A half-hour after Kansas’ 24-23 loss to TCU on Saturday afternoon, KU coach David Beaty made his way over to his team’s new starting quarterback in the hallway at the Anderson Football Complex.
Ryan Willis, wearing a white KU sweatshirt, nodded a few times as his coach shared some final words. Beaty ended the conversation by patting him on the right shoulder.
“He was just proud of me,” Willis said. “He knew the whole way he had trust in me. He could tell I trusted him.”
Beaty didn’t talk about Willis’ good plays — he threw for 348 yards — or even his miscues after he committed four first-half turnovers. That wasn’t what was most important in the moment.
“He told me he loved me,” Willis said. “I love him, too.”
Saturday didn’t result in a program-changing victory for KU. The Jayhawks didn’t pull off the upset as 30-point underdogs, and they also weren’t able to snap a 13-game Big 12 losing streak.
Still, in the moments after, Beaty could sense this was a program making progress, with most of his players showing a level of buy-in needed for a rebuild to take place.
“They're showing improvement in a lot of different things,” Beaty said. “If we continue to do that, I think we'll continue to play competitive football and give our fans something they can be proud of.”
That didn’t make Saturday’s late collapse any easier.
KU had a multitude of missed opportunities, and Beaty will think about one the most. In the third quarter, on a third-and-goal from inside the 1, KU running back Taylor Martin failed to trust his teammates for just an instant. Instead of running up the middle where the play was intended, he tried to juke outside, losing three yards while forcing a field-goal attempt.
“I didn’t believe in my techniques,” Martin said. “When coach (Beaty) came back, we talked about it. It’s just staying on course and believing in the process.”
There were plenty of other things that went wrong as KU failed to hold a 23-14 fourth-quarter lead.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill ran for 34 yards on a fluky play, as he fumbled the ball, was tackled, then got to his feet and picked up the ball before sprinting down the sideline when most of KU’s players believed the play was over. The Horned Frogs scored a touchdown two plays later.
“I don't think I've ever seen that,” Beaty said. “I'm not sure anybody in here has ever seen that, either.”
Matthew Wyman also missed three fourth-quarter field goals, including a 54-yarder with six seconds left that could have been the game winner. Beaty talked to him in the locker room afterwards.
“I told him right there in front of everybody that I love him like I love my own children. ‘We will ride or die with you, my friend,’ ” Beaty said. “We love that guy.”
After slowing down TCU’s offense all game, KU’s defense also failed to get the final stop it needed late to preserve a two-point lead. Hill took his team 59 yards on eight plays, which set up a Brandon Hatfield 34-yard field goal that gave the Horned Frogs a 24-23 lead with 1:21 left.
“We should have just made a stop on the last drive and we would have won the game,” KU cornerback Brandon Stewart said. “But hey, shoutout to TCU. They came to play.”
KU nearly responded with a miracle of its own. On a fourth-and-22, the Jayhawks executed a hook-and-ladder from Steven Sims to Bobby Hartzog for 24 yards. The play set up one final field-goal try, as Wyman’s final kick fluttered wide right.
“We got in a position to where we could take a shot at it,” Beaty said. “As a coach, that’s really all you want.”
KU's defense, which appears to be emerging as a top group in the Big 12, had plenty of highlights. It held Hill, the nation’s third-leading passer, to 206 passing yards with three interceptions. The Jayhawks also forced four turnovers against a TCU team that had just six giveaways in its first five games.
“I think we’re pretty good,” Stewart said. “We’ve just got to go out there and focus and play, and when we do that, it shows.”
Willis, who was named the team’s starter Monday, settled down in the second half to finish 31 of 45 for 348 yards passing. That came after four first-half turnovers, which included three interceptions and a fumble.
“When my head hits the pillow,” Willis said, “my eyes aren’t going to shut.”
KU had progress in other areas. Receivers Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez both flashed big-play ability with 100-plus-yard games. The Jayhawks offensive line also had its best performance, opening up numerous holes late as the team rushed for 122 yards — its best total since Week 1.
Despite it all, KU dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12, which left Beaty “burning inside” while thinking about how a little more discipline could have helped his team to a monumental victory.
“We're moving forward,” Beaty said. “There's a lot of things we wish we could have back, but we don't get them back.”
TCU 24, Kansas 23
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
KAN: Martin 1 run (Wyman kick), 6:02
TCU: Hicks 3 run (Hatfield kick), 9:59
KAN: FG Wyman 50, 3:48
TCU: Hill 18 run (Hatfield kick), 1:31
KAN: FG Wyman 29, 10:02
KAN: FG Wyman 21, 5:01
KAN: Willis 21 run (Wyman kick), :29
TCU: Austin 25 pass from Hill (Hatfield kick), 13:54
TCU: FG Hatfield 34, 1:21
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: TCU, Hicks 18-104, Hill 11-36, T.Johnson 2-17, Green 2-7, (Team) 1-(minus 4). Kansas, Martin 18-62, Kinner 7-36, Willis 16-17, Herbert 1-3, D.Evans 1-3, Long 1-1.
PASSING: TCU, Hill 17-32-3-206. Kansas, Willis 31-45-3-348.
RECEIVING: TCU, Diarse 4-45, Austin 3-48, Slanina 3-17, Porter 2-43, T.Williams 1-18, D.Thomas 1-14, White 1-9, Gray 1-6, Hicks 1-6. Kansas, Sims 9-101, Barbel 9-94, Gonzales 8-131, Brewer 2-7, Martin 2-0, Hartzog 1-15.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: TCU, Hatfield 37. Kansas, Wyman 37, Wyman 41, Wyman 54.