College football seasons almost never follow the idyllic scripts a program’s coaches, players and fans map out when they look at a schedule, as Central Michigan reminded Kansas Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The fumes of past KU failures wafted in the air as an announced crowd of 28,531 saw the Jayhawks fail to build any momentum off a season-opening victory that included not only celebrating an Orange Bowl past, but also teases of an effective offense.
The Peyton Bender of Week 1 did not make an encore performance in a 45-27 loss to the Chippewas, though. Following KU’s second game of what currently looks like another long season for the ever-struggling Big 12 program, there were no touchdown passes to be found in KU’s box score. Seven days after throwing four TDs and a pair of interceptions versus Southeast Missouri State, Bender’s effectiveness and numbers regressed, and the junior transfer only completed 32 of 62 passes for 323 yards, with two interceptions in KU’s Air Raid offense.
“We just sputtered. We weren’t consistent,” Bender said after the loss, in which KU trailed 24-6 in the second quarter. “It was disappointing. I thought we were prepared but we just didn’t execute for some reason.”
Hampered in part by the unavailability of injured receiver Steven Sims Jr. (ankle) and inconsistent blocking up front, Bender’s play declined as KU took a step up in competition.
After KU fell to 1-1, head coach David Beaty said the inconsistency of the passing attack troubled him most.
“I thought we made a couple of really, really rough throws early in the game there that went into turnovers,” Beaty said of second-quarter picks by CMU’s Tyjuan Swain and Josh Cox. “We’ve got to take care of the ball. We can’t be throwing the ball to the other team. We had one that went right down the middle of the field and we’ve just got to be smarter than that.”
Better decisions, Beaty added, have to be made by Bender, who often looked shaky on his attempts, especially in the first half, when both of KU’s turnovers set up Shane Morris-led scoring drives for the underdogs from the Mid-American Conference.
“He’s a really good player and he’s a smart guy,” Beaty said of Bender. “He made a mistake there and he’ll learn from it. We just can’t put it in jeopardy like that.”
Bender, of course, agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“I’ve got to play better. Turned the ball over twice, which you can’t do. That first interception was terrible. I can’t do that. You’ve just got to eat it,” Bender said. “I got pressured off the left edge and sometimes you’ve just got to throw it in the dirt.”
In another particularly frustrating and foreshadowing sequence for the Jayhawks, the home team had second-and-goal at the CMU 1-yard line late in the first quarter and came away with only a 3-0 lead off a 23-yard Gabriel Rui field goal to show for it.
Junior running back Deron Thompson, who started the game with Taylor Martin out due to injury and Dom Williams a bit banged up, as well, ran the ball to the 1-yard line on first-and-goal before Bender thew a ball nowhere near Chase Harrell on second down, right tackle Antione Frazier committed a false start and another Bender-to-Harrell attempt in the back of the end zone failed.
“We always talk about not beating ourselves, especially when we get down in the red zone on the 1-yard line,” Thompson said after rushing for 48 yards on 10 carries. “A lot of things we can’t do that kind of messes up the momentum of the flow of the offense. … There’s a big difference between the one and five as far as play-calling. That affected us. We have to overcome things that happen like that. We have to be able to overcome that, because bad things are going to happen. People are going to mess up. We’ve just got to make up for it.”
After a 45-27 home loss to Central Michigan on Saturday, Kansas football coach David Beaty talked about what went wrong defensively, offensive struggles and which lessons the team needs to learn.
KU, Beaty said, should have scored a TD in that situation, but that was only the beginning of KU’s problems.
Seven of the following 10 Central Michigan possessions ended with scores — six with touchdowns — as Morris completed 28 of 37 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns on the day.
The overwhelming problem?
“Everything,” junior linebacker Joe Dineen said after making 12 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. “Linebackers weren’t getting in their coverages, lack of pass rush, DBs, just the defense as a whole.”
As a result, CMU (2-0) receivers ran wild and free along the invitingly spacious turf and both Mark Chapman and Corey Willis caught eight balls apiece, while combining for 308 receiving yards and four TDs (three for Chapman).
The KU defense surrendered 590 yards of total offense, CMU averaged 8.2 yards per play and not once did Morris suffer a sack.
“I just feel like we were a step late on a lot of the QB hits and sacks,” junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. said, after making seven total tackles and 1.5 for loss.
Even a near-perfect start to the third quarter couldn’t revive the Jayhawks, who deferred and started the second half with possession. In just four plays — two successful Thompson carries, a 22-yard Bender pass to Jeremiah Booker and a receiver reverse which Ryan Schadler took 33 yards to the end zone — KU cut an 18-point halftime deficit to 11, in all of a minute and six seconds.
The defense, with an Armstrong rush stop and a couple plays from Dineen, even followed that up with a three-and-out, setting the table for another Kansas scoring drive.
When freshman running back Dom Williams (18 carries, 64 yards) scored his first of two touchdowns, the CMU lead shrank to 24-20.
However, Morris was back dealing from that point on. The senior graduate transfer QB from Michigan said the four-point margin provided a sense of urgency.
“Yeah, we make it a point to beat the teams we should beat,” Morris said. “We thought Kansas was a team we should beat and them being a Power 5 team was something we circled a little more.”
Said junior captain and defensive tackle Daniel Wise of Morris’ success: “He was throwing some quick passes. He knew that he couldn’t sit back there and hold it for too long, and then when we did get in his face he was a good quarterback and he got it off with guys hanging on him.”
In such a loss, everyone involved was to blame.
“There were some times when I thought we had a little momentum going and we just couldn’t sustain it,” Beaty said. “We’ve got to be able to be better collectively, and we certainly didn’t play great collectively tonight. When the offense needed the defense we weren’t really there and when the defense needed the offense we really just weren’t there today. We’ve got to get better in that area.
"There’s a lot of things we have to do to get better and we understand that. We’ll come back ready to go tomorrow. That’s one thing I do know. I believe in our staff. I believe in our kids. I believe in our team. And much like them, I think we’ve got a chance to get a lot better between now and next week. We have no choice. There’s a game coming up next week against a really good opponent (Ohio, 1-1) and we’re going to their place. So we’ll have them ready to go.”
All the good vibes associated with a win over SEMO were nowhere to be found by the end of what Dineen considered “a little bit” of a surprising setback.
“I thought we had a decent week of practice. I thought we prepared well and for that to happen it was really disappointing,” Dineen said. “But it’s over now. We’ve just got to flush it, move on. I have 100 percent confidence in the offense. They’ll get it rolling. And 100 percent confidence in (defensive coordinator Clint) Bowen. He’ll get us in the right place next week.”
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