Kansas rebounded from a home loss to FCS opponent Nicholls State in week one by going on the road and blowing out Central Michigan from the MAC. Given that, the title of this post probably sounds ridiculous. The result in week two was absolutely an improvement. But does that mean there was substantial improvement for the team?
First, a look at the opponents. Don't let the FCS/FBS designations fool you; there isn't much difference between these two teams. Jeff Sagarin's ratings are among the few that rank all schools from both D1 levels. Per those rankings, Nicholls State actually ranks slightly better than Central Michigan, coming in 145th to CMU's 147, a negligible difference.
Clearly, Kansas didn't play an appreciably tougher opponent in week two than in week one. So if the opponents are so similar, why the vastly different results?
The single biggest difference was turnovers. I won't bore you by reciting all the research on turnovers. A brief summary is that while forcing turnovers isn't all up to chance, TO margin lacks consistency over time due to the randomness involved in loose and tipped balls.
To put it another way, last year's defense was made up almost exactly the same players, and was -15 in TO margin last year. So far, they're +6 in 2018. Did players who were bad at forcing turnovers last year suddenly become great this year, or was the 2nd half turnover parade last Saturday the result of some much needed good fortune?
The second biggest difference between game one and game two is known as Pooka Williams. Against Nicholls, Kansas averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Williams' big game carried that average to 5.0 against CMU. He should be clear to keep playing, so this is actually one way in which the team improved.
However, the line he's running behind did not noticeably improve. Because week one's bad snaps disappeared and because Pooka was able to shine, the team's biggest weakness was given a lot of credit for improving in week two. Unfortunately, it's not really clear that was the case. True, Bender was only sacked once, but he was still under pressure, and didn't become any more effective. In fact, his woeful yards per attempt mark in game one (5.3) actually dropped to 5.0 in week 2.
You may think that the run blocking was better, given the improvement in that part of the offense but, no, that was all Pooka. Against Nicholls, KU's leading rushers are Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Miles Kendrick. They ran for 97 yards on 20 carries (4.9 ypc). Against CMU, those three combined for 75 yards on 23 carries (3.3 ypc). Their production actually dropped significantly with the "improved" O-line.
Yes, the Central Michigan game went far better than the Nicholls State game. The defense was more stingy and Pooka Williams gave the offense a new weapon. However, a couple of big runs and some bad throws ending up in KU defenders' hands won't undo the problems from game one, and were still there in game two.
It's ok to be excited about the team picking up a win. Just don't get used to it.