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4th-down philosophy: Punting, field goals can be 'kind of a buzzkill' to Kansas OC Doug Meacham

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Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Two weeks into the season, the Kansas football team’s offense has not yet achieved the type of results coordinator Doug Mecham’s Air Raid scheme is designed to produce.

But fans combing through the debris of a 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan in search of some signs of encouragement could choose to cling to this: the Jayhawks appear to have a plan for fourth downs.

The days of indecision and calling timeouts to determine whether to punt, kick a field goal or go for it just might be behind KU, now that Meacham is calling the plays.

“We have a lot of data that gives us a read on when to and when not to,” KU’s first-year coordinator and receivers coach explained this past week.

Meacham said as a drive progresses, members of the staff will let him know what a chart of percentages says about a given situation on the field.

“There’s a lot of math involved, a lot of data involved in when and when not to. It’s kind of like when you go to Vegas, you know the blackjack card, when to take a hit. We kind of have that for fourth downs,” he said. “They let me know. And it helps me because on third down I can maybe do something that is a little abstract, because I know I’ve got another one.”

So far this year it has worked to KU’s favor. The Jayhawks are 5-for-6 on fourth downs, an 83.3-percent success rate, which ranks 28th nationally among FBS teams. Only Miami (Ohio), Pittsburgh, UMass, Syracuse, Idaho, East Carolina, Virginia, San Jose State and Hawaii have attempted more fourth-down conversions, with eight being the most.

“We’re just gonna go,” Meacham said. “We have speed-ball plays in line for fourth, we’ve got normals and we’ve got a fourth-down plan. We’ll probably go for it on fourth more than the average team will.”

Against Central Michigan, those words proved factual, as Kansas found prosperity on four of its five fourth-down tries.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson slips past a CMU defender during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson slips past a CMU defender during the Jayhawks game against Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 9 at Memorial Stadium. by Mike Yoder

The first came in the second quarter. On fourth-and-four at the CMU 31-yard line, junior quarterback Peyton Bender found senior tight end Ben Johnson for a seven-yard gain — a play which Meacham didn’t hesitate to signal in.

Later, in the third quarter, with KU trailing 31-20, Meacham called upon freshman running back Dom Williams to convert on fourth-and-one at Central Michigan’s 45, which Williams did, with a four-yard rush.

The other three attempts came in the final quarter. Just one yard across midfield, on fourth-and-10 and trailing 38-20, Bender connected with junior receiver Ryan Schadler on a 15-yard pass.

Next, with the CMU lead up to 45-27, Kansas went for it on its own 42, and Bender threw to redshirt sophomore Chase Harrell for nine yards on fourh-and-six.

KU’s run of fourth-down success didn’t end until the final minutes, in desperation mode from its own 32. On fourth-and-11, Bender’s pass to Schadler only picked up nine yards.

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark.

Kansas offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham watches over a drill during practice on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 at the grass fields adjacent to Hoglund Ballpark. by Nick Krug

According to Meacham, he prefers assertive tactics on fourth downs.

“It’s probably a little bit more aggressive than your norm. Than what the norm is, I guess,” he said. “It’s just like if I coached baseball I’d probably steal a lot more than a lot of these guys do. I mean, make them make a play. You go for it on fourth down. Make them make a play. You punt or try a 48-yard field goal, that’s just kind of a buzzkill to me. Let’s just go.”

KU also converted on fourth down against Southeast Missouri State, in Week 1. At the SEMO 25-yard line, on fourth-and-one, Bender hit Harrell for a nine-yard gain.

Any time head coach David Beaty asks Meacham what the Jayhawks should do, he knows what his response will be.

“I’m going to say ‘go,’ every time,” Meacham said. “You cross that 50, let’s go.”

Beaty pointed to KU’s fourth-down triumphs after the CMU loss as one of the few silver linings.

“I’d just like us to do it on third down so we don’t get to fourth,” the third-year KU head coach added. “But the analytics that we use is something that’s paying off for us.”

— Below is a list of fourth-down positions in which Kansas punted or kicked a field goal during the first two games.

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE

FIRST QUARTER

  • Own 24, fourth-and-six: punt

SECOND QUARTER

  • Own 49, fourth-and-11: punt

  • SEMO 49, fourth-and-13: punt

THIRD QUARTER

  • Own 5, fourth-and-15: punt

  • Own 37, fourth-and-14: punt

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

1ST QUARTER

  • Own 47, fourth-and-seven: punt

  • CMU 6, fourth-and-goal: Gabriel Rui 23-yard field goal good

2ND QUARTER

  • Own 25, fourth-and-10: punt

  • Own 13, fourth-and-11: punt

  • CMU 16, fourth-and-13: Rui 33-yard field goal good

3RD QUARTER

  • CMU 41, fourth-and-10: punt (down 31-20, late in quarter)

4TH QUARTER

  • CMU 19, fourth-and-10: Rui 37-yard field goal missed wide right

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