KU football offense not perfect, but much cleaner through 2 games

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws against Nicholls State during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

Sure, the season is only two weeks old. But as of this moment, Kansas football, the same program that finished 2017 ranked an ugly 127th out of 129 FBS teams in turnover margin, is sitting pretty in the same category.

With seven takeaways (only two less than their previous yearlong total) and one giveaway, the Jayhawks own a plus-3.0 turnover margin average, a number that ties them for second nationally with Fresno State, Buffalo, Virginia Tech and Toledo. Only Ohio, with a plus-4 margin in its one game played, is ahead of them.

“That was a huge emphasis as we came off the field last year against Oklahoma State,” KU coach David Beaty said, referencing the finale of his third season in charge, when KU lost 17 turnovers in 12 games. “So some of the things that we focused on that we've implemented, it's good to see the development starting to work and it's starting to become contagious with those players.”

Entering its Week 3 nonconference finale with Rutgers, KU’s offense has lost possession of the ball just once — on a play ruled a fumble against Nicholls State during which quarterback Peyton Bender lost the ball while being hit in the midst of trying to pass.

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According to Beaty, all of the credit for the drastic turnabout to start off September goes to offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and starting QB Bender.

“It's always going to start right there at the top with Doug and him emphasizing the right things,” Beaty said. “Managing the game, not putting the ball in jeopardy and knowing that you can play this game and do a lot of damage to your opponent by putting the ball in play and not necessarily always trying to make it look like a big play all the time. Hanging on to the ball and going through reads.”

While Bender has completed only 59 percent of his 61 throws, none of his attempts against Nicholls or Central Michigan were intercepted. In 2017, as a junior, he threw four interceptions in his first two games and finished the season with 10 in eight starts.

Now a senior with three touchdown throws and 317 passing yards to his credit, Bender said no one thing in particular this past offseason set him up for playing a cleaner game at QB.

“We did a lot of film study as quarterbacks. I think that definitely translated into the season,” Bender said. “Really understanding what the defense is trying to do. ‘Who is the extra run fitter? How does that affect the passing game?’ We’ve just emphasized taking the easy throw. Trying to find where the hole in the defense is and just taking advantage of that area.”

None of his teammates, on 66 combined carries and 39 receptions, have fumbled. So the whole team gets credit for addressing the ball security issues that plagued them in the past. As for Bender, he attributed his gains in that area to his preparation.

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“Knowing what the defense is trying to do going into the game and attacking the areas of weaknesses that we see in the defense,” the QB explained. “You know, we were a little bit more conservative on the play-calling aspect in the game on Saturday — didn’t take too many shots down the field — which helped.”

At CMU (0-2), Kansas (1-1) rushed the ball 42 times, led by freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr.'s 14 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

Bender completed 17 of 26 throws (65.4 percent) for 130 yards and one touchdown. Still, Beaty thought one of the QB’s best plays came on an incompletion.

“He threw a glance away, where, you know, (his target) was covered. He threw it away,” the coach said. “That's real growth for him. Because he's a guy, he can keep it alive. Keeps his eyes down the field better than anybody I've ever had. But, sometimes, it can be counterproductive.”

Even Bender’s lone blemish through two games, the aforementioned fumble, came on a play that had to be reviewed by the officiating crew and could have gone either way.

“It was close. It’s really hard to tell,” Bender said, when asked whether he thought he fumbled the ball or it should have been ruled a pass. “I think if they called it an incomplete pass it probably would’ve stood as an incomplete pass. I don’t think they really could’ve overturned it. It’s just one of those plays where it doesn’t happen too often, but (I) need to be aware next time of where the free guy’s coming from or have a better sense of awareness if you’re getting pressure.”

If Bender hadn’t held the ball as long on that particular play, Beaty said, and had his “eyes in the right spot,” the QB would have been able to make the throw before impact.

Nonetheless, Beaty thinks Meacham trained Bender well, and that’s why KU’s offense, while only averaging 308.0 yards per game (ninth in Big 12), hasn’t killed the team’s chances with giveaways.

“That's how you get it. I mean, they're going to do what you teach them to do,” Beaty said. “That's how it works. And I think you can see the deliberate training that we've been putting in, Doug has been putting in, our offense has been putting in, to make sure they've got their eyes in the right place.”

