The Kansas Jayhawks have snapped several long-standing losing streaks lately, but the same can’t be said for their consecutive losses in conference openers. Despite a strong effort from the defense and a few wacky calls and decisions late, Kansas fell in its first Big 12 game of the season to the West Virginia Mountaineers 29-24.
Saturday’s game was mostly a round of catch-up for KU after giving up an early scoring and not tallying any points on its own until the second quarter. A slow start was familiar territory for the Jayhawks, who fell behind early in their Week 3 victory against Boston College.
Like that game, the Kansas defense held strong consistently, lapsing on the initial West Virginia touchdown but otherwise bending and rarely breaking. That was until late, when the Mountaineers put up 10 fourth-quarter points to put the game out of reach. Fatigue was an obvious factor by the end of the day, as coach Les Miles pointed out during his postgame radio interview. The Mountaineers held the ball for 37:41 in on Saturday, or 62.8% if the game.
In spite of the stark difference in time of possession, the Jayhawks still limited the Mountaineers to just 4.6 yards per play.
Offensively it was an in-between game for Kansas, exhibiting better execution and play calling than their last home game against Coastal Carolina, yet it wasn’t as fluid or successful all around as the win over Boston College. KU put up 142 yards rushing in the losing effort, less than WVU allows on average per game this season, but still moved the ball overall at 7.4 yards per play as a team.
The most explosive play of the game for Kansas came via a deep ball from senior quarterback Carter Stanley to junior wide receiver Andrew Parchment, a 75-yard bomb late in the third quarter to cut West Virginia’s lead at the time to 20-17.
“They put themselves in a position where we could take advantage of that throw,” Miles said. “To be honest, we would have loved to have started those throws earlier in the game.”
Parchment said after the game he and Stanley had discussed the windy game time conditions before that play to make sure they were on the same page. Stanley threw accurately enough for Parchment to run right under the ball.
Stanley averaged 11 yards per attempt for the game. Afterward Miles said he would have liked to take more chances down the field, but West Virginia shut down KU’s opportunities.
“I have to be honest with you,” Miles said, “I didn’t expect them to be that good, and they made plays.”
That touchdown came after the most controversial play of the game, which invoked a little-known rule that cost the Jayhawks a possession. After Kansas got within one score with a field goal, Miles dialed up a surprise onside kick, which freshman wide receiver Jamahl Horne skied and caught beyond 10 yards, which the KU sideline assumed was giving them the ball.
However, Kansas was flagged for kick-catch interference. Because the ball didn’t touch the ground first on the kick, West Virginia’s returns had to get a fair opportunity to catch the ball first. The referees ruled that wasn’t the case, thus the Mountaineers received the ball and an extra 15 yards.
Miles was unhappy with the application of the rule.
“The only thing I will tell you is if they want to eliminate an exciting play from college football, they need to come up with a rule and just ban the play,” Miles said.
While that play caused the most controversy, it was the last one of the game that created the most drama. Stanley took the snap with two seconds to go in the game, throwing it down the home sideline 19 yards to senior wide receiver Daylon Charlot, who pitched it to sophomore running back Pooka Williams. He wasn’t able to cut back toward the middle of the field, however, getting trapped along the boundary and pushed out of bounds with the clock at quadruple zeroes.
Even though the Jayhawks were behind for most of the afternoon, Miles said he never gave up thinking a win was within reach.
“Including the last play, I felt like we were going to win,” Miles said. “If we had made a little different cut on the back end of that play, we may have.”
Kansas hasn’t won a Big 12 opener since 2009, but this loss was far different than most in the program’s last decade. David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium wasn’t completely full, but its student section nearly was. The overall turnout was the best in years, which the players and coaches noticed.
Stanley said seeing that many fans meant a lot to him personally, and Miles said it’s a reflection of their understanding that the team is ascending.
“I was thrilled,” Miles said. “You walked into a stadium that was very live, people were enjoying football … To me, the support is coming, and we are coming.”
The Jayhawks will hit the road next weekend for a matchup with the TCU Horned Frogs, who also suffered an upset in Week 4, in their case to SMU. Kansas won their matchup in Lawrence last season.
Click here to hear what Les Miles and the Jayhawks had to say after their 29-24 loss to West Virginia.