It's a rare thing when you get to witness a college football team do something so historic, so epic, that it will live forever. The Kansas Jayhawk defense has embarked on just such a mission.
KU defensive highlight film:
Through 7 games, the 2-5 Jayhawks are allowing 50.4 points per game and 550.9 yards per game. They're giving up 6.2 yards per carry and 7.6 yards every time the opponent runs a play. After a promising opener in which they "held" McNeese St (famous alum: Greg Davis! - eclipsed only by Joe Dumars) to 24 points, the Jayhawks surrendered the following point totals in rapid succession to their next six opponents: 42, 66, 45, 70, 47, 59. They still have Baylor and Texas A&M remaining on their schedule and both schools are fully capable of dropping 70 on them. Oklahoma State put 56 on them in one half, changed out all of their starters in the late 2nd quarter, and still ended up with 70. Georgia Tech rushed for 604 yards against them. The General's preseason State of The Union is a funny reread on their plight.
This is an awful defense and if the Longhorns can't get their offense on track against it, start mentally filling in the rest of the schedule with L's. Let's dig in.
The Jayhawks play a multiple 3-3-5 nickel/3-4 defense and their problems begin right up front. Jayhawk personnel on the DL are ill-suited to their defensive philosophy and are incapable of holding the point of attack. For all of the attention that LBs get in the 3-4 system, the three down linemen are the key to disrupting the running game. Their ability to demand double teams and to prevent the offense from getting downhill on smaller athletes in the secondary and at linebacker is crucial.
NG Patrick Dorsey goes 6-0, 270 and their two DEs Pat Lewandowski (6-6 260) and Keba Agostinho (6-3, 250) are 25-35 pounds south of where you'd like them to be in that scheme. If these guys were all cheetahs, Kansas could stunt and slant their way to somewhat disruptive defense, but none of them are. This is a DL of cruiserweights trying to trade punches with heavyweights. It doesn't take long for their lack of power and pop to catch up to their scrappy energy and activity level. Eventually, the OL cuts off the ring, puts them against the ropes, and has them counting lights.
I guess I'll call them the strength of this defense in the sense that Khloe is the most intellectual of the Kardashian sisters. The Jayhawk LB unit doesn't have a DL to hold the point of attack and that would be bad enough if they were really good, but they aren't. Former RB turned rush LB Toben Opurum leads KU with 2 sacks on the season and he's a good athlete. Steven Johnson, Tunde Bakare, and Darius Willis are the remainder of the LB corps. I'm not going to dutifully recite statistics and their tackle numbers because even when a team is running for 600+ yards on you, someone on your team is going to have 15 tackles. It's just that most of them are 15 yards downfield. Johnson and Opurum are the best of this crew in my limited viewing.
What strikes me most is that Kansas doesn't seem to understand how the 3-4 works. It's not just a personnel problem - they honestly seem confused as to who has gap responsibilities on any given play. They appeared to clean that up some against Tech and OU, but I saw the same old shit against KSU as they turned Collin Klein into a poor man's Cam Newton. There's little doubt that Bill Snyder has powers of the mind that can alter and influence perception.
Horrid. Although they get little support from the Jayhawk pass rush, they're allowing opponents to complete 70.2% of their passes at 9.1 yards per attempt and 13.0 yards per catch. If you're not a stat head, just take my word for it that this is a staggering level of non-performance. To think of it another way, if all of the QBs KU had faced - which includes guys from McNeese, Georgia Tech, and Northern Illinois as well as studs from OU and OSU - were combined into one QB, their collective performance would make them the 6th most efficient passer in FBS. This compilation QB would be in the Heisman conversation. Not surprisingly, KU allows a 52% conversion rate on 3rd down and 75% on 4th down. They've picked off only two interceptions all year. I do not wish to shame the young men who populate this secondary by listing them individually but they're all solid contributors to a KU defense that is ranked 120 out of 120 FBS football teams in non-adjusted statistics. And when you're ranked 120 out of 120, I don't need to freaking adjust.
Interestingly enough, the Jayhawks are average to below average in special teams. If your entire roster is deficient athletically, then this doesn't make a ton of sense. They're no threat to bring back a kick or a punt, but they're solid in net punting (48th country) and haven't given up on any cheap scores on kickoff or punt returns.
Generally teams that give up a lot of points do so not just because of bad defense but because their offense doesn't take care of the ball and they surrender cheap and easy scores on special teams. Not so for KU. Their offense is adequate, their QB takes care of the ball, and their special teams don't surrender cheapies. It's all on the KU defense. There's a purity there that I admire.
It's not just that this KU defense lacks talent - they do - but they're also poorly coordinated with personnel completely ill-suited to everything they're trying to do on defense. KU lost DC Carl Torbush when he retired before the season (cancer diagnosis) and emergency co-defensive coordinators Buddy Wyatt and Vic Shealy have struggled to hold up their end of things. Shealy was a former DC at Richmond where the Spiders had an elite defense, so I'm not sure what the disconnect is.
From the Texas perspective, this is a great opportunity to get in the batting cage against a machine throwing 72 mph to build some much needed confidence in our passing game. Though I'm confident we'll be able to run on Kansas, it's important to let David Ash throw the ball at least 25 times to let him get the timing and development that he'll need down the road. Even if we can run the ball 60 times and put up 45 points, I'd prefer we not. It's not about ease of winning - it's about trying to build skill and experience in the passing game at QB, WR, and in the OL.
A loss here is pretty much unthinkable so I'll be evaluating this game with different metrics.