Through a start to the 2017 season that had been a disaster, the Kansas football team had at least avoided a quarterback controversy.
Consider that box now checked following a 65-19 homecoming loss to Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
To be fair, not even Tom Brady likely would’ve saved the Jayhawks in this game — not when a costly fumble, inconsistent run game and shaky defense were completely out of the signal-caller’s control.
Still, KU added a new story line to its early-season collapse by playing backup Carter Stanley the entire second half. Coach David Beaty confirmed afterwards that Stanley and Peyton Bender would battle for the job this week in practice.
“We’ll have to watch the tape,” Beaty said. “It’s going to be a competition. We’ll see.”
In reality, neither QB was particularly effective against Texas Tech, which entered with one of the Big 12’s worst pass defenses.
Bender — who started KU’s first five games this season — completed 12 of 24 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown on Saturday. The bad plays were costly, though. He threw an interception directly to Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen and also missed badly on an intermediate pass to Jeremiah Booker, who broke wide open in the end zone late in the second quarter.
“I felt like we had a chance to get a touchdown there,” Beaty said. “That throw there I know he wishes he had back. There was an opportunity there.”
Stanley couldn’t spark KU after halftime, saying after the game he finally became healthy two weeks ago after dealing with a right hand injury through the first month of the season.
“Just had a break in it,” Stanley said. “But it’s all good now. It’s 100 percent.”
The backup had one third-quarter pass tipped before it was intercepted by Justus Parker, then later had a backwards throw deflected and recovered by Texas Tech’s Riko Jeffers.
Stanley’s final line: 11-for-19 passing, 110 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
“Honestly, I don’t think we played as good at the quarterback position today as we have maybe over the past few days,” Beaty said. “We weren’t quite as accurate. Timing wasn’t quite as good. I don’t know what caused that.”
There was plenty of other blame to go around, as KU was blown out in a game it entered as a 15-point underdog.
Following a 291-yard rushing game against West Virginia, running back Khalil Herbert was limited to 5 carries for 1 yard in the first half. He later left with a hamstring injury following a long third-quarter run.
Also, KU’s defense put the team in an early hole, allowing Texas Tech touchdowns on the team’s first three drives. Safety Mike Lee said afterwards that the Red Raiders’ fast tempo caused some issues, with one example coming on a 37-yard touchdown late in the first quarter when the Jayhawks’ safeties were “on two different type plays” defensively following a late play-call from the sideline.
“If we just get the play in quicker, we’ll be straight,” Lee said.
There were physical errors, too. Receiver Chase Harrell couldn’t fully secure the football while getting gang-tackled in the third quarter, putting the ball on the ground before Texas Tech’s Parker scooped it up for a 20-yard fumble return touchdown.
“I don’t think today was a good reflection of where we’re at as a team,” Stanley said. “We know we left a lot out there, all three phases of the game. We’re better than that.”
Perhaps the worst part of the stinker was that it came after KU’s bye week, as players received an additional week to heal and coaches had extra time to prepare.
Beaty, though, was adamant that the result wasn’t any more discouraging considering the circumstances.
“Y’all want me to say ‘disappointed’ a bunch, and I’m not going to do it,” Beaty said. “We’re about our next play, period.
“Am I happy about the way things turned out? No, I’m not. I’m not ready to flush this thing, I can tell you that. We’re going to be all right. We’ll get back to work (Sunday), and we’ll be ready to go.”
Part of that focus will be on quarterback, a position that has haunted the program since Todd Reesing’s graduation nearly a decade ago.
KU — 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12 — will continue to search for stability in the upcoming days.
“Quarterback play is so important to the efficiency of your offense,” Beaty said. “Those guys, they’ve shown they’re very capable of doing it. We’ll get back to the drawing board.”