The Kansas Jayhawks made their first-ever meeting with the UCF Knights a memorable one, crushing their new conference foes 51-22 on Saturday afternoon.
KU’s running game was dominant from the very start, posting its best numbers in a single game since it beat Rutgers in September 2018. It was an almost poetic ground attack for the Jayhawks, in fact, who racked up 399 rushing yards on the day the program inducted Tony Sands into its ring of honor, who owns the Kansas single-game rushing record of 396 yards.
“Tuxedo Tony” even gave the team high marks following the win.
“I asked Tony what he thought of our rushing performance today, and Tony gave us a thumbs up,” Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold said.
The beatdown was on early, and there almost couldn’t have been more opposite first halves for the two programs in their first meeting. UCF punted on four of its six first half possessions, fumbling on another and ending the half with the sixth. Kansas, meanwhile, scored on each of its first three possessions and tacked on a punt-return score, an 82-yard house call by junior returner Trevor Wilson in the second quarter.
Wilson’s punt return score was the first for KU in almost nine years to the day. Leipold said it was a rarity in his coaching career overall, too.
“I’d have to think, in my 17 years, if I’ve had a punt return [touchdown],” Leipold said.
KU led 24-0 at halftime, then blew the game open even further on the first play of the second half when junior running back Devin Neal took a handoff 75 yards for a score.
“We talk about being up at half and keeping the pedal down and making things happen, and we did,” Leipold said.
Three Jayhawks running backs recorded carries in the win, all of whom also gained over 90 yards on the ground. Neal finished with a game-high 154 yards and a score on 12 carries, while sophomore Daniel Hishaw had 19 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Dylan McDuffie saw most of the work in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 13 rushes for 91 yards and two scores of his own.
Senior quarterback Jason Bean started for the second week in a row in place of junior Jalon Daniels, who is still sidelined with a back injury. Bean didn’t do much in the way of statistical production, completing 8-of-12 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown in the win. He had a particularly quiet second half, only attempting two passes after intermission. But Leipold praised Bean for the things he did that wouldn’t show up in the box score.
“He did what we asked him to do,” Leipold said. “We challenged our offense. We told our receivers it was probably going to be a run emphasis game, and they needed to accept that.”
Leipold added that Bean could have handled a bigger load in the passing game, if needed.
The Knights dealt with a challenging quarterback situation of their own in their third-straight loss. John Rhys Plumlee started the game after missing each of the last three weeks, but he only played sparingly as he continues to recover from a leg injury. He was spelled on the first drive by backup Timmy McClain, only returning briefly on later drives.
Plumlee went just 3-of-7 passing for 33 yards, while McClain went 12-of-15 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns, though he was sacked four times by the Kansas defense.
Overall, Kansas outgained UCF 490-371 for the afternoon, also finishing with more first downs, a better third-down conversion rate and fewer penalties. This was also KU’s first 50-point game of the year and the fifth in the Leipold era.
Those all contributed to a bounce-back win for the Jayhawks, who suffered their first loss of the season in blowout fashion a week ago against the Texas Longhorns. Leipold admitted that he was somewhat worried about how his team would respond after being on the wrong end of a 26-point game last weekend.
“I had my concerns, to be quite honest,” Leipold said, adding: “To see us do that today, I’m really proud of them.”
With the win, the Jayhawks are now one win shy of bowl eligibility for the second year in a row, and they’re two wins away from their first winning season since 2008. Kansas will try to continue its momentum when it goes back on the road next Saturday to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys. OSU is coming off a statement win of its own, taking down the Kansas State Wildcats 29-21 on Friday night.
Next Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Stillwater.
For more on the Kansas Jayhawks’ 51-22 win over the UCF Knights, check out 580 Sports Talk Monday from 2-6 on 580 WIBW.