It felt like no one was going to score a touchdown in the first half as Kansas held a 3-0 lead over Kansas State. That changed in the second half, as not only did the Jayhawks score a touchdown, it took a 17-14 lead thanks to a 65-yard touchdown catch by Steven Sims Jr.
And there it was: a brief return to the type of playmaking and stat-stuffing that has allowed Steven Sims to break away from just being another guy on the roster. In fact, as I wrote about in the preseason, Sims has become one of the most accomplished receivers in recent Kansas history. Yet this season it has hardly felt that way.
Saturday was an exception. Sims’ stat line looked more like we’ve become accustomed to—five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown—and nearly helped his team win against its rival for the first time in a decade.
Steven Sims Jr. recorded his eighth 100-yard receiving game of his career, which is third most of any Jayhawk since 2000.
It’s no surprise the first two guys on the list of 100-yard receiving games are the two guys Sims has been chasing in the record books: Dezmon Briscoe (14) and Kerry Meier (10). It was a valid question to ask if Sims was going to get 100 yards in a game this year, given that before Saturday he had cracked 70+ yards just twice. Sims didn’t even get to 100 yards receiving for the season until the Baylor game in week four.
It’s easy to say that Sims hasn’t been as productive this year. Sims only has 473 yards so far this year with two games remaining, after surpassing 800 yards the past two seasons. Though, Sims has still been productive in finding the end zone—with four touchdown receptions so far after scoring six times last year and seven as a sophomore—and his 11.3 yards per catch is nearly identical to his sophomore year (11.9) and not far behind last year (14.2).
My question is, why the decrease in production? Although Jeremiah Booker has equaled Sims’ four touchdowns, Sims is the most talented receiver on the team. And while the quarterback play hasn’t been great, it’s been the same guys passing to him as last year (though by this point he was seeing more Carter Stanley than Peyton Bender). Stanley was also around in 2016, along with Montell Cozart, whose stats were not any better than Bender’s this year.
The biggest difference? Pooka Williams. Williams’ ability as a pass-catching running back is a starting point. Last season, no Kansas running back had more than nine receptions in 12 games. Williams has 30 catches, for 264 yards, already through 10 games. That’s good for the second most on the team. Meanwhile, Sims is on pace for 50 receptions after catching 59 passes in only 11 games last season and 72 in 12 games in 2016.
Pooka’s immediate emergence as a great rusher and the leader of a deep running back corps also has Kansas rushing the ball three more times per game than in 2017. That slight increase in the running game has coincided with five fewer passing attempts per game, and four fewer completions. So the Jayhawks are throwing the ball less than before, and when they do throw it, they have a weapon out of the backfield they’ve not had before.
Sims’ senior campaign has been underwhelming compared to what was expected, but he still has two more games to end on a high note. Regardless, what was known in August will still be true. Sims will go down as one of the best receivers Kansas has had in the last few decades.