So technically we're just past the halfway mark, but with Kansas on a bye week there's no game to grade, so I'm handing out some midterm reviews to the football team this week. These are going to be cumulative grades, so early-season performance weighs in just as heavily as the past few games under Bowen.
Quarterbacks - F
When I started writing this, I actually had QB rated as a D. Montell Cozart had this category headed straight for an F, despite ok showings against SEMO and Central Michigan. Overall, he was a train wreck prior to getting benched, completing less than half of his 125 passes, and tossing seven picks on his way to an average of 5.5 yards/attempt. Cummings has stepped in and been serviceable, but not enough so to bring the grade up from an F. However, Cummings has completed 56% of his passes, averaging 6.8 yards/att and earning a QB rating about 17 points higher than Cozart's, so if he keeps it up, the QBs will probably find themselves passing by the end of the year.
Right now, the sum of the quarterback position's production has been bad. Combined, Cozart and Cummings have rushed for 86 yards on 84 attempts (granted that factors in sacks, but they certainly haven't been effective running the ball), and they rank 119th in FBS in QB rating, 110th in yards/attempt, and 85th with nine interceptions. These numbers are why I couldn't elevate them to D level.
Running Backs - C-
If I was grading the backs purely on the quality of the team's numbers, this could easily be an F as well. After some decent rushing numbers early on, Kansas now ranks 104th in yards per carry at just 3.56. That said, DeAndre Mann (4.83 ypc) and Corey Avery (4.34 ypc) have probably done as much as they could possibly be doing given what they have to work with. The o-line has consistently failed to open up holes for the running backs, so they frequently find themselves just putting their heads down and taking what they can get at the line of scrimmage. For that reason, and Tony Pierson's 155 yards on just 20 carries, I'm not going to wreck their grade. I think they've done an average job of producing in the situation they're working with.
Receivers - C
This is another situation where the circumstances have to be factored in when reviewing the numbers. While the team's wide receivers have combined for just 67 receptions this year (the next lowest in the conference is Oklahoma's 94), you can't really pin that entirely on this position group. The drop epidemic from last year seems to have passed, and this year's group has been able to get more separation than what we've seen in recent years. The problem is that until the last couple of weeks, we didn't have a quarterback who could get them a catchable ball. Nick Harwell and Jimmay Mundine have combined for 22 catches in the last two weeks, so there's hope for improvement here.
I don't think the receivers are necessarily doing anything that warrants above-average marks, but to me it seems they're generally doing their jobs in a bad situation.
Offensive Line - F
When a run-first team is 99th in sacks allowed, something is wrong with the o-line. Kansas gives up a sack more than 10% of the time they drop back. The run blocking isn't much better, as Jayhawk quarterbacks and running backs repeatedly find themselves with nowhere to go, resulting in the 104th yards per carry average in the country. F/+ currently rates the Jayhawk offense just 119th overall. At this point I'd say line play has been even more instrumental than QB play in earning that awful number.
Defensive Line - D+
It's hard to grade the defensive line in our defensive scheme, because they're mostly tasked with occupying blockers. Unless you watch them specifically throughout each game, it can be difficult to tell just how well they're doing this. Early in the season they didn't look good, but some personnel changes in recent weeks seem to have shored things up.
As far as numbers go, Stowers, Bolton, Semke and Goodman have all notched between 13 and 15 tackles, so this group is making some plays. However, there are too many situations where linebackers are getting blocked out of their assignments, which has led to too many running backs in getting to the safeties, and too much space in the middle of the field in general. We've seen glimpses of improved play from the line, and again they do seem to be improving, but it's still safe to call this the weakness of the defense.
Linebackers - B
Ben Heeney has been an animal, and Michael Reyolds has developed into an effective pass rusher. Throw in Jake Love's tackling and we have a good group of linebackers. There have been some problems with this group in giving up big run plays, but again, it's tough to tell how much of that is due to the d-line inadequately tying up blockers.
A telling statistic with regard to the linebackers is the numbers of tackles they're making vs the secondary. We start only two true linebackers, Ben Heeney and Jake Love. Those two have combined for 119 tackles this year. Our four starters in the secondary have combined for just 111 (I'm not counting the nickelbacks, who don't really fit nicely into either group). That's a huge difference compared to what we've seen in other recent years and says a lot about our LBs' ability to generally keep plays in front of them.
Secondary - B-
Despite the front seven's issues in pressuring the quarterback (103rd in FBS in sacks), the secondary has been able to hold opponents to just under the national average in yards per attempt at 6.9. Our safeties make me nervous at times, and the fact that freshman Matthew Boateng is our best option at corner behind our starters makes me concerned for next year, but right now this unit is playing pretty good football. All four starters are solid tacklers, and I'd say all are at least average in coverage.
Special Teams - F
Where to start with special teams? Matthew Wyman has connected on just 50% of his field goals. Granted, he hasn't missed an extra point this year, so that's an improvement, but at the end of the day we still aren't in a position where we can feel comfortable when lining up for a field goal. We're doing a solid job of punt coverage (31st in net punting average), but our kickoff coverage has been atrocious, ranked just 124th in the country. That's not good when you only record a touchback on one third of your kickoffs.
Our own return game has been ok. Even if you take out Nick Harwell's 76 yard touchdown return against West Virginia, we still average 7.5 yards per punt return. If you don't, we're in the top 20 nationally. Kick returns are also in the top 50.
Still, decent returns aren't enough to get us out of F range. F/+ ranks our special teams performance as 125th nationally, and we just aren't flipping the field often enough for me to argue.
Overall - F
We've shown signs of life, but this team has failed so far this year. We've likely already played three of our four easiest conference games, and have one narrow loss (Okie State), one uninspiring loss (Texas Tech), and one embarrassment (Texas). Iowa State is our only reasonable shot at avoiding double-digit losses this year, and most rankings systems have them 30-40 slots higher than us. With the coaching change there have been some feel-good vibes circulating around Kansas fans, but at the end of the day this is still a really bad football team. We play decent defense and are terrible at almost everything else. I can't say there haven't been some signs of improvement (especially offensively) the last two weeks, but I'm going to need to see it sustained against better competition before it changes my outlook at all. This program is in dire need of a change