LAWRENCE, Kan. — It would be easy to say that BYU gave away its first-ever Big 12 football game here on a mostly cloudy afternoon at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, just as many Arkansas supporters said last week that their guys gift-wrapped the Cougars’ victory in SEC territory.
But that doesn’t give proper credit to a Kansas team that took full advantage of the Cougars’ inability to protect the ball and establish any sort of rushing attack, which became the two deciding factors in BYU’s first loss of the season, a loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak dating back to last season.
“It is frustrating. You feel like you left a win on the field.” — BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis
Kansas (4-0) remained unbeaten in 2023 and for the last two Septembers, combining two defensive scores and a run-stopping defense with the supreme talents of quarterback Jalon Daniels to down mistake-prone BYU 38-27 in front of 47,233 in Lawrence.
In many ways, Saturday’s outing amounted to an opportunity lost for the Cougars in their first conference game since a season-ending 2010 loss to Utah.
“I think so, but you can only cry about if for so long,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, after crediting Kansas several times for simply playing better, forcing the costly BYU turnovers and taking better care of the football.
BYU fans will point out that the Cougars outgained the Jayhawks 366-351 and were right there if Kansas hadn’t scored two defensive touchdowns, and they would be right. But that doesn’t account for the way KU dominated the line of scrimmage, which does not bode well for a BYU team facing eight more Big 12 squads this season with reputations for being just as good in the trenches, if not better.
Stat of the game: BYU managed just 9 rushing yards on 22 carries against a KU defense that was riddled last week by lowly Nevada.
That meant transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis had to try to win this one by himself, and although the fifth-year senior had his moments, in the end it was too big of a burden to bear.
“It is frustrating,” Slovis said after throwing 51 times for 357 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “You feel like you left a win on the field.”
Indeed, this one was there for the taking, as BYU led 17-14 at halftime and Slovis was carving up KU’s defense for 172 yards and two TDs in the first two quarters, posting a solid passer rating of 148.3.
But the first half was pretty much as good as it would get for the Cougars, whose inability to run the ball finally caught up to them. Slovis was under duress throughout the second half, and it showed the third play of the third quarter when his pass targeting tight end Isaac Rex was tipped twice and then returned 30 yards for a pick six by super Kansas safety Kenny Logan.
The Cougars would never have the lead again.
“We got a little bit behind, too. It seemed like the run game, it was tough sledding. If the pass game is there, let’s take it,” Sitake said. “I would like to see us get into the end zone. I think they forced us to kick some field goals instead of get in the end zone.”
Sitake said giving up two defensive touchdowns is “hard on the morale of a team.”
Not being able to run the ball also creates serious doubt, especially for a team without supposed RB1 when the season started, Aidan Robbins. He didn’t make the trip.
It also hurt the Cougars that their much-hyped offensive line is seriously underperforming and is also banged up. Some injuries to Weylin Lapuaho and Kingsley Suamataia and the ineffectiveness of Caleb Etienne allowed some others to get chances, but they weren’t much better.
Brayden Keim and Ian Fitzgerald filled in with not much better success.
“I don’t want to blame (the loss) on the offense, but we pride ourselves on taking care of the football,” Sitake said. “… And on defense we gotta create havoc and find some ways to get turnovers ourselves. We didn’t do enough as a team. It was a complete team loss.”
Second straight road game, second straight nightmare start for the Cougars.
Freshman Parker Kingston, star of last week’s come-from-behind 38-31 win over Arkansas, was rocked by Cobee Bryant on the Cougars’ second play from scrimmage for a scoop-and-score, giving the Jayhawks a quick 7-0 lead.
Kingston never returned to the game. Linebacker Ben Bywater left in the fourth quarter with a team-leading 10 tackles, having sustained some sort of shoulder injury. Safety Tanner Wall left favoring his left arm or elbow.
“We feel really good about the talent on our team,” Sitake said. “Some guys will be on the field that we weren’t expecting. We got some guys that were knocked out of this game and we will get some guys back. We have enough talent. That’s why we went to the portal.”
The Cougars answered Bryant’s touchdown nicely by going 75 yards in 10 plays to knot the score at 7-7. Slovis threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Darius Lassiter, whose late father and brothers were Jayhawks.
Kansas regained the lead with an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive, aided by a questionable defensive holding penalty on BYU’s Kamden Garrett that negated Garrett’s interception.
Daniels, who was 10 of 15 for 90 yards in the first half, threw a beautiful 15-yard TD pass to Trevor Kordell to make it 14-7 Jayhawks. Daniels, the Big 12 offensive preseason player of the year, was the difference in the game.
He threw for 130 yards and three TDs, while also rushing for 54 yards on nine carries. BYU sacked him just once.
“That was a really good team, I think specifically, offensively,” said BYU linebacker AJ Vongphachanh.
Daniels made the play that pretty much sealed it for KU, picking up a first down on third-and-5 with a nifty scramble to his left when the Cougars were dropping eight and rushing just three. The Jayhawks continued the drive and got a 23-yard field goal from Seth Keller to make it a two-score game with 1:33 on the clock.
“They were committed to running the ball down our throat,” Sitake said of KU’s final drive.
And the Cougars were powerless to stop them, with KU finishing with 221 rushing yards. The Jayhawks were 4 of 8 on third down.
“Give them credit. Kansas had a good game plan. We knew that they were a dangerous team, that they can run the ball with a number of running backs, and a physical offensive line, and a quarterback who can run himself,” Sitake said. “… We just didn’t do enough. That’s the only way I can explain it. You can’t take anything away from Kansas. They did a better job than we did.”