Fort Worth, Texas — Despite a promising start Saturday at TCU, the Kansas football team couldn’t quite replicate its road magic from a week ago.
The Horned Frogs’ Griffin Kell kicked a 25-yard field goal with six seconds to play, and the Jayhawks fell, 31-28, at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
TCU, which racked up 326 rushing yards and 492 yards of offense in the narrow win, effectively ran out the clock in the game’s final four-plus minutes. After KU (379 total yards) rallied to tie the game, the Frogs ran right at the Jayhawks in crunch time, with 10 of their final 12 plays coming on the ground to set up the game-winning kick.
“They mixed some inside, outside run stuff and were getting the right fits on some of the runs,” KU head coach Lance Leipold lamented afterward.
The KU defense had a third-and-8 to get off the field early in the drive, but TCU QB Max Duggan (10-for-16, 166 yards) made a rare pass and hit Derius Davis (six receptions, 103 yards) for the first down.
Said KU safety Kenny Logan Jr., who led the defense with 15 total tackles, a new career high: “They just hit a first down and after that just kind of chewed the clock by running the ball.”
Once the Frogs crossed midfield, Leipold said he was hoping for a long field goal, and he was hanging on to timeouts with the plan to freeze the kicker before a longer, more difficult try than the easy one Kell drilled from straight away.
KU’s offense got hot late, with quarterback Jalon Daniels (22-for-30, 225 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception) and his teammate finding a rhythm, but the unit had to watch the game’s final minutes from the visitors’ sideline.
“It's a feeling that you can't really explain,” super-senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II (eight catches, 101 yards) said of the offense not having the opportunity for one last drive. “You’re just ready to get back on the field so you get the opportunity to make a play. So they did what they were supposed to do. They drove and they ended the game.”
Of course, KU’s second-half rally wouldn’t be complete without a clutch play by walk-on tight end Jared Casey — the breakout star in the UT game after he scored the game-winning two-point conversion.
The Jayhawks (2-9 overall, 1-7 Big 12) were able to tie the game at 28 when sophomore Daniels spotted Casey open for a 10-yard touchdown with 4:46 left on the fourth quarter clock. Casey (four catches, 34 yards) pointed to his family sitting in the bleachers nearby for a low-key celebration in the midst of KU’s comeback.
Though the KU defense had issues at times versus the Frogs (5-6, 3-5), especially in the second half, the unit gave the team a chance with a stop in the fourth quarter. After scoring three straight TDs in the half, TCU’s fourth series was short-lived, and Nate Betts and Gavin Potter got toDuggan for a critical sack on third-and-long, forcing TCU to punt with a 28-21 lead.
Receiver Luke Grimm was the first to breathe some life into KU’s second-half surge. Grimm (four receptions, 39 yards) soared to haul in a 28-yard Daniels pass — and got hammered in the process, but still hung on — for a TD with 9:23 left. It was KU’s first score since the early minutes of the second quarter.
It also answered what appeared to be a devastating, 99-yard TD drive by the Horned Frogs, who went ahead 28-14 with 11:43 to go.
Leipold on a number of occasions during his postgame press conference remarked how proud he was of the way his team played.
“It's a dejected locker room, and one that is not just ready to play out the season,” Leipold said.
Box score: TCU 31, KU 28 ( .PDF )
The coach considered the way the team battled back, not just in the first half, but also in the second, as an important development for the future of the program.
“And it really says a lot about how receptive this group has been to being coached,” Leipold said, “and taking each and every day and each and every game in and of its own, and not get discouraged in those regards.”
The Frogs finally regained a lead, 21-14, late in the fourth quarter, when Duggan (14 rushes, 74 yards) won a fourth-and-1 encounter with Logan at the goal line.
TCU wasted no time taking control in the third quarter. Kendre Miller (12 carries, 112 yards) took off for a 56-yard rushing touchdown on just the third snap of the third quarter, allowing TCU to tie the game up at 14.
With starting running back Devin Neal (14 runs, 59 yards, one TD) sidelined — the true freshman got injured late in the second quarter — the Jayhawks’ offense took a while to warm up in the second half.
The Jayhawks took a lead into the locker room on the road at halftime for the second week in a row, with their defense once again making some crucial plays early on to support a positive start from the offense.
