With a season-opening home loss to FCS opponent South Dakota very much in play late Friday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lance Leipold’s first game as head coach, the Jayhawks survived a scare with the help of their new starting quarterback.
Junior Jason Bean found redshirt freshman receiver Lawrence Arnold for a quick hitter on the right side and Arnold did the rest of the work, scoring a 16-yard touchdown — his second of the night — in crunch time that set up a 17-14 victory.
A 4th and 10 conversion from Bean to junior tight end Mason Fairchild with more than three minutes to go made the comeback a reality after it appeared the ever-rebuilding program might have to wait to get Leipold his first win with the Jayhawks.
The former Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo head coach said following his KU debut he wouldn’t use the words “in doubt” to describe the late game scenario his new team navigated successfully. But Leipold was proud to see the Jayhawks battle back.
“You felt momentum shifting of course and some big plays happening. But we were so close so many times that you’re kind of hoping that it’s going to click a little bit,” he said. “We talk about playing 60 minutes and competing and doing those things, so we took advantage of it.”
KU football v. South Dakota
View a photo gallery from the Jayhawks' 17-14 win over the Coyotes Friday night.
The Coyotes led by four with just more than 5:00 left before Bean (17-for-26 passing, 163 yards, two TDs and no interceptions) and company rallied, eventually regaining the lead with 1:10 left.
“I think we all handled it great,” Bean said of the decisive drive. “Being at the quarterback position, I think that’s the kind of the position that you want to be in. Not being down, but you want to be in that position where you can lead your team, lead a whole school, and lead them to a great dub.”
Arnold (five catches, 33 yards, two TDs) said his final score that put KU ahead for good was all about him “being a playmaker” and “doing what my team needed the most.”
“I just appreciate Jason Bean throwing me the ball and believing in me,” Arnold added.
An assertive play call on 4th and short with more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter didn’t go KU’s way, setting up the eventful final minutes. Bean kept the ball on a quick snap, but after the official’s spot and a measurement, the Jayhawks came up inches shy of 1st down yardage.
Leipold didn’t want to address the spot after the game, but called it “tough.” The coach said he decided not to challenge the spot because KU only had one timeout at the time.
Due to the turnover on downs, the Coyotes’ ensuing drive started at KU’s 46-yard line. After Carson Camp completed a 21-yard pass, USD took its first lead of the game, 14-10, with 5:16 to play, thanks to a 25-yard rushing touchdown by Pratt native Travis Theis (96 rushing yards).
A 15-yard facemask penalty on KU defensive tackle Kenean Caldwell — on 3rd and 7 — gave USD’s opening series of the fourth quarter a leg to stand on.
USD appeared for a moment to have tied the game at 10, too, with a 39-yard field goal by Mason Lorber. But Coyotes head coach Bob Nielson called a timeout just before the snap. Following the stoppage, USD sent its offense back on the field, and the KU defense stuffed a Travis Theis run to put an end to the threat.
KU-South Dakota box score ( .PDF )
The Jayhawks’ opportunity to immediately set a tone for the fourth quarter didn’t amount to anything. After the Coyotes punted on the first play of the quarter, KU exited with a three-and-out after Matthew Jacob sacked Bean on 3rd down.
The Coyotes brought some drama to the third quarter after falling behind by 10 points. USD, which failed to score on its first eight possessions, responded to KU’s double-digit advantage by marching down the field, traveling 75 yards on just nine plays. Shomari Lawrence’s 29-yard run put USD across the goal line for the first time with 3:31 left in the third.
With a slim 10-7 advantage, one of KU’s team leaders, junior Kenny Logan Jr., tried to swing the game all the way back in the Jayhawks’ favor on the ensuing kickoff. Logan nearly pulled it off, too, taking his return 83 yards, all the way to the USD 13-yard line.
The trip that started in the red zone for KU’s offense, however, resulted in no points. Leipold and the Jayhawks went for it on 4th and 3 at the 6-yard line, but an option play for Bean that he tried to turn into an improvised pass to tight end Trevor Kardell fell to the turf incomplete.
Leipold said he tired to be aggressive on manageable 4th downs (KU was 0-for-3 on the night).
After carrying the team the entirety of the first half, KU’s defense opened the third quarter on the field and delivered yet again. The Coyotes’ first possession of the second half lasted just three plays, as a tackle for loss by Caleb Taylor put USD in a hole on its opening snap.
Super-senior defensive end Kyron Johnson felt encouraged by the defense’s showing, particularly in the first half, when the Coyotes only had 100 yards.
“I just thought it was excellent. How we went into the game and how (the offense) finished the game, it was basically a mindset that we have to get this win or it’s back to the drawing board,” Johnson said.
The offense, which finally had some confidence after closing the second quarter with a touchdown, had as many 1st downs (four) through nine plays on its opening third quarter drive as it had the entire first half.
However, KU’s longest drive (50 yards) through its first eight possessions culminated in a field goal instead of a TD. Bean’s throw to Arnold in the right side of the end zone on 3rd and 11 went down as an incompletion when Arnold couldn’t get a foot down in bounds after leaping up to snag the ball.
