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Inconsistencies plague Jayhawks in 2nd half again during 52-33 loss at Duke

Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg (12) runs for a touchdown while Kansas defensive lineman Caleb Sampson (98) and linebacker Gavin Potter (19) give chase during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Durham, N.C. — The underdog Kansas football team entered the third quarter Saturday at Duke with not just some promise, but even a lead. However, the Jayhawks’ familiar second-half woes and inconsistencies took the spotlight again — just as they did the previous two weeks — this time inside Wallace Wade Stadium during a 52-33 road loss.

The KU offense (530 yards in the loss) couldn’t keep up with the Blue Devils (3-1) in the second half. It took a 61-yard strike from quarterback Jason Bean to receiver Kwamie Lassiter II for the Jayhawks to finally crack the scoreboard after halftime, but that didn’t come until there was 8:42 left on the fourth-quarter clock.

Head coach Lance Leipold said KU’s irregular offense contributed to the second half lull.

“Like I told our team, unfortunately, I think a lot of things that I’ll answer will continue to sound like a broken record right now,” the coach said, “as we grow as a football team. But I know they’re working at it and we’re working to get better.”

Related document

Box score: Duke 52, KU 33 ( .PDF )

Although the Jayhawks began the third quarter with a bang, as true freshman running back Devin Neal (17 carries, 107 yards, one TD) took off for a 62-yard run on the second half’s initial snap, the KU offense couldn’t build upon that promising start.

The Blue Devils stymied KU’s chance for a quick TD to open the third, and the Jayhawks could only extend their halftime lead by three, to 27-21, with a 29-yard Jacob Borcila field goal.

“We get a big run and we have to settle for a field goal,” Leipold lamented, while discussing the team’s inconsistencies. “We get a pick that maybe could’ve gone for six early in the game,” Leipold added of an early takeaway by cornerback Ra’Mello Dotson, “and we don’t get anything.”

The Blue Devils put up 607 yards of offense against KU’s defense, much to the chagrin of Leipold.

“They ran a lot of plays, explosive plays. We didn’t tackle as well as we need to. I think that continues to be a spot where we need to continue to work on our physicality and our execution of that,” Leipold added, noting KU’s defense too often cut Blue Devils loose.

Not only did the KU defense have issues keeping Duke senior star running back Mataeo Durant (124 rushing yards, 62 receiving yards, one rushing touchdown) in check. The Jayhawks (1-3) also seldom had answers for Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, who passed for 328 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 88 more, to go with his whopping four rushing TDs.

“There’s a lot of holistic things there that have got to continue to be worked on as we’ve seen, and we continue to work on them,” Leipold said.

Duke dominated the third quarter to take control after a competitive fist half from the Jayhawks.

Momentum already had swung in the Blue Devils’ favor when Bean’s first interception in a KU uniform proved costly. Linebacker Shaka Heyward easily picked off an ill-advised pass by Bean (19-for-32, 323 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) and looked to turn it into a touchdown before being brought down 8 yards away from the goal line. Two plays later, Holmberg ran in for a 3-yard TD, setting up a 42-27 advantage for Duke.

Bean said Duke’s defense switched up its scheme, leading to his mistake.

“I got kind of lazy on my drop and just threw a little bit of a bad ball, threw it right to him,” Bean said.

On the Blue Devils’ first possession of the second half, KU linebacker Gavin Potter missed a clean chance at a sack, and Holmberg made the linebacker pay. The QB sidestepped the pressure and turned what looked like a loss of yardage into a throw to Durant, who took off, gaining 53 yards before Kenny Logan Jr. and Dotson could force him down 8 yards shy of the end zone.

Jayhawks linebacker Rich Miller (14 total tackles) said the Devils ran their offense the way they wanted to, and the KU defense “clearly” didn’t do enough.

“They started scheming on us a little bit, but we also had some missed tackles and just things we could clean up easily,” Miller said. “They just capitalized off our misses.”

Three snaps after the blown sack, Duke regained the lead with a 4-yard Jordan Waters TD run and a Charlie Ham kick, making it 28-27, and giving the Devils the lead for good.

