Kansas Football Report Card: Defense


Clint Bowen’s Kansas football defense is a unit that was expected to struggle mightily this season. However, the defense has greatly exceeded expectations. What grade should the firemen get halfway through the season?

Total Defense

Over the last three games, the Kansas football defense has allowed 480 yards per game, with the outlier being Texas Tech’s 621-yard outburst in Lubbock. Kansas is now 86th in the country in total defense, well ahead of their last place finish last season. On measures of defensive efficiency, the Jayhawks are also much better than a year ago. Bowen’s unit is allowing 5.6 yards per play, good for 68th in the country, ahead of schools like Oklahoma, TCU, and Arkansas.

Most football coaches preach that third down is the most important down in football. With this in mind, Kansas has been extremely good on third down. The Jayhawks rank 30th in defensive third down percentage, and opponents have only converted 31 of 91 third down opportunities, good for only 34%. Keeping opposing offenses from sustained drives has been the most important factor in why the Jayhawks have been more competitive this season.

The biggest area for improvement for the defense is allowing points. This isn’t all their fault, as the Jayhawks are dead last in the country in turnover margin, and have been up against a wall for large parts of games. That being said, they’re allowing 35.7 points per game, 113th in the nation. For Kansas to take the next step, this has to get better. Another area that needs improvement is turnovers. The Jayhawks are forcing 1.8 per game, 51st in the nation. For an undermanned squad, this needs to be over two per game to give the offense as many opportunities as possible to score.

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Pass Defense

The Jayhawk pass defense has struggled in the second quarter of the season. Over the last three games, the secondary is allowing 320 pass yards per game. Overall, Kansas ranks 66th in the country in pass defense. This number is a little deceiving. Last week, Baylor barely threw the ball in the second half, resulting in only 207 passing yards for the vaunted Bears offense. The game against Texas Tech continues to be an outlier. Pat Mahomes and the Red Raiders hung 548 passing yards and eight touchdowns against the Jayhawks in Lubbock. Overall, the secondary has been much better than that performance.

On efficiency measures, the Jayhawks have been good as well. They rank 68th in the country in defensive pass efficiency, where opponents’ PE rating is only 131.5. Kansas has also been stingy in allowing first downs through the air, which dovetails nicely from their third down defense. Kansas ranks 36th in the nation in first downs allowed through the air, with 8.8 per game.

Rush Defense

In the second quarter of the season, the Jayhawk rush defense has improved markedly over the first quarter. Against Texas Tech, TCU, and Baylor, the Jayhawks have held three very good rushing offenses to 160 yards per game. Nationwide, the Jayhawks are improved from last year, but still poor. They rank 95th in the country against the rush, allowing 197 yards per game.

The Jayhawks need to be more efficient in defending the run. They’ve allowed 4.5 yards per rushing attempt to these three teams, including five per carry against Baylor. Opponents are feasting in getting first downs on the ground against the Jayhawks. They’ve allowed 15 per game over their last three, and rank 113th in the nation over the course of the season. Improving a few key efficiency measures would go a long way in getting the Jayhawks off the field.


There’s little doubt that the Kansas defense has improved markedly over last season, and it continues to show remarkable toughness and grit every week, even against opponents that are far more talented. However, there is much room for improvement, even in areas that aren’t dictated by talent, especially in forcing turnovers. Grade: C+