Andy Kotelnicki doesn’t want Kansas football’s offense to be stale, so it’ll keep evolving

LAWRENCE — Jared Casey’s touchdown catch this past Saturday against Houston showcased one of the many ways Kansas football’s offense has opened up in its second season with offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki.

There were two quarterbacks on the field, neither lined up where a signal-caller traditionally would be, as the Jayhawks faced 3rd and 7 late in the third quarter at the Cougars’ 8 yard line. One of those quarterbacks, junior Jalon Daniels, ended up receiving the hand-off and faking a toss to the other, redshirt senior Jason Bean. And Casey, a redshirt sophomore tight end, bluffed on a block on a defender to garner the necessary separation to allow himself an opening to make the catch.

Casey said Wednesday the play opened up just as they expected it to, even if he didn’t separate as much from the defender as they intended. Catching the ball as close as he did to the end zone, with room to run, made finishing the play relatively easy for him. And for Casey, it was just another example of the crazy ideas Kotelnicki has and will draw up sometimes.

“I’m sure there’ll be something that you guys haven’t seen, I haven’t seen,” said Casey, looking ahead to future games. “So, it’ll eventually, probably, be drawn up.”

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But for Kotelnicki and Kansas’ offense, while something like that was fun for Casey, there’s always an intent behind it. Kotelnicki never wants what the group is doing to become stale or boring as it attempts to be complementary and advantageous in the plays it calls. There’s a plan, and Kotelnicki said Wednesday the plan moving forward will continue to feature things it hasn’t in the past.

“I think when you play long seasons and you play long games, OK? The things that you put on tape, you always have to continue to … evolve, right?” Kotelnicki said. “We talk in our program a lot about, ‘Same as. Same as teaching.’ OK? ‘We’re going to do this. This is just like this play for you before.’ ‘Oh, got it coach.’ Right? OK. And I think good teams do that, right? They have the ability to evolve as an offense and defense, special teams, based off of your personnel.”

Kansas wide receiver Luke Grimm (11) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of a game against Houston on Sept. 17.
Kansas wide receiver Luke Grimm (11) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of a game against Houston on Sept. 17.

Kotelnicki didn’t get too specific about why he made the call that led to Casey’s touchdown catch, or the one that led to redshirt junior running back Torry Locklin’s earlier in the second quarter. Kotelnicki only went as far as to say they’d practiced them enough to feel confident about them and that they fit the team’s plan for those moments. He credited his players for making them work because, had the plays broken down, he mused the calls wouldn’t be viewed upon so favorably.

They are working, though, and working often. Kotelnicki wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s been catching fire as a play-caller. But he did note that he can feel, to an extent, when he has a defense on its heels.

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So far this season the Jayhawks are averaging 53 points per game. They are averaging 259 rushing yards per game, among other noteworthy statistics. They have a quarterback in Daniels who is racking up honors and was just named the Big 12 Conference’s offensive player of the week.

“Something that (quarterbacks) coach (Jim Zebrowski) harped on a lot when he first got here was, ‘Whatever play is called, you have to treat it like it’s the best play call ever,’” said Daniels, reflecting on the excitement he has when Kotelnicki calls a play. “So, going in with that mindset every single play, it allows us to finish drives. And when we’re not successful on a drive, it just gives me that motivation. ‘All right, next play. Next play call we’re going to be able to make that play happen.’”

Locklin, on if he notices when Kotelnicki has momentum, added: “Even when we’re down, we know he’s going to draw up something to get us back going.”

Fans will have to tune in to see what wrinkles are in store when Kansas (3-0, 1-0 in Big 12) faces Duke (3-0) this upcoming Saturday at home. The two sides met a season ago, but are clearly in two different spots as programs this time around. Namely among those differences, outside of the strides the Jayhawks have made offensively, is the fact the Blue Devils have a new head coach in Mike Elko — who took over at Duke after a stint as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator.

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Kotelnicki appeared confident his side won’t come into the game overconfident because of what it’s been able to accomplish. He pointed to it remaining focused on the process. No matter what happens, win or lose, he noted they’ll stick to the process because they believe it works.

“We haven’t gained a single yard against Duke yet. We haven’t scored a touchdown. We haven’t got a first down, right?” Kotelnicki said. “So, let’s worry about those … and focus on getting one of those before we do anything else, building on what happened in the past.”

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Andy Kotelnicki doesn’t want KU football’s offense to be stale