First, to state the obvious: David Beaty is coaching this season for his job.
This was the likely scenario after the conclusion of last season. The firing of his advocate, former Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger, only enhanced that likelihood. New athletic directors—in this case Jeff Long—like to make their own hires early if given the chance, and it’s up to Beaty to prove that he deserves more time.
When a coach is fighting for his job and feeling the pressure, often he becomes more aggressive in his strategy, taking more risks as a last effort to be successful.
The point of this article is not to speculate whether Beaty will be Kansas’ coach next season, or even if what we’re about to discuss will make a difference. Instead, do his tactics change in his likely final year, and what might those changes look like?
The perception around Beaty is that he has an affinity for punting instead of going for it in many situations. It’s not unfounded, as Kansas punted the ball more than any other team in the Big 12 last season with 87 punts (Texas had 84 and was the only other school with more than 74, though that was while playing an extra game). Those punts came about because the Jayhawks only converted 28.9 percent of their third downs (58-201), which, as you can imagine, was worst in the conference.
Surprisingly, when KU elected not to punt, things got better. Kansas was fourth in the conference with a 54.2 percent conversion rate (13-24) on fourth down. In Beaty’s defense, his 24 attempts were good for fourth in the conference as well. However, KU put itself in position to have plenty more opportunities after having the second most third downs in the Big 12.
The red zone offense was better than expected as well, though again a bit misleading. KU led the Big 12 with a 93.8 scoring percentage, but had the fewest attempts (32) and scored 18 touchdowns (tied for the fewest with Baylor) to 12 field goals. For reference, Oklahoma State had the most red zone trips with 75.
What Could We Expect?
A clear sign of a more aggressively minded Beaty would be opting for more fourth-down attempts instead of punts. The Jayhawks are going to have to rack up points to stay in games. The Big 12 is just not built for 10-7 defensive showdowns. If KU can maintain its roughly 50 percent success rate on fourth down, there’s no reason to take more chances when the opportunities arise and make sense (no one is advocating going for fourth and 15 from your own 20). And ideally the offense is in better shape to improve upon the 29 percent third-down rate, meaning those fourth-down chances are not coming deep in Kansas territory.
It will also be interesting to see how Beaty treats situations in the red zone. Kansas has been successful in coming away with points in those few situations, but again, it’s not enough to trade touchdowns for field goals. A strong running back committee and potential at receiver gives the Jayhawks weapons to work with, and earning more red zone touchdowns, even at a slightly worse conversion percentage, would be worth the risk.
It may not make a difference, and Beaty might stick to the strategy he’s kept the last three years, but a change in philosophy would prove that even if he goes down, he was willing to go down swinging.