking up a total of 31 yards for an average of 2.38 yards per play. For comparison, KU had 148 yards on 21 plays using that look against CCU last year.
Those numbers might indicate that Kansas should have tried that grouping a little more this past weekend. Yet, last year’s showing was inflated by some two-running back formations, as opposed to using a fullback. Former running back Khalil Herbert, who transferred to Virginia Tech this past offseason, had a 41-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive when Williams was used as a decoy.
In the 2020 season opener, Kansas only had both of its running backs (Williams and Velton Gardner) on the field at the same time on four plays. The Jayhawks had a sack on one of those plays, but recorded 26 total yards on three runs in the other three instances that both tailbacks were on the field together.
Jayhawks attempted more runs in 11 personnel
KU only had 11 plays with one back and one tight end against Coastal, but it featured more of an even split between the run and pass.
The Jayhawks elected to run the ball six times and threw five pass attempts in 11 personnel. On six of those running plays, three of them went for positive yards thanks to more running lanes with three receivers out there on the field to stretch the opposing defense out.
Gardner’s 61-yard touchdown run on the second drive of the second half came in 11 personnel. Williams also had a 12-yard run in a similar grouping during the first half. KU finished with 75 rushing yards on six attempts with one back and one tight end out there.
In the end, 11 personnel was the team’s best grouping in terms of production as Kansas finished with 140 yards and averaged 12.73 yards per play with that look.
Final snap counts for KU’s offensive players (Information via NCAA Premium Stats at Pro Football Focus):
LT Malik Clark — 79 total snaps
RT Earl Bostick Jr. — 79 total snaps
WR Andrew Parchment — 75 total snaps
WR Takulve Williams — 73 total snaps
RG Chris Hughes — 73 total snaps
WR Kwamie Lassiter II — 67 total snaps
OL Adagio Lopeti — 65 total snaps
C Api Mane — 58 total snaps
HB Velton Gardner — 43 total snaps
WR Lawrence Arnold — 42 total snaps
LG Jacobi Lott — 41 total snaps
HB Pooka Williams Jr. — 41 total snaps
QB Miles Kendrick — 39 total snaps
QB Thomas MacVittie — 36 total snaps
FB Ben Miles — 27 total snaps
TE Mason Fairchild — 21 total snaps