After routinely giving up 500-plus yards and seeing FBS opponents light up the scoreboard week after week, the Kansas football defense had its best stretch of the season during the first half against Oklahoma.
While the defense couldn’t keep its shutout going in the second half and the Sooners rallied for a 35-23 win, KU held an FBS opponent below 400 yards for the first time this season, as the Sooners totaled 398.
In the first five games of KU’s now six-game losing streak, opponents were averaging 529 yards a game and 49.2 points. In a drastically different first half against the Sooners, KU stymied one of the better offenses in the country, holding OU to 78 total yards and no points.
KU Head coach Lance Leipold said the Jayhawks’ offense helped make that possible.
“It’s a holistic thing, and I think it always will be for us,” Leipold said of what he envisions for the program.
The Sooners (8-0 overall, 5-0 Big 12) only had the ball for eight minutes in the first half. A Kyron Johnson sack for a 10-yard loss on OU’s fifth play of the day, a third-and-five near midfield, rendered the Sooners’ first series short-lived. Then another KU super-senior, safety Ricky Thomas, picked off a deep pass on the third play of OU’s second possession.
Though OU started having more success in the final minutes of the second quarter on its third drive, that series ended with a fourth-down stop for the KU defense.
The Sooners only had three possessions in the first half, because the Jayhawks (1-6, 0-4) kept putting together methodical offensive drives. KU won the coin toss, opted to receive and proceeded to deliver a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 9:11 off the clock to get things started.
Next came a 12-play, 69-yard drive, culminating with a Jacob Borcila field goal that put KU up 10-0 in the second quarter. Though KU’s third series didn’t give the Jayhawks points and more of a margin to work with in their upset bid, it did last for 11 plays and 5:09.
It was that harmonious execution that Leipold appreciated most in the first half.
“We did get some stops and some plays,” Leipold added of the defense, noting Johnson’s sack added to KU’s momentum. “A lot of positive things there that we will definitely build upon.”
The defense recorded a season-high three sacks in the loss, matching its total sack number from the previous five games combined. Johnson’s early sack gave the super-senior defensive end a team-leading 3.5 for the year. Senior defensive lineman Caleb Sampson and junior linebacker Gavin Potter each picked up his first sack of the season against OU.
Thomas, whose second-quarter interception gave the KU defense its eighth takeaway of the year (tied for 92nd nationally), said the Jayhawks felt good about the way they competed against the heavily favored Sooners.
“We didn’t do nothing special,” Thomas added. “We did what our coaches told us to do — go fight hard, play hard, play fast. That’s what it turned out to be.”
OU’s offense recalibrated at halftime, and the Sooners scored a TD on each of their final five possessions.
The next challenge for the KU defense comes on Saturday (6 p.m., FOX Sports 1) at No. 15 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1).