Ryan Willis left Lubbock, Texas, late Thursday night wondering how the Kansas football team’s trip to play Texas Tech might have changed if one key third-quarter series had played out differently. The backup quarterback went as far to take the blame for how the game turned in favor of the Red Raiders afterward.
The Jayhawks, at the time riding the momentum of a Montell Cozart-led touchdown drive and a three-and-out defensive stop, had driven inside the Red Raiders’ five-yard-line with Willis at quarterback. KU had three chances to reach the end zone and make it a one-touchdown game.
However, on first-and-goal starting left guard Jacob Bragg moved early, earning a false start penally and a loss of five yards for the offense. Then KU went backward again, as Tech’s Kris Williams pressured Willis. Although the sophomore QB got out of the pocket, his pass out of bounds didn’t reach the line of scrimmage and a flag for intentional grounding moved Kansas in the wrong direction, to the 24-yard-line for second-and-goal.
Although Willis (14-for-26 passing, 142 yards, one touchdown in the loss) then found LaQuvionte Gonzalez for a six-yard gain, he overthrew tight end Ben Johnson on third down after evading more Tech pressure.
Kicker Matt Wyman drilled a 35-yard field goal — his first of the season — to get KU within nine points, but the constant underdog Jayhawks never scored again in a 55-19 road loss.
“I mean, it’s hard to win a ball game when you false start on the (four)-yard line. That was my fault,” Willis said after again sharing quarterback duties with Cozart, who has started all four games for Kansas (1-3 overall, 0-1 Big 12). “I’ll take all the blame for that. I mean, I should’ve checked the O-line — they weren’t set yet. We were driving, shoot, and I wish I could have that game back. That (final) score did not show anything about how the game went.”
In theory, KU could have trimmed the Texas Tech lead to five midway through the third quarter had Willis connected with Johnson (career highs with 86 yards and five receptions). Or the Jayhawks at least would’ve had an easier chance at a TD had they not put themselves in a worse spot through penalties on that series.
Second-year Kansas coach David Beaty said a touchdown certainly would’ve helped the cause. In his words, no team can get away with settling for field goals against Texas Tech (3-1, 1-0).
“We’re inside the 10 and we make a mental mistake down there and, you know, you just can’t do that,” Beaty said. “You can’t do that in the Big 12. When you do that, you’re gonna wind up kicking field goals. … That was a huge mistake, but we still almost rallied and got the first.”
Johnson put the onus on himself for KU failing to convert a difficult third-and-goal, saying he didn’t take time to turn his hips as he ran to the open spot in Tech’s coverage while Willis kept the play alive.
“We were in a kind of scramble mode at that point,” the junior tight end from Basehor said, “and just kind of in a frantic mode to get open, and it’s not always the easiest to make very accurate passes. Don’t get me wrong. I think I should’ve caught it.”
At that point of the night at least, a KU rally didn’t seem completely out of question. Willis said it’s up to the offense (296 total yards, compared to Texas Tech’s 621) to come up with more winning plays throughout the game and keep things competitive.
“I mean, our sideline was up. We were uptempo. We had things rolling,” Willis said of the third quarter, before Tech and backup Nic Shimonek shut it down with four unanswered touchdowns. “It just hurts when you can’t convert. We’ve got to make those plays to win ball games. And it’s just on to next week.”
Kansas dropped its third straight game, but the loss also marked the third game in a row with at least 10 tackles for loss by the defense.
Led by sophomore defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr., who came away with back-to-back two-sack outings, the Jayhawks finished with 10 tackles for loss at Texas Tech. Senior end Damani Mosby also earned credit for 2.0 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Marcquis Roberts had 1.5, while senior end Cameron Rosser, senior linebacker Courtney Arnick and sophomore tackle D.J. Williams all had 1.0. Senior safeties Fish Smithson and Tevin Shaw and sophomore linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. earned 0.5 tackles for loss apiece.
True freshman safety Mike Lee, though guilty of missing a few assignments against Tech’s Air Raid offense, finished with a career-best nine tackles — the most by a KU rookie since Tyrone Miller Jr.’s 11 at Rutgers last season.
KU’s loss at Texas Tech assured the program’s Big 12 road losing streak extended to 32 games, with the last conference victory on an opponent’s home field coming at Iowa State in 2008.