PHOENIX — The Kansas football team overcame an onslaught of penalties and a second-half charge by UNLV to win this year’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl, 49-36, on Tuesday night at Chase Field.
Kansas trailed 7-0 after allowing UNLV to score on the game’s opening possession but quickly tied it up and then never trailed again, leading 28-10 at halftime.
The Jayhawks were simply too much through the air, as Jason Bean set a new KU bowl game record with 6 touchdown passes. Three of them went to Luke Grimm and three more to Lawrence Arnold.
Some were shots down the field. Others were short passes that went the distance. All of them led to big plays, huge swings of momentum and, ultimately, a Kansas bowl victory.
Here’s a look back and some of the other more memorable moments from Tuesday’s win over the Rebels.
• Set up the stage and celebrate: The scene on the field after the victory was every bit as reminiscent as that Orange Bowl victory all those years ago. The Orange Bowl this was not, but you can’t underestimate the joy of winning your final game — for some of these guys, of their lives — and the feeling that follows that. There were hugs, cigars, photo opps with family members and friends, dance moves, tears, screams of euphoria and smiles. Lots and lots of smiles. Three years ago, KU coach Lance Leipold came to Kansas hoping to bring days like these. And in a shorter time than anyone could have imagined, it was here on Tuesday night. Let the party continue well into the night.
• One if by land, two if by sea, seven if by air: The Runnin’ Rebels made it clear early on that they did not want to see the Kansas offense find success running the ball in this one and they, instead, dared KU to beat them through the air. No problem. Luke Grimm scored KU’s first two touchdowns of the night and set up a third with a 51-yard grab. And Lawrence Arnold scored the third to put Kansas up 21-7 midway through the 2nd quarter. Kansas had receivers running free and open all night long and Bean did a great job of finding them quickly and extending the plays to create room to throw when the UNLV pass rush got close. By night’s end, the Kansas passing game had gone nuts, accounting for six of KU’s seven touchdowns, with Grimm and Arnold becoming the first two Jayhawks to each score three receiving touchdowns in the same game in program history.
• Take Me Out to the Bowl Game: Being that Tuesday’s game was played at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the folks at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (who also run the Fiesta Bowl) felt it appropriate to play a version of baseball’s 7th Inning Stretch song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” that was more befitting of a football game. Therefore, they presented it as “Take Me Out to the Bowl Game,” and played it over the PA on an organ just like you’d hear on a hot summer day at an MLB game.
• Chirp, chirp, chirp: From the opening kickoff all the way through the first several series, players from both teams were jawing a lot in this one. It was a great setting for it, too. Kansas, of the mighty Big 12, believes it’s as good as just about anybody in the country and can play with anyone. The Jayhawks wanted nothing more than to stamp their strong season with a 9th victory and their first bowl win in 15 years to show that the program is, in fact, back. On the other side of things, UNLV, from the non-Power-5-Mountain-West wanted to show that its own 9-win season was no fluke and that the Rebels can hang with anybody from any conference. Add to that the fact that these guys have been practicing against each other for a month and were ready to hit someone else and it’s no wonder that Chase Field became the setting for a good, old-fashioned, trash talking fest. It didn't stop until the final snap. Even on that one, the UNLV defense's pursuit of Bean as he tried to drain the clock and take one final knee led to a dust-up on the field between both benches. It was largely contained, though, and it gave way to the Jayhawks starting their celebration and the Rebels headed back to their locker room with their heads hung low.
• Bean’s 2nd & 3rd quarter INTs: On both occasions, with Kansas driving to blow the game open, Bean got a little greedy/careless with his throw and tossed it right to the UNLV defender blanketing the intended receiver. Bean was rolling to his right when he tried to fit both throws into spaces that weren’t there. He also threw a third pick later in the third quarter, this one on a rollout to his right that was jumped along the sideline. While all three gave the Rebels an extra possession that they would not otherwise have had, they also did a number on the game’s momentum. Bean regained his footing, though, and closed the game in style, kneeling on the final play and celebrating with his teammates, just like he said he hoped to do last week. After the game, Bean said he was proud of the way he showed, one final time, that he could put those bad moments behind him and keep pushing forward. Had he not been able to, this one could've been like the Oklahoma State loss in Stillwater. Instead, it ended with a bowl win and Bean holding up an MVP trophy.
• Opening kickoff sails out of bounds: It’s never a good thing to see, but it felt even worse after Kansas waited for a full month to get on the field again and was penalized 15 yards on the very first play of the game after Tabor Allen’s kickoff trickled out of bounds. That set up UNLV at its own 35-yard line and the Rebels marched to an opening-drive touchdown from there to take a 7-0 lead. The early score wasn’t all on the errant kickoff, but it certainly didn’t set the right tone.
• Why so many flags?: Forget who they were called against or even what they were. Not that anyone really knew because the officials just weren’t saying. But there were far too many flags in the first half of this game, many of them unexplainable and head-scratching at best. Kansas certainly did commit its share of penalties. And there’s little doubt that Leipold was not too happy about that. But those odd personal foul calls where the officials did not even announce the number of the player it was on seemed a lot like an officiating crew not quite knowing what it was doing out there. The crew, by the way, was from the ACC, for what that’s worth. And the calls did not stop coming after halftime. In fact, KU opened the third quarter with four flags for 35 yards, at least two of which sent the Jayhawks and Leipold into pure shock at how the calls could’ve been made. KU finished the night with 18 penalties for 210 yards.
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