The last time Kansas stepped inside Memorial Stadium in front of its home fans, the Jayhawks capped a winless football season with a loss to rival Kansas State.
Nearly five months later, the sentiment behind an annual spring game Saturday centered around change. The most notable adjustment came in the tempo of the offense.
As for the results? Well, those were a bit more familiar.
The Jayhawks’ offensive units — identified as the Blue team — struggled to move the football, allowing the White team (defense) to depart Memorial Stadium on Saturday with a 49-42 win.
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KU, which scored 15.2 points per game last season, found the end zone only twice. The defense intercepted four passes.
“It’s a little inner drive. You have to go out there and try to beat the offense,” linebacker Joe Dineen said. “Sometimes they will get you. Today, I think we got them.”
Kansas coach David Beaty announced last month that he would assume play-calling duties, a decision to shift to an “air raid” offense and allow his quarterbacks the liberty to adjust calls at the line of scrimmage.
The teams did not play a true scrimmage in Saturday’s spring game but rather operated in predetermined situations.
After a dozen drives, the offense finally found on the end zone while cycling through third-down situations, when quarterback Montell Cozart hit LaQuvionte Gonzalez on a slant pattern for a 61-yard touchdown.
Gonzalez, a transfer from Texas A&M, outran the defensive secondary for the score. He caught six passes for 115 yards.
“I think he’s got some explosiveness that I don’t think we possessed last year,” Beaty said.
Playing with the first-team offense, Cozart threw two interceptions on his first three drives and three for the game. Hudson Hall, Cameron Rosser and Stephan Robinson were the culprits of the turnovers. Cozart finished his afternoon Saturday 10 of 19 for 137 yards.
“Montell probably had his toughest day that he’s had throughout spring,” Beaty said. “Honestly, that was not what we’ve seen from him throughout the spring. He’s actually been very good with the ball.”
Each of the turnovers awarded nine points to the defense in a non-traditional scoring system that Beaty says the team uses during practice every day. The coaches compile weekly scores. The defense has won three consecutive weeks.
Incumbent quarterback starter Ryan Willis sat out with a right wrist injury that he suffered in the offseason. Beaty said Willis has begun taking snaps but is not yet throwing the football.
His absence allowed Cozart and Carter Stanley to take the bulk of the reps Saturday and implement the air raid offense. Stanley was 12 of 22 for 117 yards, one interception and an 8-yard touchdown pass to Steven Sims.
“The tempo is going to help us tremendously (with) being able to get the defense on their heels,” Cozart said. “Tempo is something we stress, and we’re going to continue to get better.”
Before the game Saturday, the stadium recognized a moment of silence for former KU football player Brandon Bourbon, who was found dead Friday. Beaty said it had been “a rough 24 hours“ for the program since learning of Bourbon’s death, which the Maries County, Mo., sheriff’s office ruled a suicide.
An alumni flag football game preceded the spring game, with Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris and San Diego Chargers defensive back Darrell Stuckey serving as honorary coaches. Harris’ team secured the victory.