LAWRENCE — There are a couple ways to look at Kansas’ continuing struggles on offense this season. For one, the Jayhawks have a decorated offensive mind as their coach and mostly the same shell of players that helped KU score 22.3 points per game last season. So maybe you see an underachieving unit with decided disadvantages at quarterback and receiver.
From another perspective, though, the Jayhawks have mostly leaned on a running game that has helped control the clock and shield KU’s defense from the nuclearized offensive attacks in the Big 12. So maybe you see a unit that has been purposely conservative, aiding a defense that has moved from worst in the country to seventh in the Big 12 in total defense.
This is how Charlie Weis would prefer to see it, anyway.
“I could go wide open, and we could sling it all over the yard,” Weis said. “And you know what? We might score 28 and give up 80.”
When Weis took the job at Kansas, the general assumption was that, while the Jayhawks’ defense might be a long-term project, Weis’ offensive background would give Kansas a chance to score points right out of the chute. Those hopes were buoyed by the addition of quarterback Dayne Crist, a senior transfer from Notre Dame.
Now, seven games into Weis’ tenure, the Jayhawks have lost — and with none of the expected fun on offense. They are last in the Big 12 in scoring offense, putting up 17.3 points per game. Their passing attack ranks 103rd in the country while amassing 187.7 yards per game. And in a pretty good symbol of what’s gone wrong, a KU wide receiver has yet to score a touchdown. (Tight ends Jimmay Mundine and Mike Ragone have hauled in touchdown catches.)
Weis addressed one problem on Tuesday, announcing that redshirt freshman Michael Cummings would replace Crist as the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback.
But in Weis’ view, some of the Jayhawks’ offensive numbers have been part of a calculated strategy — a move with the future in mind. Junior running back James Sims and sophomore tailback Tony Pierson may be KU’s most talented players. And that might explain part of the reason KU is running the ball 58 percent of the time.
“This is my first year here,” Weis said. “You say, ‘OK, ‘What’s your greatest strength on offense?’ Right now, clearly our greatest strength is our running game. No one would refute that.
“So one of the things you do is, by running the football, you build toughness in your team, and you don’t put your defense out on the field nearly as much as they would be.”
Some of this has also come from necessity. Cummings made his first start against Oklahoma on Saturday, and KU spent most of the day in a pared-down, bunched formation. Earlier this year, Weis said he’d rather lose by 100 than just play to keep a game close. But on Tuesday, he added that he had no intention of getting into a shootout with the athletes from Oklahoma or Texas — or whatever Big 12 heavyweight happens to be on the schedule.
So this is the hand Weis was dealt — the caveat that comes along with any judgment in Weis’ first year. How much of Kansas’ struggles are simply due to the talent discrepancy on the field?
“It’s not a question of whether or not we know what to do (with) X’s and O’s,” Weis said. “I’d love to be able to do what Oklahoma did last week. Let’s line up in one front and one (defensive) coverage and just play it on every down. Sit back there and eat a hot dog and drink a soda.”
In the big picture, Weis says his outlook on this rebuilding job hasn’t changed. Winning college football games is still about recruiting good players and developing them, he said. Today’s problem: Weis says KU needs more of the former so he can do more of the latter.
“This isn’t the question about whether or not we’re smart enough to figure out what they’re going to do and what to do against it,” Weis said. “Sometimes you better go get some Jimmys and Joes. It might help you just a tad.”