An upset bid for the long struggling Kansas football program came with a dose of fourth quarter drama before No. 3 Oklahoma got out of David Booth Kansas Stadium with a 35-23 victory on Saturday.
After going scoreless in the first half, the Sooners had to rally and convert a bizarre fourth down late in the game to head back to Norman, Okla., with their undefeated record intact.
The Sooners (8-0 overall, 5-0 Big 12) put together their fifth consecutive touchdown drive of the second half half in the game’s final minutes to complete their comeback road win. The 12-play drive that took more than five minutes off the clock, and by the time Kennedy Brooks ran in for 4-yard TD with 42 seconds left, KU was down two scores without enough time to battle back in front of an announced crowd of 26,321.
Brooks (24 carries, 79 yards, two TDs) got the chance to seal the road win because of an unplanned handoff of sorts a few plays earlier. Brooks was all but stopped in the backfield on a fourth-and-1 rush attempt from OU’s own 46-yard line in the game’s final minutes. But as he spun and tried to keep his progress going, OU’s quarterback, Caleb Williams, came over and took the ball out of Brooks’ hands before Brooks was ruled down. The QB then picked up enough yardage for the first down.
The officiating crew ruled it was a legal handoff behind the line of scrimmage.
KU head coach Lance Leipold was asked following the loss whether he thought his team was “robbed” of having a chance to go down the field and win (KU trailed 28-23 at the time of the strange fourth down play).
“I’m not going to comment on that right now,” Leipold replied. “Those are tough calls on (forward) progress and that. I’d have to take another look at it.”
While KU’s head coach described himself as “enthusiastic” with officials at times during games, he said he understands when calls and explanations are made.
“We’ve just got to find ways to make plays,” Leipold added.
After the game, the Big 12’s coordinator of officials, Greg Burks, provided further explanation of the fourth-and-1 play via a released statement.
“The reviewable aspects of the play were position of the ball in relation to the line of scrimmage, and if possession was ever lost by the offense. The ball never crossed the line of scrimmage and there was never a loss of possession, not a fumble, so this play was a forward handoff behind the line of scrimmage,” Burks said.
The action, Burks said, is allowed under Rule 7- 6-a, which states an offensive back, “may hand the ball forward to another back only if both are behind their scrimmage line and the player handing the ball forward has not had their entire body beyond the neutral zone."
Leipold said after the Jayhawks’ sixth consecutive loss he thought in the moment that the Jayhawks had delivered a fourth-down stop.
“I don’t know completely if forward progress had been stopped. He kind of bounced back as it was going. (The) guy didn’t really hand it. The quarterback just kind of took it away from him. It was a very heady play,” Leipold added.
“I didn’t know if it was considered a pass or a handoff,” he continued, “so I asked if there were men downfield. They said it was a handoff.”
As KU (1-6 overall, 0-4 Big 12) tried to respond to OU’s first go-ahead TD, earlier in the fourth quarter, a promising drive ended abruptly when Key Lawrence stripped Steven McBride after the KU receiver caught a pass from quarterback Jason Bean. Justin Broiles recovered it and the Sooners were able to start their next series in plus territory.
On fourth-and-3 at the KU 40, Williams broke two tackles and was gone before the Jayhawks could do anything about it. The clutch 40-yard TD helped OU extend its lead to 28-17.
Though the Jayhawks answered with a TD drive, and Bean hit Luke Grimm in the end zone for a 14-yard score, that would be KU’s final trip across the gaol line, with 5:56 remaining.
The Sooners’ defense finally got the Jayhawks to punt on KU's sixth possession of the day, with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter. And OU immediately capitalized, taking the lead for good on the ensuing series, a four-play, 48-yard TD drive.
A 1-yard score by Brooks the Sooners their first lead of the day with 12:35 left in the fourth quarter.
A 66-yard reverse for Trevon West to open OU’s second possession of the second half immediately put the Sooners in scoring position, answering a KU TD drive. Two plays later, Williams (15-for-20, 178 yards, two TDs, one interception) found Jeremiah Hall for an 8-yard TD and the Jayhawks’ brief 10-point lead late in the third quarter was down to 17-14 before the fourth quarter even began.
The Jayhawks’ offense didn’t let the revived Sooners deter them when Bean and company took the field for the first time in the third quarter. A third-and-3 conversion from KU’s 48-yard line proved critical on what evolved into a 10-play scoring drive. After faking a handoff to Torry Locklin, who came in motion, Bean hit Lawrence Arnold down the field for a 22-yard gain. A 20-yard catch for Steven McBride on the next snap helped the Jayhawks out even more.
After KU got down into goal-to-go territory, the Jayhawks didn’t settle for a field goal. Bean handed the ball off to freshman running back Devin Neal for a 1-yard TD on fourth down, and KU extended its margin to 17-7 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
Though the Jayhawks ultimately fell, Neal said having a game come down to the final minutes was “super exciting” for the Jayhawks, who had been blown out in their previous three Big 12 losses.
“We fought hard. And you live for games like that,” said Neal, who rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries on a day the Jayhawks put up 412 yards of total offense. “A couple plays on our side just go the wrong way.”
