A blissful opening half for the perennial Big 12 underdog Kansas football program set the stage for the Jayhawks’ first conference road victory in 13 years Saturday night at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
But it would take overtime to make it happen in Austin, Texas.
The Longhorns took their first lead of the night on their first OT possession. But the Jayhawks had the answer and a successful 2-point gamble to cap a 57-56 victory.
With fill-in starting quarterback Jalon Daniels and true freshman running back Devin Neal providing not only big offensive plays, but also some confidence and rhythm, and the KU defense delivering takeaways, the Jayhawks secured their first ever win at Texas in dramatic fashion.
Neal scored the overtime TD and Daniels found fullback Jared Casey for the 2-point conversion and the win.
The Jayhawks not only snapped this season’s eight-game losing streak with their first win against an FBS opponent all year, they also killed the program’s epic 56-game Big 12 road losing streak. It was KU’s first conference road win since 2008 at Iowa State.
Plus, Leipold’s first Big 12 win squashed the program’s league losing streak at 18, giving KU its first conference victory since beating Texas Tech at home in 2019.
After Texas (4-6 overall, 2-5 Big 12) made it a seven-point game with a Casey Thompson touchdown pass to Xavier Worthy with 4:39 to play, the Jayhawks (2-8, 1-6) needed one more strong offensive series to finish off a marquee road win.
However, when head coach Lance Leipold opted to go for it on fourth-and-short from KU’s own 34-yard line with more than two and a half minutes to go, Texas stuffed a Daniels keeper.
It would be up to the KU defense to get a stop and seal the victory, as Texas took over at midfield with 2:34 left, down seven points. The drive only lasted five plays, thanks to KU freshman safety O.J. Burroughs, who picked off a Thompson pass in the end zone.
But not even that was enough to put away UT completely. The Longhorns used all three of their timeouts on defense and forced a punt, giving the traditional powerhouse one more chance. UT forced overtime with a tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in regulation.
A 29-yard dime from Daniels (21-for-30, 202 yards, four total TDs) to super-senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II on KU’s first drive of the fourth quarter put the Jayhawks in position to extend their seven-point lead at UT. Three plays later, KU kept the drive alive on third-and-6, when tight end Trevor Kardell skied for an improbable 16-yard catch.
And it was one more successful third-down, a Daniels pass for Lassiter II in the back corner of the end zone on third-and-goal, that gave the Jayhawks a comfortable 49-35 lead with just 8:47 to play.
The tide began to turn in UT’s favor in the third quarter. The Longhorns forced KU to punt on back to back possessions after the Jayhawks punted only once the entire first half.
KU’s offense finally hit a lull just as the Longhorns found their bearings. Texas scored more touchdowns (three) in the third quarter than it did in the first half.
A huge special teams play for UT keyed that stretch. The Longhorns already had trimmed KU’s lead to 42-28 when Marcus Washington blocked a Reis Vernon punt late in the third quarter.
It only took three snaps for UT to get into the end zone, after taking over 17 yards away from the goal line. Texas QB Thompson threw his third TD pass of the night to Xavier Worthy, and KU saw its cushion shrink to 42-35 before the fourth quarter began.
KU’s true freshman running back, Lawrence native Neal (24 carries, 143 rushing yards, four total touchdowns) asserted himself on KU’s first series of the second half, validating the Jayhawks’ upset bid after Texas scored a touchdown to open the third quarter.
Not only did Neal bust a 58-yard run on the Jayhawks’ second snap of the second half, immediately putting the visitors back in the red zone. After taking one play off for a quick breather, Neal returned to the lineup for a 10-yard TD run, and the Jayhawks’ lead grew to 42-21 a little more than six minutes into the second half.
Three takeaways from the KU defense in the first half incited the shocking 35-14 halftime lead for the Jayhawks.
Already in position to head to the locker room at halftime with momentum, KU’s defense cashed in on another Longhorns’ mistake late in the second quarter. Freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant jumped a Hudson Card pass toward the sideline on the first play of UT’s fifth possession. Perfect with his read and his timing, Bryant turned the interception into a 31-yard sprint to the end zone, and the Jayhawks went up 21, surpassing their previous season-high for points scored in a game (33 at Duke) before halftime.
Daniels made sure the Jayhawks’ upset threat didn’t die in the first half after UT tied the game. The sophomore QB led the offense down the field late in the second quarter, passing for four first downs, two of which were third down conversions.
And when Daniels was in the midst of looking to connect on another throw inside the UT 10-yard line, he took off to avoid pressure, and bounced would-be Longhorns tacklers off of him on the way to a 9-yard score that helped KU regain the lead, 21-14, with 2:25 to play in the second quarter.
The Longhorns’ second quarter spiral was just getting started at that juncture. Next came Kyron Johnson’s second sack and forced fumble of the opening half. The super-senior defensive end recovered the ball, too, setting KU up with a short, 23-yard field for its next offensive possession.
