Keys to the game
Kansas: After carrying the ball just three times in the first two weeks — perhaps because of injury issues — running back Khalil Herbert had 19 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. This was even more impressive considering the Jayhawks mustered just 26 rushing yards at home against Ohio last season.
Ohio: Tight end Troy Mangen, who hadn’t caught a pass all season, had a pair of touchdown receptions in the first half while helping the Bobcats to an early 25-7 lead.
The play after safety Mike Lee came down with an end-zone interception, quarterback Peyton Bender gave it right back, throwing a pass behind Steven Sims that was deflected and intercepted by Jalen Fox. The Bobcats followed with a touchdown on the ensuing drive to push their advantage to 18 points.
KU’s offense wasn’t good early when the results were most important. Bender held onto the ball too long on many plays, which was part of the reason for Ohio’s five sacks. Still … KU’s 5.7 yards per play is a good number, especially considering the team only had one turnover. The running game also was improved, even if the final stat line (3.4 yards per carry) didn’t reflect it because of the lost sack yardage.
Before an Ohio kneeldown to end the first half, KU’s defense had surrendered 9.1 yards per play. To give some context, the best offense in the nation last year, Western Kentucky, finished the year at 7.7 yards per play. Even smashmouth Ohio found ways to expose KU’s secondary time and again, and the Jayhawks weren’t great in the run game either, blowing containment too often while allowing Bobcats’ runners to get to the edge.
Most of KU’s special teams were fine. Cole Moos punted well. Gabriel Rui made a 34-yard field goal and all his extra points. The Jayhawks couldn’t execute on their most important play, though, as Liam Jones’ surprise onside kick to start the second half didn’t make it 10 yards, resulting in a missed opportunity for a team needing a spark.
KU was an eight-point underdog, and if not for a meaningless touchdown on the game’s final play, it would have lost by 18. The Jayhawks didn’t appear to fix many of their secondary issues from last week against Central Michigan, which isn’t a positive sign given the next nine games will be against Big 12 opponents.