Despite what it might’ve looked like on Saturday, based on traditional alignment from the past, non-conference play is officially a thing of the past for the Kansas football team in 2023.
Saturday, the Jayhawks welcomed Big 12 newcomer BYU to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the first time in program history. And the game went down as the first official Big 12 game in BYU history.
Despite trailing at the half, the Jayhawks knocked off the Cougars 38-27, making former Big 12 teams 3-0 on the day against Big 12 newcomers, with KU beating BYU, Oklahoma topping Cincinnati and K-State knocking off UCF.
In this week’s “Moments that Popped,” we take a quick look back at some of the more memorable moments — good and bad — from the Jayhawks’ most recent outing.
• The crowd – Yeah, it was a sellout — the first of the season and fourth in the past two years — but there was just something different about this crowd of 47,233 than those that we’ve seen during the past couple of years. In 2022, it felt a lot like Kansas fans showed up to check out the fun and see what this whole filling the football stadium thing was actually like. In this one, it felt like a true football crowd — loud from the jump, educated on the game and ready to make an impact. Nothing illustrated the crowd’s street cred better than the fact that they showed up and showed out despite the fact that the threat of severe weather was a factor throughout the morning and well into the game. Given the historic moment for the Cougars, it’s worth noting that BYU fans accounted for a decent chunk of the all-blue crowd in this one.
• Cobee “Mr. Big Hit” Bryant – The game’s first score came on a fumble recovery following a monster hit by KU cornerback Cobee Bryant, who leveled BYU’s Parker Kingston on a wide run to the left and then recovered the fumble and cruised into the end zone untouched. The hit and the scoop-and-score were both text book plays by the KU cover man. But it was the read that was the most impressive part of the play. It appeared that Bryant read the run before the handoff even occurred. And while it looked at first like he was just trying to set the edge to force Kingston to turn it back inside, once the KU DB reached him untouched, he had room to lower the boom and did just that to give KU a 7-0 lead less than 5 minutes into the game. After the ensuing kickoff, Kingston was seen headed back to the locker room without his helmet and he missed the rest of the game. The important thing there, given recent developments with Bryant, was the fact that the hit was completely legal and clean. More on that a little later…
• The Lassiter Bowl – Regardless of which side you were rooting for, you had to love the fact that brothers Kwinton Lassiter and Darius Lassiter — sons of late KU legend Kwamie Lassiter — got to compete against each other during Saturday’s game. The two met on the field during the pregame and posed for a photo with their mom, Ericka, and brother, Kwincy, before the game. Both were wearing custom-made Lassiter shirts, with the Jayhawk logo and No. 8 on the left side for Kwinton and the BYU logo and No. 5 on the right for Darius. Both brothers showed up and made big plays for their teams early in the game. Darius ended up with 84 yards and a touchdown on 8 catches and 11 targets. Kwinton finished with 2 tackles and was a key part of a secondary that Leipold said played its best all-around game since they’ve been at KU.
• Devin Neal the receiver – Don’t look now but KU running back Devin Neal has sure become much more than just a damn good runner. Don’t get me wrong. He is very much that. I haven’t seen him look this smooth and under control since he was running wild over the Sunflower League back at Lawrence High. He’s one cut and go, he moves at full speed and he gets north and south with such ease, grace and quickness. Those same traits make him an effective pass catcher, as well, and that’s one of those pure luxuries this team has. With so many players who can operate as legit weapons down the field, Jalon Daniels finding Neal out of the backfield with space almost seems unfair. He finished with three receptions for just 14 yards in this one, but he’s the team’s fourth-leading receiver through its first four games of the season.
• Pass rush questions – The Kansas DBs played a pretty damn good game, but you might not deduce that from looking at the final stat line of BYU QB Kedon Slovis. In 51 pass attempts, Slovis finished with 30 completions, 357 yards and two touchdowns while being sacked just three times. KU’s lack of a pass rush was really only a concern in the first half, when Slovis completed all kinds of intermediate passes and led BYU to a 17-14 halftime lead. But the Jayhawks’ made plays when they needed to elsewhere on the field and picked up a big win. They’ll need more from the pass rush against future Big 12 opponents, but my guess is there are still ways and things they haven’t shown that they can get that done.
• Final 15 seconds of the first half – Look, I like that the KU offense is confident enough to trot out there with 15 seconds to play in the first half and expect to get points. That line of thinking is illustrative of the significant shift that has taken place within this program. But I’m not sure it’s always necessary and you have to wonder if it’s always worth it. Earlier this season, in a Week 2 win over Illinois, the Jayhawks did just that and were able to score points before the half, which kept the momentum on the home sideline and went a long way toward KU winning the game. In that one, the plan, with around 40 seconds to play, was to play the first snap, see what it got and put the pedal down if it picked up big yards. It did and they did. On Saturday, Kansas got next to nothing on its first snap with 15 seconds to play in the half and then went for it anyway by letting QB Jalon Daniels run around and eventually run upfield, where he can get hit. It’s nit-picking a bit here and it didn’t matter, but with a QB who’s been nursing an injury, I’m not sure you want to put him in harm’s way any more often than is necessary.
• Penalties, penalties, penalties – Based on what we now know about the Big 12 Conference race, it’s clear that KU has a shot to talk about big things — top 5 finish, top 3 finish, Big 12 title, etc. But if they’re going to achieve any of those things this season, they’re definitely going to have to play a little cleaner. Penalties are part of the game and they’re going to happen. And some of them are just bad calls (that Kenny Logan pass interference late in the game comes to mind). But Leipold’s programs have always prided themselves on playing with the type of discipline that makes sure penalties don’t get you beat. And while KU is 4-0, cleaning up some of those penalties certainly would not hurt. The Jayhawks were hit with 7 yellow flags for 70 yards on Saturday, compared to just 3 for 30 for BYU.
• Big talk by the Jayhawks’ badass D – Spend even just a little time talking to KU players in the postgame press conference and you won’t have to listen too hard to hear what this defense thinks of its play through four games. These guys truly believe that they’re one of the best — if not the best — defenses in the country and that type of confidence can go a long way. All last season, the talk surrounding this program was that it had the offense to be a factor but needed drastic improvement on the defensive side of the ball to get into that conversation. With wins over Illinois from the Big Ten and now BYU in the Big 12, this group has shown already that it has made a significant improvement on defense. Turnovers (3 vs. BYU), points allowed (23 per game to date), rushing yards (22 carries for 9 yards vs. BYU) and the like are all part of it. And they currently add up to the Jayhawks ranking 20th nationally in total defense. How long they can keep that ranking — or if they can improve upon it — may determine how big their goals can be as the season progresses.
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