Comments

Dirk Medema

65% against CMU is nice progress from week 1. Maybe also speaks to TKs article about Nichols not being an FCS pushover that some were anticipating.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Joe Ross

Tulane is not a powerhouse in football by any means. They beat Nicholls State by more than 3 touchdowns and a fieldgoal. Walloped them 42-17. So it appears to me that the jury is still out on the interpretation of the CM win. Everyone agrees they're terrible. Saturday will give us some more information.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Micky Baker

CMU also had a lead at Kentucky at halftime a week earlier and lost 34 - 20 on the road, then lost 31-7 at home.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Micky Baker

CMU also had a lead at Kentucky at halftime a week earlier and lost 34 - 20 on the road, then lost 31-7 at home. Not trying to be critical, but if you're going to write about KU's week one, might be a good idea to write about CMU's week one too to sort tell the whole story.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Bryson Stricker

Nicholls was awful. Don't lie to yourself. You saw that game lol.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Chris DeWeese

For what it's worth, our QB play is statistically better than Rutgers' and even Kstate's. I know, it's early in the season. I remember Bender was ranked 9th in the nation in passing last year after his first few games. That evaporated quickly of course, so tempering expectations this year goes without saying.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Aaron Paisley

As long as Bender isn't turning the ball over, that fumble against Nicholls was a bad call, KU shouldn't get blown out too often.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Michael Maris

FYI, Tulane beat Nicholls State by a score of 42-17.

1 week, 2 days ago

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['']

Hire Willie Fritz!!!! Keep Hull! Bowl bound in 3 years!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Bryson Stricker

we will be bowl bound regardless of who is at the helm of Kansas in 2020.. not a good selling point.

1 week, 2 days ago

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['']

Cmooonnnnnnn maaaaannn. Beaty?

1 week ago

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Eric Eakins

I watched part of K-states game saturday and their QB situation is as bad or worse. This is where it gets interesting. A few years ago I watched Collin Klein's first few games as QB for K-state and laughed at how bad he was hoping they would keep him as their starter. As always though, he was developed by Snyder into a legit QB that killed us. We have the same talent pool as K-state and ISU and others. Can it be developed? I haven't seen that to be honest. KSU/ISU players get better during the season as they are coached and trust the play calling from the sideline (which seems to adjust to the talent). We don't. My honest take. I hope to be proven wrong this year because we have some talent that seems motivated to win. I want our players and coaches to be successful. RCJH

1 week, 2 days ago

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Titus Canby

I didn't see the CMU game, but against Nicholls State, Bender looked good when he wasn't getting pummelled by the opposing defense. His passes were on target (with 3 being dropped by Sims), and he scrambled for at least 2 first downs that I remember. Without the sacks, he would have been our leading rusher. He's definitely the QB who gives us the best chance for winning.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Bryson Stricker

This: Without the sacks, he would have been our leading rusher. He's definitely the QB who gives us the best chance for winning.

Became irrelevant because you said this: I didn't see the CMU game.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Randy Bombardier

I would like to see more downfield throws...to Sims and of course to Pooka Juka Williams.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Steven Haag

We are keeping our turnovers way down....which is great....but I wouldn’t say our offense is way better. We had under 400 years total offense against CMU. Too much predictability and too many three and outs. We are very predictable

1 week, 2 days ago

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John Joseph Gorski

"According to Beaty, all of the credit for the drastic turnabout to start off September goes to offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and starting QB Bender."

I'm guessing this doesn't include the 4 or 5 times Bender did fumble(mishandled) the ball vs Nicholls and the offense recovered it!

1 week, 1 day ago

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Dane Pratt

6 to's by cmu didn't hurt

1 week, 1 day ago

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Micky Baker

There is a reason there was a new center in week two, no fumbles.

1 week ago

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Len Shaffer

There's definitely been a little improvement over last year but there's been some luck as well. There were at least a couple of throws against CMU that could have been intercepted but were barely missed. So it's not only Bender improving but also him getting a little lucky.

Let's see if he can continue that luck when they face better teams. I mean let's face it, CMU is pretty god-awful.

1 week, 1 day ago

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