KU Football: Sunflower Showdown Favors KSU, but KU Competes

After a slow start, the Jayhawks mounted a comeback, but fell short in Manhattan. What are three takeaways from the KU football season finale?

From a roster and talent standpoint, KU football is on the cusp of competitiveness.

From my terrific vantage point at the game Saturday (thank you to the very good friend for the ticket!), I finally got to see this KU football team in person. When compared to last year, it’s night and day. The skill position units are definitely Big 12 caliber, and will get even better over the offseason. Wide receivers LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims are very good talents, evidenced by Gonzalez’s 95-yard touchdown reception and run after catch.

Offensive line play continues to be the main issue that plagues the Kansas offense. The Wildcat defense line, one of the best in the conference, dominated the line of scrimmage all game. The Kansas State line sacked Carter Stanley four times, and applied near-constant pressure to the freshman. The overmatched line struggled to open running lanes for KU’s running backs. They carried 18 times for just 49 yards, a 2.7 yard average. The lack of balance put even more pressure on the KU passing game, which performed well, all things considered. Stanley had his first career 300-yard game, and tied a career high with two touchdowns.

Carter Stanley continues to impress.

It’s no secret that I’ve liked what Stanley brings to the table: an accurate arm, quick release, athleticism, and very good intangibles. I noticed much of the latter on Saturday. I was seated right behind the KU sideline, and all during the game, Stanley went to every offensive player and was relentlessly positive. KU needs that kind of leadership from the most important position on the field.

Stanley again showed his athleticism and escapability against KSU. Stanley was KU’s leading rusher, with 52 yards on ten carries, including a 36-yard scamper to put KU in scoring position. He evaded pressure all day as well, and took some vicious hits for it. Thankfully for Stanley’s health, the season is over. I am concerned about Stanley’s release. His ball comes out a little low, and is prone to getting batted down. The Wildcats took full advantage of it, and batted down several of Stanley’s passes. One resulted in an interception.

The difference in the game (to nobody’s surprise) was the little things.

The overall stats in the game were actually close. KSU outgained KU, but only 441-403. KSU gained 25 first downs, and KU 18. Each team was bad on third down: KU 4-14 and KSU 6-14. However, that’s where the similarities end. Turnovers continued to plague the Jayhawks. Carter Stanley threw two interceptions (though one was on a batted ball), including one that ended in a pick six for the Wildcats. Stanley also lost a fumble on KU’s last offensive play of the game. KSU only scored seven points of KU turnovers, but they shifted momentum and gave KU no chance to come back and win the game.

Penalties bit the Jayhawks as well. They had nine for 85 yards, and too often put them way behind the chains. KSU was much better, only drawing five penalties for 60 yards. With the razor thin margin of error for the Jayhawks on the road, they had to win both the turnover and penalty battles to pull off the upset, but neither came to fruition.

Bottom line.

I was impressed with KU’s resilience and fight during the game. They could have easily folded after going down 20-3 at halftime. Instead, Stanley and the defense stepped up, getting the game back to two possessions in the fourth quarter. For a game that’s usually a KSU blowout, the Jayhawks looked like they belonged on the same field, and will only get better.

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