It's time to give KU's tackles some help
There's an old game plan philosophy that has been used by some of the best football coaches in the country — former K-State coach Bill Snyder included among them — that says you simply cannot allow your team to lose games because of one-on-one talent matchups.
There are just too many ways you can cover your bases in those areas — specifically, offensive tackles against defensive ends and cornerbacks against wide receivers — that both protect the players involved and force your opponent to find another way to beat you.
The Kansas coaching staff has not done much of that this season with its offensive line, and it has cost the Jayhawks dearly.
A quick look back at the Jayhawks' most recent loss to Oklahoma, which dropped KU to 0-7 on the season and featured freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels being sacked a whopping nine times, illustrates one crucial area where Kansas can correct this.
Eight of the nine sacks taken by Daniels came with Kansas using just five players to protect him in man-to-man blocking schemes.
Each time, KU's tackles broke down quickly and Oklahoma's defensive ends staged a first-one-to-the-quarterback-wins challenge that lasted all afternoon and tormented the young KU QB.
On four of the eight sacks, Kansas had a running back next to Daniels in the backfield but used him in play-action and then sent him downfield to run a shallow passing route.
On three of the other sacks, the running back in the game stayed home but chose to protect the middle, where no pressure existed, instead of getting outside to help the tackles.
On one of those occasions, the back actually looked to the outside to help left tackle Malik Clark but chose to hold his ground when two Sooners came free up the middle. He picked one to block, left Clark one-on-one on the edge and watched as all three players eventually got to Daniels.
On the other sack, the Jayhawks used an empty backfield and OU's ends stormed their way to Daniels, one coming inside the tackle and the other with an outside rush.
Seven times the Jayhawks had a player in position to help but did not ask him to do so. Perhaps that's the way the Kansas offense is schemed and it may very well be what the players are taught to do.
And it's admirable that head coach Les Miles believes enough in his offensive tackles to continue to give them chances to perform and produce. But seven weeks worth of data shows that it's past time to start giving them some help on Saturdays instead of encouraging them publicly the rest of the week. We've passed the point of wondering whether these guys consistently can win their one-on-one battles at the point of attack.
After all, what most offenses can get fixed in a couple of quarters or at least during halftime continues to plague the Jayhawks for entire games.
Here are three ways (and there must be others) KU can help protect its quarterback, even if that means cutting down on a few of the options available within the offense. What good are options if your QB doesn't have time to find them?
- 1 - Even when they're asked to run pass routes, KU's running backs can at least hit or chip the defensive ends on the edge on the way out of the backfield. The OU game showed that KU's offense, more often than not, has a player in position to do this. But, for one reason or another, they're simply not doing it. Easy fix. And it should be even easier to emphasize.
- 2 - Like using a running back to chip, KU also could keep one of its tight ends in to block longer, giving the weaker tackle automatic and full-time help. Even just lining up a tight end next to the tackle and having him hit the defensive end for a couple of seconds before releasing would lead to improvement without completely taking away one of KU's passing options. KU's offense has used at least 1 tight end nearly 60% of the time for most of the season, so this fix would not require a major adjustment.
- 3 - The last thing KU could do is run more slide protection schemes. What this basically does is turn man-to-man blocking assignments into more of a zone blocking approach, with each offensive lineman responsible for blocking an area and securing gaps instead of blocking a man. Full-line slide protection is used primarily with three-step drops, so the movement, combined with Daniels looking to get the ball out quickly, could significantly neutralize pressure. Efficiency is crucial in slide protection and it might not be the perfect solution for KU's O-Line. But, if done correctly, it should at least slow down the speed rush of those defensive ends who have been able to tee off on the edge. If the slide protection is done away from the tight end, KU could essentially shore up both tackle spots with one move.
Executing any of the above would not guarantee any improvement. But one would think that it would give Daniels a better chance at success and, at the very least, would help keep him from having to run for his life every other snap.