Kansas: Beyond the Box Score Defensive Preview

I mentioned in comments yesterday that, while the offense might not be amazing, they will probably not be the reason Kansas fails (if they fail).  The onus on respectability falls much more on the Kansas defense.  Carl Torbush, are you up for the task?

Defense

Overall Ranks

F/+: 63rd

S&P+: 86th
Success Rate+: 77th
PPP+: 97th

Standard Downs S&P+: 91st
Passing Downs S&P+: 57th

Redzone S&P+: 86th

Q1 S&P+: 56th
Q2 S&P+: 42nd
Q3 S&P+: 111th
Q4 S&P+: 77th

1st Down S&P+: 76th
2nd Down S&P+: 72nd
3rd Down S&P+: 71st

Rushing Ranks

Rushing S&P+: 112th
Rushing SR+: 89th
Rushing PPP+: 118th

Standard Downs: 105th
Passing Downs: 100th

Redzone: 92nd

Adj. Line Yards: 95th

Passing Ranks

Passing S&P+: 53rd
Passing SR+: 64th
Passing PPP+: 47th

Standard Downs: 67th
Passing Downs: 44th

Redzone: 69th

Adj. Sack Rate: 19th
SD Sack Rate: 20th
PD Sack Rate: 42nd

One of the storylines from 2009 that we have helped to perpetuate at Rock M Nation, is the story of Mizzou's improved running game.  The offensive line struggled to learn new(ish) blocking schemes at the beginning of the season, and the running game wasn't what it was expected to be, but late in the season it began to take off.  In the last four games of 2009, Derrick Washington rushed for 303 yards on 50 carries (6.1 per carry), giving hope that Mizzou's ground attack would be much more formidable in 2010.  And hey, maybe it will be.  Stories out of fall camp have been encouraging, to say the least.  But we should also probably acknowledge that his 6.1 yards per carry came against defenses ranked 50th, 76th, 88th, and 112th in Rushing S&P+.  His coup de grace, his 111 yards on 15 carries against Kansas, came against the worst rushing defense he had faced since Furman.  Going big against a team barely better than Chronic Fatigue University (an actual opponent of Kansas State in 1996* ... okay, they weren't an actual opponent.  But they'd have given Indiana State -- an actual opponent -- a run for their money, I say) is probably not as impressive as it looked at the time.

While that was a bit of a drag to say, I'll also say this: Missouri's rushing offense is much, much more likely to improve this season than Kansas' rushing defense.  So we've got THAT going for us.

Only two teams (Florida Atlantic and Eastern Michigan) gave up more big plays on the ground than Kansas did in 2009.  Once KU was able to leverage teams into passing downs, their strengths (relative as they may have been) came into play.  The problem, of course, was that with the 91st-ranked standard downs defense in the country, passing downs were rare.

So who was the culprit here?  The defensive line was a complete pushover against the run, but they rushed the passer pretty well.  The linebackers' hands were tied in cleaning up a lot of messes on the ground, but when they had the opportunity to blitz on passing downs, they were iffy at best (Drew Dudley aside).  The secondary -- which was supposed to be the anchor of the D, with Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton -- prevented big plays and helped the defense finish in the Top 60 on passing downs (with only an okay pass rush), but they played soft on standard downs (they played how Mizzou fans think Mizzou played).  The whole thing just didn't work.  And now the defense has lost potentially three of its four or five best players -- Stuckey, Thornton and now Huldon Tharp (season-ending injury this month) -- with little in the way of exciting new blood.  Oh, and their defensive coordinator is now Carl Torbush.  So ... yeah.

Rankings History

Category 2005
Rk
2006
Rk
2007
Rk
2008
Rk
2009
Rk
F/+ N/A* 48 13 65 63
S&P+ 8 57 12 30 86
Success Rate+ 10 53 13 19 77
PPP+ 9 60 14 45 97
Rushing S&P+ 1 54 8 38 112
Passing S&P+ 29 61 20 27 53
Standard Downs S&P+ 13 49 12 41 91
Passing Downs S&P+ 22 63 6 35 57
Adj. Line Yards 1 60 12 31 95
Adj. Sack Rate 46 73 89 76 19
* F/+ data does not exist for offenses and defenses until the 2006 season.

First things first: Bill Young is one helluva defensive coordinator.  He spent six seasons in Lawrence, and in two of his last three, Kansas had likely the most underrated defense in college football.  The 2005 unit was especially (and startlingly) stout.  He left for Miami after the 2007 season, and despite relatively manageable turnover in personnel, KU's defense plummeted.  Meanwhile, he came back to Stillwater to become defensive coordinator of his alma mater for 2009, and OSU's defense improved significantly.  The dude knows what he's doing.

