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Don't overlook KU defense's role in upset win over No. 6 Oklahoma

5 min read

Every week we take a look back at the performances by KU athletes that were above and beyond.

From football to volleyball, cross-country, and all across the athletic department, we'll break down the best of the best in the world of Kansas athletics.

Performance #1: KU Football Defense

Background: Kansas football tops No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 

What Happened: The Kansas football team defeated the Sooners for the first time since 1997. Kansas’ defense held its own on Saturday, limiting a powerful Oklahoma offense below its season average in points and total yards per game

In the Jayhawks’ 38-33 victory, their defense came up clutch multiple times throughout the game. On the final play of the game, with a five-point lead and Oklahoma threatening to score at Kansas’ 23-yard line, the defense deflected a pass out of bounds to secure the win. 

Junior cornerback Mello Dotson opened the game by getting Kansas on the scoreboard early, snatching Dillon Gabriel’s 2-yard throw for a 37-yard pick-6 to give the Jayhawks an early 7-0 lead.

On the next Oklahoma possession, the Sooners delivered an 11-play drive to threaten a touchdown, but KU’s defense held. On a 4th-and-3 attempt by the Sooners, redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Austin Booker sacked Gabriel to give the Jayhawks the ball back. 

The stop led to a 10-play, 79-yard KU touchdown drive to put Kansas in the driver’s seat, up 14-0. 

With just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Oklahoma fumbled the ball at its own 38-yard line and junior linebacker JB Brown, who made the hit, recovered the fumble. That recovery led Kansas to a one-play touchdown drive that gave the Jayhawks a 26-21 lead. 

Why it’s so Great: Kansas defeated the Sooners for the first time in 26 years and the win gave the Jayhawks their first back-to-back seasons of bowl eligibility since 2009. The victory moved Kansas back into the AP Top-25 poll at No. 22 — and into the No. 21 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings — heading into this weekend's road matchup with the Iowa State Cyclones.

Kansas now survived arguably its toughest stretch of the schedule, finishing 2-2 against Texas, UCF, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma with just four games left in the regular season.

The Jayhawks are now 6-2 on the season and 3-2 in Big 12 Conference play, with their two losses both coming on the road against No. 3 Texas and Oklahoma State. Kansas finishes off its season schedule with games against the Cyclones (away), Kansas State (home), Texas Tech (home) and Cincinnati (away). 

Kansas safety Marvin Grant (4) lowers the boom against an Oklahoma ball carrier during the Jayhawks' win over the Sooners last weekend. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #2: Reagan Cooper and Ayah Elnady 

Background: Graduate outside hitter Reagan Cooper and junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady both shine in wins over West Virginia on Oct. 26 and 27.

What Happened: After taking down the Oklahoma Sooners in a sweep and the TCU Horned Frogs in four sets, Kansas faced the West Virginia Mountaineers for a two-match bout in Lawrence last weekend. Cooper and Elnady put up two impressive showings against the Mountaineers, leading the Jayhawks to two straight sweeps. 

The two combined for 23 of Kansas’ 46 kills in Game 1 against West Virginia, with just four attack errors in the match. They also helped out on the defensive end with a solo block from Cooper and two combined block assists. 

Game 2 proved no different, as Cooper and Elnady combined for 25 of the team’s 45 kills through three sets. Elnady added on a combined 14 digs through two matches against WVU, helping out everywhere on the floor. 

Why it’s so Great: Kansas volleyball is rolling right now with a 16-4 record with just eight matches remaining in its season. Coupled with a 7-3 record in the Big 12 Conference, the Jayhawks sit at No. 14 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big 12 standings

Cooper and Elnady lead the Jayhawks in kills by a wide margin, with Cooper’s 218 kills through 62 sets good enough for first on the team. Elnady’s 195 kills through 61 sets is good for 3.20 kills per set, while Cooper averages 3.52 kills each set. 

Next up for Kansas is a two-match battle with the Kansas State Wildcats in the Sunflower Showdown this weekend. 

Kansas graduate Reagan Cooper (left) laughs with her teammates after a point in the Jayhawks' sweep of West Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. [Chance Parker photo]

Performance #3: Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickinson

Background: Kansas men’s basketball falls in exhibition scrimmage at Illinois on Oct. 29.

What Happened: The Illinois Fighting Illini hosted the Kansas Jayhawks for an exhibition fundraiser for the Maui Strong Fund on Sunday, where the Jayhawks dropped a tight game, 82-75. 

Despite the loss, redshirt-senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. balled out against the Fighting Illini. McCullar led the team in scoring with 25 points on 9-14 shooting, converting 2-3 from behind the arc on the night. 

The San Antonio native showed that he can be a 3-point threat for the Jayhawks. McCullar shot 29.6% from downtown last season, draining just 29 threes in 34 games. 

McCullar added eight rebounds to his stat line, just one behind senior center Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson finished the night with 22 points and nine rebounds, swatting away two shots in the process. Dickinson drained 9 of 20 shots from the floor and 1-3 from deep, showing off his range on the floor. 

Why it’s so Great: McCullar’s performance showed just how much of an impact he can make for the Jayhawks in a new role. After testing the pre-NBA Draft process in the offseason, McCullar decided to come back for one final season with Kansas, which lost its top two scorers in Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick. 

McCullar finished last season third in points per game, while also being a defensive presence for the Jayhawks. He finished second on the team in both steals and blocks, totaling 93 combined steals and blocks in 34 games. 

Dickinson is already showing why he was named both the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and Preseason Player of the Year. Dickinson has scored 13 or more points in all four preseason exhibitions with the Jayhawks, scoring 20+ in two of four contests. 

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