While it would have been great to finally win a second conference game, it was still heartening to watch the Jayhawks hang in with yet another Big 12 opponent. West Virginia came out of Lawrence with a 34-28 victory - although it wasn’t exactly a nailbiter - but clearly the game was still within reach most of the way.
The Jayhawks struck first in this one, with a field goal on their first drive. They proceeded to recover a fumble on West Virginia's first snap, and it felt like Kansas had a chance to really make a statement early. They nearly did just that, driving to the Mountaineers' four yard line. Unfortunately a sack on 4th down left the Jayhawks empty handed, and West Virginia responded by driving the length of the field for a touchdown to get on the board.
Another field goal kept Kansas within a point, but a Mountaineer touchdown early in the 2Q put them up 14-6. Once again though, KU answered, and it was none other than new Jayhawk hero Jared Casey scoring the touchdown. Between his blocking and reliable hands, the popular walk-on has established himself as the top tight end on the team, and his touchdown kept it anyone's game, with West Virginia up 14-13. A frustrating two minute drill at the end of the half would give West Virginia an extra touchdown to go into the break up 21-13.
Kansas needed a big play to stay in the game, and they got it in the form of a pick-six by sophomore linebacker Gavin Potter about two minutes into the second half. Kansas was playing another tough, competitive game against a league opponent, and it felt like a win was potentially on the table.
Unfortunately, things didn't go so well from there. The Mountaineers scored ten straight to take a 31-20 lead. Kansas appeared poised to cut it one possession again, but a Jalon Daniels interception in the red zone proved to be a back breaker.
Kansas got the ball back after allowing a field goal, and went to work needing a touchdown and some luck. They came close to the former, but a penalty put them in a 4th-and-11 situation at the Mountaineer 17 with just 3:07 to play. With any chance at a comeback on the line, Daniels threw another pick, and the loss was sealed.
Or was it? The KU defense actually stepped up and forced a 3-and-out, and due to actually using their timeouts this time, less than 30 seconds ticked off the clock. KU got the ball on their own 32-yard line with 2:45 remaining, and five plays later, it was a 6-point game. However, Kansas couldn’t recover the onside kick, and with no timeouts left, WVU simply kneeled out the clock.
Kansas finishes the year just 2-10, but Lance Leipold's crew got the team to where they were no longer getting blown out by the end of the year. The bar is obviously quite low, but that just isn't something Kansas fans have been able to say about nearly any season since Mark Mangino's firing. This isn't the time for a full dissection of the season, but given how many players from this team return next season and how much they had improved by the end of this one, I think there is reason to have some cautious optimism moving forward.