It hasn’t been just one thing going wrong for Kansas in its 15 consecutive losses in Big 12 action. But when it comes to brass tacks, the Jayhawks’ turnover problem isn’t doing them any favors. Against FBS opponents, Kansas averages four giveaways per game to lead the nation. Bowling Green is second to last at 2.8 turnovers per game and Iowa State’s two per game is the next closest in the Big 12.
In a 49-7 loss to Baylor — the Big 12’s leader in takeaways — Kansas forked over the ball five times, ranging from defensive backs jumping on routes to fumbles off the snap. Like the rest of the season, other areas including the defense, which was unable to influence Baylor’s offense, were an issue. But the inability to control possession jumps off the pages the most.
“With [turnovers] being one of those three pillars of what we really said we had to do to get better,” coach David Beaty said Saturday. “It’s very disappointing. . . . We got lucky last week [against TCU]. This week it affects you.”
Beaty was right that Kansas was lucky against TCU the previous week, when the Jayhawks came within one point of an upset. Part of that luck was keeping even with the Horned Frogs with four turnovers apiece. Against Baylor, Kansas only forced one turnover and that came in the fourth quarter against a fourth-string running back. Four interceptions were thrown between Ryan Willis (six in two weeks) and Carter Stanley, a point of emphasis for Beaty.
“The majority of the mistakes we’ve made from the quarterback standpoint to this standpoint has been the inability to read,” Beaty said. “Lock on and thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve got this.’ When you do that, you usually pay a price. So there’s really no steps you can skip at the quarterback position.”
Willis locked on to his targets for the majority of the game. He paid the price locking on to his routes with Baylor cornerback Ryan Reid jumping on two passes thanks to Willis’ leading eyes. Just a sophomore, Willis has a while to go before he’s a formidable passer — coping with heavy pressure is among the skills he needs to learn — but he’s already shown to be a good leader after Beaty started him two straight games.
“We started off pretty well,” Willis said. “We should have been a lot better on offense. I take blame for that. We can be a lot better.”
Of course, not all of the blame in the turnover game can be placed on the quarterbacks. Perhaps more astounding than the 12 interceptions thrown are the 10 fumbles lost. Kansas has actually been lucky that total isn’t higher. The Jayhawks have fumbled 25 times, meaning about 40 percent of their fumbles have resulted in turnovers.
It hasn’t just been as simple as defenses hitting harder and jarring balls loose from bad arm placement. Against Baylor, center Joe Gibson fumbled a snap inside Kansas’ own five-yard line with Willis in shotgun formation, resulting in a turnover. Willis described the situation as miscommunication from the huddle.
That might be Kansas’ season in a nutshell, a series of miscommunications that isn’t easily fixed overnight. Playing Oklahoma State — second in forced turnovers — on Saturday should be a good measuring stick to how Kansas responds.