University of Kansas

The most concerning play for KU football in its loss to Coastal Carolina

KU’s Les Miles on why he’s staying with Carter Stanley at QB

Kansas Jayhawks football coach Les Miles explains why he's sticking with quarterback Carter Stanley for the team's upcoming game against Boston College. Miles spoke to reporters on Sept. 9, 2019.
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Kansas Jayhawks football coach Les Miles explains why he's sticking with quarterback Carter Stanley for the team's upcoming game against Boston College. Miles spoke to reporters on Sept. 9, 2019.

(For help with this story, I consulted a Division I assistant coach to get his thoughts.)

Out of all the plays in Kansas football’s 12-7 loss to Coastal Carolina, this one might cause the most uneasiness.

Late in the fourth quarter Saturday, KU had a chance to still take the lead with a touchdown, facing third-and-2 at its own 28.

And the Jayhawks, in this crucial moment, went to something that had almost no chance of working.

KU called a rush directly into a Coastal Carolina run blitz. The Chanticleers had nine defenders in the box, and if you take away KU quarterback Carter Stanley handing it off, the Jayhawks were countering with eight players, including running back Pooka Williams.

Not surprisingly, the run goes nowhere. KU’s offensive line isn’t great here — center Andru Tovi in particular gets knocked into the backfield — but the real sin happens before the ball is even snapped.

The player who makes the tackle is the unblocked, run-blitzing safety at the top of the screen. This should look familiar, as it’s similar to the way Indiana State stopped KU on a fourth quarter possession we talked about last week.

In any case, this type of defense comes with a huge risk. By crowding the inside and bringing so many defenders forward, Coastal Carolina is leaving itself exposed on the perimeter.

And, in essence, the team is triple-dog-daring KU to throw the football.

Take another look at KU’s near receiver Stephon Robinson. He’s matched up man-to-man with a cornerback, who has no safety help because of the Chanticleers’ aggressive call.

Coastal Carolina’s Chandler Kryst (No. 13) is giving Robinson nearly 10 yards of cushion — essentially conceding the first down if KU decides to throw a short pass here.

But notice what happens after the snap. Robinson runs ahead and blocks immediately, meaning there wasn’t a post-snap pass option on this play. Also, Stanley doesn’t change the call at the line of scrimmage, sticking with it even with plenty of time left on the play clock.

We’ll get to whether this is actually Stanley’s fault in a moment. Before that, though, let’s go over what ideally would happen for KU against this defense.

Stanley, when coming to the line, in a perfect world could see this run play had little chance of success. Many teams, in these situations, have two plays available, and Stanley could quickly audible to the Jayhawks’ pass play.

The best (and easiest) option would be for Stanley to drop back one step, and for Robinson to take a hard stride with his right foot before squaring his shoulders to the quarterback. This should be a simple pitch and catch for a Power Five team, and if completed, the cornerback cushion should allow Robinson at least five yards, even if he does nothing more than grab it and fall forward.

It all comes down to simple math. This call would trade KU trying to go 8-on-9 in the run game for the opportunity to go 1-on-1 with its outside receiver. Getting into these better scenarios is what offensive play-calling is all about.

Here’s where there is some mystery, though. In interviews with reporters, Stanley has said multiple times there are certain plays where he is not allowed to change the call at the line.

“It really just depends on the play,” Stanley said, when asked if he had the potential to audible in KU’s offense. “To be honest, some plays not at all. But other plays, definitely a good amount. It really just depends.”

KU coach Les Miles seemed to say something different Monday. When asked specifically if his quarterback had the ability “to audible out of a look if they don’t like what they’re seeing,” Miles said, “Oh yeah.”

He then was asked if he would like to see Stanley audible more on opposing run blitz plays.

“I think they’re doing enough,” Miles said. “I think there’s a nice comfortable audible-in, audible-out system. And I think they’re using it effectively. So not right now ... wouldn’t change it.”

Whatever the reality is, KU needs to find more ways to get itself out of bad looks offensively.

Teams are loading up on the Jayhawks’ run game. That’s not too much of a surprise.

When that means opponents are willing to hand out free yards to KU’s receivers, though ... it’s best to take the gift and move the chains.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.