Bryant’s interception was right play at right time for KU
photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World photo
Cincinnati — Kansas’ 49-16 victory over Cincinnati went down as its biggest margin of the season, but the Jayhawks’ victory didn’t always seem so assured.
KU’s defense could not get off the field against Emory Jones, Corey Kiner and the Bearcats’ rushing attack. The Jayhawks already trailed 3-0 early in the second quarter when they had to punt on UC’s side of the field and incurred a fourth-down holding penalty that negated any field-position advantage. Momentum was low and KU appeared headed for a late-season letdown.
Then Cincinnati brought in backup quarterback Brady Lichtenberg and he looked to throw deep.
Wide receiver Xzavier Henderson had Cobee Bryant a step behind him in one-on-one coverage heading up the left sideline and had a chance to flip the field or even score if he could haul in a catch. But Lichtenberg’s pass was underthrown.
“And all of a sudden, I don’t know, it was shocking,” Bryant said. “I had the ball, I was trying to bat it down, and then it just slid into my hand and then I realized I caught it.”
COBEE BRYANT WITH ONE HAND. #SCTop10
The best interception you will see this season
The play was every bit as counterintuitive and baffling to watch as it was for Bryant to experience. When Henderson had an early head start, it seemed like the best-case scenario for the Jayhawks’ No. 1 corner was to knock the ball down — to go for the “PBU” (pass break-up), as Bryant put it. Instead, he corralled the ball in one fluid motion as it brushed off Henderson’s hands and pulled it into his chest.
It was a rare target for a corner who has played shutdown ball much of the season, but also gotten called for some pass interference penalties in recent weeks. Head coach Lance Leipold said Bryant had been frustrated recently.
“He wants to make plays and do things,” Leipold said. “He has such great ball skills, we’ve had good play from both corners (Bryant and Mello Dotson) all year long.”
Bryant said he was wondering, “Do I need to play off, take some plays off or just do my technique? Coach Leipold (said), ‘It’s going to come, just be patient.'”
It came for Bryant in the form of his biggest play since the BYU game in September, when he lit up the Cougars’ wide receiver Parker Kingston for an early fumble-return touchdown in what has become one of the defining highlights of KU’s season.
Saturday’s interception was somewhat more understated.
And even so: “When I caught the pick,” Bryant said, “I guess (Leipold) started jumping on me on the sidelines saying, ‘Wow, that was crazy.’ I said ‘Yeah, I didn’t know I caught it, Coach.'”
Its impact was in fact almost as monumental as the BYU play’s. Quarterback Jason Bean tossed a 40-yard pass to Luke Grimm for KU’s best offensive play of the day immediately following the turnover. The Jayhawks were in the end zone four plays later.
“When I made that play I knew it was going to change the momentum of the offense to make more plays,” Bryant said, “and then defense (was) going to get stops, back and forth.”
Added Bean: “That’s something you want to see all the time. For him to make that play like that is huge. Very thankful for him.”
Lichtenberg barely played for the remainder of the night as the Bearcats turned back to Jones, and by the end of the half, KU had scored twice more — aided by a poorly timed squib kick by Cincinnati — and Bryant had knocked another ball away from Henderson on a very similar route.
“I actually wanted to undercut the route,” Bryant said, “but I was like, ‘Nah, I’m just going to get this PBU real quick.'”
On that occasion, the ball did not inexplicably stick to his hand as he went to the ground.