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2017 Season Preview

The Jayhawks Attempt to Fly in 2017

It’s not the same ol’ Jayhawks anymore. Coach Beaty is bringing football back to Lawrence, but just how far can they climb in 2017?

Getty Images - Ed Zurga

Kansas won two games in 2016 and were competitive in two more. For most that is a pretty disappointing year, But for the Jayhawks, that represents marked improvement for the Big 12’s number 10 squad.

The short answer to the inquiry we are exploring — how to raise each team’s level in the conference — is for Kansas to add more and more Big 12 talent. Dorance Armstrong is an NFL talent and is a problem for every team on their schedule. Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender are significant upgrades at quarterback, though both need experience. The wide receiver corps is solid, but needs to improve.

It is evident to anyone paying attention. David Beatty is improving the talent level at Kansas. The 2016 season showed some progress on the field, and 2017 should begin to reveal how good of a coach Beatty really is.

Last season there was one game that stood out in particular. Kansas upset Texas by taking advantage of six Longhorn turnovers. (Yes, this is a reminder that Texas lost to Kansas in football.) However, there were plenty of other signs of marked improvement. The Jayhawks held leads against TCU and Iowa State before succumbing in the end for narrow losses. All of those opportunities occurred at home. The road was a difficult burden, but Lawrence was comfortable.

Kansas will need to make some significant progress to increase their win total, but there are some things that have to be done that will at least provide the opportunity to turn close calls in to wins.

Coaching Stability

An interesting note about Kansas football is that they enter the 2017 season with 6 new assistant coaches.

  • Joe DeForest – Special Teams Coordinator
  • Tony Hull – Running Backs Coach
  • Doug Meacham – Offensive Coordinator
  • Garret Riley – Quarterbacks (promoted from QC, brother of Lincoln Riley)
  • Jesse Williams – Defensive Line Coach
  • Zac Woodfin – Strength and Conditioning Coach

The first observation here is in Kansas’ surprise success on the recruiting trail. Tony Hull has opened up a pipeline to Louisiana and Beatty continues to pull talent out of Texas. The new staff may not be able to hold on to all of its recruits, but they will hold some, and they currently have a top 25 class. The talent infusion is extremely encouraging and a likely result of the staff turnover.

Secondly, this is a major, program level overhaul for a team that showed improvement. Staff turnover can be a rocky road as adjustment takes time. Beatty will need to manage the on field adjustment deftly in order to prevent any regression.

How can the turnover produce more wins in 2017? Outside of the recruiting uptick, the most important addition is Doug Meacham. Meacham will have a competent quarterback in either Carter Stanley or Peyton Bender or both. The largest question will be the offensive line. Can they come together enough to allow Meacham to call a game like he wants to?

Coach Beatty remains in control of the overall direction of the program. His assistants are asked to execute his directives. Undoubtedly the Jayhawk faithful expect a more cohesive product in 2017. If the coaching changes are indeed improvements, then it is probable Kansas can overcome the upheaval of new voices.

Stabilization in the staff and adherence to the new methods can strengthen the base of an improving team and set the stage for breakthroughs.

Turnovers

Kansas gained 22 turnovers in 2016 (top 50 nationally). A very solid number. Six of those came in the break through game against Texas. Regardless, Kansas was solid in the takeaway department, and that is a solid foundation for playing winning football.

Kansas gave away possession 36 times. Let that sink in. T-h-i-r-t-y S-i-x. Dead last in FCS, 128th, by a margin of three. Three turnovers per game is obviously an insurmountable mountain to climb regardless of talent.

The effect of turnovers on team morale is palpable. A team seeking to break through from two or less wins to four or more needs all the confidence they can get. Turnovers are a reminder of inadequacy and that mental gap serves as a barrier to winning football.

One less turnover per game may have resulted in the two additional wins mentioned above. Now, drop that number to 20 or less and Kansas is in a position to raise themselves to the 2nd tier of the Big 12.

Doug Meacham will need to prioritize the reduction of turnovers. Stanley and Bender will need to make safe throws. Against Iowa State, Carter Stanley was an efficient 26-38. His yards per attempt was a measly 4.5, but his only interception game on the last drive of the game. The conservative approach was effective and allowed the offense to control much of the game.

I believe a similar approach will be necessary to allow the quarterback position to mature and grow into a play making position. Couple passing game discipline with the next key, and you can start to expect an uptick in wins for Kansas.

Defend the Run (and run the ball)

Kansas was first in the Big 12 in pass defense and second to last in rush defense. This is an expected result when falling behind by large margins. Opponents will throttle back and run the ball when things begin to get out of hand. Unfortunately, Kansas was in position to suffer from that scenario many times in 2016.

Justification aside, Kansas was not completely a victim a circumstance. Opponents were able to run the ball at will against them to the tune of 5.2 yards per carry. The curious thing about the Big 12, and why I mention it in post after post, is that while the passing game is flashy, the running game fuels most of the offenses.

It should be no surprise that Kansas State and West Virginia attained 9 and 10 wins while finishing first and third in rush defense.

The conclusion is that if you want to climb from the bottom of the conference to an upper tier, then you must defend against the run. For a team in Kansas’ position, upgrading the run defense involves scheme changes. Essentially, selling out to slow down the run. Eight in the box, delayed blitz packages, run blitzes, and heavy personnel.

Kansas must slow down opponent’s rushing attacks in order to keep games within reach. If they slow down the run, cut down turnovers and cohesively coach the team, Kansas may lift off the ground in 2017.

Is the Next Tier in Reach

The 2017 schedule sports seven home games for the Jayhawks. Welcome news for a team seeking to rise from obscurity. The Jayhawks need to defend the home field in non-conference play against SEMO and Central Michigan. Central Michigan poses a challenge, but I expect Kansas to prevail.

There will need to be two upset victories in Big 12 play. The best opportunity in the schedule is a two game stretch in October. Texas Tech on October 8th at home and Iowa State on October 14th on the road. Both teams are trying to turn the corner themselves. Tech is vulnerable to a ball control style and to Dorance Armstrong. Iowa State was a close contest in 2016 and will be coming off of games against Texas and Oklahoma. Vulnerable to say the least.

Outside of those opportunities, Kansas will have to put together a complete effort to pull off additional or alternate victories. But, if they are able to cut down turnovers, improve against the run, and provide solid schemes, then a complete effort will be in sight.

One final note on the Jayhawks. I believe a four win season would cement the recruiting class. If the 2018 class remains intact, then you can expect a Jayhawk resurgence and continued movement up the conference ladder.

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