Box score breakdown: KU's running game against Rice wasn't what we're used to
Let's take a look at our "new" box score for Kansas' 23-14 loss to Rice.
For those who didn't check out last week's blog, this box score is meant to give some of the most relevant stats so we can take a deeper (and better) look into the numbers.
Here are a few takeaways from the box score:
KU's pass defense, once again, was stellar
If you're looking for positives, this has to be the biggest one. After a dominating pass defense performance in Game 1 against South Dakota (2.8 pass yards allowed/attempt), the Jayhawks backed it up with an effort that was nearly as impressive against respected Rice QB Taylor McHargue (4.1 pass yards allowed/attempt).
Not only that, KU's secondary is making plays on the ball. KU's 11 passes defensed (pass breakups plus interceptions) is a huge number that hints the Jayhawks should me more competitive defensively this year in the pass-happy Big 12. Through two games, KU's 7.5 passes broken up per game leads the conference, while Dexter McDonald is tied for fourth nationally with five pass breakups of his own.
KU's pass offense, once again, was pretty bad
Remember, in our "new" box score, sacks are counted against the passing totals, as technically, they are passing plays. Through this prism, KU's passing numbers go from bad to cover-your-eyes awful.
The Jayhawks mustered just 4.2 net passing yards per attempt after posting an identical 4.2 net yards per attempt against South Dakota the week before. Notice that if you look at yards per completion, KU's passing numbers jump up to 9.8 yards per catch. So what does that tell us? In short, KU isn't completing enough passes. For the second straight week, quarterback Jake Heaps failed to complete more than 50 percent of his throws, and once again, costly drops kept KU from having a more efficient passing game.
Trevor Pardula had another great game
Again, if optimism is your thing, KU punter/kickoff guy Trevor Pardula is another reason to believe KU can be competitive in Big 12 games. After seven punts, the junior still maintained a healthy 40.4-yard net punt average, and that was a big reason KU stayed close in the field-position game (KU's average start was its own 27; Rice's was its own 30). Pardula also blasted three more touchbacks, and through nine kickoffs this season, his six touchbacks are already more than KU had in all of 2012 (five in 47 kickoffs).
KU's offensive numbers were even worse considering the opportunities
In 2012, during games between two FBS teams, the average squad had 13 possessions per game. The Jayhawks had it 15 times against the Owls and still never managed to find a rhythm. To be fair, one of those possessions was a kneeldown at the end of the first half, but the numbers are ugly regardless. KU managed just 18 yards per possession, which is barely half of what an NCAA team averaged a year ago (31.1 yards per possession). Remember, that was against a Rice defense that allowed 52 points in 14 possessions to Texas A&M two weeks before.
It was a weird game for KU's running game
The last few years, KU has had success in the running game by getting modest gains to keep the chains moving. Against Rice, the Jayhawks were the total opposite of that, featuring a boom-or-bust tendency while playing without backup RB Taylor Cox.
KU had three rushes of 12 yards are more, and all were by James Sims, who has been more of a grinding back during his career. On the opposite side of the spectrum, though, KU had seven rushes that went for no gain or a loss, indicating the Jayhawks' offensive linemen were getting overpowered too often.
That made for some weird stats. KU's 4.2-yard-per-carry average might be more acceptable if the Jayhawks were better able to avoid losing plays. Instead, KU averaged just 2.6 yards on first down because of all the run stuffs, and that put the team in tough situations on third downs, where the Jayhawks' average gain to go was 7.9 yards — much too high for a team that is still trying to find itself in the passing game.
The pick-six was a killer
The box score above shows this game wasn't dominated by Rice. The Owls had slightly better numbers across the board, but statistically this game was close enough for KU to win if it had a positive turnover margin.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, Heaps' pick-six in the first quarter put the team in a huge hole. Bill Connelly has done the math to compile an NCAA football chart for equivalent points — the number of points a team is likely to score on a drive from a certain yard line.
When Heaps threw the pass, KU was on the Rice 46 — a yard line worth 1.62 equivalent points to KU. The interception return for TD then gave the Owls seven points, and the ensuing kickoff was a touchback, putting KU on the 25 — worth 0.01 equivalent point.
Do the math, and that was a 8.61-point swing because of a single play — definitely enough to swing the balance of a game that the Owls won by ... nine points.