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Box score breakdown: Should we still consider KU a run-first team?

Here's a look at our "new" box score for Kansas' 13-10 victory over LA Tech.

A note for first-time readers: 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.

KU-LA Tech "new" box score

KU-LA Tech "new" box score by Jesse Newell

Here are a few takeaways from the box score:

Turnovers saved the Jayhawks

Kansas defensive lineman Keon Stowers comes away with the ball after recovering a Louisiana Tech fumble late in the fourth quarter to give the Jayhawks the ball back.

Kansas defensive lineman Keon Stowers comes away with the ball after recovering a Louisiana Tech fumble late in the fourth quarter to give the Jayhawks the ball back. by Nick Krug

One glance at our "new" box score shows that LA Tech was the better team Saturday. The Bulldogs were better in yards per play, yards per possession, average field position, explosive plays ... pretty much any category you want to look at.

That sometimes isn't enough, though, when you can't hold onto the football.

Though Tech had only one more turnover than KU (3-2), the Bulldogs' miscues were much more costly. If we look at equivalent points — the number of points a team is likely to score on a drive from a certain yard line, plus the average number of points the opponent is likely to score on the ensuing possession — we see that quarterback Ryan Higgins' fumble cost his team an estimated 6.79 points (the ball at the opponent's 2 is worth 7.11 points; KU getting the ball at its own 20 is worth -0.32 points to KU) and Kenneth Dixon's fumble cost his team an estimated 5.54 points.

Add it up, and those 12 points given to KU — along with some timely offense from the Jayhawks — made up for KU's other deficiencies.

It's time to be concerned about the run game

Remember, for this box score, any negative yards on sacks go in to "Passing Yards" category, which makes the Jayhawks' 3.8-yard-per-carry rushing average look even worse.

KU coach Charlie Weis said after the game that his offensive line was getting beaten routinely inside by Tech's front four, so he altered his game plan to try to attack the Bulldogs with the passing game on the edges.

Playing musical chairs with the offensive line probably didn't help, either. At times, the right side of KU's line (Dylan Admire, Damon Martin, Riley Spencer) featured three players that didn't even start in the team's previous game against Rice.

After watching this year's struggles, it seems likely we probably didn't give enough credit to offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson, Trevor Marrongelli and Duane Zlatnik for clearing the holes they did for the running game a season ago.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with our Div. II assistant coach from the breakdown blog last week.

After I showed him the video of KU's offensive line getting blown up by Rice's front four, "Coach" made the comment that there was a possibility that this year's Jayhawks might not be suited to be a run-first team.

"You have to tailor your offense around the type of players that you have," Coach said. "Last year was the 2012 KU Jayhawks. The 2012 KU Jayhawks are only going to happen once ever. The 2013 Jayhawks are a new team, so maybe they’re not going to be as great at running the ball, so maybe they need to do other things."

It's looking more and more like that with each passing week.

KU's passing game much more efficient

Kansas receiver Christian Matthews hauls in a pass with Louisiana Tech defensive back Xavier Woods on his back during the fourth quarter.

Kansas receiver Christian Matthews hauls in a pass with Louisiana Tech defensive back Xavier Woods on his back during the fourth quarter. by Nick Krug

For the first time this year, KU completed more than 50 percent of its passes in a game, as Jake Heaps was 28-for-46, good for a 61-percent completion rate.

One encouraging sign for KU was that many of its pass plays were simpler. Heaps said after the game that the Jayhawks took quite a few "free" yards on rollout plays, simply taking advantage of what the defense was giving to pick up some short yardage.

The Jayhawks still aren't much of a threat to break a deep pass play, but some passing game is better than none. With KU's run getting stuffed all game, Heaps at least showed the ability to get moderate gains through the air, while the receivers limited their drops to help the pass game's efficiency.

KU's run defense starting to show some holes

KU's pass defense once again was a bright spot, coming up with nine pass breakups while holding Tech to an excellent 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

On the other hand, the Jayhawks continue to get gashed by a variety of running plays.

