LAWRENCE — In a pivotal moment late in a game that may play a large role in his fate as Kansas football coach, David Beaty had three options.
Three days after coming up on the losing end of that contest, Beaty defended the choice he made.
Facing a fourth-and-9 from the opposing 37-yard line and down five points with just under 10 minutes left in Saturday’s season opener against Nicholls State, the fourth-year coach opted to punt rather than go for it or try a 54-yard field goal.
No one can know with certainty which of those three options would’ve turned out best for KU — the Jayhawks jumped in front with a touchdown and two-point conversion two possessions later but surrendered a game-tying field goal in the final minute before falling 26-23 in overtime. But Beaty at least explained some of his thought process in that key moment.
Weather conditions, the score of the game and time remaining, field position and analytical recommendations are just some of the factors that play a role in making every one of those situations unique, he said. The space where the Jayhawks (0-1) were stationed — between the 35- and 40-yard line — can prove a particularly difficult spot in the decision-making process.
“That’s one of those very unique places on the field where you have really three decisions that you could make,” Beaty said. “And you’re not always sure which one’s going to be the right one, but you gotta play the percentages and know how you’ve been doing offensively, how have you been playing defensively if you’re going to give it back to them, and then how has your kicker been kicking? And then if you do make the kick and you still have to score again, you know, what does your field position look like if you’re going to trade three (points) for seven possibly.
“And sometimes those are just chances that you have to take as you look at the statistics and analytics that go into it.”
KU senior kicker Gabriel Rui's 54-yard make in the second quarter from the exact same distance and spot on the field added a layer of difficulty to Beaty's decision. With a strong wind no longer at his team’s back, though, Beaty didn’t appear to like the odds of Rui replicating the career-long boot.
“Rui hit the first one really good. He hit it as good as I’ve ever seen him hit the ball,” Beaty said. “I think it was from what, 54 yards, something like that, but that thing would’ve been good from probably 60, 64. And it went way through it. It wasn’t like it was close. ...
“But you don’t always hit it that solid, particularly on long field goals. So you know, those field goals as you look at the analytics, those, even with him, are about 50/50 at best. So just because he hit the first one doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to hit the second one.”
Beaty called a timeout before ultimately sending out punter Kyle Thompson. It was the second time KU had taken a timeout ahead of a fourth-down decision, also using on before Rui's 54-yard make.
It is acceptable, Beaty indicated, for a team to use timeouts in those scenarios if it means the coaching staff ultimately makes the right decision.
“In that particular situation (in the fourth quarter) I just felt like the game for us was really, it was kind of a critical time,” Beaty said. “And we’re not going to just burn those things if we don’t have to. They’re very, very valuable in that second half. And it turned out it probably paid off because we really needed to make sure we were in the right position there.
“It paid off, but it doesn’t always pay off. It could have easily went the other way. So you just gotta make the best decision and then go out there and execute.”
The KU defense had mostly stiffened since Nicholls’ nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive on the Colonels’ opening possession, another factor Beaty took into consideration in choosing to punt the ball away. Nicholls took over at its own 10-yard line and chewed up three minutes of clock before punting the ball back to the Jayhawks.
“Our defense had started playing pretty well,” Beaty said. “We felt like they could get a stop, and they did. They got a stop. We got the ball back on (our own) 45. We didn't do anything with it. We punted the ball, and then we got the muff punt. So it worked out for us, but it doesn't always work out.
“You just gotta go with what you think is the best decision at that time based on all the information you have."
CORRECTION — Officials incorrectly assigned 15-yard facemask penalty against the Jayhawks in Nicholls’ 10-play, 49-yard game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter to senior linebacker Joe Dineen.
Sophomore linebacker Kyron Johnson actually committed the infraction, Beaty confirmed.
An All-Big 12 preseason pick, Dineen finished the contest with 14 total tackles and 12 solo stops, both game-highs.