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Looking For Improvement? The Kansas Football Offense In Clutch

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Jordan Webb #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks passes against Steven Sylvester #34 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: Jordan Webb #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks passes against Steven Sylvester #34 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With the non-conference portion of the schedule now out of the way, I think we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Kansas football team this season. A promising (if still young and error prone) offense, and a pretty atrocious defense.

A question you might be asking yourself is whether or not the offense's relative promise is due to low expectations, or whether the combination of returning experience and talented newcomers is actually resulting in better production. After the jump, I'll compare how KU's offense has performed in "clutch" situations (3rd and 4th down attempts) under Turner Gill to see if the numbers support the apparent improvement from the Jayhawk offense.

*Note: All stats used are from & KU's ESPN team page*

Year 3rd% 4th%
2010 40.38 37.50
2011 55.61 50.00


KU converted 40.38% of their 3rd down attempts last season, which is pretty squarely in the middle of the pack of all FBS teams (54th out of 120). Unsurprisingly, the highest values last year correspond with some of the best offensive performances. Oddly, the KSU game was Kansas's 3rd best game on 3rd downs, which seems kinda odd, since I don't remember the offense really doing anything that entire game.

In KU's 3 wins, their average conversion rate was 56.76%, eclipsing 60% in both the New Mexico State game and the comeback against Colorado. The conversion percentage in the upset of Georgia Tech was pretty close to the season average (40.00%). This seems to be evidence that we won primarily with defense, which is pretty much in line with what I thought after the game. A combination of an extremely motivated team, a good game plan, and Josh Nesbitt's inability to complete long passes gave KU the edge; not asking too much out of Jordan Webb, who was making the first start of his career.

The line cutting through the middle of the graph is the trend line for the entire season. Its downward trajectory I think is pretty easily explained by the increase in quality of opponent as the season progressed, rather than a decrease in performance by the offense. To support this idea, I looked at KU's 3rd down conversion percentage versus the opponent's ranking in total defense, which measures yards allowed per game.


*Note: For this graph, the more horizontal the trend line, the less the conversion percentage depends on the quality of the opponent's defense (ie, more consistency from KU's offense).*

The graph here has pretty good correlation, and says KU usually did well against the weaker defenses, and did poorly against the better ones. I didn't include the FCS opponents, because they aren't included in the same total defense rankings as the FBS schools, but needless to say, the North Dakota State game was a pretty big outlier, which is just further proof that the Hawks were not prepared for that game.

Even though there aren't enough data points to take the 2011 too seriously (total D numbers are unreliable due to teams starting off against cupcakes, outliers aren't evident because there are only two games against FBS schools [in KU's case, at least] in the books, et cetera), the numbers seem to say that at the very least, KU's offense has not regressed.

Reading into the 2011 numbers a little more, I expect NIU's total defense ranking to improve considerably as the season goes on, as they've already played two of the better offenses they'll face all year (us and Wisconsin). Georgia Tech's total defense ranking will probably worsen, as their pre-KU opponents were an FCS team (Western Carolina) and a non-BCS school (Middle Tennessee State). If both of these regressions take place, as seems reasonable, it would (at least partially) support the idea that KU has improved on offense.

The correlation on these next two graphs isn't strong enough (mainly due to small sample size, which gives too much weight to each individual attempt) to say anything conclusively. The second graph is a little more reliable, and shows roughly the same relationship between conversion percentage and the quality of opponent as the 3rd down graph showed.




Now, all of that being said...what does this say about the offense? In all honesty, it's too early in the season to say much with great confidence, but the early results seem to indicate that the improvement from the Jayhawk offense is more than a mirage. I'll come back later in the season and crunch the numbers again to see if this was just a hot start, or a positive sign for the Jayhawk football team, and perhaps even attempt to make some predictions based off of the results.


For reference:


Graph Year Correlation (R2)
3rd Down by Game 2010 0.0571744819
2011 0.1330410986
3rd Down vs Total D 2010 0.5665829716
2011 1
4th Down by Game 2010 0.25
2011 0.0252349369
4th Down vs Total D 2010 0.0981315354
2011 1


*If you're interested, you can click here to view &/or download the spreadsheet with all of my tables & graphs*