As his Kansas football team prepares this week for its Big 12 opener, head coach Lance Leipold thinks some special teams miscues from the Jayhawks’ loss at Coastal Carolina in Week 2 are repairable.
Few plays during the Friday night loss in Conway, S.C., stood out as much as a KU punt that the Chanticleers not only blocked, but also turned into a special teams touchdown with a recovery in the end zone.
Coastal safety Alex Spillum raced untouched from the line of scrimmage to punter Reis Vernon, smacked his punt out of the air and then jumped on the loose ball in the end zone, turning a one-score game into a 21-9 CCU advantage near the midway point of the second quarter.
Leipold said Monday during his weekly press conference, ahead of KU’s Saturday home game versus Baylor (2:30 p.m., ESPN+), that there was a check made on the punt protection and one player made an assignment error.
“We let a guy go free, cut loose a guy who was in a good position to get there,” Leipold said of Spillum. “It’s correctable,” the coach added.
The Jayhawks also incurred a delay of game penalty just before the critical special teams gaffe. Leipold, reiterating what he stated on Friday night after the 49-22 loss, said the penalty was his fault, as he was hoping to run some extra seconds off the clock before the punt. When a check had to be made, the punt team couldn’t get back set to get the punt off before the play clock ran out.
“It’s two separate issues but it looks like it’s all tying in together. We’ve got to do a better job,” Leipold said.
That play marked the second time at CCU that the Jayhawks (1-1) got a kick blocked on special teams. The first instance came late in the first quarter. After freshman running back Devin Neal’s short touchdown run put KU ahead, 9-7, the margin didn’t become 10-7 as expected.
CCU redshirt senior Jeffrey Gunter already was in the backfield when he skied upward to swat Jacob Borcila’s extra point attempt. To make it happen, Gunter first leapt past long snapper Luke Hosford and offensive lineman Joseph Gilbertson once the ball was snapped.
Leipold said the Jayhawks had a couple of “operational communications” in that instance.
“More importantly the issue was just technique wise of getting too low and causing a gap,” the coach said. “We’ve got to protect the gaps a little bit bigger and stay bigger. I think we’ll get that solved, as well.”
Although it ended up getting negated by a penalty, the Jayhawks had another kick blocked — this time on a long field goal try — in the third quarter.
Trying to cut the CCU lead to 10 with more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, KU sent Borcila onto the field for a 56-yard field goal attempt. The pressure didn’t come from up the middle like it had on the blocked extra point earlier, but Spillum raced in off the edge to get his hands on the kick.
CCU cornerback Jacob Proche lined up in the neutral zone, drawing a flag that wiped the blocked kick from the record books. But it was another instance of a KU special teams breakdown, as tight end Trevor Kardell was left trying to block both Spillum and Proche at once.
KU’s field goal team found success on its first appearance of the night at CCU, when Borcila capped the opening drive with a 46-yard field goal. Borcila also sent an extra point through the uprights on his only other try following a KU TD.
The Jayhawks attempted just two punts in the road loss, both coming in the second quarter. The one Vernon had time to get off traveled 38 yards.
Leipold called Coastal’s blocked punt and TD a “huge momentum shifter” in the defeat, his first as KU’s head coach.
“We lost by 27 points and we punted twice and we didn’t turn the ball over,” Leipold said of the odd combination of events. “Think about that. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game like that.”