The ball was at 30. It was third down, and KU needed a stop.
After struggling to get the West Virginia offense off the field in the first half of an eventual 56-34 loss at Memorial Stadium, the KU defense had rebounded in the third quarter, forcing three punts and coming away with an interception.
Feeding off of that production, the Peyton Bender-led KU offense had scored 17 unanswered points to cut a once 25-point deficit to eight, but a drive with a chance to tie the game had stalled, and the KU defense needed a response.
“We just knew in the second half we had to make stops, get off on third down,” said cornerback Hasan Defense. “For us to win, we have to get the offense the ball.”
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers at Memorial Stadium.
The first chance at a stop came on the fifth play at the drive. West Virginia (3-1) faced a 3rd-and-eight from its own 30, but wideout Marcus Simms slipped behind sophomore cornerback DeAnte Ford on a corner route for a big gain.
The next chance for a stop came just outside the redzone. KU forced the Mountaineers into a 3rd-and-10, and had done just enough to hold them to a field goal attempt after a nine-yard pass the following play.
West Virginia kicker Mike Molina entered and booted the ball just inside the right upright — a moral victory of sorts for the defense — except the second chance at a stand had been erased by an offsides penalty.
“Dorance is an athlete, he’s one of those guys, he probably was going to jump over him or something to make a play,” Defense said of the penalty. “At the end of the day, it was a really big play in the game, but it wasn’t the deciding factor.”
The cornerback wasn’t wrong.
It wasn’t the offsides penalty that led to the 56 points West Virginia put up. It wasn’t the offsides penalty that caused a pick-six at the end of the first half or that kept the KU offense from tying the game on the drive before.
But what it did was what KU (1-3) couldn’t afford.
It gave the Mountaineers a first down — they scored a touchdown two plays later — and opened up the floodgates, as the Mountaineers scored a touchdown on their next two drives and closed out the game in imposing fashion.
“I feel like I come in here and say the same stuff to you guys every week, but it is correctable and we’ll get if fixed,” said linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. “West Virginia is probably one of the most talented teams in the Big 12, they’ve got guys all over the field, stud quarterback, good running backs. ... Through series and series we showed glimpses of what a good defense looks like.”
Too often though, as Dineen noted, the glimpses were just that, especially when it came to third down.
The Mountaineers scored on four offensive drives in the first half. On three of them, they faced a third down with six-or-more yards to go and converted.
“We weren’t getting off the field on third downs at all,” Defense said. “Win first down and win third down. You win those, you win the game.”
And it wasn’t just third down production.
The cornerback noted the communication issues that plagued the team earlier in the season had continued, as well as some problems with positioning, which he said may have been attributed to a lack of trust between players.
Whatever it was, whenever a player was out of position, quarterback Will Grier seemed to take note. And for that, Defense was none too pleased of the unit sharing his name headed into the bye week, even if he did see some improvement.
“Our secondary was just trash,” Defense said, later clarifying he meant in the first two weeks. “We didn’t do what we needed to do. It’s not always going to click, but we’ve just got make sure it clicks more than it doesn’t.
“Instead of maybe watching more of their film (during the bye week), we need to watch more of our(s).”
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