Slipping away :

Jayhawks suffer costly setback

With a sea of red-clad Nebraska fans as backdrop, Kansas University quarterback Todd Reesing leaves the field after throwing a fourth-quarter interception. Though Reesing threw for 304 yards, the Jayhawks suffered a 45-35 loss to the Huskers on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

Go figure

2 Sacks recorded by Kansas (for a loss of 23 yards)

5 Sacks recorded by Nebraska (for minus-42 yards)

3.0 Kansas’ average yards per rush (on 39 carries for 118 yards)

4.8 Nebraska’s average yards per run (on 35 carries for 167 yards)

2 Punts by the Huskers, all in the first half

+2 KU’s turnover advantage

3 of 12 KU’s success on third-down conversions

6 of 14 NU’s success on third-down conversions

8 of 8 Success by both teams combined on red-zone scoring chances

1968Last time KU won in Lincoln, Neb.

? Entering Saturday’s game against Nebraska, Kansas University’s football team understood that a victory was a necessity in order for the Jayhawks to keep pace in the race for the Big 12 North title.

And following Saturday’s 45-35 loss to the Huskers, during a blustery day at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the Jayhawks understood the consequences of their defeat.

“Coaches told us this is a game (where) we’re playing for championships,” said KU sophomore receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who caught six passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort. “And we fell short of it.”

Just a year after scoring more points than any team ever had against the Huskers in a 76-39 victory in Lawrence, Kansas couldn’t piece together a similar effort this season, falling to Nebraska for the 20th straight time in Lincoln that acted as a significant blow to the team’s goal of a North title.

Of the three areas in which Kansas coach Mark Mangino hoped his team would excel heading into the game – limiting Nebraska’s run game, establishing the Jayhawks’ own ground game and tackling well – none came to fruition.

The Huskers rushed for 167 yards despite playing much of the game without their top running back, preseason All-Big 12 selection Marlon Lucky. Jayhawks running back Jake Sharp, meanwhile, failed to reach 100 yards for the first time in three games, and Kansas’ defense played as if the Huskers’ jerseys were coated in vaseline.

The result? The Jayhawks’ first loss to an unranked team in 17 tries.

“I knew this was going to be a battle,” said Mangino, whose team fell to 6-4 (3-3 in the Big 12) this season. “And we could not afford to make any mistakes. They made a couple and still overcame it, so credit to them.”

Despite winning the turnover battle four to one and managing to enter halftime tied with the Huskers at 14, Kansas couldn’t stop an opposing offense that proved to be significantly more potent than Kansas State’s a week ago. Nebraska scored on five of its six second-half possessions, turning a 14-14 tie into a 45-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter, and seemed to have its way with the Jayhawks’ struggling defense.

Quarterback Joe Ganz led the way for the Huskers, completing 28 of 37 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Roy Helu Jr., finished with 115 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, including a 52-yard burst at the start of the fourth quarter that gave the Huskers their biggest lead – 31-21 – to that point.

Even defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, got in on the offensive blitzkrieg, catching a two-yard touchdown pass from Ganz with 5:58 remaining in to give the Huskers a 38-28 lead.

And any questions whether the Huskers were still smarting from last year’s 37-point walloping at the hands of the Jayhawks were quickly answered Saturday.

Said Ganz, “It just feels so good to come back and redeem ourselves from what happened last year.”

Adding injury to insult, meanwhile, Kansas also might be forced to deal with a setback to its top offensive player.

Quarterback Todd Reesing, who set 21 school records and earned All-Big 12 second-team honors as a sophomore last season, limped through the final stages of Saturday’s game and was being evaluated by the team’s medical staff following the game, according to coach Mark Mangino.

“He’s getting some treatment,” said Mangino, who doesn’t disclose the specifics of player injuries. “Hopefully it’s nothing real serious. I don’t think it is, but the trainers are looking at him now. I think he’ll be OK.”

Reesing appeared to be shaken up midway through the second half, although he remained in the game until its conclusion and managed to scramble for a 15-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

On the Jayhawks’ final drive of the game a minute later, however, he was tackled following a three-yard run and remained on the ground for a while before leaving the field under his own power.

Kansas now will look to regroup for a final regular-season push, although – based on Saturday’s events – the team’s immediate future isn’t exactly brimming with light.

The Jayhawks started the weekend on the brink of the Top 25 and in position to battle for their first outright Big 12 North title in school history.

They return to Lawrence with a bruised psyche, a hobbled quarterback and a remaining schedule that features two top-15 opponents in their final two regular-season games – the first of which comes Saturday in Lawrence against No. 5 Texas.

“That’s why this one hurts the most,” cornerback Justin Thornton said. “It wasn’t because Nebraska beat us. It’s the fact that we can’t reach that Big 12 North (title) now. In a way, it can still happen still. But we’re not in control of our own destiny at this point.

“So it hurts.”