EL PASO, Texas (AP)—This border run was a big fiesta for the Kansas defense.
While the No. 22 Jayhawks get plenty of attention for their prolific offense, the guys on the other side of the ball led the way in a 34-7 victory over Texas-El Paso on Saturday night.
The forecast coming in suggested a much closer contest. Last year, Kansas ranked 114th nationally in pass defense while UTEP, under coach Mike Price, has always used a big-play offense. Miners quarterback Trevor Vittatoe threw a school-record 33 touchdown passes last fall.
Kansas (2-0) had five sacks in the first half, all by the defensive front. Vittatoe spent most of the night on the run or on his back, freeing the linebackers to help with coverage and making life good for the secondary.
Afterward, the Jayhawks praised the push by their defensive linemen.
“It makes the quarterback think,” cornerback Daymond Patterson said. “It makes him get the ball out that much faster. He’s running around more, his stamina is down and his passes aren’t as accurate. It makes it easier to be a defensive back.”
The Miners (0-2) finished with 4 rushing yards, 208 total yards and the fewest points for UTEP in Price’s six seasons in El Paso. Only two possessions ended in Kansas territory.
“I am a little bit surprised that we didn’t play better against their defense,” Price said. “They didn’t do anything we didn’t seen in films. What surprised us was that they were that good.”
The only setback for Kansas? Vittatoe threw a 75-yard catch-and-run TD to Donavon Kemp early in the fourth quarter, breaking up the shutout.
“We shouldn’t have let that happen but it’s hard to complain,” Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino said. “We were really stellar on defense tonight.”
Kansas had just 13 1/2 sacks last season. If there was to be any improvement, any coach will tell you the action starts up front.
Mangino has been keeping an eye on the defensive line lately in practice. End Jeff Wheeler credited coordinator Clint Bowen’s game plan against UTEP but also said Mangino has been helping by emphasizing hand work and getting up close with the linemen.
“It’s a little intimidating sometimes,” Wheeler said. “He gets us going. We want to do a good job for him every day. He gets on people sometimes.”
The Kansas defense timed it well because it wasn’t a star performance by quarterback Todd Reesing. He played into the fourth quarter and completed 25 of 41 attempts for 260 yards passing with one TD and one interception. Those are respectable numbers, of course, but Reesing has raised expectations for his play and he was out of sync most of the night.
Fans back on the plains must have been concerned when Kansas led 3-0 in the second quarter.
Then the Jayhawks got on track, scoring 17 more points by the half. Tailback Jake Sharp, who finished with 104 yards rushing, ran for a 1-yard TD, caught a 5-yard scoring pass from Reesing and then added a 3-yard TD run midway through the third quarter.
The Jayhawks finished with 576 total yards and ran nearly twice as many plays as UTEP.
“We left a lot of points on the field,” said receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who returned from a one-game suspension and had eight catches for 154 yards. “But for us to have a bad day on offense and still score 34 points, I feel like we still did all right.”
The Jayhawks are looking to continue the momentum.
They’re home for the next month, facing Duke next weekend, then Southern Mississippi, a bye week and Iowa State before their next road trip to Colorado on Oct. 17.
“Week in and week out, we want to win every game,” Sharp said. “Hopefully, it starts rolling.”