On a night to celebrate the 2008 Orange Bowl champions team, the current version of the Kansas football team put on its own show Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
With junior transfer quarterback Peyton Bender behind center for his first career start, the Jayhawks displayed a strong aerial attack in a 38-16 victory over Southeast Missouri State in their season opener.
Bender tossed a pair of touchdowns on KU’s first two drives, including a 77-yard score to junior receiver Steven Sims Jr. on the team’s third play from scrimmage. Sims shook a defender on a short route and went untouched the rest of the way to the end zone.
Sophomore Chase Harrell added KU’s second touchdown on a jaw-dropping 8-yard one-handed grab, giving the Jayhawks a 14-0 lead within the first seven minutes.
Bender, who started his collegiate career at Washington State, finished 23-of-37 passing for 364 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in his Kansas debut. It was the first time a KU quarterback threw four touchdowns in a game since Todd Reesing in 2009.
In the final minute of the first half, the Jayhawks completed a 3-play, 52-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown catch by Sims.
Throughout the second half, Bender added a touchdown throw to Ben Johnson (57 yards) and true freshman running back Dom Williams scored on a 10-yard run. Williams led KU’s backfield with 41 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
Sims led KU’s receivers with four catches for 142 yards and two scores, while Johnson recorded three receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, Joe Dineen Jr. led the Jayhawks with 15 tackles. Daniel Wise added a sack and three tackles for loss, Dorance Armstrong had three quarterback hurries and Josh Ehambe recovered a fumble, leading to a 25-yard field goal from Gabriel Rui.
Following a 38-16 season-opening home victory over Southeast Missouri State, Kansas football coach David Beaty discussed Peyton Bender's strong debut, his defense and what he hopes improves heading into next week.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: The Jayhawks extended their lead to 21-7 in the final seconds before halftime. Needing to go 52 yards in 1:02, Bender started the drive with a 14-yard pass to Ryan Schadler. Then he hit Jeremiah Booker with a 32-yard pass, putting the Jayhawks inside of the 10-yard line.
After a holding penalty pushed the Jayhawks back 10 yards, Bender found Sims on a post route over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown.
The score gave the Jayhawks all the breathing room they would need, scoring two more touchdowns in the third quarter.
• Offensive highlight: On 3rd-and-2 at the eight-yard line, Bender immediately looked in the direction of Harrell, a 6-4 receiver, on the outside. Running a fade route, Harrell spotted the ball and jumped up over SEMO cornerback Shabari Davis.
What followed was a sequence that will show up on highlight shows across the country. Harrell reached back with his left arm for a one-handed grab as he fell to his left and stuck both of his feet inbounds, giving the Jayhawks a 14-0 lead.
Harrell only used his right hand to help secure the ball as his left arm hit the ground, making the spectacular catch through contact.
• Defensive highlight: After missing nearly all of last season with a hamstring injury, junior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. showed how happy he was to return to the field. The Lawrence Free State High product led all players with 15 tackles (11 solo), which included 2.5 tackles for loss. That included one stop against a SEMO offensive lineman after broken up pass play.
• Key stat: Average yards per play. The Jayhawks didn’t have much success on the ground against SEMO’s defensive line, but they made up for it through the air. That hasn’t been much of an option in recent seasons, but Bender and first-year coordinator Doug Meacham kept the Jayhawks moving the ball at a steady rate (7.0 yards per play to SEMO’s 3.4).
• Up next: The Jayhawks will play host to Central Michigan, which won 30-27 in triple overtime against Rhode Island in Week One. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
HOW THEY SCORED
12:41 — Steven Sims Jr. 77 pass from Peyton Bender. Gabriel Rui kick. Three-play, 81-yard drive took 0:45. (KU 7, SEMO 0.)
8:57 — Chase Harrell 8 pass from Bender. Rui kick. Seven-play, 34-yard drive took 2:30. (KU 14, SEMO 0.)
8:52 — Trevor Billington 9 yards from Jesse Hoskett. Nicholas Litang kick. Five-play, 24-yard drive took 3:01. (KU 14, SEMO 7.)
0:13 — Sims 16 pass from Bender. Rui kick. Three-play, 52-yard drive took 0:50. (KU 21, SEMO 7.)
11:26 — Litang 45 field goal. Four-play, seven-yard drive took 2:05. (KU 21, SEMO 10.)
10:17 — Dom Williams 10 run. Rui kick. Three-play, 54-yard drive took 1:02. (KU 28, SEMO 10.)
8:26 — Ben Johnson 57 pass from Bender. Rui kick. One-play, 57-yard drive took :10. (KU 35, SEMO 10.)
14:14 — Rui 25 field goal. Six-play, 18-yard drive took 1:23. (KU 38, SEMO 10.)
12:17 — Kristian Wilkerson 22 pass from Hosket. Litang kick failed. Five-play, 75-yard drive took1:57. (KU 38, SEMO 16.)
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