NORMAN, Okla. — Kansas football continued its Big 12 Conference slate Saturday and lost 52-42 on the road against Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks (5-2, 2-2 in Big 12) once again couldn’t pull out a win while being ranked in the top 25 — this time at No. 20. The Sooners (4-3, 1-3 in Big 12) captured their first conference victory of the season. Up next for Kansas is an Oct. 22 matchup on the road against Baylor (3-3, 1-2 in Big 12) that’ll once again provide head coach Lance Leipold’s squad with another opportunity to get to six wins this season.
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Here’s how the Jayhawks graded out against Oklahoma:
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Better execution on first and second down early, and over the course of the game, changes a lot for Kansas. It helps the Jayhawks better control the clock and keeps the Sooners’ offense off of the field. It helps the Jayhawks not end up having what amounted to a minus-38 difference in the number of plays run offensively between the two sides.
Redshirt senior quarterback Jason Bean, playing for the injured junior Jalon Daniels, threw for four touchdowns and 265 yards but completed less than 60% of his passes and threw a couple of interceptions. Kansas averaged 4.7 yards per carry and saw sophomore running back Devin Neal collect 84 yards and a score on 12 rushing attempts, but allowed eight tackles for loss and a sack. There were growing pains in Bean’s first start since early November last year, and the Jayhawks’ offensive line didn’t control the line of scrimmage to the level it had shown itself capable in the past.
Don’t lose sight of the performances of senior tight end Mason Fairchild (six catches, 106 receiving yards, two scores) or redshirt sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (five catches, 113 receiving yards, two scores). Bean showcased how valuable he can be leading option runs on a play that earned redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quentin Skinner 20 yards rushing. But in a loss, the issues draw greater attention.
Leipold said postgame that redshirt junior defensive end Lonnie Phelps Jr. was limited Saturday by injuries. Leipold volunteered he was even told before the game that Phelps wasn’t going to be able to go, and although Phelps still tried to play at times losing the team’s best pass rusher for as much time as they did still stung. But the problems Kansas faced cast a far broader net than just its ability to rush the passer.
Even with redshirt junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel fumbling the ball twice and throwing an interception, Gabriel still had more than 400 yards passing and the Sooners as a whole eclipsed 700 yards of total offense. Considering how the blame for each fumble should go more on Oklahoma than Kansas, the Sooners rarely had to exit the field because of the Jayhawks’ making. Just look at Oklahoma running 100 plays and going 16-for-21 on third downs.
Losing sophomore cornerback Cobee Bryant to an ankle injury, for however long he’s out, puts more stress on a Kansas secondary that struggled mightily Saturday. The Jayhawks didn’t tackle nearly well enough. As Leipold said, they aren’t going to win many games with this type of performance.
Jayhawks junior punter Reis Vernon did have a punt that only went 34 yards and allowed the Sooners to start a drive at the Oklahoma 46 yard line. Kansas redshirt junior kicker Jacob Borcila and the kickoff team weren’t able to corral an onside kick late. But much further than critiquing that one might be asking the Jayhawks’ special teams unit to be perfect and maybe even block that Sooners field goal.
Outside of those two examples, Oklahoma never started the ball with field position better than its own 29 yard line if the drive started after a special teams play. There wasn’t much of an opportunity for Kansas to have a return game, on kickoffs or punts, the way Oklahoma performed. Vernon did have a punt land inside the 20 yard line.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.