LAWRENCE — Les Miles expects more out of his Kansas football offense than what the unit has produced to this point in the season.
That said, the first-year head coach is willing to exercise patience, a point illustrated when Miles was asked Monday whether senior Carter Stanley is still the team’s starting quarterback moving forward.
“You bet,” Miles responded.
With that out of the way, the Jayhawks (1-1) can devote the rest of their short week ahead of a 6:30 p.m. Friday clash with Boston College (2-0) at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on finding solutions to other problems on that side of the ball, of which there appear to be many.
KU mustered just 280 yards of total offense in last Saturday’s 12-7 home defeat to Coastal Carolina, with the passing attack struggling most — Stanley was 13-for-19 for 107 yards and a pair of interceptions, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound native of Vero Beach, Fla., finishing with just six second-half pass attempts.
“I think we’re not put together at this point, but I feel like we’re very close to being a quality offense,” Miles said. “It’s just, we’ve got to stay the course.”
Stanley, then, is as good a place as any to start when reviewing the offensive ineffectiveness Saturday.
"He was guilty of trying to make plays, OK, and it's the right thing, and it's absolutely the wrong thing,” Miles said. “In this instance he made a couple mistakes. I think he's a guy that's accountable. I think he'll step in and with opportunity play well. I'm not going to make a change at this time.”
A capable runner, Stanley hasn’t taken off often across KU’s first two games, the most glaring example coming in his first interception against Coastal Carolina. Stanley scrambled out of the pocket and appeared to have enough real estate in front of him to dash for the first down, but he instead opted to take a shot deep. The pass was underthrown and picked off by cornerback Chandler Kryst at the Chanticleers’ 4-yard line.
“Really, you know, he can extend things with his feet and really should have done that a little bit more,” Miles said. “He could have gone and got a couple first downs, and those are things that he's very comfortable doing. It's just awareness.”
Stanley agreed with Miles’ assessment that he too often tried to make something out of nothing. He said the head coach’s decision to stick with him through his struggles “means a lot.”
“I personally certainly feel like I’m still the starting quarterback for this team and I feel like the guys still support me 100 percent,” he said. “So it’s definitely comforting to hear it from the head coach.”
It’d be a mistake, however, to pin all of KU’s offensive hiccups on the quarterback.
Consider the team's wide receivers, a group led by junior Andrew Parchment and senior Daylon Charlot. One week ago, Parchment hauled in eight receptions for a game-high 121 yards, while Charlot netted six receptions for 79 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Against Coastal Carolina, Parchment finished with three receptions for 14 yards, and Charlot was held without a catch.
For his part, Parchment shouldered responsibility for two of Saturday's mistakes.
On Stanley’s second interception, Parchment misunderstood a play call coming in from the sideline and ran the wrong route, out of position when the scrambling quarterback desperately needed him somewhere else — “Like I told him on the sideline, that was my fault and I owe him one,” Parchment said.
There was a similar error much earlier on, a play that if done properly would have resulted in Parchment streaking past a safety and scoring a touchdown, he said.
“First play of the game, I ran the wrong route,” Parchment said. “So stuff like that, we can’t just blame everything on play calling and stuff like that. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror as well. The receivers didn’t play up to par either. We’ve just got to get better this week.”
Parchment wasn’t alone in slipping up during Stanley’s second interception. A Coastal Carolina defender blew past senior right tackle Kevin Feder mere moments after the ball was snapped, forcing Stanley out of the pocket and into a rushed throw.
It was just one of several lowlights on the evening for an upperclassman-packed offensive line.
"We're expecting that they're going to get better, OK, and the guys that are getting rotation time are talented guys and now need some reps to get us better," Miles said of the unit. "Obviously the plan is that sooner rather than later we'll be ready to play dominant football.”
Again, though, it would be a mistake to pin the offensive errors solely on the players, and that is where the problems perhaps become more disconcerting.
Too often the Jayhawk offense ran headfirst into a stacked box, with the effectiveness of standout running backs Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert declining alongside the coaching staff’s unwillingness to attempt passing plays. KU’s final three drives all ended in failed fourth-down conversions, and whether by design or not, each was an unsuccessful run attempt.
KU's final two plays on offense — a third-and-2 and a fourth-and-3 — were both runs by Williams, who netted zero yards on the pair of totes against 10-man boxes.
“At the end of the day, regardless of what play we call, as players we’ve got to go out there, all 11 guys have to execute,” Stanley said. “On some of those plays it just wasn’t there.”
So how does the KU offense improve from here?
One move could be an infusion of run-pass option plays, expected to be a feature of the Jayhawk offense this season but not shown across the first two weeks. The program this offseason hired as a senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon, a KU-labeled “rising star” who literally wrote a book — “The Evolution of the RPO” — on the subject.
Stanley said the team has been working on RPOs since the spring. Miles — who said offensive coordinator Les Koenning is currently calling plays with “suggestions” from himself and others on the coaching staff — was asked if he expects the team to look at integrating more RPOs.
“Absolutely, yeah. We look forward to it,” Miles responded. “We think it’s kind of the direction that college football’s going, and we’d like to get there first.”
Another option for the KU offense would be to give Stanley more freedom to audible out of potentially doomed plays, with the Jayhawks on Saturday rarely adjusting to pre-snap reads of the blitz-happy Chanticleers. Stanley said Monday that his freedom to audible to a different look “just depends on the play,” with some calls “not at all” switchable.
On this front, Miles seems unlikely to budge.
“I think they're doing enough. I think there's a nice comfortable audible in, audible out system. And I think they're using it effectively,” Miles said. “So not right now. Wouldn't change it.”
One final way to aid the offense, as Parchment argued, could be a simple one.
“Just by taking shots down the field,” Parchment said. “I feel like that can soften it up for the run game for Pooka and Khalil. I just feel like if we take more shots down the field, then that can make the box a lot easier. ...
“I feel like if we take more shots down field, I feel like we’ll have a better chance of winning the football game. But like I said, Pooka Williams is a great running back. Khalil Herbert is a great running back. We need them to win the game. And also our offensive line is really good too. So we have to stay in that as well. We’ve just got to have a good mixture of both.”