And so it ends.
Unlike last year, where the season just kind of (fittingly) abruptly ended, we got an actual conclusion to 2021, and surprisingly it wasn’t all bad! Kansas ended the season with three one-score conference games, and even won one - on the road!
The two-win Jayhawks were 21-point dogs coming into this one as they took on a team looking for bowl eligibility, but it was far from a cakewalk for the visitors. Kansas hung around and even had the opportunity to recover an onside kick and go for the win late. Obviously the Jayhawks couldn’t convert, but simply being in that position is an improvement.
I know I broke this news last week, and it turns out it’s still true: the defense is bad. Like, really, really bad. The pass defense is actually okay-ish, but the rush defense is quite literally one of the worst in the country. And when West Virginia got away from the run game, that’s where their offense stalled out.
The Mountaineers averaged 5.2 yards per rush on 50 (!!!) rushing attempts, and 6.1 yards per play overall (which, without looking, honestly might be one of KU’s best defensive efforts all year). Meanwhile, Kansas averaged 5.7 yards per play, but just 3.2 yards per rush.
Turnovers were killer, and I say that knowing that each side had two turnovers. However, in this case, timing really matters. Jalon Daniels had two INTS, both in the end zone as KU was driving. On the flip side, West Virginia did have that pick-6, but that means the KU offense was good for just 21 points on the night.
West Virginia converted “just” 5-14 third downs (35.7%), again, one of KU’s better defensive efforts on the year. However, the KU offense continued to struggle in that scenario, converting 4-12 (33.3%). That contributed to KU losing the time of possession battle despite dominating the first quarter, holding the ball for nearly 10 of those first 15 minutes.
Say it with me... progress? That’s now three in a row where you can look and say, yeah, I can see it. The difference with this squad and some of the other late season “surges” we’ve seen in recent years is key though; the Jayhawks have 68 players on the roster who have graduated high school since 2020. That’s the highest among P5 programs and fourth highest nationally behind Navy, Northern Illinois, and Bowling Green.
Jalon Daniels had two INTs on the night, both in the fourth quarter and in the red zone. Leipold preaches ball security, so those two plays will no doubt be teaching tools for the young quarterback to hopefully learn from and improve upon.
Kyron Johnson won’t be back for KU next year, and that’s a huge loss for this defense. Kenny Logan is obviously a beast. Rich Miller looks like he could quickly become a really good Big 12 linebacker. But this unit has a long, long way to go if KU is going to contend for bowl eligibility.
Jalon Daniels went 22-32 for 249 yards with a TD and those 2 INTs. He added 32 rushing yards as well as a rushing TD, but netted just 9 rush yards after accounting for sacks.
Amauri Pesek-Hickson was the feature RB with Devin Neal out; Hickson went for 60 yards on just 12 carries.
Kwamie Lassiter played his final game as a Jayhawk. He hauled in 7-9 targets for 45 yards. He finishes #12 in KU history in career receiving yards and #5 in career receptions.
Luke Grimm had a nice night with 4 receptions for 105 yards.
Start the Jared Casey for 2022 Heisman campaign now, @KUAthletics! Casey hauled in 4 more receptions (including another one-hander, if I’m not mistaken) for 67 yards and a TD.
Kenny Logan led all defenders with 14 tackles including a TFL.
Gavin Potter added 10 tackles, was credited with 1.5 TFL, and of course had the 28-yard INT returned for a TD. He was also credited with a forced fumble.
Rich Miller had 9 tackles with a sack and 2 TFL.
Kyron Johnson had 6 tackles.
Zion DeBose had a sack for his only recorded tackle on the night.
Jacob Borcila was 2-2 on field goals, hitting from 46 and 35 yards out.
Reis Vernon had just one punt that went 40 yards.