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Is Peyton Bender still KU's starting QB?

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Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) throws during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Football coaches and coordinators have no incentive to divulge their game plans publicly, and that’s the primary reason Kansas head coach David Beaty elected this week to not announce a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Iowa State.

If you listen to offensive coordinator Doug Meacham’s perspective on the matter, though, the decision may have been an easy one.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Meacham discussed how the staff came to a conclusion early in the week on whether Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley would hold the No. 1 QB spot at ISU (11 a.m. kickoff, FOX Sports Net), instead of letting it play out at practices.

“The team knows the plan. We’ve got a plan. We kind of like to keep it a little bit more internal to have that element of (Iowa State) not knowing,” Meacham began, regarding Beaty’s strategy.

So did either Bender or Stanley show the coaches something early in the week to end the QB debate ahead of schedule?

“It’s just a body of work over the course of time, you know. You still reflect back on that,” the first-year KU coordinator said. “I think Peyton was just going through a little bad spell there (in the loss to Texas Tech). I don’t think he’s necessarily just crummy for life.”

In theory, it’s possible Meacham could be floating the idea of Bender starting — without actually saying the junior transfer is still the starter — as a ploy to throw off the Cyclones (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12). But the more he spoke at his weekly media session, the more it seemed he’s not ready to move on from Bender.

A 6-foot-1 junior with past Air Raid experience at both Washington State and Itawamba Community College (Miss.), Bender at numerous times through five games has dumbfounded his coaches with mistakes. For example, Bender misfired on goal-line throws to both tight end Earl Bostick and receiver Jeremiah Booker just before halftime against the Red Raiders. KU’s coaches decided shortly after to play Stanley at QB the rest of the blowout loss.

“When he overthrew a 6-7 tight end (freshman Bostick, listed at 6-6) on the goal line I was a little nervous about throwing verticals,” Meacham said, with a wry chuckle. “Six-seven and he overthrows him. How do you do that?”

An end zone pass to Kansas tight end Earl Bostick Jr. (87) goes wide late during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

An end zone pass to Kansas tight end Earl Bostick Jr. (87) goes wide late during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Bender’s two quarters worth of stats read: 12-for-24 passing, 146 yards, one touchdown, one interception, no sacks.

“He just had a bad day,” Meacham said. “You know, it’s like you shoot layups and all the sudden you miss five out of 10. Hard to answer why. You just keep shooting them.”

It was Bender’s fluctuating success that led to Stanley (11-for-19, 110 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one sack, one lost fumble) finishing the fourth straight loss for Kansas (1-4, 0-2) instead of just entering for certain packages designed around his strengths as a mobile QB.

But the highs and lows of Bender’s play were nothing new.

“He’s just had moments of inconsistency that kind of come out of nowhere,” Meacham said. “We’ve just got to deal with it. There’s a lot of things that factor into it that kind of take the blame and kind of spread it around a little bit.”

While fans might see Bender throw the ball and have it picked off — through four and a half games of action he has completed 56.4 percent of his 202 passes while suffering eight interceptions — Meacham said a missed protection or bad route have led to some of the costly turnovers.

“Or a tipped ball,” Meacham continued. “Tipped ball, and then maybe a tipped ball. I see tipped balls all the time, from the line of scrimmage or wherever. It just seems like all the time somebody grazes the ball — I almost want to tell our guys, ‘If you don’t think you can catch it just put your hands down.’ Because we touch one, they pick it and then they score.”

A not-so-supercut of Bender’s interceptions, Meacham suggested, would leave a viewer scratching one’s head.

“That’s just like, how does that happen consistently?” Meacham said of tipped passes becoming takeaways for KU opponents. “Just freakish stuff.”

Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen (40) looks to stiff arm Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) after intercepting a pass from Bender during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen (40) looks to stiff arm Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) after intercepting a pass from Bender during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

A deflection, of course, had nothing to do with a second-quarter Bender throw over the middle against Texas Tech, which Dakota Allen snagged out of the air, setting up a quick Red Raiders TD drive.

“He under-threw it. Ben (Johnson) was wide open,” Meacham said. “(Bender) just kind of panicked a little bit. If you watch the tape from the end zone the linebacker’s feet were like (more than 3 feet) off the ground, made the greatest interception of his entire life. He’ll never do that again. He jumps up in the air and just … unbelievable.”

While inaccuracy obviously has played a factor in Bender’s struggles, Meacham said he doesn’t necessarily judge the starter of KU’s first five games as an eight-interception QB.

“No, if he had (eight) picks legit and was on the wrong guy, made a horrific throw over a guy’s head and the safety picked it or he under-threw a ball or he threw it right to them (eight) times he wouldn’t be playing at all,” the man in charge of KU’s Air Raid said. “It’s just, he’s had about three of them that weren’t very good, and the rest of them are just … it’s unbelievable some of the stuff.”

Bender hasn’t produced at the level Meacham and the rest of KU’s offensive coaches hoped. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to move on from him and hand the offense over to Stanley.

“I keep thinking about the sweet’s not as sweet without a little sour,” Meacham offered, regarding how he handles the inconsistencies and turnovers. “Can’t always be good.”

— PODCAST: Is There Any Hope Left for KU Football?

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