It wasn’t until the 7:57 mark of the third quarter that the vaunted Sooners offense (398 yards on the day) got into the end zone versus a KU defense that had struggled all season. OU regrouped at halftime following its disastrous first two quarters, and Williams, the Sooners’ true freshman QB, led a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. His 5-yard pass to Jadon Haselwood trimmed KU’s lead to 10-7.
The Jayhawks’ coaches couldn’t have scripted a much more perfect first half against Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma. The Sooners’ offense, after posting 50-plus points each of the past two weeks against Texas and TCU, could barely stay on the field, let alone score, during the first two quarters.
KU’s defense forced a punt, picked off a Williams pass attempt — courtesy of super-senior safety Ricky Thomas — and came away with a turnover downs in the first half, when OU gained only 78 yards of offense on 17 plays.
Thomas said holding OU scoreless in the first half made the KU defense proud.
“All we did was what our coaches told us to do — don’t worry about who the opponent is, just line up and play hard and play physical. And that’s what we did to the end,” Thomas said.
With a surprising 10-0 halftime lead over the heavily favored Sooners, KU became the first team to shut out OU in the first half during Lincoln Riley’s five seasons at the head coach. The Sooners hadn’t gone scoreless for an entire first half since facing Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, in December of 2014.
On what turned out to be one of OU’s best chances to get on the scoreboard before halftime, the Sooners went for it on fourth-and-6 from KU’s 33-yard line with just more than a minute left in the first half. But as Williams improvised and tried to lead Eric Gray to the end zone, the pass went incomplete.
That nine-play, 28-yard drive was actually the Sooners’ best series of the first two quarters.
The OU offense didn’t begin its third possession until there was 5:32 left in the first half. Before that, the Sooners only ran eight plays for 25 yards, as KU built a 10-0 lead.
The Jayhawks looked to put OU in an even larger hole on their third possession, which was keyed by a Bean completion under pressure to Arnold on third-and-long. But a 57-yard field goal try by Jacob Borcila missed wide left.
The Sooners got into a rut offensively, in large part because they spent so much of the first half on the sidelines. Both of KU’s first two drives ate up chunks of the clock. Though the underdogs’ second series ended with a 28-yard Borcila field goal and not a TD, the drive took 6:36, as KU went ahead 10-0.
After finishing 17-for-23 through the air, for 246 yards, with one TD and no interceptions, junior KU QB Bean said the successful start, which was a change for the offense compared to recent weeks, had to do with the way the Jayhawks approached the challenge.
“I think it was just our mentality, the mentality that we came in with this week,” Bean said. “Knowing this was going to be a good game for us this week, and I think just the way we prepared all week.”
The OU offense didn’t even take the field for the first time until the 5:45 mark of the first quarter, thanks to a near perfect opening drive by the KU offense. A third-and-8 conversion on the third play of the day helped KU set the tone in its upset bid. Bean’s 9-yard connection with Kwamie Lassiter II (seven catches, 101 yards) assured the Jayhawks of some momentum, and KU picked up two more third downs on the series, en route to a 14-play, 80-yard TD drive, capped by the first of Neal’s two 1-yard rushing scores on the day.
Between that methodical drive and super-senior defensive end Kyron Johnson’s crucial sack of Williams on the Sooners’ first third down of the day on their opening drive, KU was able to become the first team to shut out OU in the first quarter since Alabama did it in the 2018 Orange Bowl.
Leipold said after his team’s latest defeat that he learned while watching KU compete with OU that his team is “very resilient.”
“They’re going to compete and they’re working to get better. And there’s progress being made. We’ve got to continue to work on things for us to be able to pull games like this out in the fourth quarter,” Leipold said.
“We’ve talked a long time about getting games into the fourth quarter and finding a ay to win. We did one of the two,” the coach continued. “Again, I’m proud of them in that capacity, because a lot of people can become awful selfish and worry about their own stats or their own playing time. And I was really happy with the way our guys on the sidelines were into it, and they’re seeing progress from each other.”
The Jayhawks hit the road next week to take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.
SCORING BY QUARTERS
5:45 — Devin Neal 1 run. Jacob Borcila kick. Fourteen-play drive for 80 yards, in 9:11. (KU 7, OU 0.)
11:24 — Borcila 28 field goal. Twelve-play drive for 69 yards, in 6:36. (KU 10, OU 0.)
7:57 — Jadon Haselwood 5 pass from Caleb Williams. Gabe Brkic kick. Fourteen-play drive for 75 yards, in 7:03. (KU 10, OU 7.)
1:30 — Neal 1 run. Borcila kick. Ten-play drive for 75 yards, in 6:27. (KU 17, OU 7.)
0:14 — Jeremiah Hall 8 pass from Williams. Brkic kick. Three-play drive for 75 yards, in 1:16. (KU 17, OU 14.)
12:35 — Kennedy Brooks 1 run. Brkic kick. Four-play drive for 48 yards, in 1:28. (OU 21, KU 17.)
7:53 — Williams 40 run. Brkic kick. Four-play drive for 47 yards, in 1:29. (OU 28, KU 17.)
5:56 — Luke Grimm 14 pass from Jason Bean. Kwamie Lassiter run failed. Five-play drive for 75 yards, in 1:57. (OU 28, KU 23.)
0:42 — Brooks 4 run. Brkic kick. Twelve-play drive for 75 yards, in 5:14. (OU 35, KU 23.)