“That’s the part where I don’t think we’re quite there yet, where we can answer back and forth. That’s not going to be us right now,” Leipold said of how Duke created separation in a hurry after KU settled for a field goal to open the decisive half. “I think that’s a telltale of that third quarter. And yet we came in with great confidence.”

Added Bean: “We had some good plays coming out of (halftime) and I think after that first drive we got kind of in a lull, and things slowed down. I think we’ve got to keep the positive energy and just keep pushing forward.”

The Jayhawks put an end to the first half by taking a knee and heading to the locker room having already achieved a season-high 24 points to go with their three-point lead. They closed out the second quarter in style, with a defensive stop following a 5-minute TD drive from the KU offense.

Although the Blue Devils (330 total yards, 7.5 yards per play in the first half) scored three touchdowns in the opening half, the KU defense stopped them from taking back the lead before intermission, forcing Duke to punt for the second time in three possessions.

KU head coach Lance Leipold didn’t mind gambling on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line with a little more than a minute left in the first half. Coming out of a timeout, the KU offense approached the line of scrimmage with speed and purpose, and after a quick snap, Bean handed the ball to Neal for a short TD run.

That score might not have even happened without Tervor Wilson’s 42-yard reception four plays earlier. The redshirt sophomore receiver showed off his ball skills while fending off a defender and outmuscling his competition, wrestling the ball out of the air to complete a Bean bomb.

Even with his four first-half receptions for 103 yards, Wilson was just one of the skill players making a significant impact early on. Redshirt sophomore Torry Locklin emerged as the breakout star for the KU offense, with both of first two touches in the road game culminating with the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Locklin scooting into the end zone.

Locklin helped KU take a 17-14 lead a few minutes into the second quarter. Bean sold that the play may be a QB keeper, but he handed it off to Locklin, who found a freeway to the end zone on the right side and raced unbothered for a 36-yard touchdown.

KU took its first lead of the game on the first play of the second quarter. That’s when Bean hit Locklin on a quick swing pass in the backfield on third-and-12. Locklin’s first career reception went 20 yards for a TD, and KU went ahead 10-7 following Borcila’s extra point.

A second critical mistake for the Duke offense in the first quarter set visiting KU up in great position for that first Locklin TD. It was the Devils’ second such giveaway in the first half.

KU senior defensive end Hayden Hatcher recovered a Durant fumble on a botched handoff exchange, and the Jayhawks took over in the red zone, setting the stage for Locklin’s score to open the second.

The first points of the day for KU came on the offense’s third possession. But the Jayhawks went backward on the series after Bean and Wilson connected for a 45-yard passing play. Trying to escape pressure and make something positive happen as he improvised, Bean got sacked for a loss of 17 yards.

Though the offense wouldn’t pick up a first down, the massive loss didn’t knock KU out of field goal range. Even though Borcila missed an earlier shorter field goal try badly to the right, KU’s coaches sent him out for a 50-yarder and Borcila sent it through to cut Duke’s lead to 7-3 late in the first quarter.

Durant, Duke’s star running back, was the first man in the end zone on the afternoon, as he sped away from the KU defense for a 57-yard run midway through the first quarter.

The Blue Devils had to wait until their second drive for a score, because KU redshirt freshman cornerback Dotson put an end to the first one with an interception — the Jayhawks’ first of the season — that he returned 65 yards before getting taken down by Duke QB Holmberg near the sideline.

A 15-yard clipping penalty on KU right tackle Bryce Cabeldue backed up the offense on its second snap of the day. That mistake stalled the drive after Dotson’s pick and KU ended up sending Borcila onto the field for a 37-yard field goal that sailed off to the right.

Though the disappointment of a third consecutive loss — each in a game that got away in the second half — hit the Jayhawks hard, Leipold said he told players after the game he saw them believe in one another and the excitement that created on Saturday.

“They care. They really do and they really battle,” Leipold said of what he learned from the nonconference defeat. “And they want to play and they do want to do well, and I think that’s the part that as you go through these — and everything they’ve been through, many of these older players — they’re willing to stick together.”

