Well that was... interesting.
According to our very own David, SEMO came into the game with a similar statistical profile as Rhode Island did in 2016.
per Sagarin:— (@DavidStatGuy) September 1, 2017
Rhode Island 2016 rank: 216th
SEMO 2017 rank: 207th
And Kansas is supposed to be improved this year, right? So, what’s up with a 22 point win? 2016 Kansas destroyed Rhode Island by 45 points.
The Jayhawks did score on their first two possessions, taking a 14-0 lead while SEMO’s first two drives were 3-and-out. A great start! But then the Kansas offense went stagnant, gaining 42 total yards on its next four possessions, a number which doesn’t include a fumble on a punt return by Tyler Patrick (so technically, five possessions).
And then in the second half, Kansas only scores on three of its seven possessions (eight if you count the final possession of running out the clock), and one of those was a field goal.
So... what gives?
Well, let’s look at some numbers.
Kansas outgained SEMO 437 to 264. KU converted just 17 first downs compared to SEMO’s 13 (the same number URI had last year). KU was well under 50% on third down conversions at 6/15 (40%) but held SEMO to 6/20 (30%) on third down. KU turned it over three times (officially, why doesn’t the fumble on the punt return count?) while picking up just one turnover from SEMO.
And I mean that literally. SEMO put the ball on the ground and KU ran over and picked it up.
Anyway. The Jayhawks converted their only fourth down attempt(!) while SEMO was just 1/4 on fourth down.
The defense didn’t seem to be that dominant as I was watching the game, but outside of the lack of turnovers, the stats seem to tell a different story. Additionally, if you had the chance to catch Beaty’s postgame radio interview, he talked a lot about SEMO being a max-protect team, and that they knew they would have a hard time getting to their quarterback. Hopefully that wasn’t just coach speak and was actually some insight into the game.
Regardless, SEMO ran 77 offensive plays compared to KU’s 62 plays, which I’m pretty sure is 15-20 plays fewer than Beaty/Meacham want to run on a per game basis. SEMO controlled the clock with their running game and short passing game, holding the ball for 34:51 compared to KU’s 25:09.
Call me crazy, but I’m gonna go with the kicking game on this one. The win was expected. The passing yards and TDs were expected (although many of us expected more). True freshman Liam Jones booted 4/7 kickoffs into touchbacks, and the three that were returned were (I believe) all returned out of the end zone. Meanwhile, Gabriel Rui handled place kicking duties, and nailed all five extra points as well as a 25-yard field goal. And yes I know that sounds condescending but hey, I’m excited for the possibility of actually having a decent kicking game!
I’m not sure that anything was bad in this game, except for maybe the overreaction of Kansas fans on Twitter. Everyone is all aboard the LJW hype train about Peyton Bender and the Air Raid, but there’s definitely some improvements to be made. Bender had two INTs, the first of which was really, really bad, and SEMO dropped a third. But in fairness, he also had two receivers drop sure-fire touchdown passes as well. In another instance, Sims slipped making a cut when he was one-on-one with a defender, which could have cost Bender a seventh TD. He wasn’t great. He wasn’t awful. But let’s cut the talk of bowl eligibility for now.
Oh running game, running game, wherefore art thou, running game? Prior to the season, we were told that new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham loves to run the ball. Well, we didn’t see that on Saturday, as KU averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt on 25 rushes. That may have been by design, as it certainly seemed that Kansas ran a fair number of empty backfield sets. Let’s hope that was indeed the case, and that the coaches basically said, hey, it’s SEMO, let’s just throw the ball and work on the passing game.
Peyton Bender started and was the only Jayhawk to throw a pass. He finished 23/37 for 364 yards with 4 TDs and 2 INTs. He was sacked just once, but probably should have seen the corner coming, as it was telegraphed pretty clearly by the defense. (I mean, come on, if I saw it, he should have seen it.)
Tyriek Starks came in late in the fourth quarter and handed the ball off four times.
Dom Williams, a true freshman and one of the gems of the latest recruiting class, led KU in rushing with 43 yards on 10 carries. I’m officially starting the MOAR DOM WILLIAMS hype train now.
Taylor Martin didn’t start but got the first carries of the game. He finished with 17 yards on five carries.
Deron Thompson picked up 15 yards on just two carries.
Khalil Herbert was (I believe) the official starter, but logged just one carry for four yards.
Steven Sims was everything we hoped for and more despite hauling in just four receptions. Those four catches, though, went for 142 yards and two TDs.
Ben Johnson caught three balls for 90 yards and a TD. Additionally, he was frequently open over the middle of the field. Once, he was overthrown, and on another occasion, he simply dropped the pass (that he likely would have taken to the house.)
Jeremiah Booker, the much hyped fall camp star, and picked up 66 yards on five receptions.
Kerr Johnson saw extensive time in the second half of the game and caught two balls for 19 yards.
Chase Harrell made the play of the day but finished with just two receptions for 17 yards and a TD. He lost a jump ball that turned into Peyton Bender’s second INT and also dropped a sure touchdown in the open field.
Nine Jayhawks logged receptions in this game: Ryan Schadler (2-12), Quan Hampton (3-8), Evan Fairs (1-7), and Deron Thompson (1-3).
Joe Dineen graded out as one of the best LBs in college football in Week 1, finishing with 15 tackles (11 solo) and 2.5 TFLs.
Joe Dineen's game grade of 96.4 is obviously excellent. He almost broke the scale with a 98.6 run defense grade. 7 run stops on 31 run plays— John Kosko (@PFF_JohnKosko) September 4, 2017
Mike Lee was credited with five tackles.
Hasan Defense’s name was called frequently by the P.A. announcer, with five tackles and a couple of pass breakups.
Daniel Wise added five tackles, including 3 TFLs, and was credited with two QB hurries.
Dorance Armstrong was harassed all night by double teams and RB chips, but still picked up 3 tackles and 3 QB hurries.
Cole Moos booted six punts for a 41.7 average.
Gabriel Rui knocked home KU’s only field goal attempt, a 25-yarder, plus all five extra points.