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Kansas Jayhawks

KU rebirth should hinge on legs of Ke’aun Kinner

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Zero wins in 2015. There, it’s out of the way. Now all Kansas can do is look at where things went right (and that’s not much) and avoid the wrongs that came in David Beaty’s first season as a coach working with a team replete with issues.

It may seem counterintuitive considering the Air Raid state of the Big 12, but the short-term fix for Kansas may be to start leaning on the running game.

The Air Raid isn’t what it used , teams like Baylor have made the run game the centerpiece of the scheme with great success. And though success like Baylor’s isn’t going to come to Lawrence overnight, focusing on the run game could be the gateway — and it all starts with getting more carries to Ke’aun Kinner.

Last season, Kinner finished with 564 yards and five touchdowns on 133 rushing attempts. That’s an average carry of just 4.2 yards. Obviously not ideal, but a deeper look at his game log shows there could be a simple remedy heading into his senior year.

Opening the season — albeit with one opponent from the FCS — Kinner was averaging 85 yards per game and 1.2 touchdowns in the first four games. His average carry was 4.9 yards per carry. All this came in games with carries in the double digits, having the most success on a day with 27 carries for 157 yards and two scores.

Enter Week 5, his carry totals were under 10 virtually every game and his other stats followed suit. In his six games with nine carries or less, Kinner’s rushing average dipped to 2.3 yards. And it’s not that Beaty and his staff were incompetent to handcuff a highlight of their offense, but more so that the JUCO transfer was fighting off injuries throughout the season that limited his carries.

As long as he stays healthy, Kansas should have a healthy diet of Kinner.

When Kinner was finally healthy for a Week 9 visit with Texas, he was back to normal with a 67-yard performance on 13 carries. Against TCU, a similar stat line of 80 yards on 17 carries surfaced. A big reason for that is how much his production relies on more opportunities to break loose and advance the chains, something the passing attack couldn’t readily do with its 33.2 QBR since 2012.

Kinner finished 11th in the conference with six carries over 20 yards. That checks in at 4.5 percent of his carries. Samaje Perine’s 14 such carries accounted for 6.1 percent to lead the conference. DeAndre Washington was just behind with 11 carries to make up 4.7 percent of his carries.

Both were renowned backs last season, so all Kinner needs is the chance to show he can share that podium too.

Perhaps what’s most overlooked about Kinner’s game is how well he can work in the passing game. Last season he was good for 147 yards on 16 receptions. He had two games with over 40 yards receiving as well.

Not only would opening up the run game for Kinner work in his favor, but it would also free up the Kansas offense to start improving the passing game. With the addition of Texas A&M transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez at receiver, it’s all the more important Beaty utilize all the tools in the shed.

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