History was just out of reach for the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, narrowly missing out on an upset that would have reverberated throughout the college football landscape.
Despite leading after three quarters and dominating most of the game statistically, the Jayhawks fell to the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners 35-23.
“Our guys played with confidence and they grew throughout,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “But at the same time, we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter. But, definitely a lot to build on here today.”
Kansas got out to a fast start, in a manner of speaking. The Jayhawks drew first blood with a touchdown drive that ate over nine minutes of the first-quarter game clock, capped off by the first touchdown of the day by freshman running back Devin Neal. Following that, they rode a three and out for their defense to complete a shutout first quarter. That was a significant milestone in itself; the Sooners had not been shut out in a first quarter since the 2018 Orange Bowl.
It was more of the same, albeit less successfully on offense, for Kansas in the second quarter. Thanks to an interception, an Oklahoma turnover on downs and a successful field goal by sophomore kicker Jacob Borcila, KU went into the break 10-0.
Even after halftime, while the Oklahoma offense woke up to a degree, Kansas maintained its advantage. Another touchdown by Neal segmented two Sooner scores, so the Jayhawks held a narrow three-point advantage entering the fourth quarter.
That’s when the wheels fell off.
Oklahoma outscored Kansas 21-6 in the fourth quarter, scoring on all three of its possessions in the final period. It wasn’t simply allowing three scores that was the painful blow for the Jayhawks, though, it was how the Sooners scored them.
After a KU fumble and with OU already leading by four, the Sooners went for it fourth down with under nine minutes to play. Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams was hit in the backfield, but broke through an initial tackle and sprinted to the end zone for a score.
One drive later, after the Jayhawks were able to strike quickly with a touchdown of their own on a pass from junior quarterback Jason Bean to sophomore receiver Luke Grimm, Oklahoma faced another fourth and short. Had KU made the stop, it would have had a chance to take the lead back.
Instead, Williams ripped the ball away from his own Sooner teammate, running back Kennedy Brooks, and dove across the first-down marker with it to convert.
That play, both whether or not Williams could do that and whether or not forward progress was stopped, was the last of several controversial moments in the game.
“We made a stop, I don’t know completely if forward progress had been stopped,” Leipold said. “They said that since it happened behind the line of scrimmage it’s a legal play.”
Leipold refused to comment further about whether or not forward progress had been stopped.
Missed opportunities will be one of the last memories from this most recent Jayhawks loss. Officiating, in particular, riled up KU fans, at least as far as social media is concerned, thanks in large part to a holding flag against KU in the first half and one that wasn’t throw on OU in the second half.
Other miscues that hindered Kansas included missing a 57-yard field goal in the second quarter and not recovering an Oklahoma fumble early in the third. Each team ended the game with a turnover apiece.
In the end, the third-ranked team in the country was able to make the significant, game-sealing plays, while the team without an FBS win this season couldn’t quite get it done.
“We’re not going to be satisfied with just playing people like this close,” Leipold said. “We’ve got to find a way to make those two or three extra plays to make that a really celebratory locker room.”
Neal, who had one of the biggest games of anyone on the field Saturday afternoon, led a chorus of players who said after the game that this can be a jumping-off point for the program.
“We fought hard and you live for games like that,” Neal said, later adding: “I think that game gives us confidence that we can compete with the best.”
Neal was the game’s leading rusher with 100 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. That’s the second game of his brief career with 100 yards rushing, along with KU’s loss to Duke in Week 4.
Bean joined Neal in preaching confidence following the loss to the Sooners, and said that the Jayhawks entered this weekend with the right mindset to face a challenging opponent.
“I think it was just our mindset, the mentality we had coming into this game,” Bean said, “just something we can build off of and carry that momentum through the rest of the season.”
Saturday’s loss was the most efficient game of Bean’s career, as he went 17-of-23 passing for 246 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer efficiency rating of 178.1.
Kansas now sits at 0-4 in Big 12 play, currently the only team in the conference with that record. West Virginia, 0-3 in the Big 12, will play on Saturday night. The Jayhawks will go on the road next Saturday for the first time in several weeks, searching for their first Big 12 and FBS win of the season against the eighth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Click below to hear from Lance Leipold and the Jayhawks following their 35-23 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners.