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KU quarterback Jake Heaps has a 'hot spot' ... and here's where it is

Through five games, what are Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps' strengths as a passer?

With help from charting data, let's take a look.

After each game, I've made an attempt to chart every play of KU's football season, which has included direction of passes, pass yardage, formation and other tidbits that can't be found in the box score.

Let's start with this: Here's how well Heaps has thrown by direction of the field:

Heaps by direction. Photo illustration by Janella Williams.

Heaps by direction. Photo illustration by Janella Williams. by Jesse Newell

A few caveats before we get too deep into the numbers:

There are about seven passing plays from the Rice game that I didn't get on tape — six incompletions and one two-yard completion. That's seven throws out of 149, so our data set isn't perfect, but it's still large enough to make general observations about Heaps and his throws.

These are pass yards thrown by Heaps in the air ... not the total yardage gained on the play. For instance, if Tony Pierson caught a pass five yards down the field and ran it 72 more, the pass yards on the play is five yards.

• These numbers do not count passes Heaps threw that were incomplete/intercepted because of pass interference or illegal contact penalties, but they do include plays that happened that might have been called back for other reasons (like offensive holding). This increases the sample size we're drawing from.

• I took out all throws that I labeled as "throwaways" in my charting.

As a right-handed quarterback, Heaps has definitely favored throwing to the right side, as more than 42 percent of his charted throws went that direction.

It's also the side where KU has been the least successful in the passing game. Heaps' 4.5 yards per attempt on those throws is much lower than that on the other two sides.

Heaps' "hot spot" appears to be the middle, where he's thrown three of his touchdowns and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt. It helps that Tony Pierson's 77-yard receiving TD against Rice was a throw in that area, but Heaps' numbers still would be better in that section even without that play.

Let's look at Heaps' throws by distance now:

Heaps by distance. Photo illustration by Janella Williams.

Heaps by distance. Photo illustration by Janella Williams. by Jesse Newell

Heaps has been accurate behind the line of scrimmage (88 percent), but those plays have been the least successful in terms of yards per attempt. Long throws also have been risky for Heaps, as KU is averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt on those 24 throws with two interceptions.

Heaps' strong suit appears to be the intermediate routes, and especially those that require throws 10-19 yards downfield. In that area, Heaps has thrown three TDs in 22 attempts while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt.

Finally, let's see how Heaps throws by distance and direction:

Heaps by distance and direction. Photo illustration by Janella Williams.

Heaps by distance and direction. Photo illustration by Janella Williams. by Jesse Newell

This only confirms what we've talked about above. Heaps is throwing more frequently to the right in both short and intermediate passes, despite the fact that KU's yards-per-attempt are poor in those areas.

Heaps' best passing numbers are coming in the middle of the field, with his most success coming in the center of the tic-tac-toe. Notice also that three of his five passing TDs were in that area as well.

I wanted to give you a look at one last chart. This shows the distances Heaps passes have been going, then compares that to the 2012 NCAA averages for quarterbacks.

Jake Heaps compared to NCAA averages

Jake Heaps compared to NCAA averages by Jesse Newell

If you look at the far-right column, you can see KU's throwing habits with Heaps. For those saying KU should throw more deep balls ... the Jayhawks actually are above the NCAA average when throwing passes over 35 yards, and that's without much success.

Also, KU has thrown a high number of passes behind the line of scrimmage compared to the national average, and while the Jayhawks are completing an OK percentage, those plays haven't been particularly explosive (5.3 yards per attempt).

The sweet spot once again (in a small sample size) for Heaps has been passes between 15 and 19 yards, as KU is averaging 10.5 yards per pass attempt while completing an impressive 55 percent of those throws.

The conclusion from all the data above? Though Heaps has thrown the largest number of passes to the right this year, KU's had much more success when he's thrown in the center.

Heaps' best numbers have come on intermediate passes between the hashes, meaning that the Jayhawks might benefit if they gave Heaps more options in that area: a perfect spot for tight end Jimmay Mundine or KU's receivers on routes over the middle.

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Comments

Chris Bailey 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Do the passing locations correlate to certain receivers as well? Meaning does Tony run his routes in the middle of the field where he is most comfortable? Not saying all his routes are there just that the middle could be his best place. And this would apply to any of the receivers. In other words breaking down where they are getting most of their catches.

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Jesse Newell 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Definitely could be an entire blog for another time.

In Pierson's case, he's been targeted eight times to the left, 12 times to the middle and 15 times to the right.

He has six catches to the left for 81 yards (10.1 ypa), eight catches for 194 yards in the middle (16.2 ypa; remember, this includes his 77-yard TD) and eight catches for 58 yards to the right (3.9 ypa).

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Chris Bailey 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Yep that's what I was getting at. If who was running the route made a difference in the outcome. I mean I guess really a more talented receiver would be expected to catch more balls for a higher percentage and higher yards. Just seems like several players have hands a stone. Good stuff man! Thanks!

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Ron Prichard 9 months, 2 weeks ago

This is a fantastic breakdown, Jesse! Thatnks for doing things like this week after week. Out of curiosity, we all know that Weis is one of the hardest working coaches around. But do you ever think things like this get lost or overlooked due to the "forest for the trees" effect? Simply put, do you think Weis overlooks data like this because he is too focused on breaking down plays, studying individual plays, routes, passes, etc?

You would think with this kind of data we would start to see more passes over the middle. After reading this, I'm surprised we haven't and it makes me wonder why.

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Jesse Newell 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not sure exactly what all is looked at by the staff, but I know a lot of self-evaluation takes place during bye weeks.

Just so you know, against TCU, I had Heaps throwing 11 times to the left, eight times to the middle and seven times to the right. That's a lower number of passes to the right based on what we'd expect from the numbers above.

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Todd 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Very interesting breakdown Jesse. Perhaps it can't be quantified statistically, but in your opinion, would you say the long ball hasn't worked for Heaps because he lacks the strength-accuracy combo to make connections on the bombs or because receivers have dropped/run bad routes?

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Michael Sillman 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Does your breakdown include whether Heaps is on the move while passing or sitting in the pocket? I've been thinking that Weis should resurrect Hank Stram's moving pocket to improve Heap's protection and give time plus play action to free up the receivers..

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Jesse Newell 9 months, 1 week ago

Don't have that in the blog above, but I have the data. Maybe something to look at in future weeks.

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