Well that was ugly.
Or was it?
Sure, the Jayhawks were favored by four (!!!) touchdowns. Yet they only won by seven points. Kansas was -1 in turnover margin. And I’m not gonna lie, I was planning on spending about as much time on this recap as KU did caring about Nevada.
So while the stats don’t lie, the score? It totally does. For the second week in a row, in fact, the scoreboard tells a different story than what we see reflected in the numbers.
For the game, Kansas picked up an average of 6.6 yards per play versus Nevada’s 4.5 ypp. While KU averaged “just” 3.6 yards per rush, the Jayhawks top two backs - Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw - combined to average 5.3 ypc. And on the other side of the ball, KU was credited with 10 TFL, including 2 sacks, plus 4 QBH. Meanwhile, Nevada accrued just 4 TFL, 2 sacks, and 1 QBH. That means for the most part, KU controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Oh, and there’s also this thing called success rate. It’s a stat that measures a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency in the context of down and distance. Here, look at the pretty graph:
Did We Really Get Beat That Bad?— parker fleming (@statsowar) September 18, 2023
Net Success Rates in Week 3 pic.twitter.com/6na3EYkrnI
In other words, in general, KU was really successful, while Nevada... was not. In fact, Kansas was nearly as successful as Washington was against Michigan State, a game that ended 41-7. And the Jayhawks were more successful than Arizona was against UTEP, a game that went 31-10.
Two things hurt Kansas this game: penalties and fumbles. KU only had 7 penalties for 53 yards, which I think (?) is an average number? (???) ish? I really don’t know. But that seems reasonable. (Okay, upon further review that may be a little high. It looks like the average across college football in 2022 was 6.0 penalties per game.)
But it wasn’t so much the number of penalties, but the timing and seemingly the lack of discipline that led to them. Holding on 3-and-15 that forced a 3-and-25 that led to a sack that led to 4th-and-35. A facemask that gave Nevada a first down in the red zone. Defensive holding on a run play (!) that set Nevada up at midfield. Offensive holding on the final play of the first half.
But the most egregious - defensive offsides on 4th-and-1 with but a few short seconds until the end of the quarter. C’mon guys. Nevada was never snapping that ball there.
And then, of course, there were the fumbles. The ball hit the ground 7 times last Saturday night in Reno. KU recovered one of those. The Jayhawks fumbled the ball themselves twice, but the Pack fumbled FIVE TIMES. And KU didn’t recover a single Nevada fumble. That’s some really rotten turnover luck. Gotta hope the ball will start bouncing our way soon, because for the season, KU’s opponents have lost the ball seven times, and Kansas hasn’t recovered any of them.
In all, Kansas ran 8 more offensive plays than Nevada, and despite the “struggles” on offense, still put up 441 total yards at the above-mentioned 6.6 yards per play - while keeping Nevada to just 263 yards of total offense. A stat I don’t think I’ve ever used before but will mention today - KU had 24 first downs compared to Nevada’s 14 - and three of those Nevada first downs came via KU penalties.
Overall, Kansas continued to have success on third downs, converting 7-11 (63.6%) while Nevada hit on just 7-15 (46.7%). For the season, the Jayhawks are #3 in the NCAA in third down completion percentage, at 22-35 (62.9%). Meanwhile defensively, opponents have converted just 12-34 (35.3%) against KU.
Kansas is 3-0.
Well, while we’re here I’m going to mention the kicker, Seth Keller. He has been really impressive so far this season, going 5-5 so far with distances of 28, 35, 41, 30, 44. Those are insane numbers for a Kansas kicker, considering what we’ve seen the last... well, since Dan Eichloff in the early ‘90s? (I guess Gabe Rui wasn’t too bad from 2017-18.)
Was it the mountain air? Jet lag? Reno after dark? Whatever it was, KU offense sputtered at times against a team that lost 33-6 to FCS Idaho one week earlier. Perhaps KU got caught looking ahead to its Big 12 home opener this coming weekend. I guess one way to look at it is, we are disappointed that we didn’t win by enough, when even just two years ago, we would have been thrilled with this result.
It’s nothing that a little coaching can’t solve, but one week after a huge, program building win over Illinois, this squad appeared to not only overlook its opponent, but had a lack of discipline as well, as we discussed earlier regarding the penalties.
Can we talk about that punt from the 35-yard line for a minute? Late in the 4th quarter, leading 31-24, and with approximately two minutes left in the game, Kansas faced a 4th-and-5 from the NEVADA 35-yard line. Not their own 35. Nevada’s 35. In extremely plus territory. Lance Leipold elected to punt in an attempt to pin the Wolfpack back and make them drive the length of the field for any potential game-tying touchdown.
The gambit worked - KU downed the punt on the 1-yard line, and Nevada only made it out to their own 23 before turning it over on downs. But I say, just because it worked out that way doesn’t make it the right call. That punt could have very easily gone into the end zone for a touchback. (I know, it didn’t.) And then what have you gained? Not much. And you’re putting a defense on the field that hasn’t stopped anybody since 2007.
(OK, that’s not fair, they actually did a really good job against Illinois just one week earlier.)
I don’t know if Seth Keller is capable of hitting a 52-yard game-clinching field goal or not. I’ll defer to the coaching staff on that one, as they’re gonna know the kicker’s abilities way more than I do.
And I know I’m armchair coaching here. LL is the millionaire football coach, and I’m just some schmuck sitting on my couch. That said, I still think the right play is to keep your offense on the field and attempt to convert the first down, thereby icing the game. Why not put the game on your stud offense, with your stud QB and your stud RBs? It just seems like the better move.
Also, Tyshawn should have definitely NOT dunked.
Jalon Daniels had a fine game, finishing 21-27 for 298 yards, with no TD passes but also, and perhaps most importantly, no INTs.
Devin Neal paced the Jayhawk backfield yet again, picking up 89 yards on just 17 carries and punching in 3 TDs. Neal added two receptions, including a huge 59-yarder when KU really needed a spark.
Daniel Hishaw picked up 48 yards on 9 carries with a TD.
Dylan McDuffie added 13 yards on 5 carries.
TE Mason Fairchild led all KU receivers with 74 yards on 5 receptions.
Lawrence Arnold added 46 yards on 5 receptions.
Luke Grimm picked up 55 yards on 4 receptions.
Quentin Skinner contributed 50 yards on 4 receptions.
Tanaka Scott and Douglas Emilien each added 1 reception.
Kenny Logan led KU defensively with 9 tackles, including 2.5 TFL and a forced fumble.
Craig Young was credited with 6 tackles, including a sack.
Ra’Mello Dotson added 6 tackles, 2 TFL, and 2 PBU.
Rich Miller checked in with 6 tackles, including 1.5 TFL, and was credited with 2 QBH.
Seth Keller hit another field goal in this one, a 44-yarder.
Damon Greaves booted 3 punts for a 39.7 average, including the (game winning?) punt down to the 1-yard line late in the game.