One didn’t have to squint to see positives from the Kansas football team in its 55-19 loss to Texas Tech on Thursday night.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s defenders rallied to ballcarriers and played with emotion and physicality. The Jayhawks’ special teams had a nearly perfect day, and the team was turnover-free before garbage time in the fourth quarter.
Still, never was it more evident where KU lags hopelessly behind the rest of the conference.
The telling stat was this: Texas Tech had 548 passing yards, while KU had 250.
“They do a really good job. I would be lying if I told you I did not want to get us to there,” KU coach David Beaty said. “But we’ve got to work our way there, work our way up.”
This isn’t a new issue for KU. The Jayhawks were last in the Big 12 in passing yards per game in 2012 and 2013, before moving up a spot to ninth in 2014 and eighth in 2015.
The struggles continue this year, even Thursday against Texas Tech’s league-worst pass defense. Though Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis each had highlight moments Thursday, neither was able to consistently play anywhere close to the level of Texas Tech starter Patrick Mahomes or backup Nic Shimonek, who was spectacular after Mahomes injured his shoulder in the third quarter.
Cozart, who started, completed 9 of 20 passes for 97 yards with an interception and touchdown. Willis, meanwhile, received an extended audition after that, going 14-for-26 for 142 yards with one TD.
“Shoot, I wish I could have that game back,” Willis said. “That score did not show anything how the game went.”
Earlier in the week, Beaty talked about how similar the two teams’ offensive systems were, as he previously spent time with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury on Texas A&M’s staff. There were even times Thursday when Willis saw Texas Tech use the same offensive hand signals on the opposite sideline, which included rubbing fingers together to signal a specific formation — something Willis referred to as “weird.”
The similarities between the two offenses stopped there.
Shimonek played the part of hero late, as in the final quarter and a half, he completed 15 of 21 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns.
Add that to Mahomes’ 277 yards and four scores, and Texas Tech — for another night — continued its nation’s best passing pace.
“Everybody’s doing their job. It’s as easy as it is,” KU tight end Ben Johnson said of Texas Tech’s offense. “If you do your job, then you’re going to execute. Every man’s just got to look at it like he’s going to beat his guy one-on-one. If you look at it that way, and you beat your guy one-on-one, you’re going to win.”
KU’s rebuilding offense — hampered again by a young offensive line and unpredictability at quarterback — didn’t do enough to compete. Afterwards, Beaty said Cozart earned the start based on his play during practice last week.
“We know where we’re at as a team, and I’m sure everybody has their idea of who should be playing quarterback for us,” Beaty said. “But we’re with them every day. I evaluate them every day. I see them every day. Our staff sees them every day. And we make the decisions based on what we see, not what we want. If we had what we wanted, it’d be real simple. But it’s not that simple.”
Beaty went on to say, ideally, he’d like to settle on a starter at quarterback.
“If it was crystal-clear who was first, then we would make that decision. We would,” Beaty said. “But it’s not been completely crystal-clear for us. Realistically, you’ve got to see what guys do in game situations.”
Even though it wasn’t close late, there was a moment in the third quarter when KU had hope of an upset with help from a lucky break.
After Willis had to leave a possession with a right leg injury, Cozart faced a crucial third-and-11, and his pass to Taylor Martin was swatted away by Texas Tech’s Justis Nelson.
The only problem for Tech was that it didn’t hit the ground. The ball deflected to KU’s LaQuvionte Gonzalez, who advanced forward for a 15-yard gain. The next play, Cozart found Steven Sims for an 11-yard score, and the deficit suddenly looked manageable at 28-16.
KU’s defense continued to sell out to get to Mahomes on the next possession, with Cameron Rosser coming through with the Jayhawks’ third sack to force a three-and-out. Willis came back in to lead the Jayhawks to the Red Raiders’ 3 before KU settled for a Matthew Wyman field goal that made it 28-19.
Texas Tech answered with the game’s final 27 points.