Fans seemed pretty much split going into this game. Some (myself included), felt KU would do what they always do after pulling off an upset, and go right back to being destroyed. Others felt there was enough momentum and legitimate improvement to expect this one to stay close.
Depending on which part of the game you point to, either side could appear to correct, though the second mindset proved more accurate. After giving up a quick touchdown in the 1st quarter, Kansas put together a solid drive to tie it at 7. The defense held up pretty well early, and a few minutes into the 2nd quarter, the Jayhawks actually took a 14-7 off a Devin Neal touchdown. From there, though, the offense started to sputter while the defense held together just enough to keep the game from going off the rails. They held TCU scoreless the rest of the first half and entered the break still up 14-7.
Sadly, things quickly changed in the second half. TCU took their first drive to the endzone, and punched in another TD following a Kansas 3-and-out. Their final drive of the 3rd quarter continued into the 4th quarter, and they added a third straight trip to the endzone. It felt like this one was quickly turning into the type of game we've grown used to as fans of KU football.
However, the team was resilient in their response. In just over two minutes of gametime, the Jayhawks managed a 74-yard drive, punctuated by a TD pass from Jalon Daniels (who is showing at least flashes of why the Kansas coaching staff was excited to get him two years ago) to receiver Luke Grimm. Kansas was down by only a touchdown with 9:23 remaining.
Kansas then stepped up to force a 3-and-out. The offense took over and drove all the way down the field to tie the game at 28 after new Jayhawk hero Jared Casey caught a touchdown pass from Daniels with 4:46 remaining in regulation. For the second straight week, we had a legitimate, competitive game on our hands! On the road!
Sadly, the Kansas defense was unable to hold on again during the ensuing possession. TCU converted a huge 3rd-and-8 on their own side of the field that could have changed things entirely had KU stopped them to force a punt. Instead, TCU picked up 10 yards on the play, and the time-consuming drive continued. Eventually, the Frogs put the game away as they kicked a go-ahead field goal with just 11 seconds left. Kansas fell 31-28.
The good news is, it's becoming obvious that this team is improving. Even our worst teams over the last decade typically picked up a surprise win, and/or hung in there with a heavily favored opponent. Each of those years, the competitive game proved to be an aberration, with blowout losses remaining the norm. This team has been blown out on numerous occasions this season, but we've seen a competent offense develop as the line play has improved dramatically.
Additionally, Devin Neal has proven that the hype around him as a 4-star recruit was warranted. Daniels has looked like a D1 quarterback after taking over for Bean and Kendrick after their injuries. The defense is "bend but don't break," and while they still end up breaking a bit too often, they are actually showing some ability to get a big stop here and there.
Yes, this was a loss to a team that's a tossup to qualify for a bowl, but that quality of team has repeatedly blown Kansas over the years. Unless I'm forgetting something, I don't recall back-to-back road games in Big 12 play in which the Jayhawks seemed like they were on the same level as the opponent. Leipold and the staff deserve tremendous credit for what they've been able to develop of out of a young team coming off a winless season, despite missing out on spring ball and having to introduce entirely new offensive AND defensive playbooks starting in fall camp.
Up next, the Jayhawks host West Virginia next week for their last game of the year. The Mountaineers will be playing for bowl eligibility, while Kansas will try to end a tumultuous season strong with an opponent that they may reasonably be able to hang with.