The only area where Kansas improved since Young's departure was in the pass rush.  In every single other category, they regressed.  They fell from 8th against the run to 112th.  From 12th on standard downs to 91st.  From 13th to 77 in efficiency (success rates).  From 14th to 97th in explosiveness (PPP+).  They tumbled across the board.  Now, in Turner Gill's first season at Kansas, he has brought in another veteran coordinator to run the D.  Carl Torbush has, to say the least, been around.  Here's his resume, from his KU bio:

1974 Carter (Tenn.) HS Assistant
1975 Baylor Graduate Assistant
1976-79 Southeastern La. Linebackers/Defensive Ends
1980-82 Louisiana Tech Assistant Head Coach/LB
1983-86 Mississippi Defensive Coordinator
1987 Louisiana Tech Head Coach
1988-98 North Carolina Defensive Coordinator/LB
1998-2000 North Carolina Head Coach
2001-02 Alabama Defensive Coordinator/LB
2003-05 Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator/LB
2006-08 Carson-Newman Assistant Head Coach/LB
2009 Mississippi State Defensive Coordinator/LB
2010- Kansas Defensive Coordinator/LB

He was once one of the bigger names in defensive coaching.  But his stint at Texas A&M damaged his brand considerably (as did a failed stint as North Carolina head coach, though that says nothing about his coordinator abilities).  He followed Dennis Franchione from Alabama to A&M in 2003, and the Wrecking Crew imploded.  The last time they had allowed as many as 24 points per game was 1982; in three seasons in College Station, Torbush's defenses allowed 38.8, 24.3 and 31.2 points per game.  Ouch.  Of course, things had begun to fall apart before Torbush arrived -- they had gone from 17.8 points allowed in 2001 to 23.3 in 2002 -- but he was the obvious scapegoat regardless.  He spent the next three seasons at Carson-Newman until being recycled by Dan Mullen last season at Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs' Defensive F/+ rank improved from 51st to 49th in 2009, so while it's unclear that he can unleash a top defense on the country at this point, he might at least be able to improve the Kansas defense back to the middle of the rankings.  We'll see.  Quite the endorsement, I realize.  It is hard to be too impressed by this hire, obviously, but you never know.  He might be the perfect fit.

Defensive Line

2009 Unit Ranking: 38th (6th in the Big 12)

Projected DE Depth Chart
Jake Laptad (6'4, 260, Sr., 38.5 tackles, 12.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR)
Quintin Woods (6'5, 236, Sr., 4.0 tackles)
Tyrone Sellers (6'3, 230, RSFr.)
Travis Stephens (6'2, 255, Jr.)
Kevin Young (6'2, 256, RSFr.)
D.J. Marshall (6'3, 235, So.)

Projected DT Depth Chart
Richard Johnson (6'3, 283, Jr., 12.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR)
John Williams (6'3, 290, So., 5.5 tackles)
Patrick Dorsey (6'0, 273, Jr., 5.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks)
Darius Parish (6'4, 327, So.)
Randall Dent (6'5, 275, RSFr.)

The unit rankings had absolutely no idea what to do with Kansas last year.  The Jayhawks' defensive line ended up finishing 38th thanks to their ability to rush the passer sans blitz, but they were so brutal against the run that their pass-rushing ability did not necessarily matter.  Jake Laptad returns for his 16th year in Lawrence; he, Maxwell Onyegbule and Jeff Wheeler combined to create a decent set of ends.  Onyegbule and Wheeler are gone, but maybe Quintin Woods begins to live up to his recruiting hype this year.  Last year, Woods became the latest "Don't count on 4-star JUCOs to make an immediate impact (or any at all)" cautionary tale, following up nicely on the eggs Jocques Crawford and Nathan D'Cunha laid in Lawrence.  He looks the part, but after building plenty of hope in practice, he saw the field in only half of 2009's games and made just four tackles.  Needless to say, if one of the newcomer DEs gets rolling, there is playing time to be earned.

Perhaps the biggest problem position Kansas had last year was at defensive tackle.  Caleb Blakesley and Jefferson City's Richard Johnson were both decent, but they weren't playmakers, and ... they were only decent.  At best.  Johnson returns, but of the five tackles listed above, they combined for 23 tackles last year and, more importantly, just four tackles for loss.

There is plenty of youth throughout the defensive line.  The redshirt freshmen listed above -- Tyrone Sellers, Kevin Young, Randall Dent -- were all three-star signees, and it's pretty likely that one of them will be ready to make a decent contribution this year.  But depth appears to still be an issue, and even if the youngsters all pan out, it might not happen in 2010.