Against Rice, it was the read- and speed-option that burned KU. Against LA Tech, KU struggled against more traditional running plays, allowing an "explosive run" (12 or more yards) on nearly a-fourth of the Bulldogs' rushes (seven of 29 run plays).

Almost every team in the Big 12 is pass-happy, so KU is better off having a team that is built to defend the pass rather than the run.

Still, KU is about to face better running backs, so some improvement is needed to get opposing offenses into passing downs so KU can take advantage of the impressive secondary it has assembled.

Take a bow, Trevor Pardula

I believe I'm safe in saying this is a game KU definitely would have lost a year ago without punter Trevor Pardula.

The juco transfer saved the Jayhawks on Saturday when it came to field position. Though KU didn't get good field position often (average start of own 19), Pardula made sure that Tech didn't have better field position, as his booming punts ensured that Tech's average drive start was its own 28.

Field position matters, too. Tech had a nine-yard advantage on average field position, and in 2012, FBS teams won 71.6 percent of the games when their field position was eight-to-12 yards better than their opponents.

As mentioned in the first week's blog, when two FBS teams played in 2012 and one team had an advantage of 12 yards or more per drive in field position, that team's record was 151-10 (.938). And without Pardula netting 55.8 yards on his five punts, KU most likely loses the field-position battle by at least 12 yards.

Through three games, Pardula has probably made the biggest impact of any juco player Weis brought in for this season.

Playmakers needed

Kansas receiver Rod Coleman has a pass broken up by Louisiana Tech defenders Thomas McDonald (33) and Le'Vander Liggins (13) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Rod Coleman has a pass broken up by Louisiana Tech defenders Thomas McDonald (33) and Le'Vander Liggins (13) during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

KU had more possessions and more plays than an average contest, yet the Jayhawks mustered just six "explosive" plays.

What's also troubling is that KU had quite a bit of issues on first down — a down where a team should have most of the playbook open. KU averaged just 3.1 yards on first down, with the same number of first-down plays going for negative yards (three) as 10-plus-yard gains (three).

The Jayhawks performed some second-down miracles while doing a good job of avoiding sacks to keep their third-down distances manageable (6.1 average yards to go), but the fact is, KU's offense is going to continue to struggle if someone doesn't emerge to break off 30-plus-yard plays every once in a while (KU had none against LA Tech).

Weis did a better job of getting speedy Tony Pierson the ball on Saturday, but there's still work to be done to get him more opportunities in the open field.

Through three games — and a 2-1 record — I'd argue that Pierson and receiver Rodriguez Coleman are the most significant players for this team moving forward.

Those guys provide KU with the best hope at breaking off big plays, which will be vital if the Jayhawks can't get their offensive line — and running game — back to last year's form.

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Comments

Dirk Medema 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Interesting to see the ESPN D-stats. LATech was supposed to be one of the most explosive D teams in the country, but we beat them 2:1 in most of those categories (sacks, TFL, ...).

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KGphoto 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Am I the only one who thought part of the reason our run defense didn’t look good was because Dixon was beasting? I know we failed to maintain some gaps, but this guy was carrying piles and ripping through tackle after tackle. He was on a mission.

Certainly an argument can be made for bad tackling, but even Ben Heeney was having some trouble with this guy, so I don’t think my eyes were entirely fooling me.

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Janet Scott 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I appreciated jross1972's forwarding the scouting report on KU football going into this season. Let me extrapolate on that report just a bit, immediately here below, and include a segment of the report that jross1972 did not note:

Kansas U is high school team, at best. The greatest danger in playing them is watching them for too long, which will surely cause you so much laughter that your own game will be greatly weakened. You can not play while on the borderline of terminal gaffaw, and watching Kansas "try" to play football, while HC Charlie "Pile of Crap" Weis looks clueless, will put you in clear danger of such a disasterous comedic malady.

