It is time to turn the page from last week and start the rising action part of the plot for the 2013 football season. For Kansas to be successful against Louisiana Tech on Saturday and keep building towards success during conference play, the offense has to find a way to move the ball without significant losses mixed in between positive plays. That's about as simple of an idea as there is in football but I think there were significant hurdles imposed on the team last week simply because they moved backwards way too often. Coach Weis has addressed components of this publicly through some depth chart moves. Wide receivers have been promoted and the offensive line has seen some changes. The changes in the depth chart should help to accomplish this goal.
The most important piece of this is the fact that moving forward allows for manageable third downs. The Jayhawks converted 6 of 17 third down opportunities against Rice. Breaking these conversions down by distance towards a first down highlights the importance of moving the ball forward on first and second down. Of the successful conversions, the yards to gain were 1,2,3,5,7,12. The team had 6 third downs with 5 yards or less to a first down, they converted 4 of those opportunities. The team had 11 third downs that required 6 yards or more for a first down, they converted two of those opportunities. This is not groundbreaking news, short third downs are much easier to convert than long ones. Getting into position for making third downs relies on a few things. Completing passes at better than a 46% rate is a big one. Getting the ball to your backs early in a series also makes getting another series of downs easier. A third component is not losing big chunks of yards on first and second down.
This boils down to Jake Heaps and the alarm bell that needs to ring when he drops back to pass after realizing that nothing is open. It's one thing to try and keep plays alive and make plays, it's another to continue to hang on to the ball and get sacked. Heaps was sacked for losses of 5 yards, 10 yards, and 18 yards against Rice. The first sack for a 5 yard loss also came on first down, setting up a very difficult series for the offense. If Charlie Weis wants to pass on first downs, they need to be complete or incomplete. Five yard losses will doom this offense on first down. The second sack for a big loss came on a 3rd and 7 from the Jayhawk 28 yard line. A sack here is better than an interception, Heaps showed why earlier in the game. However, taking the sack pushed the punt team an additional ten yards back. The third big loss on sacks came very late for a loss of 18 yards. The lesson is clear, if the receivers aren't open and Heaps has moved out of the pocket, he has to get rid of the football. Adding additional distance while removing a down will stifle the offense.
Moving forward cannot be confined to just Heaps. Overall, the team had 10 plays against Rice that moved the team backwards. That's over 15% of the plays ran going for a loss. James Sims had four rushes that counted for negative yards, all mostly out of his control. This is where the offensive line changes Weis made this week need to work. Tony Pierson is the only back that can afford to take the occasional loss of yardage as he has the ability to make it up.
To sum it up, Heaps can't allow himself to get sacked for a big loss of yards after moving out of the pocket and the backs need to move downhill as often as possible. As we all know, these keys not only give the offense a chance to score but it also keeps the defense from being on the field for the majority of the game.