TCU aimed to recover from a 14-7 deficit and tie up the game before intermission by going for it on fourth-and-1 at KU’s 9-yard line late in the second quarter. However, the Emari Demercado rush was stopped short for no gain by KU defensive lineman Caleb Sampson (six tackles).
That timely stop helped KU recover from Daniels’ first interception of the year, a third-and-2 pass over the middle that Dee Winters jumped all over with 1:57 left in the half.
The Horned Frogs had multiple opportunities to even the score before halftime, and the first one got denied in the end zone, where KU freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant delivered a one-handed interception. It was the second week in a row that Bryant, who made a pick-six at Texas, came through with a takeaway in the air.
The Jayhawks had a chance to extend their seven-point margin with five and a half minutes left in the second quarter, but Jacob Borcila’s 45-yard field goal try misfired. The errant kick ended a lengthy drive for KU’s offense, which kept TCU off the field for 5:23 of game clock.
KU opened up the second quarter in style, with a Daniels play-fake that helped the QB find tight end Trevor Kardell running wide open for a 44-yard chunk play.
Kardell’s catch and run got KU in the red zone, and that allowed Neal to go to work. The freshman back first turned a quick reception into a 13-yard gain as he tried to maneuver his way down the right sideline. And then Neal got to complete the drive with a 2-yard run across the goal line. With that the Jayhawks took a 14-7 lead less than three minutes into the second quarter.
A Kyron Johnson sack for a 10-yard loss late in the first quarter almost went for naught, as TCU converted a third-and-23 on the next play with a Duggan pass to Davis. But Jereme Robinson followed that up with third-down sack three plays later to make sure the KU defense got off the field.
After an uneventful couple of possessions to open the afternoon, the Jayhawks’ offense got going on their third series. Neal converted a fourth-and-1 run from the TCU 44-yard line to help make a scoring drive possible.
Daniels’ fake handoff did the trick for a 14-yard QB keeper that the sophomore took into the end zone, and KU tied the game at 7 with 5:43 left in the first.
After KU followed up a shocking road win at Texas with another strong showing, Daniels said the Jayhawks have more work to do.
“Just got to keep building, you know, keep on striving as a program,” Daniels said. “Just keep going into the next week, prepare for the next game.”
The first of TCU’s numerous chunk plays gave the Frogs the first score of the game. Davis sprinted to a 43-yard touchdown at the 10:33 mark in the first, completing a possession in which TCU needed just five rushes to cover 83 yards and cross the goal line.
TCU finished with 6.7 yards per rush and 7.6 yards per play. Three different runners — Miller, Duggan and Davis — had at least one run that went for 40 or more yards.
Said Logan: “We’ve just got to execute. That’s it.”
KU closes its 2021 season at home next week, versus West Virginia (5-6, 3-5). The Mountaineers will be gunning for bowl eligibility in the regular season finale.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
10:33 — Derius Davis 43 run. Griffin Kell kick. Five-play drive for 83 yards, in 2:23. (TCU 7, KU 0.)
5:43 — Jalon Daniels 14 run. Jacob Borcila kick. Nine-play drive for 75 yards, in 4:50. (TCU 7, KU 7.)
12:29 — Devin Neal 2 run. Borcila kick. Eight-play drive for 82 yards, in4:13. (KU 14, TCU 7.)
13:32 — Kendre Miller 56 run. Kell kick. Three-play drive for 65 yards, in 1:25. (KU 14, TCU 14.)
6:55 — Max Duggan 1 run. Kell kick. Ten-play drive for 74 yards, in 4:40. (TCU 21, KU 14.)
11:43 — Emari Demercado 1 run. Kell kick. Twelve-play drive for 99 yards, in 6:44. (TCU 28, KU 14.)
9:23 — Luke Grimm 28 pass form Daniels. Borcila kick. Five-play drive for 74 yards, in 2:14. (TCU 28, KU 21.)
4:46 — Jared Casey 10 pass from Daniels. Borcila kick. Eight-play drive for 65 yards, in 3:13. (TCU 28, KU 28.)
0:06 — Kell 25 field goal. Fourteen-play drive for 67 yards, in 4:40. (TCU 31, KU 28.)