LAWRENCE — Four weeks in, and Charlie Weis has time to stop and reflect. More time to pore over videotape. More time to identify solutions. More time to scheme for his first showdown with Bill Snyder and Kansas State.
The start of Weis’ first bye week at Kansas included a painfully honest film session — Weis showed his team the fourth quarter of their 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday — and some more blunt assessments for the scuffling Jayhawks.
“I was not easy on them,” Weis said. “This was not a “Come in and everything is beautiful.’ That’s not my way.”
After four games of the Weis era, the Jayhawks sit 1-3 with two losses against teams from non-power conferences. In the big picture, this is not what Weis imagined when he talked about changing the culture and instilling discipline in a program that had cratered over the last two seasons. At the moment, the Jayhawks are actually behind last year’s two-win pace with a game against No. 7 K-State ahead on Oct. 6.
But at the micro level, when he digs into the details, Weis can find reasons for optimism.
“The first thing I wanted to get to was the team being competitive,” Weis said. “That was the No. 1 thing that I talked about. And I think that if there’s one thing you could say, we’re certainly competitive.
“Now do I like where we are record-wise? Absolutely not. Is it OK? Absolutely not.”
If bye weeks provide a little extra time to diagnose problems and offer prescriptions, Weis and Kansas have two weeks to take stock of the program and search for a way forward. And, yes, there are plenty of areas that need improvement.
If there’s tinkering to be done, it perhaps starts on offense, where a perceived strength has turned into a rugged work in progress.
The Jayhawks are averaging just 21 points per game — 104th in the country in scoring offense — and those numbers came as Kansas played three of its first four games against nonconference opponents.
The roots of the futility can be found in a passing attack that’s averaging just 205.8 yards per game. Starting quarterback Dayne Crist ranks 118th out of 123 quarterbacks in passer rating and 120th with a completion percentage of 48.1 percent.
After KU’s loss at Northern Illinois, Weis said Crist was still the Jayhawks’ best option at quarterback, saying there was plenty of separation between Crist and the Jayhawks’ back-up options — redshirt freshman Michael Cummings and sophomore transfer Turner Baty.
Weis had greater perspective on Sunday after watching the film from the loss. It was clear, he said, that Crist had three throws that he wanted back, including a deep ball to senior Kale Pick that might have put the game away. But when asked if there was some specific things that Crist could work on during the bye week, Weis repeated something he’s said before: Sometimes it’s just about making plays.
“When you’re standing in the pocket,” Weis said, “and you’re not gonna get hit, and you’re just stepping and throwing — you can do all the coaching in the world, that’s when you just have to step up and make that throw.”
Another glaring offensive weakness: The Jayhawks are converting just 25 percent (14 of 56) of their third-down attempts. Those struggles, which have perhaps been compounded by the passing woes, are one of the prime reasons KU has struggled to finish drives and capitalize in the red zone.
“It’s a combination effort,” Weis said. “It’s the protection; it’s getting open versus man coverage.”
After four weeks, KU is ranked 92nd in total defense, allowing 439 yards per game. But on the whole, the defense has been an area of considerable improvement. The Jayhawks are tied for second in the nation in takeaways with 13. (Weis’ old program at Notre Dame has also forced 13 turnovers.) And as a result, the KU defense is allowing just 23 points per game, a 20-point improvement over last year’s dead-last defense.
The Jayhawks, of course, will now enter the meat of their schedule, with three ranked teams — No. 7 Kansas State, No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 12 Texas — looming in the next four weeks. In total, KU has five ranked teams left on its schedule, in addition to defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma State.
It starts with K-State — a program that has dominated Kansas by an average of 32 points over the last three years. (The Jayhawks, however, won the three previous games from 2006-08.)
Earlier this week, Weis said the Kansas staff had already begun game-planning for the Wildcats. And the Jayhawks’ practices on Tuesday through Thursday would include K-State prep. Four weeks in, and the victories have been scarce. But the Jayhawks have been competitive.
“They’ve shown,” Weis said, “that that’s something that I should expect.”