Jacob Borcila connected on his first field goal attempt of the season from 30 yards out to extend KU’s lead to 10-0 with 6:57 left in the third.
KU’s defense did all of the heavy lifting throughout the first half. After the Coyotes picked up a pair of 1st downs on their first series of the second quarter, KU freshman safety O.J. Burroughs showed he could contribute, breaking up a Camp pass on 3rd and 14 and forcing a punt.
A stellar Reis Vernon punt that sailed out of bounds above USD’s 2-yard line allowed the defense to step into the spotlight again. And after the Coyotes hurt their cause with a false start, senior defensive end Malcolm Lee batted down a Camp pass in the end zone to complete a three-and-out.
Brady Schutt’s 34-yard punt that followed meant the struggling KU offense got to open a drive in plus territory, 37 yards away from the end zone.
A Bean 3rd down pass to Arnold, who sustained a hefty hit from behind but held onto the ball, proved crucial with the first half clock winding down. And on the next play, the agile Bean took off for an 18-yard run.
After a KU timeout with 0:34 left in the half, offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s 3rd and goal call from 8 yards out worked to perfection. Bean faced no pressure on his pass to Arnold in the back left side of the south end zone and the Jayhawks scored the game’s first points with 29 seconds left on the second quarter clock to take a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The KU offense finally picked up its first 1st down of the game in the opening minute of the second quarter, when Bean ran for eight yards on 2nd and 3 from KU’s 31.
The Jayhawks couldn’t muster much after that promising start to the series, though, and their fifth drive of the opener ended the same as the previous four — with a punt.
The offense finally came across some good fortune on its sixth possession. Bean,while on the move, got his throw tipped, but it landed directly in the hands of junior tight end Fairchild (four catches, 58 yards) for a 17-yard gain — the longest of the night at that point — and a 1st down. But even that couldn’t spark KU. A Trevor Wilson false start on the next play didn’t help, and Vernon was punting for the sixth time in the first 25 minutes of action after another fruitless series.
By far the biggest highlight of the opening minutes for KU came on the defensive side of the ball. With the Coyotes going for it on 4th and 4 at KU’s 38, senior defensive end Lee chased down quarterback Carson Camp before he could scramble out of pressure to extend the drive.
The defense often was responsible in the first quarter for giving KU’s fans (26,103) something to cheer about. Late in the quarter, with USD threatening on a drive, advancing as far as the KU 26-yard line, sophomore defensive tackle Caldwell came through with a big sack to set up 3rd and 13. On the ensuing snap, KU’s coverage prevented the Coyotes form getting open and Lee eventually hurried Camp, forcing the QB to throw it away.
USD senior kicker Lorber missed a 46-yard field goal that would have been the first score of the game.
Another D-end, Johnson, was the next Jayhawk to try and generate some momentum. Johnson shot into the backfield on 3rd and 7, and sacked Camp while forcing a fumble. But USD recovered the ball to escape a disaster.
The first offensive series of the Leipold era came and went quickly, with a three and out capped by Bean overthrowing Steven McBride on 3rd down, on his first throw in a KU uniform.
Back-to-back false starts on KU’s second possession doomed that series, and USD sophomore linebacker Brock Mogensen steamrolled Bean for a sack to end the drive with another three and out.
It was more of the same on the next two trips onto the field for KU’s offense, too. And the first quarter came to a close without the Jayhawks picking up a single 1st down.
KU had more penalty yards (20) than offense yards (18) entering the second quarter.
But by the end of the nearly three and a half hour game, the Jayhawks had a win, snapping the program’s 13-game losing streak that dated back to 2019.
Leipold, who wasn’t around for all of those defeats, was glad to see the Jayhawks experience some different postgame emotions.
“Especially with what they’ve been through,” he said. “For them to do it in that style I think is very fitting and I hope it’s something we’ll build upon.”
Johnson said Leipold told the players in the locker room he was “so glad” to be their coach.
The good vibes overtook most of the student section once the game went final, as hundreds rushed onto the field to celebrate the win.
Leipold said KU’s director of player personnel, Grant Murray, warned him just before the game ended that an impromptu party on the field may be coming their way.
“I thought our fans were great. I thought our student body was awesome,” Leipold said. “I haven’t been a part of that in a very long time. I really want to thank them and our fans for their support. And hopefully they’ll continue to come out and support us, because they did make a factor in things. It’s exciting to see our students and fans kind of get behind this football team.”
Bean appreciated the postgame scene, too, after the Jayhawks made sure their new head coach started his tenure at KU on a high note.
“The school hasn’t had a win in a couple of years,” Bean said. “It was just great seeing everybody smiling, seeing everybody happy, you know from the team, the fans, the coaches. Seeing little kids running around. It was just great.”
KU plays on Friday night in Week 2, as well, as the Jayhawks (1-0) will take on No. 22 Coastal Carolina (1-0) in Conway, S.C.