Over the course of the 2015 season, Kansas has lost both its starting quarterbacks (Montrell Cozart, Deondre Ford) lost six games by at least 25 points and has inspired multiple articles about whether it’s the worst place to play football in the FBS. The Jayhawks were a 46-point underdog entering Saturday’s matchup with No. 15 TCU, the nation’s second-rated offense, in a game widely expected to be a laugher.
But once star quarterback Trevone Boykin exited the game with an ankle injury in the first half, TCU’s lightning-quick offense struggled, and the college football world almost witnessed one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.
The Horned Frogs held off the Jayhawks, 23–17, on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, a game eerily reminiscent of the 2014 matchup between the two teams, which TCU eked out with a 34–30 win in Lawrence. While no announcements have been made about the severity of Boykin’s injury, the Horned Frogs’ lackadaisical Saturday performance did little to quiet the critics who essentially ruled them out of the Big 12 title race after being routed by Oklahoma State last weekend.
Below are three thoughts on the near-stunner.
1. Despite being the nation’s worst defense, Kansas limited TCU
Kansas entered the game ranked dead last—128th to be exact—in total defense, allowing 583.3 yards per game, 7.3 yards per play and an astonishing 48.4 points per game. Texas smashed the Jayhawks with a running attack anchored by quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Baylor scored 52 first-half points and logged 644 total yards and, heck, even Iowa State logged over 500 yards on Kansas’s weary unit.
So it seemed unlikely that the nation’s second-ranked attack, one that features one of the nation’s top receiving prospects (Josh Doctson), and a host of speedsters (Kolby Listenbee, Aaron Green), would glitch against a porous defense like Kansas’s.
Even before Boykin left the game with an injury, the Jayhawks opted for mostly three-man rushes, forcing both Boykin and his replacements, Bram Kohlhausen and Foster Sawyer, to beat the Jayhawks in man coverages. By scaling back its quarterback pressure, Kansas forced all three quarterbacks to throw into crowded coverages and make TCU rely on its running game. Green logged an impressive 177 yards on 30 carries, but Kansas’s gameplan limited TCU’s usual break-neck speed and prevented any Frogs receiver from eclipsing 100 yards. The gameplan was similar to those deployed by both Oklahoma State and West Virginia, and appears to be a basic blueprint to how to defend the spread attack concocted by offensive coordinators Doug Meachem and Sonny Cumbie.
2. TCU’s offense is neutered without Trevone Boykin
Boykin’s value to the Horned Frogs was readily apparent not on the field, but while he was on the sidelines. The offense shrinks without him in the game, as neither Sawyer nor Kohlhausen maintain Boykin’s dual-threat capabilities that have helped elevate TCU to one of the nation’s most feared attacks.
The reeling Doctson, who has been battling a wrist injury, was a non-factor, logging just one catch for 12 yards. If not for Green’s workmanlike performance out of the backfield and Kansas’s deplorable offense, the Frogs would have suffered college football’s biggest upset since Stanford, a 41-point underdog, defeated USC in 2007.
If Boykin misses any time with an ankle injury, it’s difficult to envision how the Frogs, a team that has been crushed by injuries this season, will keep pace against either Baylor or Oklahoma in the coming weeks. Though every Big 12 contender still has yet to play difficult games, TCU looked like it may be the first horse out of the race if Boykin’s injury is a long-term problem.
3. It’s a long, but moderately hopeful road for Kansas
Jayhawks coach David Beaty has been transparent about the difficulty of the job he’s facing and the time it will take to make Kansas a relevant program again. He’s still without a win this season, but if the Jayhawks can replicate its inspired defensive performance against either West Virginia or Kansas State to close the season, the Jayhawks could end the program’s 13-game losing streak.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Willis showed some promise, hitting a series of throws to the flat and one key downfield strike in the fourth quarter, and appears to be the long-term answer at the position despite his lacking mobility. Beaty and first-year offensive coordinator Rob Likens ideally want to institute a spread attack similar to that of Texas A&M and Cal (Beaty was A&M’s receivers coach last year, Likens held the same position in Berkeley), and may have to do so through Willis, who has promising arm strength but an elementary ability to read defenses at this juncture in his career.
With potential big-play receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez sitting out this season due to transfer rules (he followed Beaty from A&M), there is some, if moderate hope that the Jayhawks are building a foundation that they have lacked since Mark Mangino’s acrimonious departure from the program in 2009. Coaches often claim moral victories don’t exist, but after a depleted Kansas program came within one drive of beating one of the nation’s newest powerhouses, Beaty and co. probably feel a bit better about their future.