All Kansas's momentum could have been lost, if not for a hustle play.
Briscoe, Stuckey Ignite Jayhawks
Which brings me to the first half of KU's 29-0 win over La Tech.
Despite outgaining the Bulldogs, 262-138, in the first two quarters, KU was, well, beige and bland. They led, 13-0, at the intermission but settled for two field goals. Kansas was three of seven on third down conversions. They averaged just three yards per carry on 15 tries. On one possession, KU drove to the La Tech 13 and found themselves with third down and two yards to go. RB Jocques Crawford was asked to get KU a first down and gained a yard off-tackle. Crawford's number got called again on fourth and one. He ran off-tackle for no gain. That's just how the first quarter seemed to go.
“We've got to work on redzone offense. We need to get more touchdowns than field goals in the redzone," Jayhawk head coach Mark Mangino said. "The first half of the game, we didn't run the ball well. I thought a little bit of that was the offensive line. The backs didn't hit the lane as fast as we want them to.”
On the other side of the ball, Tech had managed nine first downs. They converted on seven of 10 third down conversions, and they'd ventured once into the Jayhawks redzone with seemingly little effort only for QB Taylor Bennett to get picked in the KU endzone by CB Chris Harris with a tip-drill assist from S Darrell Stuckey.
KU seemed to need a second-half wake-up call, and they got it, thanks to two plays and two terrific individual efforts by WR Dezmon Briscoe and S Darrell Stuckey that are sure to be on the season highlight video.
Kansas had the ball at the Tech 48 yard line after a Bulldog punt and a catch interference penalty with 10:32 left in the third quarter. On first down, QB Todd Reesing connected with Briscoe on a simple five-yard slant pattern. Briscoe broke five tackles after the catch before being brought down 49 yards later, one yard deep in the end zone, by a sixth. His 48-yard touchdown catch was one of eight receptions on the night for 130 yards. KU led, 20-0.
Reesing said, “They were bringing the house; they were rushing like seven guys. I knew Dezmon had the one-on-one matchup. When you have someone of Dezmon's ability, that's what I look for. I was able to get the ball off before I took a shot, and I was down on the ground, I kinda look up and I see he's still running and I watched the rest of the play develop from the ground. It was an amazing run.
LB Joe Mortensen said Briscoe's run was a huge lift for the team.
“It was an amazing run, he broke like five or six tackles. Dez is definitely a great talent. We love to watch him play, for sure.”
Following the touchdown, KU's K Jacob Branstetter put the ensuing kickoff through the endzone and the Bulldogs took possession at the 20. Bennett handed the ball to RB Phillip Livas who took it 78 yards to the Kansas two yard line but only after being chased down from behind – waaaay behind – by S Darrell Stuckey.
That never-say-die effort was the difference, Mangino said.
“I told the kids in the locker room that the gutsiest play a guy in the game of football is when a player is out in the open, running for a touchdown, and you;'re the only guy that can make the play, and you may not have as steep an angle as you'd like to have , you have everything going against you, but you make the play,” Mangino gushed. “Darrell showed the fortitude that he was going to make that play.”
From the two, RB Phillip Jackson lost four yards on first down thanks to a great tackle by – you guessed it – Darrell Stuckey. Two Bennett incompletions later, K Brad Oestriecher doinked a 23-yard field goal attempt off the right upright. To quote Bill Paxton in Aliens, “Game over, man. Game over.” The shutout was on.
Mangino said, “They miss a field goal and the complexion of the game is completely changed because Darrell Stuckey chose to hustle.”
It's a testament to the talent and character of the players on the Kansas roster that I can sit here and whine about a 29-0 Kansas win. If you'd have told me five years ago I'd be doing it, I'd have called you crazy.
It's also a testament to the job Mangino, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and offensive coordinator Ed Warriner are doing, as well as to the talent they're bringing to Lawrence.
Saturday night, two plays by two playmakers made a huge impact on the game. It wasn't all that long ago that all those players played for other teams, not KU.
Here's hoping there are plenty more opportunities to whine about 29-point wins this season.
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