LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Peyton Bender didn’t know he was Kansas’ starting quarterback until earlier that morning, but his performance in the Jayhawks’ season-opener on Saturday wouldn’t tell you that.
Bender completed 23 of 37 passes for 364 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in Kansas’ 38-16 victory over Southeast Missouri State, a strong performance in what was his debut for the Jayhawks.
The junior college transfer got things rolling early, connecting with wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. for a 77-yard touchdown pass on the Jayhawks’ third play on offense.
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In addition to providing an immense momentum boost, Bender says scoring so quickly helped him settle in.
”It felt good,” Bender said. ”You know, got my confidence going. I think it was just nice to see us clicking as an offensive unit early out of the gate.”
On Kansas’ second drive, Bender found wide receiver Chase Harrell for a nine-yard pass to convert on fourth down deep in Redhawk territory. Three plays later, Bender and Harrell linked up again, this time for an eight-yard touchdown that Harrell reeled in with one hand.
Barely six minutes into the game, the Jayhawks already held a 14-0 lead.
”You know, we said we needed to get off to a quick start,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. ”That’s something that everybody wants to do, right? But you don’t always do it. But, (Bender) did. He got off to a quick start.”
Sims caught a second touchdown pass from Bender late in the second quarter, a 16-yard strike with 13 seconds remaining in the half. He finished with 142 yards, a game-high.
Bender and Sims had yet to play in an official game together before today, but seem to have already developed a strong rapport. Sims attributes much of this to Bender’s mental fortitude.
”He’s just calm, he’s always calm back there,” Sims said. ”And he’s not in a rush with anything. He doesn’t rush.”
The Redhawks’ two touchdowns both came off the hand of quarterback Jesse Hosket. He hit wide receiver Trevon Billington for a 9-yard score midway through the second quarter, and found wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson for 22 yards in the fourth.
The running game wasn’t as successful. Excluding a 41-yard run by running back Marquis Terry in the fourth quarter, Southeast Missouri State picked up just 53 yards on the ground on 32 attempts, good for a meager 1.66 yards per carry.
The Redhawks struggled to find consistent footing offensively throughout. Hosket finished with 170 yards, completing just 25 of 44 passes, constantly disrupted by the stout Kansas front seven.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE: The Redhawks were facing an uphill battle entering this game, and were expectedly outmatched. They began to pick things up towards the end of the game, but it was far too little, far too late. Once they return to FCS competition next week, we should see what type of team they really are.
KANSAS: The Jayhawks are entering their third season under Beaty, and appear to be finally finding their rhythm as a team. Both the offense and defense were moving in stride all game with few major errors. There were a handful of notable lapses, however, something that Sims says the team needs to eliminate.
”As an offense, we left a lot out there,” Sims said. ”We kind of stalled a little bit too much today, I feel like. But we just got to go back to work on Monday and get right.”
While Beaty and his staff still have some things to iron out before the real heat of the season begins, it was overall a strong opener.
ORANGE BOWL REUNION
Kansas welcomed back former coach Mark Mangino and his 2007-08 Orange Bowl Champions team at halftime as they were inducted into the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame. Among the former players in attendance was current Denver Broncos’ cornerback Aqib Talib, who joined Mangino and offensive lineman Anthony Collins as individual inductees into the hall of fame.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE: The Redhawks are on the road again next week, as they will face Dayton in their return to FCS competition.
KANSAS: The Jayhawks will host Central Michigan next Saturday, their final non-conference home game of the season.