The local press (aka LJW) got suckered into all the hype ahead of the start of the KU games being played: ignore the stated optimism of the LJW: that in itself is a joke; blown coverage. Kansas' use of the world's first vitual computer simulation of their opponent's football play and players, a system hyped by their AD, Dr. Z, proved to be the biggest joke of this college football year, and is no longer mentioned by either Dr. Z or the LJW. The computer system has been boxed up, anchor afixed, and tossed in the Kansas River in the midst of night.

Remember, play hard but try not to over-observe this KU team: the greatest threat to you not winning is watching too closely a KU football team that could not beat a women's bikini flag football team, getting over confident and then playing to KU's sordid level.

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Scut Farkus 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The O line was constantly being pushed back. Running or passing, it didn't matter. That said, the running plays that did succeed were off tackle. When they tried to run wide, nobody was able to block the D ends, therefore little or no gain. Sims also missed a couple nice holes. I don't think Weis has a choice but run if he wants to compete in the Big 12. He needs to keep the offense off the field.

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Joe Ross 6 months, 3 weeks ago

If you want the truth, perk your ears up.

The scouting report on Kansas going into the season said, "The strength of the Kansas offense is their backfield. If you shut down the running game, you may rattle a quarterback that has been out of the game long enough to lack confidence in his passing. With key departures from the offensive line, it may be easier for your defense to neutralize any advantage Kansas might have otherwise enjoyed. Weis will try to establish Sims, Miller and Cox early and often, not only in an offensive set with conventional handoffs, but with screen passes to the flat."

The Kansas running game is not what people thought it would have been at this point in the season (with cupcakes scheduled early, many may have anticipated large gains on the ground). But what has happened, in essence, is that defenses have adjusted and are now focused on stopping the run. Yes, with the inexperience on the offensive line, this is easier to do (refer to Tom Keegan's article a week or so ago which appropriately addressed how few of those guys have played together). The way to open up the run again is to go down the field. Make defenses respect the pass if they're gonna stack the box. Play action is a great way to do this. Three or four 20 yard gains down the field will be enough to soften the defense enough to allow your runners to do damage. You have to mix it up more! Throw past the line of scrimmage! Throw beyond the first down marker. And for the love of Pete, throw on first down more. If you had a short gain on first down, and you decide to pass on second down but don't complete the pass, you have a third and long situation. Everything should be geared toward making your third down situations as short as possible. Besides that, it opens up the playbook on 3rd down (because in third and long defenses are expecting the pass). The answer? Throw on FIRST down. And did I say go down the field? Well, dammit, matriculate the ball DOWN THE FIELD!!!! This ain't rocket science. Pass to open up the run; then run to make them respect your pass. All options will be open.

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Michael Wattai 6 months, 3 weeks ago

The thing that bothers me most about the offense is the play calling. Except for a few passes to the tight ends, it seems to me that there was little play action or fakes to running backs. A lot of the time on a pass play, KU lines up with no one in the back field. Looks like a pass play to me, there is no deception. It also seems that there is little mixing up of pass or run plays on a particular drive. It's all run one drive, then all pass the next. I really hate the plays with no one in the backfield. KU's receivers don't seem to get a lot of separation and it doesn't help when the defense knows it's going to be a pass play (i.e. no one in the backfield). I thought Charlie Weis was suppose to be an offensive genius. So far, I'm not seeing it.

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Robert Brock 6 months, 3 weeks ago

You have to score a lot if you want to be in games in a soft conference like the Big 12. Our OLs don't look ready to do anything this year.

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bigtex 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Defense will have carry this team(Ben Heeney keep the D fired up!!) Was Matthews sick last week against Rice I didn't see him play , the guy looked like a Big 12 receiver that went and got the ball against La. Tech.(good hops). Love Pierson on those short dump off passes,yards after the catch are good ,Heaps got alike that. Coleman made a great catch but still looks a little awkward out there,time will help this guy.We still don't have a true long ball threat, When I look at the roster of receivers we have that I've seen play, I wonder why Truzilli is not on the field . Truzilli kicked TCUs corners but last year. Truzilli looked fast last year and was a big target. Heaps has the arm to go deep. If we don't go deep once in a while defenses are going to choke off our short game. I like our RBs I think Sims and Miller will run tough. Mundine finally played like himself. Offense needs to be more creative if we are going to compete against Big 12 defenses!!