KU’s advantage grew to 28-14 just three plays later. On third-and-6, Daniels found Neal coming out of the backfield on a screen pass and the determined freshman running back fought his way down the left sideline for a 19-yard TD.
The heavily-favored Longhorns didn’t stay in a 14-0 hole for long after a slow start. UT’s second offensive series looked to revive the home team and its fans, and UT’s starting QB, Thompson bounced back from a turnover on his first series to direct a 10-play TD drive, capped by him hitting a wide open Washington for a 25-yard score.
The Texas defense followed that up with a three-and-out, too, as KU failed to march down the field on its third series the way it did on its first two. UT linebacker Morice Blackwell Jr. blitzed to hurry Daniels on third down, leading to an incompletion and KU’s first failed third down try of the evening.
As planned, the Longhorns switched QBs for their third possession, bringing in Hudson Card for the first time. The redshirt freshman, Card, kept UT’s rally alive. Card went 3-for-3 on a quick scoring drive, and he gave UT its second easy passing TD of the quarter, finding Xavier Worthy deep. The freshman receiver benefited from a KU defender getting tripped up in the secondary, and scored a 33-yard TD that would allow the Longhorns to tie the game at 14 before the midway point of the second quarter.
KU’s defense didn’t allow the Longhorns to build too much early momentum. After UT picked up three first downs in a hurry on its first possession, super-senior KU defensive end Johnson raced off the edge and sacked Thompson, forcing a fumble in the process. The ball flew up in the air as Thompson lost it, and junior linebacker Rich Miller recovered the loose ball.
The highlight takeaway allowed KU’s offense to build upon its early momentum, as well. To get KU’s second series moving in the right direction, Daniels completed a pair of third-down passes, hitting Trevor Wilson and Lassiter II. And then redshirt freshman running back Amauri Pesek-Hickson bursted down the left sideline for a 19-yard gain that put the Jayhawks in the red zone for the second time in the first quarter.
KU stayed perfect on third downs (5-for-5) early, as Daniels hit tight end Mason Fairchild for an 11-yard TD on third-and-9. The strike helped underdog KU go up 14-0 before the end of the first quarter.
After a couple of rough weeks for the KU offense, the Jayhawks got off to a nearly flawless start on the Longhorns’ home field. Daniels played with confidence on the game’s opening series, getting into a rhythm with manageable short passes to Lassiter and Lawrence Arnold.
Neal’s running complemented Daniels, too, and the true freshman back picked up 38 yards on seven carries on the first drive alone, which concluded with Neal cutting right on second-and-goal and scoring a go-ahead, 3-yard TD that allowed KU to go up 7-0 just more than seven minutes into the game.
KU will return to the Lone Star State next week, for the Jayhawks’ 2021 road finale at TCU.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
7:58 — Devin Neal 3 run. Jacob Borcila kick. Thirteen-play drive for 75 yards, in 7:02. (KU 7, UT 0.)
0:36 — Mason Fairchild 11 pass from Jalon Daniels. Borcila kick. Ten-play drive for 65 yards, in 5:04. (KU 14, UT 0.)
12:14 — Marcus Washington 25 pass from Casey Thompson. Cameron Dicker kick. Ten-play drive for 75 yards, in 3:22. (KU 14, UT 7.)
8:48 — Xavier Worthy 33 pass from Hudson Card. Dicker kick. Six-play drive for 68 yards, in 2:22. (KU 14, UT 14.)
2:25 — Daniels 9 run. Borcila kick. Eleven-play drive for 75 yards, in 6:23. (KU 21, UT 14.)
1:14 — Neal 19 pass from Daniels. Borcila kick. Three-play drive for 23 yards, in 0:21. (KU 28, UT 14.)
1:00 — Jacobee Bryant 31 interception return. Borcila kick. (KU 35, UT 14.)
11:17 — Thompson 1 run. Dicker kick. Ten-play drive for 65 yards, in 3:43. (KU 35, UT 21.)
8:59 — Neal 10 run. Borcila kick. Four-play drive for 75 yards, in 2:18. (KU 42, UT 21.)
3:50 — Bijan Robinson 25 pass from Thompson. Dicker kick. Eight-play drive for 88 yards, in 2:37. (KU 42, UT 28.)
1:21 — Worthy 7 pass from Thompson. Dicker kick. Three-play drive for 17 yards, in 0:44. (KU 42, UT 35.)
8:47 — Lassiter 2 pass from Daniels. Borcila kick. Nine-play drive for 73 yards, in 5:11. (KU 49, UT 35.)
4:39 — Worthy 8 pass from Thompson. Dicker kick. Eleven-play drive for 91 yards, in 3:57. (KU 49, UT 42.)
0:22 — Cade Brewer 25 pass from Casey Thompson. Dicker kick. Three-play drive for 34 yards, in 0:22. (KU 49, UT 49.)
• Washington 8 pass from Thompson. Dicker kick. Three-play drive for 25 yards. (UT 56, KU 49.)
• Neal 2 run. Jared Casey pass from Daniels. Four-play drive for 25 yards. (KU 57, UT 56.)