Two games into the season, Kansas football coach Les Miles is downplaying any concerns he may have about the team’s defense.
“I think as this continues we’ll continue to build,” Miles said this week, pointing to the defensive unit’s “good character.”
While the defense isn’t solely responsible for the 42.5 points per game KU (0-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12) has surrendered, the Jayhawks are still searching for their first takeaway of 2020.
Among the 72 FBS teams that have already played in this pandemic altered season, 64 have secured at least either one fumble recovery or interception. KU is one of three teams to have played twice and not created a takeaway, along with Liberty and North Texas.
Obviously the Jayhawks work on fumble and interception situations “every day” during practices, Miles pointed out. So far the success the head coach has witnessed during KU’s closed sessions hasn’t carried over to what everyone else gets to see during televised games on Saturday.
“We have several times during the week when we go two-minute drill,” Miles shared.“They’ve had a great number of opportunities to make some (takeaways) there. And have.”
KU junior inside linebacker Jay Dineen said there are several approaches the team’s defensive players can take on every snap that should help them as they try to force fumbles and pick off passes.
“Just keeping our eye on the quarterback, getting in the pocket, getting in the windows of the quarterback,” Dineen began. “And just being able to when we swarm the ball, strip the ball from them. Just being able to get all 11 hats to the ball.”
The Jayhawks at least proved slightly more disruptive defensively in their loss at Baylor than they were in a season opening home setback versus Coastal Carolina.
After recording just two tackles for loss and zero sacks in the opener, KU’s defense brought Bears down in the backfield six times in Waco, Texas. The Jayhawks also picked up their first sack and forced fumble of the season when sophomore safety Kenny Logan Jr. blitzed in the fourth quarter, stripping BU quarterback Charlie Brewer of the football in the process. But BU back John Lovett recovered the loose ball.
At the point of the KU defense’s attack, senior nose tackle Sam Burt said the defensive linemen right now are looking to address the lack of success KU is having on 3rd downs.
“Trying to get off the field,” Burt said of their focus. “You don’t want to be out there longer than you need to be — I think that’s pretty obvious.”
So far this season the KU defense has allowed its opponents to convert 3rd downs 55.2% of the time (16-for-29). The Bears went three-and-out twice on 10 offensive possessions versus KU, but extended drives on eight of their 15 3rd down plays.
Three of those conversions came with nine or 10 yards to gain for a 1st down, with the Bears picking up chunks of yards — 16 on one pass, 35 on another and 10 yards on a run.
According to Burt, through practice reps and video review, the Jayhawks also are focusing on “the little things” — releases, techniques and the like.
“Fixing little things will lead to fixing bigger things, too,” Burt said. “It will kind of take care of itself.”
In KU’s first two losses, the defense gave up 25 combined plays of 10 or more yards — 16 rushing an nine passing. On seven of those 25 instances, the opponent gained 20 or more yards.
CCU had six scoring drives versus KU in the opener, with three coming in short field situations.
Two weeks later, Baylor put together five scoring drives against the KU defense (which doesn’t include Trestan Ebner’s pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns).
The KU defense through two games has seen an opponent’s drive travel at least 50 yards on eight occasions.
Despite some of the issues, Dineen said he doesn’t think there are “many” to address.
“Just some communication errors between each other on the field that we can get fixed,” Dineen said. “Just a couple missed assignments here and there. But overall I feel like we’re going to be good. Just have to have a good week of practice, prepare for Oklahoma State and I think we should be straight.”
KU plays host to the No. 17 Cowboys at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.