University of Kansas

KU football tried to hang with Oklahoma. The Jayhawks will likely regret 2 plays most

Les Miles was talking about time of possession when everything faded to black.

Right there, in the middle of his news conference following Kansas’ 45-20 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma, the lights went out in the KU football meeting room.

“You guys didn’t have to do that,” Miles said with a laugh to reporters before a switch was flipped back on.

The mood was right for a quick Miles joke. No, KU hadn’t won as a 33-point underdog ... but following its worst effort of the season last week against TCU, the whole season hadn’t gone dark either.

There was some obvious potential here for the season to fall completely off the tracks. Combine last week’s 51-14 loss with another non-competitive contest this week, and many KU fans understandably could have turned their full attention to basketball for the last three months of 2019.

Instead, KU put up a decent fight on an overcast afternoon at Booth Memorial Stadium, with fleeting moments of early defensive success before the Sooners’ superhuman offense took over in the second half.

“There’s improvement. You can see it,” Miles said. “We’ll continue to step toward that improvement.”

If looking back at biggest regrets, the Jayhawks will likely point to consecutive plays in the second quarter. With the score tied, Miles chose to go for it on a fourth-and-2 from the Oklahoma 41, with tight end James Sosinski dropping a pass that likely would have given KU the first down.

“I’ve seen him make that catch hundreds of times,” KU quarterback Carter Stanley said. “I would have made that same throw and same decision 100 times over again. So it was unfortunate, but I know he’ll make that play in the future.”

On the very next snap, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts threw late to a checkdown option, and KU safety Mike Lee stepped in front of it with no one between him and the end zone.

He dropped the potential pick-six, though, perhaps affected by a heavy cast shielding his broken hand.

Oklahoma would make that a costly error, scoring a touchdown six plays later to take the lead for good.

“It was a few crucial plays,” Stanley said, “that I wish we would have executed better on.”

KU actually remained close most of the first half before some strange coaching decisions in the final two minutes.

The Jayhawks had a brief first-quarter lead following a nine-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that was capped with Stanley dropping a near-perfect pass into Daylon Charlot’s arms for a 22-yard score. KU actually went 99 yards in total on the possession after starting with two false start penalties.

Oklahoma’s offense responded a bit from there, though it appeared the Sooners would’ve only had a 14-7 advantage going into intermission if not for bad time management by KU.

With the Sooners driving in the final two minutes, the Jayhawks took two timeouts to stop the clock. Then, on a fourth-and-goal for Oklahoma from the 45, KU decided to not put a punt returner back as the Sooners were able to down the kick inside the 2.

Following a Jayhawks three-and-out, KU’s special teams had a facemask penalty on the ensuing punt, and the Sooners followed with a 10-yard touchdown pass on their next play with 31 seconds left to push the score to 21-7.

Oklahoma never lost its mojo from that point. Hurts spearheaded touchdown drives on his team’s first two second-half drives, and the mini-rout was on from there.

KU had some positives. Najee Stevens-McKenzie pulled down an interception, which was the team’s first takeaway since Week 1. Workhorse running back Pooka Williams also had 23 carries for 137 yards, which came a year after he rushed for a career-high 252 against the Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him run that hard in the game,” Stanley said. “Those guys are screaming down, trying to knock him out of the game because of what he did to them last year. But he’s just an incredible talent with incredible fight. I’m really proud of him.”

Miles also said he was pleased with Stanley’s performance, with the quarterback finishing 18-for-28 for 230 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

KU, now 2-4, will have a bye week before facing No. 11 Texas in Austin on Saturday, Oct. 19.

“Not exactly what we want, but some improvement,” Miles said of Saturday’s effort. “The team wants to be a damn good team. They want to improve. So I enjoy that characteristic.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.