Linebackers

2009 Unit Ranking: 77th (11th in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Drew Dudley (6'2, 241, Sr., 68.0 tackles, 8.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR)
Huldon Tharp (6'0, 217, So., 45.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 2 PBU)
Justin Springer (6'3, 237, Sr., 19.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks, 11 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU)
Steven Johnson (6'1, 237, Jr., 7.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks)
Chea Peterman (6'0, 212, Jr.)
Jacoby Thomas (6'1, 243, RSFr.)
Dakota Lewis (6'0, 210, Sr.)
Steve Mestan (6'2, 231, RSFr.)
Josh Richardson (6'3, 225, So.)

If Torbush is going to have a positive impact on the Kansas defense, it will almost certainly come at the linebacker position.  He has been an LBs coach on and off for the last 30 years.  He knows the position.  And he has a pretty good player to work with in Drew Dudley.  Dudley made a solid number of plays last year and was looking to combine with Huldon Tharp and another potential playmaker, Justin Springer, to create a decent unit.    Without Tharp, this is still a unit with potential but more iffy depth.  The depth could be there, but they will be relying on some newcomers.

Our friends at Rock Chalk Talk are pretty excited about the linebackers (the excitement, I'm sure, has dropped by at least a few percentage points without Tharp, but still), and I think the unit has more potential than any other on this defense.

(UPDATE: Jacoby Thomas is no longer with the team, so ... cross him off the list!)

Secondary

2009 Unit Ranking: 97th (10th in the Big 12)

Projected CB Depth Chart
Chris Harris (5'10, 190, Sr., 71.0 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 9 PBU)
Anthony Davis (5'11, 205, Jr., 18.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 2 PBU)
Ryan Murphy (6'0, 185, Jr., 11.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR, 2 PBU)
Calvin Rubles (6'3, 205, Sr., 5.0 tackles)
Greg Brown (5'11, 185, So., 3.0 tackles)
Isiah Barfield (5'11, 185, Jr., 1.0 tackles)

Projected S Depth Chart
Lubbock Smith (6'0, 206, So., 32.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU)
Phil Stozier (5'11, 205, Sr., 17.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU)
Prinz Kande (6'0, 194, RSFr.)
Olaitan Oguntodu (6'0, 218, Sr., 3.0 tackles)
Dexter McDonald (6'1, 194, Fr.)
Dexter Linton (5'11, 200, RSFr.)

Despite the losses of Darrell Stuckey and Justin Thornton, the Kansas secondary still manages to have both experience and depth.  I'm not sure what the ceiling here is, but guys like Chris Harris and Phil Strozier have been running around in the Kansas defensive backfield for a number of years.  They will combine with fellow upperclassmen Anthony Davis, Ryan Murphy, Olaiitan Oguntodu and Calvin Rubles to give the unit maturity.  Throw in high-upside youngsters like Prinz Kande and maybe Lubbock Smith, and you've got the makings of a strong unit.  I like the potential of the LBs more, but even with the losses of their two marquee names, I don't see secondary playing much worse than it did last year.

Kande in particular is an intriguing player.  The folks at Rivals.com saw something in him that few others did -- he was given a four-star rating despite offers from only Kansas, Wisconsin and New Mexico.  We'll see who laughs last on that one.

Special Teams

2009 Unit Ranking: 98th (12th in the Big 12)

Place-kicking: 85th
Net Punting: 78th
Net Kicking: 72nd
Returns: 88th

Projected Starters
K Jacob Brantstetter (5'9, 170, Sr., 42-for-44 PAT, 13-for-19 FG, Long: 57)
P Alonso Rojas (6'3, 228, Sr., 52 punts, 41.4 average)
KR Bradley McDougald (6'1, 195, So., 21 returns, 18.8 average)
PR Daymond Patterson (5'9, 173, Jr., 21 returns, 8.0 average)

Even bad special teams units are usually good at something.  You're terrible in coverage, but you've got a good return man.  Your kicker is horribly iffy, but your punter is great.  Things like that.  Kansas, on the other hand, ranked 72nd or worse in all four major categories -- place-kicking, kickoffs, punting and returns.  This maybe another case where "everybody returns for 2010" might not necessarily be a bad thing.  Both return men -- Bradley McDougald and Daymond Patterson -- have strong athletic potential, but neither really showed it in the return game last season.  Meanwhile, Jacob Branstetter is Adam Crossett on steroids; he has a cannon of a leg and little ability to control it.  Branstetter will likely become at least marginally more consistent as a senior, and the unit will certainly benefit (I guess) from experience.  Expect a slightly improved but still iffy special teams unit overall.

Summary

In all, this Kansas defense probably has more potential than previous units, but in a lot of cases the experience and the upside don't mix.  The older players have probably hit their ceilings already, and the younger players are nowhere near theirs.  Even if Torbush is the perfect man for the job, it might take him a little while to figure everything out here.  With potentially strong freshmen and sophomores at each position, the long-term looks promising here.  But the short-term might be a little painful.

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