Key play: Senior cornerback Greg Brown helped KU avoid an early double-digit headache by picking off Rice quarter Taylor McHargue at the KU 9 with 10:44 left.
Key stat: Two KU turnovers in the first four minutes. D.J. Beshears fumbled a kickoff minutes after Dayne Crist was picked off on his first pass.
Key play: Junior running back Taylor Cox broke a 21-yard gain to the 4 in the final minutes. The long run set up freshman linebacker Schyler Miles’ 1-yard TD run in his backfield debut.
Key stat: Even after their two early turnovers, the Jayhawks led the turnover battle at halftime after forcing two fumbles and recording an interception. KU forced eight turnovers in its first six quarters this season.
Key play: On the opening drive of the half, sophomore running back Tony Pierson busted into the open field on a 28-yard run, setting up an 8-yard touchdown run from Taylor Cox that gave KU a 24-13 lead.
Key stat: Pierson went over 100 yards for the second straight game, becoming the first Jayhawk to accomplish that since junior James Sims did it in the first two games last season.
Key play: Take your pick, but Dayne Crist’s second interception with just less than four minutes left gave Rice a short field to work with during its game-winning drive.
Key stat: The Jayhawks’ offense managed just 35 total yards in the fourth quarter as the Owls erased an eight-point deficit.
Offense: C-. Tony Pierson finished with more than 100 rushing yards again, but the passing game struggled for the second straight week. Dayne Crist finished 16 of 28 passing for 144 yards with two picks. The injury to receiver Kale Pick didn’t help, either.
Defense: C. The defense couldn’t come up with a stop when it needed one on the game’s final drive. But the Jayhawks were opportunistic, forcing two turnovers on defense and holding Rice to just 16 points over the first three quarters.
Special teams: C-. As KU coach Charlie Weis said, this was a team loss. All three units left plays on the field. But junior kicker Ron Doherty missed a couple big kicks, including a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have given KU a 27-16 lead.
Coaching: C. The Jayhawks lost to a Conference USA team that fell to UCLA by 25 points in its last game. This wasn’t South Dakota State. But the Jayhawks had a chance to finish this out, and as Weis says, much of the blame falls on him.
Player of the game: Rice kicker Chris Boswell showed a leg that could potentially play on Sunday. All day long, he thumped kicks that would have been good from 55 or 60 yards. And his game-winner was perfect — twice.
Reason to hope: Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox look like real threats in the backfield (and junior James Sims will be back in two weeks).
Reason to mope: The passing game — a facet that many people thought would be a strength — has largely been a dud thus far. But here’s the big one: KU probably won’t be favored in another game this year.
Looking ahead: The Jayhawks will return to Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. next Saturday to welcome TCU to the Big 12 Conference.
KU senior receiver Kale Pick left the game early with what appeared to be a left knee injury. Pick spent most of the second half standing on the sidelines with his helmet on. Weis declined to elaborate too much on the severity of the injury, saying he would know more on Sunday.
Pick, who began his career as a quarterback, finished with 34 catches for 344 yards last season.
• KU senior defensive end Toben Opurum finished with a sack, two tackles for loss and a crucial forced fumble in the first half. He showed glimpses of why KU coaches think he’s just scratching the surface of talent on defense. But he also watched as the Jayhawks let another game slip away. Still, Opurum said this loss didn’t feel like 2011.
“I feel like this situation that we’re in right now is really gonna test how mentally tough we are,” Opurum said. “The fact we really let one slip away from us.”
Quote: “We didn’t finish on offense, we didn’t finish on defense, and we didn’t finish on special teams.” — Charlies Weis