Kansas welcomed BYU into the Big 12 by turning three turnovers into touchdowns in a 38-27 win in Lawrence on Saturday.
One can argue all the statistical points you can find, but giving up a pick-six on a double-tipped pass interception by Kansas corner Kenny Logan and a forced fumble scoop and run by Kansas corner Cobee Bryant did in the Cougars.
A second interception thrown by BYU’s Kedon Slovis on an underthrown pass deep in Kansas territory led to a third Jayhawk touchdown on a third-quarter long drive that was the turning point of the game.
That was the story of this game.
A team cannot give a talented Kansas squad three turnovers.
“We missed an opportunity,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “I’m proud of the way we played and how physical our players were in this game.”
Slovis called the loss frustrating.
“It’s never easy to lose a game,” said Slovis. “I felt we left more points out there on the field. They were a tough team but we felt we could have scored more and come up with a win.”
BYU returns home after two road trips and hosts Cincinnati on Friday night with a 3-1 record.
But there were other challenges BYU failed to manage in this first and historic beginning as a member of the Big 12.
Perhaps the biggest is how will the Cougars establish the run and make a defense respect it.
It was struggling before kickoff. It remained a liability after the loss.
Because BYU could not mount a rushing attack, it left Slovis to carry the load. He attempted a whopping 51 passes, completing 30 for 357 yards and two touchdowns.
“We had to throw a lot more because we were behind,” Slovis said.
This game isn’t on Slovis.
QBs usually get all the postgame chatter. In a loss, some want to point a finger at that position, especially when there are two interceptions.
But BYU was a one-trick pony in this game.
Slovis converted 13 of his first 17 passes and completed seven straight in leading the Cougars to a 14-14 tie with Kansas in the first half.
He then led a drive to take the lead at the end of the first half on a 33-yard Will Ferrin field goal.
This was after Kansas took a 7-0 lead on BYU’s first series when Cobee Bryant made a perfect read on a Parker Kingston jet sweep and popped the freshman so hard he could not hold on to the ball.
Bryant scooped up the ball and ran 30 yards for the first TD. Yes, it was a questionable helmet-to-helmet hit, but officials let the play stand.
Who knows. You be the judge. pic.twitter.com/W8h9tBzDsN
— 🍍Andy Splatz🍍 (@AndySplatz) September 23, 2023
Kingston, a star of BYU’s win at Arkansas, never returned to the game.
Kansas didn’t have to worry about BYU’s run game and could focus on coverage and chasing Slovis out of the pocket.
That doomed BYU’s offense.
After four games, BYU’s offensive line, fine at times in pass protection, simply struggles to get a push, it can’t dominate at the point of attack, stay on blocks for an extended time or impose its collective will on an opponent.
Of course, you have to credit Kansas.
But this remains a part of BYU’s game that is left wanting.
BYU managed just 9 rushing yards against Kansas, a chunk of that due to minus yards on Kansas sacks on Slovis.
Freshman LJ Martin had 11 carries for 28 yards. For much of that, he was creating yardage on his own.
That must change if BYU is to get six wins and make it to a bowl game.
BYU has rushed for over 100 yards only once this season. This is unacceptable. Way too much talent in the OL room to put this product on the field. I think Coach Sitake needs to have a serious conversation here pic.twitter.com/OEUjLJ9npR
— Jonny Linehan (@jlinehan9) September 23, 2023
BYU outgained Kansas 366 to 351 total yards and converted more third downs, but it was easier for Kansas to defend against BYU’s offense when there was no run threat.
“You can’t just be one-sided. We need to run the ball. We have to figure it out. This is not what we are about,” Sitake said on his post-game KSL radio show.
“We need to fix it soon. People have a right to be concerned. It is fixable.”
The Cougars lacked depth on their offensive line, with several linemen leaving the the field midway through the game including top-rated left tackle Kingsley Suamataia and guard Weylin Lapuaho.
BYU could not get a push to help out freshman running back LJ Martin. The Cougars couldn’t tire the Kansas defense because they couldn’t run the ball.
This led to BYU’s demise.
The Cougar defensive line, so impressive late in a win at Arkansas, got pushed around by Kansas. That allowed KU’s star QB Jalon Daniels to use every part of his multi-dimensional offense.
“We missed more tackles than we’re used to and that allowed them to stay on the field. We need to do a better job of tackling,” said Sitake.
The Cougars were a perfect 5 for 5 scoring in the red zone and are now 15 for 15 in that category on the season with 12 touchdowns. They won the time of possession game against Kansas. They proved they could compete in that league.
But not with three turnovers.
BYU hadn’t been turnover-prone until going to Kansas and the start of Big 12 play. It cost the Cougars this game.
But the lack of a run game is a big-time challenge for the Cougars.
It’s a fix that’s needed. Like back on Day 1.