Kansas right tackle Tanner Hawkinson knows that his team’s offense hasn’t always been able to help out its defense this season.
“They’re out there playing well, and (our) going out there and getting a quick three-and-out is obviously not the ideal situation,” the junior said. “You want to extend those drives and get those guys some more rest.”
Unfortunately for KU this season, neither the offense nor the defense has been able to do many favors for the other side of the ball.
According to statistics from Brian Fremeau of Footballoutsiders.com, heading into today’s 1 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium against Baylor, KU ranks last in the Big 12 both offensively and defensively when it comes to three-and-outs.
The average NCAA team goes three-and-out on 33 percent of its possessions (this includes possessions where a team turns it over before getting a first down). This year, KU’s offense has gone three-and-out on 45 percent of its possessions, which is 111th nationally out of 120 teams.
KU’s defense, meanwhile, has forced three-and-outs on 17.7 percent of its possessions, which is 117th nationally and the worst of any BCS conference team.
So what are the potential reasons for KU’s struggles with short drives?
Offensively, KU appears to not be getting enough production on first downs.
According to CFBstats.com, KU has rushed 72.2 percent of the time on first downs this season (184 rushes, 71 passes). That’s the third-highest percentage of first-down runs in the Big 12, behind only Texas (79.1 percent) and Kansas State (75.4 percent).
The Jayhawks haven’t had much success with those first-down rushes, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, which ranks 90th nationally.
On KU’s 71 first-down passing attempts, it has averaged 7.4 yards per attempt.
“That’s obviously one of those things we’ve got to improve on ... those first downs,” Hawkinson said, “to keep those third downs nice and short for us.”
Defensively, KU has had troubles on first down as well, especially against the run.
The Jayhawks are allowing 6.9 yards per rush to opponents on first down — the worst mark in the country.
KU also has allowed opponents to convert 53.7 percent of their third downs this season, which ranks 117th nationally and worst in the BCS.
“Lately, we’ve been having a difficult time just getting the job done in that situation,” KU linebacker Darius Willis said of his team’s third downs. “A lot of times it’s just us being a split-second away from making a play, and (we) end up not making a play. Just the little things that you can tighten up and tune in on that will make you better.”
KU’s offense has struggled the last two years with three-and-outs. Last season, KU had three-and-outs on 42 percent of their drives, which ranked 106th nationally and last in the Big 12.
The defense, meanwhile, forced three-and-outs on 28.7 percent of its possessions last year. That ranked 89th nationally and 10th of the dozen Big 12 schools.