Regression was probably inevitable at some point, but I don’t think Kansas fans thought it would look quite like this.
In their second crack at becoming bowl eligible this season after a 5-0 start, the 19th-ranked Jayhawks came up short again, this time in the form of an uninspiring 52-42 loss on Saturday at unranked Oklahoma.
The final score did not fully indicate how lopsided Saturday’s matchup was, but the Jayhawks, despite the loss, showed that the idea of fighting to the end is firmly entrenched as a part of this team’s culture.
There’s still value in that. And it is a significant part of the progress that’s being made this season. But that doesn’t always win you games.
Box Score: Oklahoma 52, Kansas 42 ( .PDF )
Fighting a little harder a little earlier sure would have helped in this one.
Kansas surrendered 701 yards of total offense and much of it looked far too easy for the Sooners, who ran a whopping 100 plays — to 62 for KU — and got a huge lift from the return of starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
While there were issues and errors for Kansas (5-2 overall, 2-2 Big 12) all over the field, the starting quarterback matchup might have been the best indicator of why Saturday went the way it did.
Gabriel, who had missed most of the previous two games with a head injury, looked good from the start, leading the Sooners (4-3, 1-3) on easy touchdown drive after easy touchdown drive throughout the afternoon.
He was confident, crisp and in complete control. The fact that Kansas got next-to-no pressure on him and that so many of his wide receivers were running wide open down the field, certainly made life easier for him and the entire OU offense.
On the flip side, KU backup Jason Bean — starting for the injured Jalon Daniels — had some good moments, but he wasn’t as effective as he needed to be.
He threw two interceptions, never really made the Sooners pay with his legs — that might have been as much about the play calling and game plan as anything — and did not bring the same confidence and swagger to the field as KU’s regular starter.
There was a lot of talk all week about how this Kansas offense would be fine with Bean in there in Daniels’ place. And KU did put up 42 points. But it was still obvious how much they missed Daniels, who was in attendance, standing on the sideline in street clothes and with a headset on.
On the radio broadcast after Saturday’s loss, KU coach Lance Leipold characterized Bean’s day as “up and down” and noted that his quarterback has to be “cleaner.”
“He understands that,” Leipold added. “And we have to keep working on that and sharpen that up.”
Bean gained 41 yards on 10 carries, but at least half of those were on scrambles rather than designed runs. Color me surprised.
Earlier in the week, while saying that the KU offense would remain the same despite the change at QB, Leipold noted that the coaching staff always looks to tweak the game plan to take advantage of a particular player’s strengths. It did not look like that happened with Bean on Saturday.
Daniels racked up huge yardage in the first five or six weeks of the season off of option runs, but Bean was not used in the option run game on Saturday more than a few times.
Perhaps that was because of where the Jayhawks currently find themselves at the position. With Daniels out, the only thing keeping true freshman Ethan Vasko from being in the game is Bean remaining healthy.
All of that being said, this game was not on the Kansas offense or Jason Bean. Scoring 42 points on the road against a team like Oklahoma should be more than enough.
It was for Kansas State. It was for TCU. And it was for Texas in the past three weeks. While those three teams knocked off OU in consecutive weeks, they did so with their defense giving up an average of 19.3 points per game to the Sooners, who played two of those games without Gabriel.
Had the Jayhawks been able to hold OU to 20 points on Saturday, they would have left Norman with their sixth win of the season and their first road win at OU in 26 years.
Instead, they left with questions about their backup QB, a defense that’s a little shaken, their best cornerback dealing with a significant injury and that elusive sixth win for bowl eligibility still sitting out there.
The Jayhawks still have five more cracks to get it, but they’ll need more consistent play from their quarterback and more fire from their defense to reel it in.