It might not be a three-headed monster, but the Kansas football team has discovered something dynamic in its three-man rushing attack.
The trio of Tony Pierson, Taylor Cox and James Sims have combined for 666 yards and six touchdowns and each average more than 5 yards per carry. Add in Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist at quarterback, and the Jayhawks offer a balanced challenge for the Kansas State defense.
The KU offense, despite its balance this season, isn’t exactly lighting it up though. The Jayhawks rank last in the Big 12 in scoring offense, ninth in total offense, ninth in passing offense and seventh in rushing offense.
Individually, Pierson ranks fifth in the league in rushing, leading the Jayhawks with 309 yards on 58 carries. Cox has rushed 45 times for 266 yards and ranks seventh.
K-State coach Bill Snyder said the three running backs offer a challenge.
“(They are) more similar than not,” he said. “I think there are some differences, but as soon as I say one guy is a little bit more of an inside runner and the other guy is more of an outside runner, surely they would turn it around and do it the other way around. I think that is probably why all three of them are on the field.”
Kansas coach Charlie Weis brought in Crist with the intention of installing an offense closer to the ones he ran at Florida and Notre Dame, and with a pair of NFL teams in the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs.
But Crist has gotten off to a tough start this season, similar to the way he lost his job as quarterback with the Fighting Irish.
Crist has completed just 62-of-129 passes for 763 yards. He’s thrown just two touchdown passes and been picked off four times, and ranks 10th in the conference with just 190.8 yards per game.
Whether their passing attack looks successful on paper or not, Snyder said there is concern with what Crist is capable of.
“His completion percentage is a little bit lower, but he is throwing the ball downfield more,” Snyder said. “I have seen (Crist) stand on one hash mark and throw the ball 15 yards deep to the far boundary. That is an NFL throw, those are hard to come by. They are not an easy task, but he is able to do it.
“I think the receivers and quarterback work well together and that is an issue.”
Nationally, the Jayhawks passing attack ranks 100th, while their rushing attack is carrying the load as the 47th best run game in the country.
Still, the issue for Snyder is in preparation. From watching tape on Weis-coached teams, he said there are a lot of things to prepare for.
“You do not know what you are going to get,” he said. “We might spend two weeks practicing against something that we will never see, and on Saturday see something that we have not had a chance to practice. Of course you face that every week, but with Charlie, during the course of the season, you see different things appear from game to game.”
Weis has his own worries when he looks at the defense they are facing. With run stopping defensive tackles in the middle, and fast pass rushers on the outside, he said there will be an emphasis on being consistent.
“Against this defense, it’s the most critical factor in the game,” he said. “Besides taking care of the football, you know, which is the most critical factor, because they live off of turnovers. Look at the Oklahoma game. I mean, can Oklahoma give them any more advantageous situations?
“With that being said, I think that you have to be ready to nickel and dime them the whole day. You can’t all of a sudden say ‘well, let’s do this’. They’re not giving you that. So, you have to stay patient.”
Although the Kansas offense hasn’t produced much in the way of scoring this season, ranked 107th nationally, the Jayhawks appear to have the capability of scoring in a hurry if they exploit the right weaknesses.
And with all the diversity the team has within its playbook, Snyder said they could have their hands full with the Jayhawks’ offense.
“I think we see an offense that presents a lot of issues,” he said. “The execution is good and the ability to do so many things because of the many formations that they utilize and the variety of schemes — I think that presents a lot of problems for us.”