Play calling Clues to the Offense

via media.lawrence.com

Offense, offense, offense.  The calling card of the Jayhawk program over the last three years has been the offense.  Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier all move on as three of the most successful offensive players in the history of the program and with their departure a new era is ushered in.  A new era with a new staff, new sets, new philosophy and a blank slate in terms of expectations. 

So what should we expect?  In the spring game the staff kept things pretty vanilla.  Plenty of spread formations and plenty of sets resembling last season.  At the same time Coach Gill has expressed that he hopes to lean more on the run and do things a little bit differently than a year before. 

Based on his past, what exactly does that mean?  What are the trends, what are the play calls and how might Chuck Longs influence play a role?  These are the questions searching for an answer and the answers will shape the new era of Kansas football on the offensive side of the ball.

The Turner Gill Plan

Past actions are supposed to be the best predictor of future actions and with that in mind a look at Coach Gills time in Buffalo might give some clues as to what we might expect.

Year Rush Att YDS YPR Rec. YPC Pass Att Comp Yards Total
2006 380 1082 2.8 200 10.7 354 200 2136 3218
2007 427 1560 3.65 262 10 382 262 2615 4175
2008 486 1858 3.8 306 10.9 472 306 3326 5184
2009 434 1962 4.5 228 12.7 402 228 2903 4865
Average/Season 432 1615 3.7 249 11.1 402 249 2745 4360

 

The first thing that stands out about Gill's time at Buffalo from an offensive standpoint is the consistent improvement.  Obviously the peak occurred during the 2008 MAC title run, but all in all his team got better every year.  Did the philosophy change though, or was it a product of improved talent and a belief in the system?  Based on a pretty consistent play calling ratio, one would logically assume that Coach Gill was bringing in better talent, developing that talent and getting buy in from the team.

On average Buffalo ran the ball 52% of the time while passing 48% of the time.  Nearly the definition of a balanced attack in terms of play calling. 

From the standpoint of effectiveness in the play calling, 37% of the yardage was gained on the ground.  The remaining 63% through the air. 

Statistically across the NCAA 54% of all play calls were runs with 46% being passing plays.   41% of all yards from scrimmage were gained on the ground while 59% came through the air.  In his final season Gill's offense nearly mirrored the NCAA average in terms of the play call ratio and the percentage of yards gained with each tactic.

So what if anything does this tell us?  First impressions, Gill is pretty much on par with the average which is good.  A balanced attack is certainly to the advantage of an offense and after last season I think any Kansas fan would welcome a little more balance to the mix.  For comparison sake the Jayhawks ran the ball 42% of the time as compared with 58% of play calls trending toward the pass in 2009.

The other thing that stands out about Gill is his commitment to the run.  The biggest trap a team can fall into is having a poor commitment to the run. Often a team can get labeled as a poor rushing team, when they are in fact very effective but lack the commitment to moving the ball on the ground.  Quite simply, they move away from it too early.  Not one season do we see a Gill led team pass more than run, or sway from the ground game heavily, even when the rushing game is sputtering along at 2.8 yards per carry.

Now my next question was how this compares to the 2007 Kansas season that was so successful?  In 2007 Kansas ran the ball 52% of the time while passing 48%.  Interesting?  The Jayhawks would not return to an offensive attack that favored the run in the final two seasons with Mangino and Warriner.  Is it a coincidence that the Jayhawks seemingly underachieved during that time?

Coach Turner Gill has consistently favored the run, committed to the run and maintained a balanced attack through four seasons with the Buffalo Bulls. There are obviously other factors that might have resulted in those numbers, but numbers don't lie.  After a season where Kansas became one dimensional, predictable and a major disappointment, I for one am prepared to welcome a similar approach.

The Chuck Long Factor

What about Chuck Long?  Certainly he'll play a role in this.  Longs last stint as a coordinator was in a different time at Oklahoma.  His time at Oklahoma was pre-spread when the world wasn't quite as pass happy, but make no mistake Long and the Oklahoma offense did have many of the early elements of the spread we see today.  His last stint as a head man was in a fairly pass heavy offense at San Diego State. Anything to be drawn from his time at each?

Season Run Att Yards Pass Att Yards
2002 Offensive Coordinator - - - -
2003 538 2043 480 4109
2004 565 2709 406 3298
2005 526 2126 336 2131
2006 Head Coach 422 1430 292 1804
2007 359 1247 458 3272
2008 284 878 489 2871
Average/Season 449 1738 410 2914

 

Obviously the two are very much different but for comparisons sake Long averaged 543 run attempts while at Oklahoma compared to 407 passing attempts.  A 57% to 43% run advantage.

While at San Diego State it begins to flip shifting to an overall average of 355 running attempts and 413 passing.  That equates to a 46% run to 54% pass ratio.  Appearances are that this is fairly balanced but it's misleading as in his final year Long was very much in the same boat as Kansas this past season and relying for more on the pass.

Long's track record becomes very difficult to take anything concrete from other than the fact that he appears comfortable and willing to go either route.  Overall the majority of his time and specifically his time as the true play caller, Long would trend toward a run heavy offense, but his latest indicators show someone who was caught up in the sperad affect. 

Still what this does show is flexibility.  Football is cyclical and ever changing.  Offenses will gain an edge and then defenses will catch up and gain an edge.  Being on the front wave of that edge, willing to adapt and find something new is the key to beating the curve.  Perhaps Chuck Long's varying experience is a plus in this situation.

Where do we end up?

Early indications from the staff have been that they will approach things with a balanced outlook.  The goal will be to come out with different formations, varying playcalling and a balanced attack.

That said, they've also indicated that the gameplan will likely skew to what the other team gives them and what happens to be working on any given day.  Common sense right?

Off the top it would appear that Gill is less likely to adjust as he has shown a stingy commitment to the run.  Long on the other hand is very much a coach who has covered the spectrum and might even skew too far one way for the liking of Kansas fans eager to move away from a 60% passing attack. 

Combine the two and I think we land somewhere in the middle.  Kansas will show a much more firm commitment to the running game than a year ago.  At the same time this is the Big 12, we have some talent at receiver and if a quarterback can emerge one can fully expect the staff to put the ball in the air regularly.  60/40 split?  Probably not.  Honestly if there is it would probably be 60/40 run based on Gill's indications.  Early on I'll go with Gill's average of nearly 50/50.  Give it a +/- 5% room for error depending on what type of quarterback we find come August. 

Either way, here's hoping the offense can spend a little more time on the field, stay a little more balanced and become a little less predictable to the opposing defenses.

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