Unfortunately for the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, as it has been in
many games this season, those plays went the way of the opponent, with
the Nebraska Cornhuskers capitalizing on their way to a 31-17 victory
on senior night at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s probably the most frustrating thing I’ve been through in my
life,” said Kansas wide receiver Kerry Meier.
There was the lone Nebraska fumble, which was recovered in the endzone
for a touchdown. Then there was Kansas’s fumble, which was recovered by
Nebraska near the endzone. Nebraska sprung a big kickoff return that
put the Cornhuskers deep in Kansas territory shortly after the Jayhawks
took a short-lived 17-16 lead. And there were the two second-half
penalties that extended Nebraska drives and led to 10 Cornhusker points.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Kansas Coach Mark Mangino. “Those
kinds of things hurt you. You can’t do that against a good team. You
can’t make those kinds of mistakes and let those things happen.”
Nebraska scored on its first drive, taking the ball 58 yards in just
six plays. On third and goal from the Kansas 1, Cornhusker quarterback
Zac Lee stretched for the endzone, only to have the ball knocked free
by Kansas linebacker Justin Springer. But Nebraska running back Roy Helu was able to fall on the ball in the end zone for the Cornhuskers’
first score. They added to their lead in the second quarter when Alex Henery booted a 25-yard field goal.
But the Jayhawks’ offense sprung to life. Kansas put together a
13-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a five-yard touchdown run by
Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing. The Jayhawks twice converted on
fourth-and-one plays on the drive, with Toben Opurum gaining five yards
on the first run, and three on the second. Kansas then tied the game
10-10 heading into the half with a 33-yard Jacob Branstetter field goal
as time expired.
The Jayhawks kept that momentum going early in the third, driving all
the way down the field, but Kerry Meier was stripped on a 16-yard pass
play, and safety Matt O’Hanlon recovered the ball at the four. The
Cornhuskers then drove 79 yards in 13 plays before Henery added his
second field goal of the game, this one a 34-yarder.
Another Kansas mistake came back to bite the Jayhawks. On a big third
down play, Nebraska was stopped short, only to have the drive extended
by a roughing the passer penalty on Jamal Greene. A few plays later,
Henery connected from 38 yards out, giving the Cornhuskers a 16-10 lead.
The Jayhawks came right back, traveling 89 yards in 10 plays, capped by
a 21-yard pass from Reesing to Dezmon Briscoe. Meier caught passes of
19, 15 and 10 yards on the drive, while also drawing a pass
interference call that gave the Jayhawks a first down on third-and-10.
But the Jayhawks allowed a big kickoff return, and a five-yard offside
penalty gave the Cornhuskers the ball on the Kansas 31. Kansas then
stopped Nebraska well shy of the first down on a third-and-long play
but gave up a first down anyway when Justin Thornton was flagged for a
personal foul he incurred by grabbing the receiver’s facemask.
On the very next play, Helu found a crease and darted 20 yards for the
touchdown. Lee hit Niles Paul for the two-point conversion and a 24-17
“It definitely was one of those plays that you wished you had back,”
Thornton said. “It’s so disappointing because I felt like that’s one
play I could have made in the game … I sniffed it out and grabbed (the
receiver), but I was getting blocked off by a guy and reached for
whatever I could grab. They scored on the very next play and that
The Cornhuskers were then able to run down the clock, thanks in large
part to a Helu 30 run on third-and-10. They added an insurance score
with 29 seconds left as Helu ran in from 14 yards out.
Helu finished with 156 yards rushing on 28 carries. He had 12 carries
for 86 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Lee passed for
161 yards and rushed for another 53. Paul had four catches for 154
Reesing was just 19 of 41, but he didn’t commit a turnover, and had 236
yards passing and a touchdown and 42 yards rushing and another score.
Meier had 10 catches for 127 yards while Briscoe chipped in 77 yards on
four catches and a touchdown. Opurum had 43 yards on 15 carries, many
in short-yardage situations.
The Jayhawks (5-5, 1-5) will next travel to Austin, while the
Cornhuskers (7-3, 4-2) will play Kansas State, essentially in a Big 12
North Championship game. That’s a spot that the Jayhawks aimed for
before the season started.
It’s really frustrating,” Opurum said. “It’s not bad luck, it’s a lack
of focus … I honestly believe that we have the talent to be undefeated
right now. But we’ve made small mistakes that we haven’t been able to
Nebraska—Roy Helu Jr. 0 fumble recovery (Alex Henery kick), 12:05 1Q
NU—Henery 25 FG, 10:47 2Q
Kansas—Todd Reesing 5 run (Jacob Branstetter kick), 4:58 2Q
KU—Jacob Branstetter 33 FG, 0:00 2Q
NU—Henery 34 FG, 3:42 3Q
NU—Henery 38 FG, 11:53 4Q
KU—Dezmon Briscoe 21 pass from Reesing (Branstetter kick), 7:34 4Q
NU—Helu 20 run (Niles Paul pass from Zac Lee), 6:19 4Q
NU—Helu 14 run (Henery kick), 0:29 4Q
- Jeff Spikes started his first game at guard, largely to
tangle with Nebraska All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh
finished with three tackles, with none coming in the backfield.
“Jeff won,” Kansas center
said of the battle. “But we lost. So it doesn’t really
matter who won that.”
Running back Toben Opurum also gave the offensive line credit, saying
that they were “much-improved,” and Kerry Meier gave the line credit
for jump-starting the offense.
- The loss means that Kansas lost its fifth straight game for
the first time since 2002. It also ensured that the Jayhawks will have
a losing record against North opponents for the first time since the
- The seniors weren’t the only ones to take the loss hard.
Junior wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe said that the players practiced
hard, and had been through the whole losing streak, only to see the
team falter on Saturdays.
“It’s tough,” Briscoe
said. “It sucks. We come from a bunch of winning programs, and we
aren’t used to this. To be 5-5 and fighting for a bowl … it’s just bad.”
- Opurum came up limping after a carry, but cautioned fans
not to read too much into it.
“That’s football,” Opurum
said. “You get bumps and bruises. I’ll be fine.”
Mangino didn’t give an update on defensive end Jake Laptad
, who left
the game with an injury. Mangino said he hadn’t checked on Laptad’s
status before the press conference.