The Kansas Jayhawks are going bowling for the second year in a row, and they earned that feat in historic fashion on a rainy Saturday in Lawrence.
Despite three turnovers and facing a deficit in the game’s waning moments, KU came out on top against the Oklahoma Sooners 38-33, the program’s first win over their departing Big 12 league mate since 1997.
Kansas coach Lance Leipold wasn’t shy about saying it’s as big as any win he’s had since taking over the team.
“I usually don’t do that, but I’m not in the mood right now to down play this win,” Leipold said, voice breaking with hoarseness from the postgame celebration.
Saturday started off as well as the Jayhawks could have hoped for, with a pick-six by junior cornerback Mello Dotson for the points of the game to shut own the Sooners’ first drive. One KU possession later, sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw plowed into the end zone for his first of two touchdowns on the day, giving Kansas a 14-0 lead mere moments into the second quarter.
That’s when the sixth-ranked Sooners surged, the score, scoring 21 unanswered points before a field goal by Kansas senior kicker Seth Keller sent the game to halftime 21-17. That scoring run for Oklahoma also featured a weather delay, which sent the teams to their respective locker rooms halfway through the second period while lightning was seen in the area.
A shootout broke out following the half, with four lead chances in the latter two quarters.
The Jayhawks took a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter after Hishaw’s second score, but they racked up successive drive-killing miscues to reinvigorate the Sooners. A missed field goal following a fumble recovery and back-to-back possessions with an interception thrown by senior quarterback Jason Bean put Kansas in a difficult position.
Bean’s first interception led directly to an OU touchdown, while the second one allowed Oklahoma to run three times and force KU to use its full allotment of timeouts.
Kansas wound up with one more chance after an Oklahoma punt, and Bean didn’t squander his shot at redemption. The Jayhawks went 80 yards in just over two minutes, including a fourth-and-four conversion for 37 yards from Bean to junior wide receiver Lawrence Arnold to set up a first down inside the red zone. Junior running back Devin Neal scampered into the end zone one play later to give KU its final and permanent lead.
“He just kept fighting, and that’s all we could ask from him,” Leipold said regarding his quarterback.
Oklahoma got close to a miraculous touchdown of its own, starting a drive with 49 seconds left and and reaching the Kansas 23-yard line, but quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s final pass was knocked out of bounds to close the game.
Bean didn’t finish with statistics anywhere close to his best, like the ones he posted in the loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys two weeks ago, but he came up clutch when the Jayhawks needed it the most, even if the path to get their involved a few blunders.
“As disappointed and bad as I feel for Jalon [Daniels] for not being able to play at this particular time, I’m probably pulling for Jason in ways I usually don’t,” Leipold said.
Bean finished the day 15-of-32 passing for 218 yards and two interceptions, plus four carries for 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
KU’s ground game had a major bounce-back performance after slumping against Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks ran for 225 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. That effort was led by Neal, the Lawrence native who tallied his third 100-yard game of this season. He finished with 25 carries for 112 yards and a the game-winning score.
Devoid of context, this win is undeniably a big one for Kansas. It’s bowl eligible again and has a likely, or at least realistic, shot at reaching the AP Top 25 poll next week.
With context, though, it becomes monumental. This is just the second time in program history that Kansas is bowl eligible in consecutive seasons, joining the 2007-08 campaigns. This was just the second win for the Jayhawks over a ranked team since 2010, and it’s their first top-10 win since 2007.
As for the last time they beat the Sooners? That was 1997, before any players on the current roster were born.
“We’ve sat here for a long time trying to keep it even, not talk about it, but it’s probably time for me to start talking about how proud I am of how far this program’s come,” Leipold said.
Pride was a theme during Leipold’s postgame press conference, as was celebration. Leipold joked about not passing a breathalyzer test after being on the field with fans following the game, while Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod let out a “Rock Chalk, baby” as he entered the auditorium.
This is also the earliest in a season that KU has been bowl eligible since 2007, with the Jayhawks now 6-2 on the season.
Kansas will hit the road next week for a meeting with the Iowa State Cyclones. That game will be played on Saturday, Nov. 4 but a kickoff time hasn’t been announced yet.