LAWRENCE — College football’s most high-stakes situation hasn’t exactly brought out the best in Kansas.
The Jayhawks failed both of their fourth-down conversion attempts in Saturday’s 45-20 home defeat to No. 6 Oklahoma, further establishing head coach Les Miles’ squad as the nation’s least productive in those situations. KU is 0-for-7 on the season on fourth-down tries, the most attempts of any group without at least one successful conversion.
Nerves, Miles indicated in his postgame remarks, are partially to blame for the poor clip.
“I think this is a team that will learn how to catch fourth downs,” Miles said. “It’s fourth down and it’s a little bit more of a pressure situation, but I think our guys will handle that. Yeah, I think they will. ...
“If we hit two fourth downs ... we’d be in a much different feeling about (Saturday’s) performance.”
KU’s turnovers on downs have come both on the ground and through the air.
The Jayhawks (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) failed on five fourth-down attempts across the season’s first two games, with each of those unsuccessful runs. Quarterback Carter Stanley fumbled a try and went backward on another in the season opener against Indiana State, although the latter was an end-of-game stall tactic to run out the clock in the 24-17 victory. In Week 2 against Coastal Carolina, Stanley joined wide receiver Andrew Parchment and running back Pooka Williams in failed fourth-down rushes, all in the second half of the eventual 12-7 defeat.
Both of KU’s fourth-down misfires against the Sooners (5-0, 3-0) came through the air.
With the game locked at 7-all in the first quarter, tight end James Sosinski dropped an easy pitch-and-catch at the sticks near the Oklahoma 39-yard line. OU drove down the field on their ensuing possession and scored what became the first of six unanswered touchdowns.
“It’s a catch James has made hundreds of times,” Stanley said. “I would throw the same ball 10 times out of 10 and trust him to catch it. It’s unfortunate it didn’t happen. Pretty big play in the game. But no, I totally have trust in James and anyone on this offense. ...
“It was unfortunate, but I know he’ll make that play in the future.”
Stanley shouldered blame for the Jayhawks’ second fourth-down failure, which came early in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-1 from the OU 39, the senior slightly overthrew streaking tight end Jack Luavasa, who had separation from his defender after breaking out of a power formation. OU made the margin 42-7 on the very next play, a 61-yard touchdown run by Rhamondre Stevenson.
“That was tough,” Stanley said. “That was a newer play that we had. That’s me. I’ve got to put it on him. I’ve got to give him a chance at least. That was my first read and (the pass rushers) were streaming down pretty hard. I’ve really just got to put it on him.
“The (defender) was slightly behind him. That’s why I tried to put it up in the air a little bit. But it’s on me.”
Making matters worse, the Jayhawks’ third-down conversion rate ranks 67th nationally at 38.3%, a number torpedoed by a 1-for-11 performance in last week’s 51-14 defeat at TCU.
KU was better in that department versus the Sooners, converting 6 of 14 tries, but the showing still wasn’t satisfactory for Miles.
“If we’re going to be consistently a team that vies for victory,” Miles said, “we’re going to have to be better on third down and fourth down.”
Miles mum on Herbert claim
Miles declined to respond to claims made earlier this week by former KU senior running back Khalil Herbert, who sat out the team’s defeat to the Horned Frogs in an attempt to secure a redshirt this season.
Herbert’s departure was officially announced Wednesday, and on Thursday, he posted a message to social media that stated he had intended to return to the Jayhawks for a redshirt senior season but that his decision had “many unforeseen consequences," leading to a planned departure as a graduate transfer.
“I really don’t (have a response),” Miles said. “We’re going to concern ourselves with this team and making this team better and talk about the guys that are going to sit down in this room Monday and work hard to be a better football team. I think Khalil’s a good man. I think that’s evident with the people that enjoy him.”