KU is on the road again next week, as the Jayhawks return to Big 12 play with a visit to Ames, Iowa, to take on Iowa State (2-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12). The Cyclones lost on Saturday at Baylor, 31-29.

SCORING BY QUARTERS

FIRST QUARTER

7:39 — Mataeo Durant 57 run. Charlie Ham kick. Six-play drive for 80 yards, in 2:00. (Duke 7, KU 0.)

1:05 — Jacob Borcila 50 field goal. Five-play drive for 36 yards, in 2:30. (Duke 7, KU 3.)

SECOND QUARTER

14:53 — Torry Locklin 20 pass from Jason Bean. Borcila kick. Three-play drive for 18 yards, in 1:07. (KU 10, Duke 7.)

11:15 — Gunnar Holmberg 4 run. Ham kick. Ten-play drive for 75 yards, in 3:38. (Duke 14, KU 10.)

9:20 — Locklin 36 run. Borcila kick. Five-play drive for 75 yards, in 1:55. (KU 17, Duke 14.)

6:24 — Jalon Calhoun 26 pass from Holmberg. Ham kick. Three-play drive for 64 yards, in 0:53. (Duke 21, KU 17.)

1:04 — Devin Neal 1 run. Borcila kick. Ten-play drive for 75 yards, in 5:20. (KU 24, Duke 21).

THIRD QUARTER

12:48 — Borcila 29 field goal. Five-play drive for 64 yards, in 2:08. (KU 27, Duke 21.)

10:29 — Jordan Waters 4 run. Ham kick. Seven-play drive for 75 yards, in 2:19. (Duke 28, KU 27.)

6:37 — Holmberg 1 run. Ham kick. Five-play drive for 67 yards, in 1:51. (Duke 35, KU 27.)

4:38 — Holmberg 3 run. Ham kick. Two-play drive for 8 yards, in 0:31. (Duke 42, KU 27.)

FOURTH QUARTER

11:13 — Ham 30 field goal. Thirteen-play drive for 44 yards, in 5:23. (Duke 45, KU 27.)

8:42 — Kwamie Lassiter II 61 pass from Bean. Bean pass failed. Five-play drive for 75 yards, in 2:31. (Duke 45, KU 33.)

5:23 — Homberg 13 run. Ham kick. Eight-play drive for 75 yards, in 3:19. (Duke 52, KU 33.)

Comments

Rodney Schulz

For playing with a bunch of young kids who mostly had not played together, and losing 2 of their top 4 running backs as well as a right guard they had heavily depended on, I think the offense did well to put 33 points on the board against the team that’s now 3-1. Kudos to the coaching staff and players for coming a long ways since their first practice together in August. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that the offense struggled to put 17 points up against South Dakota with almost 0 yards on the ground.

3 weeks ago

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John Smith

This score is an example of the problem KU has had for 12 years. You can’t have a shot a winning when your defense is giving up 45 and 50 points a game like KU has against Duke and Coastal Carolina. So much focus is on offense, but defense has been a bigger problem in KU’s slide. If you are giving up 20-30 points a game, you have a shot a being in the game, win or lose.

The great team KU had in 2007 is noted for its offense, but less commented on is the defense gave up 16 points a game.I do care who they get at quarterback or running back, if the don’t recruit a good defense they won’t win consistently. Giving up 52 points to Duke is a pathetic performance.

3 weeks ago

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Dale Rogers

I believe they are working on it, both through recruiting and teaching. It will take time, lots of it. I like the improvement I saw in the offense today. Now, I'm hoping to one of these days see a similar improvement in the defense.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Bryce Landon

It sure is! I'll bet you wish your defense was as good as Iowa's! We've only given up a total of 44 points on the season against our opponents so far - an average of 11 points per game - and the most we've given up in a game so far is 17. Too bad for you that DC Phil Parker would never leave Iowa for Kansas; he could teach the fat slobs who "play defense" for the Jayhawks a thing or two about stopping opposing offenses.

ON IOWA!

