Kansas Football: Scouting the Offense

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

A detailed look at the offensive side of the Jayhawks from the victory over Louisiana Tech.

Following up on the victory from Saturday and with the bye week ahead, it's a good time to take a detailed look at the offense and breakdown some of the things Charlie Weis and company are attempting to accomplish when the Jayhawks have the ball.  In terms of overall offense, it's no secret that the product on the field has not met expectations over the first three games of the season.  In scoring, the Jayhawks are averaging 19.3 points per game.  Only West Virginia trails and they've faced at least one defense much better than anyone Kansas has faced.  The offense is last in the conference in passing yards per game, averaging a little over 186 yards.  In something of a shock, the team is only 6th in rushing yards per game.  That's the area most fans were comfortable with heading into the season with James Sims, Darrian Miller, Taylor Cox, Brandon Bourbon, and Tony Pierson all showing promise at some point in their careers and the Jayhawks finishing 3rd in the Big 12 in rushing yards in 2012.

There are many factors that have slowed the offense through the first three weeks.  The receivers have struggled to get separation from the defense.  There have been half a season's worth of drops.  The offensive line is pretty inexperienced.  Weis has also mentioned learning that you can't win games if you can't pass the ball, bringing about an emphasis on establishing the passing game through the early part of the season.  As the numbers show, progress has been slow on this front.  After rewatching the offensive plays from the game against Louisiana Tech, some encouraging signs are there.

Going back through the game, I charted each offensive play according to the following categories: down and distance, formation, play call, result, and other random information pertaining to plays.  Play calls are pretty generic, run left, sweep, play action pass, etc.  Some interesting trends developed as I was charting the game.

Formations

Heaps was under center for four plays by my count.  Three with an offset I formation and a single one-back formation.  A toss to Pierson on the opening play, Bourbon's dive on a 4th down, a play action pass to Bourbon, and a play action pass to Christian Matthews in the end zone.  Quick aside, the play action to Matthews turned out to be a weird call.  The defense bit leaving Matthews wide open but Heaps overthrew him at the back of the end zone on a seam route.  If there were another 10 yards of playing field, it probably hits.  I don't think it's that simple though, the defense also uses the boundary of the end zone as an advantage that allows them to bite a little harder on the play fake.  Anyway, no runs for Sims when Heaps was under center and only 4 plays total is a change from what we've seen in the past.

A pistol set was used 21 times with Heaps in a short shotgun and the running back lined up directly behind him.

  • 11 rushes for 36 yards out of the pistol.  Mostly zone reads/off-tackle type runs between Sims and Miller.
  • Of the ten passes out of the pistol, eight were play-action pass plays.  Two were quick out routes and one was a drag by Pierson.

A two-back shotgun set was used nine times.

  • 4 rushing plays.  Two sweeps to Pierson and two inside traps.
  • On the passing plays, two screens were ran and a play-action rollout hitting Mundine for the lone touchdown. (below)

Shotgun with an empty backfield was used 22 times. (!)  This set was a little more productive than I remembered after watching the game live.

  • The first five times the empty backfield shotgun formation was used, the Jayhawks ran five bubble screens in a row to the trips side.  Heaps was 5/5 and the team gained 36 yards. Plays went right, left, left, right, left.
  • The next three plays were quick reads, hitting Bourbon on a seam and Pierson on a quick drag.  The third play Heaps threw into double coverage towards Pierson along the sideline.
  • The last 14 plays used in this set featured more variety.  Eight of these plays were what I considered more of a pro-style, drop back play with Heaps reading the defense.  Only three of the drop backs were successful, one being the completion to Pierson late to set up the field goal.
  • Five plays were quick reads such as slants and out patterns.  Two things stuck out on these plays (1) Heaps had three balls batted down at the line and (2) La. Tech got way too much pressure while still only rushing 4 guys.

Shotgun with one back was used 24 times.

  • 18 of these plays featured a tight end and flanker with twins on the weak side.
  • 10 runs out of the shotgun with one back.  Pierson had the longest run (24 yards) out of this formation on the second play of the game.  Outside of Pierson's run, I counted 37 yards on the remaining nine runs, 18 of those yards came on the last drive where La. Tech appeared willing to give up some yards on the ground.
  • Counted 12 pass plays for 27 yards.

Thoughts

The Good

  • Play action was very effective.  12 plays (Eight out of Pistol) for 103 yards.
  • Counted 30 plays that were either quick passes or throws that appeared to be the first option.  Heaps was 22/30 for 172 yards on these types of plays.  That's certainly performance we can live with. 

The Concerning

  • Counted 48 plays that appeared to called pass plays.  30 of them were described as quick reads, the other 18 go here.  6 completions for about 90 yards.  The offense just didn't look good when Heaps dropped back and tried to make reads when passing.  He was under pressure after a couple seconds.  When he wasn't under pressure, he had some happy feet.  He threw into coverage often.  Right now, it simply looked like a bad situation when Heaps dropped back and didn't get rid of the ball to the first option. 
  • 117 yards rushing with a 3.5 yard per carry average.  Personally, I'm not a fan of running out of the shotgun or pistol with the current personnel.  I think it's harder for Sims to get downhill and it gives the defense more time to get penetration.  If success on the ground is important, the shotgun look could cause some issues.  

*Note: Yardages and plays were counted and categorized manually.  Some numbers may be slightly off but not enough to change any big picture items.

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