To run or not to run: Where KU's offense goes from here

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) tries to break away from the West Virginia defense during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Doug Meacham’s coaching career included stops as an offensive coordinator or co-coordinator at six other college football programs before he arrived at Kansas.

As a play-caller, the Jayhawks’ Air Raid authority almost felt out of his element during a rush-heavy loss to West Virginia on Sept. 23.

“I don’t think I’ve run the ball that many times throughout my whole life,” Meacham said of a day when running backs Khalil Herbert, Taylor Martin and Dom Williams combined for 48 carries and quarterback Peyton Bender threw 32 passes, “so that was definitely a tendency-breaker.”

The former TCU and Houston co-coordinator certainly didn’t mind the results after navigating the offense closer to the turf. KU (1-3 overall, 0-1 Big 12) averaged just 6.2 yards per pass in the loss to WVU, while Herbert’s career outing of 291 yards helped the rushing trio average 7.6 yards a carry.

“Yeah, I’d like for him to rush for 300 every week,” Meacham joked, when asked whether Herbert’s 36-carry day might become the new norm. “That’d be awesome. But we saw a few things in kind of what (the Mountaineers) do, and I know him (WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson) pretty well. He probably had 15 different blitz types and 15 coverages dialed up for us if we lined up in empty and stuff. I just wanted to kind of shrink his call sheet a little bit, and we saw some angles there with how they lined up and kind of took advantage of it. I think it surprised them a little bit.

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“It won’t surprise anybody else — you know what I mean? But it did surprise them.”

After spending the days leading up to the WVU game working with offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Zach Yenser, Meacham embraced a variant to his typical game plan.

“We hashed it out, worked it out. Some of that stuff we’d kind of been working on but it just didn’t really matchup with some of the defensive fronts that we saw (before the WVU game),” Meacham explained. “So we had some reps at some of that stuff and it kind of, it just filtered out really nice with how they aligned.”

The success within the ground game didn’t amount to a Kansas victory, of course. And Meacham couldn’t even conjure up one of his typical analogies to describe how much of an adjustment it was for him to call more rushes than passes.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” he said, with a chuckle. “It’s weird.”

There is no guarantee KU will stick to an offense centered around Herbert (7.6 yards per carry, four touchdowns) this week against Texas Tech (11 a.m. kickoff, FOX Sports 1) and beyond. Still, Meacham now has first-hand experience in running away from his comfort zone.

Can the Kansas Air Raid become a run-first offense going forward?

“Where would you categorize West Virginia defensively in this league?” Meacham countered. “Middle- or upper-echelon? Like (ranked in Big 12) three or four type defense? I mean, without the penalties we had like 600 yards on it (564). So I could see it being something we’d probably do.”

If nothing else, KU’s offensive tendencies might be more difficult for opponents to pinpoint for the time being.

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Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) rolls out to pass as he is pressured by West ...

After calling 62 pass plays in the loss to Central Michigan, the number dipped to 47 at Ohio and 32 versus WVU.

“I’ll try anything once. You know? But you’ve got to play to your strengths,” Meacham said, “and we felt like (featuring Herbert against West Virginia) was the best plan that week. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re just going to line it up and do it every week.”

Little self-scouting necessary for offense

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, KU head coach David Beaty said much of the team’s bye-week work focused on self-scouting and addressing issues.

Meacham said he used his extra time on other areas.

“I didn’t really do near as much of that part (self-assessing) as we kind of used it as much as anything as a way to get healthy and kind of cultivate our twos more so than identify problems that everybody can already see, offensively anyway,” Meacham said. “Because I feel pretty comfortable with who we have at what spots.”

The bonus week between games, before facing Texas Tech (3-1, 0-1), he added, went toward getting his first-string players refreshed mentally and physically. In fact, Meacham revealed second-stringers took most of the practice reps during the bye week. He also said receivers and QB Bender used that time to work on route specifics and developing better timing.

Missing Hampton

In his first three games with the program, true freshman receiver Quan Hampton caught 15 passes for 114 yards, with a long of 22 yards.

Meacham said the Jayhawks missed the 5-foot-8 slot receiver from Texarkana, Texas, against West Virginia.

“He’s really fast,” Meacham said of Hampton, who couldn’t play in KU’s previous game due to an undisclosed injury.

When asked whether Hampton, a starter, is close to returning, the coordinator and receivers coach replied, “yeah,” and that the team’s second-leading pass-catcher (behind Steven Sims Jr.’s 16 receptions) has practiced this week.

