College Football

NCB 2015 CFB Previews: Kansas Jayhawks

AN EXPERIMENTAL HIRE
The Charlie Weis experiment was probably doomed from the start. After recording just a 6-22 record (and just 1-18 in Big 12 play), the Jayhawks parted ways with the one-time offensive guru just four games into the 2014 season.

Apparently getting blown out by Duke was okay but losing to Texas was the LAST dang straw.

Linebackers coach Clint Bowen finished out the season as interim head coach, and on December 5, 2014, Kansas announced the hiring of David Beaty, who coached wide receivers on Kansas’ 2008, 2009, and 2011 squads before establishing himself as an elite-level recruiter at Texas A&M.

Despite Beaty having no head coaching experience . . . or even any coordinator experience (though Beaty was Kansas’ co-offensive coordinator in 2011) . . . I like this hire. Kansas is an impossibly difficult place to win. Your conference neighbor to the south is recruiting juggernaut Oklahoma. Your in-state rival Kansas State has an octopus-like reach when it comes to JUCO transfers. What athletes does that leave poor Kansas with?

Cue Beaty, who brings in recruiting connections from talent-rich Texas. Now, color me surprised if Beaty starts bringing top-ten level talent to Lawrence, Kansas. But if Beaty can replace Kansas’ zero-to-two star talent with three-star talent (and manage it correctly), there’s reason to believe Kansas can regularly compete for bowl eligibility.

UGLYING UP GAMES
When you play almost exclusively as an underdog you try to keep things close and hope a break turns the game in your favor.

Kansas was actually pretty good at the first part. Three of Kansas’ losses in 2014 (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and TCU) were decided by late scores. If those three games swing the other direction Kansas is bowling (a big stretch, I know, but give me some credit for optimism here).

A TOTAL OFFENSIVE RESET . . .
. . . and it’s probably for the best. Kansas finished 86th in the NCAA in raw passing yards and 103rd or worse in every other major statistical category.

Beaty and former Cal passing game coordinator Rob Likens will bring a pass-happy spread offense back to Kansas, not altogether dissimilar to the system the Jayhawks ran in the Glory Year of 2007, and looks to be effective and efficient . . . in 2018. Beaty and Likens inherit a nearly completely empty cupboard and they will have to recruit their tails off to fill it with the requisite ingredients.

ANYONE WANT TO PLAY QUARTERBACK?
At quarterback Kansas returns two field sergeants in Michael Cummings (who suffered a knee injury in the spring and may not be ready for fall) and Montell Cozart, who showed flashes of semi-efficient running and unspectacular passing (50% completion, 5 TDs and 7 INTs). If nothing else, they’ve both got starting experience, but with Cummings’ injury, it’s probably Cozart’s job to lose unless the coaches can bring in a ringer JUCO to fall camp.

At running back JUCO transfer Ke’aun Kinner is almost assured to get the start, having rushed for 1,696 yards and 22 touchdowns at Navarro Junior College (hey, a JUCO Kansas State didn’t get, yay!). He’ll be backed up by Taylor Cox, whose injury-plagued career has sidelined him since 2012. He suffered back-to-back season ending injuries . . . and will turn 25 this September.

Also the top SIX pass-catchers are gone, so if nothing else Beaty will have plenty of opportunity to show off his receiver coaching prowess.

The key for Beaty and Likens will be to get the route-running and sure-handed wide receivers their system will need. Part of the reason the Air Raid game has thrived at the college level is that once the pieces are in place, inertia can kick in and success can beget more success. Granted, Beaty as a first-year head coach is nowhere near the prowess of Art Briles or Mike Leach or Kevin Sumlin, but Kansas neither expects nor needs that level of results.

AN ACTUALLY NOT TERRIBLE DEFENSE
Raw numbers can be deceiving. At a glance it’s easy to look at defensive numbers that ranked 86th against the pass, 112th against the run, and allowed the 118th most points and cringe.
Bear in mind, however, that Kansas plays in the Big 12, the spreadiest, pass-happiest league in the land, and faced Baylor and TCU and West Virginia, which will skew any numbers. Adjusted stats tell a more accurate story, and while Kansas’ 2014 defense was still far from great, they proved relatively effective at busting opponents’ drives and was downright stalwart in the red zone. (Remember that thing I said before about keeping games close? This was why.)

(Mind you, they also gave up the single-game NCAA rushing record against Oklahoma, so there’s that. Occasionally pesky as they were let’s not trick ourselves into believing this was a good unit.)

Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the most important ingredients from that defense are gone.
Beaty retained Bowen, but his front four got picked over by graduation, but there’s a lot of experience coming up. They need to do a better job of getting to the quarterback (the linemen return just 1.5 sacks) and stuffing the short stuff. They’ll have to pick up the slack of three pretty good departed linebackers, who combined for 193 tackles, 36 of which were for loss, and eleven of which were sacks. That’s a whole lot of disruption to replace.

The secondary is similarly picked over. Four of the top six contributors are gone, but Kansas brings a lot of youth to a unit that will probably be good again in 2016 or 2017, maybe? For now, Bowen doesn’t have much to work with.

The bar is not high. Kansas doesn’t need a lockdown unit, but they do need to be able to at least slow the other guys down or trip the other guys up enough that the offense can keep pace. That’s probably not happening this year.ku3

AGAIN, TRYING TO BE OPTIMISTIC . . .
. . . Special Teams Edition. Trevor Pardula was a darn good punter and kickoff man but he’s gone, as are two quality return men. Kansas has two incoming kicker transfers, Andrew Yoxall from in-state Butler Community College (hey, an in-state JUCO Kansas State didn’t get, yay!), and Ryan Weese from Hawaii. They’ll compete immediately for starting roles.

HANG IN THERE, KANSAS
Patience is the key with difficult jobs. Beaty is a first-time head coach and inherits a cupboard so empty it echoes when you yell “rock chalk” into it. He will need time to recruit for a whole new offensive culture, wait for those players to get to campus, then give them time to pan out. It’s not going to be a two- or probably even a three- or four-year turnaround. For all the reasons to think Kansas might contend for bowl eligibility in the not-terribly-distant future, in the short term Kansas might be starting down the barrel of an 0-12 season.
The man needs time. Please give it to him.

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