The word of the year for Kansas Football has been progress. Progress is the standard for which this team, and its coaches, are being judged. In year four of the David Beaty regime, progress is the measuring stick for whether there will be a fifth year.
The season is halfway over. The question of progress has not been fully answered, but we have some data points from which to judge.
So while we could be handing out midseason awards or grades, it feels more relevant to look at how the Jayhawks—and Beaty—are faring in terms of the progress the program seeks. For this exercise, we’ll look at the team in terms of whether it is exceeding, meeting, or falling short of the progress expected coming into the year.
A quick explanation: progress does not necessarily equate to success. Progress is looking at past results, accounting for upgrades/changes in talent or scheme, and identifying if Kansas has improved at all relative to expectations. This is also not a prediction for where the team will be at the end of the year. Certain areas of the team can still regress from this point further.
Let’s dive in.
Kansas Offense: Falling Short
The bar wasn’t high, but Kansas quarterbacks have not only failed to reach it thus far, they’ve taken a step back. Peyton Bender is on pace for 1,372 yards, 12 touchdowns, and two interceptions, after posting 1,609 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10 picks a year ago. Meanwhile, Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick have combined for 404 yards and four passing touchdowns through six games. Last year, Stanley threw for 1,108 yards, four touchdowns, and seven picks.
While the QBs have done a good job of taking care of the football, we haven’t seen enough positive, consistent plays from two guys (Bender and Stanley) who have been in the system for multiple years. And Kendrick, who was thought of as a potential savior, has battled injury and not taken advantage of an open position.
Let’s get straight to the point: Pooka Williams is the best back Kansas has seen in...a while. And even though he came in as a four-star recruit, I don’t know if anyone expected this much production from the start (partially due to the offensive line). Williams already has 534 yards on the ground and four TDs. Last year, Khalil Herbert led the team with 663 yards and four touchdowns for the entire season, albeit while battling injuries.
But it hasn’t been all Pooka. The Jayhawks are deep at the position, and collectively average 165 yards a game and 4.7 yards a run, up from 102 yards and 3.1 ypc in 2017. This is the best unit on the offense, and maybe the entire team, and one area that has exceeded expectations thus far.
It’s been a down year for Steven Sims Jr., and outside of Sims, Kerr Johnson, and Jeremiah Booker, the receiving corp has not been very productive. Part of this has to do with the quarterback play, but I still can’t say this group has made progress. Though to its credit, it has done a nice job of finding the end zone.
Considering two of the three main skill positions are falling short, the offensive line still has its issues, and the offensive coordinator was just fired, it’s tough to see much progress in the offense.
Kansas Defense: Meeting Expectations
Unlike the offense, it’s clear to see improvements with the defense. This starts with the secondary and pass defense. I’ve already written plenty about the turnovers, because it’s worth pointing out. But the secondary is also doing a better job slowing down opposing passing attacks. We knew about the talent coming back, mixed with four-star recruit Corione Harris, and that talent is performing like we thought it would.
KU is only giving up 224 yards per game through the air so far this year, but that’s skewed with bad offenses in Central Michigan and Rutgers. A better indication is the fact that the three conference opponents so far (Baylor, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia) threw for a combined 901 yards this year, after throwing for 1,176 a year ago against the Jayhawks. And those are three of the best offenses in the conference.
The run defense is still giving up more than 175 yards a game, which is about what it gave up a season ago. Still, the Jayhawks stars have played up to their hype. Joe Dineen leads the country in solo tackles with 53, Daniel Wise is coming off his best game of the year, and we know about the contributions from guys like Hasan Defense and Harris.
With six conference games left, though, we’ll have to see if this progress continues or if the defense, and the turnover production, regresses.
Coaching: Falling Short
Coaching for his job this year, I wondered if Beaty would change his coaching style to be more aggressive. That hasn’t exactly happened. To make matters worse, it seems he’s still failing to learn from past mistakes—four years into the gig—when it comes to utilizing timeouts and making fourth-down decisions.
But this is not just about Beaty. Doug Meacham was fired for failing to get the offense moving, and in Beaty’s words, due to a lack of progress. On the other end, Clint Bowen’s work with the defense made me consider giving the staff a meeting expectation grade. But his improvements were not enough to make up for the struggling offense and game management.
Unless growth is made in the next six games, and it results in a couple of wins, the Jayhawks likely can’t keep Beaty his job.