The Kansas football team had everything it could’ve wanted within reach, with a golden opportunity to take control of Saturday’s game at Texas. But one tentative moment burned them.
With the Jayhawks driving for a go-ahead score late in the third quarter, KU faced a fourth-and-one play at its own 38-yard line and decided to go for it.
The decision was wonderful. The execution was not.
You don’t win these types of games without being bold. And this decision, on a day when the Jayhawks were right there for most of the game, was very bold.
However, instead of forcing Texas to make a play in space or down the field, the Jayhawks allowed quarterback Jason Bean to make a read and it missed.
After initially giving the ball to Daniel Hishaw Jr., Bean tried to pull it out late after seeing the Texas D-Line converge on his running back before he could even fully secure the handoff. The ball came out. The drive was dead. The third-ranked Longhorns took complete control from there — on the scoreboard and emotionally — and rolled to a 40-14 victory over No. 24 Kansas.
Bean played Saturday's entire game in place of Jalon Daniels, who was ruled out just before kickoff because of his lingering back tightness that flared up earlier in the day.
Oh, what could have been.
That final score will never lead anyone to believe it, but the Jayhawks were very much in this game and had every chance in the world to win it.
More than just this one play prevented them from doing so, — 0-for-8 on third down and the inability to jump in front despite getting multiple drives with the chance to do so both come to mind — but this one play was the dagger.
And, really, the play before was just as big. Two cracks at a first down from a yard out yielding nothing but negative results is not the stuff dreams are made of.
Now, the Jayhawks dreams of playing for a Big 12 title seem a little more far-fetched than they might’ve had they picked up that first down.
To make matters worse, after giving up a quick TD to Texas to fall behind 26-14, KU’s very next offensive play from scrimmage was the kind of play that you think of when staring down the fourth-down play the Jayhawks had just a few minutes earlier.
An inside zone handoff to Daniel Hishaw led to a powerful 4-yard gain. Although the drive stalled from there, the lower-your-head-and-get-the-tough-yard moment was exactly the type of play the Jayhawks needed on the fourth-down decision a possession earlier.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. And there’ve been way more great calls and memorable highlights by this Kansas offense than bad ones. But human nature often leads people – especially sports fans – to dwell on these types of moments.
That’s fair here. But there’s no need to do it for long.
Kansas coach Lance Leipold made it crystal clear early in his time as the Jayhawks’ head coach that moral victories are not something he or the program is interested in celebrating.
So, let’s skip those and jump straight to the facts.
These are the facts:
• Despite a slow start and falling into a 10-0 hole to open the game, Kansas played the No. 3 team in the country tough for three quarters and was much closer to winning this game than the score indicates.
• Kansas played without its starting quarterback — the Big 12’s preseason offensive player of the year — and with a back-up QB who had no idea he would start, let alone play, until an hour or so before kickoff.
• The Jayhawks, with Jalon Daniels, entered the day leading the nation in third-down conversion percentage. The Jayhawks, without Jalon, were 0-for-8 on third down against Texas. You don’t have to be a former college football coach to understand how big that number is. Not only did the failed conversions kill several Kansas drives and potentially keep points off the board for the visitors, but they also gave the Longhorns’ offense more opportunities and the home team took full advantage, holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes and racking up 661 yards of total offense. Texas ran nearly twice as many plays at Kansas – 86-46 – and extended its drives nine times with conversions on third down.
KU probably needed to play as close to perfect/complete as it has at any point during the Leipold era to walk out of Austin with a win on Saturday. And the Jayhawks were not perfect.
The facts tell you that.
But the facts also tell you that there are a lot of reasons why Saturday’s game went the way it did, and there’s no reason for this Kansas football team or its fans to view this loss — the team’s first of the season — as a sign of impending doom.
Texas is damn good. The Longhorns showed that in this game and responded to being legitimately pushed by a Kansas team playing with its back-up QB by making the biggest plays at the biggest times.
The Jayhawks need Daniels back to play at their ceiling. And, at this point, it seems fair to say that this back thing is going to be a factor the rest of the season.
But as long as they can manage it and Daniels can be out there more often than not, there’s plenty about what we saw Saturday that should lead you to believe that there are still a lot of good Saturdays ahead for the Jayhawks this season — and also plenty of film that will show the Jayhawks what they can and need to do better.
Doing it against a team like UCF at home next weekend — UCF will enter that one at 3-2 and on the heels of losing at home to Baylor, 36-35, after being outscored 26-0 in the fourth quarter — is far more manageable than doing it on the road at the No. 3 team in the nation, which several analysts have said might actually be the country’s best team at this point.
That, too, is a fact.
Kickoff next Saturday is set for 3 p.m. from David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on FOX.
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