BYU drops Big 12 opener to Kansas
LAWRENCE, Kansas — Have you ever played a game of Madden that you really wanted to win?
You start off playing smart. You run the ball, take the short throws, mix up the play calling.
You think you have everything under control until you remember that Madden is a video game.
You lose some players to injury, fumble the ball, throw an interception that was tipped three times, and, oh, both of those turnovers get returned for touchdowns.
Next thing you know, you abandon the run game, start taking risks and dig yourself into an even bigger hole, until you lose a game you could have won and start wondering why.
BYU’s matchup with Kansas Saturday afternoon went a little something like that.
The Cougars played a good game, but didn’t come away with the win, falling 38-27 to the Jayhawks in BYU’s first-ever Big 12 matchup.
The offense was clicking like it hadn’t all season. The defense was containing the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Even every field goal kick split the uprights flawlessly.
The only problem was turnovers, and unfortunately for the Cougars, it was a big problem.
Not only did BYU lose the turnover battle 3-0, two of the turnovers they did lose ended up as touchdowns for the Jayhawks. Despite a good-looking performance, it was those mistakes that led to the Cougars dropping their Big 12 debut.
“Whenever you give up turnovers like that … It’s hard to win games,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said.
Those mistakes started right away. On BYU’s second play of the game, last week’s hero, Parker Kingston, took a handoff from quarterback Kedon Slovis on a jet sweep and got blown up on the edge by Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant. The Jayhawks recovered the ball in stride and took it in for six.
The Cougars immediately responded however, capping off a 10-play drive with a Darius Lassiter touchdown catch.
The Jayhawks led a methodical drive to recapture the lead, but the Cougars once again responded with a methodical drive of their own. A drive that took 13 plays ended with a L.J. Martin screen that found him in the end zone.
After a stout defensive performance in the second quarter and a Will Ferrin kick, BYU led at the half, 17-14. Both sides of the ball were playing well, with the defense limiting the Kansas offense to just 139 yards and 7 points.
This BYU defense has been the has been the shining star for this team at the beginning, and Saturday wasn’t that different. Although Kansas scored 38 points, only 24 of those came from their offense. The Cougar defense held Kansas to 45% and 63% of their average offensive passing yards and points respectively.
BYU’s turnover troubles continued in the second half when Slovis tried to fit a ball into a tight window to Isaac Rex. Rex was having a great game, hauling in seven receptions for 76 yards, but this pass was tipped twice and fell into the arms of Kenny Logan Jr. who ran it back for six.
The Cougars responded with another field goal to make the score 21-20. It didn’t take long for Kansas to score again however, and BYU never really recovered. Slovis threw another interception the next drive, and KU capitalized with another touchdown.
A big part of BYU’s struggles was the run game. If you can believe it, BYU only had nine total rushing yards the entire game. Nine. As a result Slovis threw the ball 51 times, the fifth most in a game in his career, and starting forcing balls into non-existent windows.
“It’s no secret,” Slovis said after the game. “We have got to run the ball more efficiently.”
When asked about the reason for the persistent struggles in the ground game Sitake said, “I don’t know. If I had the answer to that I would tell you guys.”
BYU scored one more touchdown in the fourth quarter and had a sliver of hope, down just eight points with about eight minutes left to go. The defense couldn’t get the stop they needed, and the Jayhawks kicked a field goal to ice the game away.
Despite a tough loss, BYU has some things to be happy about.
The passing game had a lot of questions heading into Lawrence, Kansas, but many of those questions were answered. Slovis played great, throwing for 357 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was managing the pocket beautifully, and seeing the field like a pro. Most of his completions were well into his progression as he took the time to find the right man, and the receivers made the plays.
“As an offense in the passing game we took a huge stride forward today,” Slovis said.
The Cougars defense continued to impress, limiting a very talented quarterback in Jalon Daniels to just 130 yards passing and 54 yards on the ground. Fifth-year senior linebacker, AJ Vongphachanh, emphasized that there are things to clean up, citing a lack of communication as the reason for some of KU’s bigger plays.
“We just need to be on the same page,” he said. “When we do that, we can stop anybody.”
Finally, BYU is in the Big 12, and it belongs there. This was a game the Cougars could have won, and Kansas is no pushover in the conference. They improved to 4-0 and await a primetime matchup with Texas next week.
“We can play in this conference,” Sitake said after the game.”
As for the rest of the season, BYU will look towards next week to bounce back. The Cougars will face Cincinnati Friday night in their Big 12 home opener.
“You can only cry about it for so long.” Sitake said, “I choose to get better and get ready for next week.”