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Keith Hummel 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I wonder if there is a correlation between the run-blocking troubles on our OL and the run stopping troubles on our DL. In other words, maybe our offensive linemen would be better at run-blocking if they had to face tougher run defense in practice.

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pizzashuttle 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"KU had more possessions and more plays than an average contest, yet the Jayhawks mustered just six "explosive" plays."

For context how many "explosive" plays should a normal team average per "regular" play? Do teams average 1 explosive play for every 8 regular plays? Sure, I'd like some more explosive plays. However I need some factual context to decide if I'm concerned about it.

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Phil Leister 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"..allowing an "explosive run" (12 or more yards) on nearly a-fourth of the Bulldogs' rushes."

What's a-fourth mean?

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pizzashuttle 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I liked Weis's play calling better against LaTech than against Rice. It involved more of our playmakers - Sims, Pierson, Bourbon. The box score on ESPN showed that Miller only had 3 carries. Miller's another piece to the puzzle that Weis needs to add to the mix. Not sure that our O-line can open holes for him so maybe mix him in for a screen pass every so often or a sweep with Bourbon in the backfield as another blocker. I also think we need to get Coleman more involved but he needs some routes that will get him open. Maybe have him run more curl / button hook routes.

I agree with Jesse's observations. Really not looking forwards to our D-line having to match up with Baylor / Seastrunk. That is gonna' be a brutal game to watch. Our O-line looked more effective at pass blocking, looked like Heaps had more time to choose his receiver against LaTech than against Rice so that's an improvement.

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Dirk Medema 6 months, 3 weeks ago

"One glance at our "new" box score shows that LA Tech was the better team Saturday."

My glance doesn't reveal this. LATech was the better running team, but KU was the better passing and kicking team. Kicking in particular was the difference in the game (2-3 FG vs. 1-3 FG).

It's currently in vogue to be dismissive of our football team, and it isn't like there aren't things to be concerned about, but let's save the subjective for the opinion articles.

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kudzutexas 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Both tackles were consistently blown up. The defensive end on Sterling owned him. Heaps had no time to operate, and the offensive line's run blocking as a whole was totally inept. They just weren't assignment sound or aggressive. At this point in the season I'm really worried about the the O line.

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Al Martin 6 months, 3 weeks ago

This feels exactly right.

I wasn't at the game this week, so I only have a TV view, but it didn't look as though the offensive line was getting physically blown up this game as much as they were missing assignments and letting someone come unblocked. That should be fixable, one would hope.

I couldn't really tell what was happening on run defense, but it appeared as though our linemen couldn't get off their blocks very well. The linemen did get some good pressure a few times, though.

There are many problems to fix, and it might well be that we've won for the last time this year, but the team showed some real character, and we have lots more playmakers on defense than we've had in quite some time. Both lines are worrisome, but I'm choosing to be optimistic that these are fixable issues.

And we have kickers! What a nice thing to see!

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Eric Dawson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice write up, Jesse, thanks. The only part I would take some issue with is this --

"The Jayhawks performed some second-down miracles while doing a good job of avoiding sacks to keep their third-down distances manageable (6.1 average yards to go), but the fact is, KU's offense is going to continue to struggle if someone doesn't emerge to break off 30-plus-yard plays every once in a while (KU had none against LA Tech)."

We know from last year we have the skill people to break off those explosive plays, we don't need "someone [to] emerge". However, as you noted earlier in your write up, they need help from the O line to get them in position to make those plays possible. I understand that Grunhard said the O line has to communicate better to handle the stunts and twists that opposing D lines are using against them. Whatever the O line issues are, if they cannot be improved upon, KU will be sore pressed to succeed on O this year.

Thanks again!

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