A desperate public address announcer told Kansas students to stay away from the goal posts, urging them back to their seats “for the respect of this program.”
This was in the seconds after Kansas’ 55-6 victory over Rhode Island — the team’s first win in 22 months — and, well, no one knew in the moment exactly how to react.
Eventually, the students swarmed around the players. The goal posts stayed upright.
And Kansas coach David Beaty, following his first Division I victory, was just fine with the celebration.
“I didn’t know what to think of it when I first saw them, because I didn’t know where they were going,” Beaty said. “But man, it made my heart proud to see where they went.”
Beaty went on to talk about fans needing to have higher standards, how rushing the court at Allen Fieldhouse would never be seen as acceptable.
Still, in the aftermath of his team snapping the Football Bowl Subdivison’s longest losing streak at 15 games, Beaty was too relieved and excited and emotional to have any negative thoughts.
“You’re dang right I’m happy,” Beaty said with a smile. “Getting a win is a neat deal.”
Beaty had just shed tears in the locker room. Linebacker Joe Dineen presented him the game ball, and the coach broke down after saying, “You guys deserve this.”
The catharsis came mostly because of the previous season, when Beaty’s Jayhawks were 0-12.
“I’ve never been through what we went through last year. That’s hard. Personally, it’s difficult. I got emotional with those guys,” Beaty said, his eyes welling up at the postgame press conference as he paused six seconds to compose himself. “It’s just hard. Obviously, I’m overjoyed for them.”
We can at least say this much about the KU football team following its victory over the Football Championship Subdivision Rams on Saturday: The Jayhawks finally got their scheduling right.
Kansas finally found an opponent it could overmatch, ending up on the right side of a three-touchdown blowout for the first time since 2010.
But while it was easy to point out the lack of talent on the opposite sideline, the bigger question was this: Are these Jayhawks better than in years past?
Perhaps it’s best to judge Beaty against his own standards. During Tuesday’s pregame press conference, Beaty outlined three main keys for his team: winning the turnover battle, performing well on special teams and playing smart football.
The results in those areas were mostly positive. The Jayhawks were better with turnovers, recovering two fumbles and pulling down an interception in the first half before giving back two in the second half after the game had long been decided.
The special teams — for the most part — also were a highlight under new coordinator Joe DeForest. Kansas’ Chevy Graham pounced on a fumbled punt return for one of the game’s biggest plays in the first quarter, while junior college transfer Cole Moos showed a strong leg while averaging 42 yards on three punts.
As far as playing smart … KU had only four penalties but still had two errors that bordered on unbelievable.
The Jayhawks were penalized before their first play from scrimmage, failing to get lined up quickly enough while drawing a delay-of-game penalty. That brought a smattering of boos just 10 seconds into the season.
A more embarrassing sequence came just before halftime. Beaty called timeout to set up a fourth-and-1 play from the Rhode Island 9, and after his players lined up again, the coach called a second timeout.
When the Jayhawks took the field a third time, they did so with 12 players, getting flagged for illegal substitution.
“That’s a coach’s nightmare. I’m not going to lie to you. When I look up out there, and we’ve got 12 guys coming out of a timeout … I’m sure our fans were extremely upset, and I was too,” Beaty said. “That can’t happen. That’s inexcusable.”
After the markoff, Matthew Wyman promptly missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
KU still had plenty of reasons for optimism. One was the play of the quarterbacks, led by Montell Cozart, who drew the start in a third consecutive season opener.
Cozart, who split time with Ryan Willis, showed better touch on deep balls while completing 18 of 25 passes for 199 yards with three touchdowns. His only glaring mistake was in the third quarter, as an underthrown pass to the end zone was picked off by Rhode Island linebacker Justin Hogan.
Willis was fine in his own right, completing 7 of 9 passes for 144 yards with two scores. Beaty said the quarterback competition would continue through practices this week.
“Until one guy completely separates himself,” Beaty said, “we’ll continue to rotate quarterbacks.”
Kansas receivers also were a bright spot. The group combined for five touchdowns, led by Steven Sims, who had a pair of scores which included a 71-yard sprint down the left sideline where he flashed speed the team lacked a season ago.
“We’re explosive,” Sims said. “I feel like we can play with anybody.”
The Jayhawks’ defense was solid as well, holding the Rams to 49 passing yards and 3.5 yards per play.
Kansas scored 50-plus points for the first time since 2010.
The victory sets up an interesting Week 2. The Jayhawks’ second opponent, Ohio, lost a home game to Texas State on Saturday, meaning KU shouldn’t be more than a slight underdog as it tries to move to 2-0 at Memorial Stadium next week.
And will the students rush the field if KU wins then? For now, that’s a possibility the Jayhawks don’t mind discussing.
“It was great to see those guys stick through the whole game,” Cozart said. “I know guys were probably ready to go, but it was great to see those guys come out there, interacting with us.”
Kansas 55, Rhode Island 6
KAN: Johnson 2 pass from Cozart (Wyman kick), 09:55.
KAN: Gonzalez 18 pass from Willis, 06:26.
KAN: Sims 35 pass from Cozart (Wyman kick), 14:52.
RIL: Parker 23 pass from McKoy (kick failed), 10:44.
KAN: Martin 1 run (Wyman kick), 08:11.
KAN: Patrick 20 pass from Cozart (Wyman kick), 09:25.
KAN: Sims 71 pass from Willis (Wyman kick), 02:59.
KAN: Kinner 11 run (Wyman kick), 14:13.
KAN: Harrell 13 pass from Stanley (Wyman kick), 06:03.
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Rhode Island, Anderson 16-59, McKoy 10-56, Clarke 11-43, Denny 3-12. Kansas, Kinner 7-69, Martin 6-33, Evans 9-24, Willis 2-22, Cozart 4-17, Herbert 4-15, Stanley 1-3, (Team) 2-(minus 12).
PASSING: Rhode Island, McKoy 6-23-1-49. Kansas, Cozart 18-25-1-199, Willis 7-9-0-144, Stanley 3-4-0-56.
RECEIVING: Rhode Island, Parker 2-37, McKeeman 2-12, Denny 1-9, Allen 1-(minus 9). Kansas, Gonzalez 7-78, Sims 5-124, Patrick 5-51, Hartzog 3-34, Harrell 2-51, Barbel 2-17, Zunica 1-22, Kinner 1-15, Sternberger 1-5, Johnson 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Kansas, Wyman 31.