Keys to the game
Kansas: Running back Khalil Herbert had a historic day, rushing 36 times for 294 yards with two touchdowns. It was the third-best KU rushing total all-time and also the best by any FBS back this season.
West Virginia: Quarterback Will Grier picked apart KU’s defense consistently in clutch situations, finishing with 347 yards and two touchdowns. His best play came on third downs, as the Mountaineers were 5 for 7 on first-half conversions while averaging 8.5 yards to go on those attempts.
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KU still had a chance in the fourth quarter when it forced a field-goal attempt while trailing 35-27. On fourth and 1, though, Dorance Armstrong jumped offside, giving the Mountaineers a first down that led to a backbreaking touchdown two plays later.
KU wasn’t perfect (three turnovers, first-half inconsistency), but the production here is astounding considering how poor KU was in this area last season. The Jayhawks’ offensive line consistently cleared holes on a 367-yard rushing day. Herbert was excellent, while quarterback Peyton Bender flashed his potential with a perfectly placed 64-yard completion to Steven Sims down the sideline. As a result, KU’s 6.7-yard-per-play average was its most against a Big 12 opponent since 2009.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s group narrowly escaped its third straight “F” with improved play after halftime. Still, allowing four, 80-plus-yard touchdown drives in five first-half possessions is unacceptable, and minor improvements in the secondary haven’t been good enough to keep KU in games where the offense is doing its part. West Virginia averaged 7.7 yards per play, and the Jayhawks’ defense has now allowed at least 7 yards per play to each of its last three opponents.
Gabriel Rui made two field goals, including a 41-yarder, and Cole Moos boomed a few punts. There were too many costly mistakes here, though, the worst of which coming when Armstrong’s penalty gave West Virginia a free first down late.
KU’s offensive plan to run the ball worked, and the staff appeared to make solid adjustments at halftime as the Jayhawks scored 14 straight points to make it a one-score game. In the end, though, the defense’s inability to stop drives or make big plays has hamstrung a team that appears to be improving in other areas.