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Eliott Reeder

Hi Bryce! I continue to be amazed at how you consistently go out of your way to come on here after each KU football loss to rub it in and represent the absolute worst impulses humanity has to offer. You really are a terrible person, congrats!

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Glen Miller

Iowa opponents combined record: 6-10 and 0 ranked teams.

KU opponents combined record: 13-3 and 2 ranked teams.

You've played trash teams and an overrated Iowa State. You'll piss down your leg the 2nd half of the season like you always do. Rock Chalk!!!!!!

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Paul Rupp

Better. Improvement...saw a little bit more than "baby steps" this week on a years-long journey.

We need to be stronger and bigger longer term, but the flashes from the freshmen--also from JB and others did not go unnoticed.

RCJH

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Rodney Crain

Well, understandable loss on the road when you play like we did. Out classed in the second half. Gave them a scare for a while at least.

RCJH

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Doug Roberts

A bright spot for me is these Buffalo transfers are legit, and gives me hope for recruiting.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Bryan Schmiedeler

Hope I don't have to eat my words but I really like what I see from this KU football team. Can't believe I am saying this when we are 1-3, but things just feel different than under previous regimes.

Bean is a real QB and I am SO happy that we are not yanking him in and out. He won the job, stick with him. He can run and he can pass. One bad decision on the INT today but those happen.

Many a time in past years I think the players just gave up at a certain point in the game, and also at a certain point in the season. Players seem to be playing hard for the coach.

I would like to see this team make improvements this season. Find out who can play and who cannot, fix fundamental mistakes, build on your successes.

As long as Coach L can recruit (which I think he can), I think KU will be fine in a few years.

Bryan

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Dirk Medema

It seems a bit ironic that just the opposite of what Coach said he wanted to start the year is now happening. He wanted consistent production over flash.

The team will likely continue to improve though it likely will be tough to see. Duke is by far the second weakest team on our schedule, so it might be misleading to read much into any perceived improvement. I think all of the Big12 is better and even better rated (Sagrin) than CC. Coach Leipold’s biggest challenge might be keeping the players positive and working hard in the face of increasing blowouts.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Andy Godwin

Unfortunately this game is just the beginning of another long season of lopsided losses. I had hoped for an upset, but the apparent pick six that turned into zero points was a harbinger of things to come - the defensive back with a full head of steam was run down by the opposing QB. KU will continue to be outmanned in all of their remaining games and the defensive surrendering 50, 60, 70 points (did you see the Texas game) will likely be the norm. I will still attend all of the home games to support my school and the student athletes giving their best. However, I feel like a kid again when I would go to a KU game against Nebraska and Oklahoma hoping for a win but watching men against boys in blowouts. I give the players credit for their hard work and efforts, but KU lacks a roster full of players with the physical speed and size to compete. I appreciate Leipold’s approach (preaching the process is 365 days a season) but he inherited a team that does not have enough players (this is not to imply there aren’t some good players who are giving their all) who are physically capable of playing in the Big 12. He will be challenged to keep the players motivated (and healthy) as they continue their gauntlet of games against quality Big 12 teams (Baylor is for real and they were thought to be at the bottom of the conference). ISU, coming off their loss to Baylor, will be licking their chops to redeem a promising season starting with KU. I will continue to support the team, but we all must realize that coach Leipold just doesn’t have enough horses in the stable. My motto at the beginning of his tenure is KU needs to get “bigger, stronger, and faster” and that fact remains evident. A coach is only as good as his players, so recruiting and coaching up his players is the process and it will be a long process. I bleed Crimson and Blue in both the good (2008 seems so long ago) and bad seasons and this will be another bad season. However, the players and coaching staff still needs the fans to come out to Memorial Stadium and support their efforts. Rock Chalk forever!

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Robert Brock

Poor tackling is an epidemic in college football. The Jayhawks need to find the cure.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Austin Lopez

@ Bryce Landon, For you to be someone that claims to not care about Kansas football you sure do a whole lot of chatting on a KU thread shouldn’t you be chatting it up on a IOWA thread? You remind me of that guy who’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he claims not to care only to stalk the girl 24/7.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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