Comments

Lloyd Kinnison

The easy games are gone. Open up and go for everything. Nothing conservative. Just go for the unexpected. Coach B is not going to give a bowl game,,,, go foe excitment to win,,,,

2 months, 1 week ago

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Jeff Coffman

As I have posted...Coaches who coach don't need to rebuild. Coach Urban Meyer when he took over the OSU Buckeyes, the media said that the cupboard was bare, the players didn't fit his scheme, and he said no excuses and went 12-0. When Stoops took over for Oklahoma Blake had a horrible year prior, he won the National Championship in his second year. Harbaugh inherited Lloyd Carr/Rich Rod/and the third guy's undersized, different scheme, etc. and has won 10 games every year in Michigan and is one of the favorites this year.

I can start talking about several other coaches, that delivered from teams that were mediocre if not bad the year before. I can name others that were given 4-5 years and they never produce (Strong, Mazlahn, guy at TA&M, and others.

I don't know many coaches that go in and say it'll take 4-5 years to rebuild, and are successful. The coaches that are successful, go in and win. Rebuilding seems like a cough out for an excuse to lose.

As a side note, how Bowen has averaged around 121 in defense for every year he has been here and kept his job is unacceptable.

Clean house, if you have the donor support...but Bowen is a no-brainer.

2 months, 1 week ago

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Garry Wright

I totally disagree with Jeff Coffman. Very few programs have been in as bad a shape as KU, certainly none of those mentioned by him. Weis probably was a major factor in our being so down, he left us with a huge gap in scholarship players. The result has been to have to put players in as starters that should have had a couple of years to learn and beef up, particularly our linemen. I've said from day one that Beaty needed five years to get on track and I still believe it. Starting over now just puts us back into that deep hole, probably not quite as deep as Weis put us in but in a position that will put us that much further behind.. Are we where I'd like for us to be? No, but I'm not surprised. Give the man his five years before jumping to conclusions. You just might be surprised with what he is finally able to do with his team.

2 months, 1 week ago

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Bryce Landon

While it's true that we are still recovering from the gap in scholarship players, that's not an excuse for Year 3 of a rebuild, when you should be able to go 4-8. Clint Bowen's coaching is costing the team more than anything, and if David Beaty wants to get that fifth year, he simply has to fire Bowen. I don't care if Bowen played for KU; I don't care how much he loves KU; he's not doing what he's getting paid to do, and our rebuild will never advance so long as Bowen is on the coaching staff.

**FIRE CLINT BOWEN!**

2 months, 1 week ago

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John Fitzgerald

You're comparing Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Michigan to KU? Every one of those programs has a rich football history that KU will never match. The school alone brings in recruits on its own. I do agree all of those coaches are way better than Beaty, but they also took over way better programs. Also, I'd be curious to know how many scholarship players each of those coaches had during their first year. And how many of those had redshirted at some point? Those two factors make a HUGE difference and is exactly why it's taking Beaty so long to get the train back on the tracks. Also, I do agree with getting rid of Bowen. I don't know how he's still around with the defenses he's put on the field. Last year was his only year that was mediocre, the rest have been an absolute embarrassment.

2 months, 1 week ago

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Jim Stauffer

Coffman's remarks remind me of a rich man and a poor man discussing hard times. When tOSU fans and reporters say the cupboard is bare they really mean the previous coach didn't win as many games as they are used to.
Meyer is a great coach no doubt. Where he really proved that to me was in Utah.
But he had some issues at Florida because he was expected to win the SEC every year and Nick Saban came along and all of a sudden Meyer developed chest pains and anxiety.
Kansas' cupboard was really bare. We did not even have players in numbers WE usually have, let alone what tOSU usually have.
Get out of Beaty's hair. He is building a roster and teaching that roster how to play Football. It will take some time but he will get there or at least his integrity will lead him to leave someone else in a good place from which to take off.

2 months, 1 week ago

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Damian Glaze

Week after week I read more articles about offense than defense. This, or any KU team, is not going to win with the defensive play we see every week. I don't even care if we run the wishbone offense, the pistol, the I, the power I, the flea flicker, the reverse pass, the 24 counter trap, WHATEVER! If we can't hold teams under 40 points it doesn't matter. After another ridiculously high scoring game tomorrow (I'm optimistic and we could win), can this writing staff promise the KU faithful they will focus one week's worth of reporting to defense?! I am boycotting all offense articles until this team holds a team under 30 points.

2 months, 1 week ago

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Curtis Blankenship

With 9 Rushing TDs and 7 Receving , perhaps we might want to belay the "Air Raid" term until they perform in an Air Raid fashion. I have a feeling that we may get a school in it this weekend. But I will keep hope alive, Go Hawks!

2 months, 1 week ago

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