Kansas quarterback's gaffe proves costly in opening loss
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) The first thing Kansas coach David Beaty did after a heartbreaking opening loss was to seek out quarterback Montell Cozart, whose gaffe had erased a chance for the Jayhawks to tie the game.
Then Beaty reminded Cozart they wouldn't have been in that situation without him.
''I was proud of that guy coming back,'' Beaty said after a 41-38 loss to South Dakota State, a game that ended when Cozart fumbled a snap as he tried to spike the ball in the final seconds.
Rather than a long field-goal try, the game clock slowly expired.
To his credit, Cozart didn't shirk his responsibility. The junior faced down every question about his miscue. He insisted the snap was good, and that any finger-pointing in the aftermath should be directed right at him.
But as Beaty pointed out, it was Cozart whose sublime play much of the afternoon gave Kansas a chance. Two early turnovers and countless missed tackles helped the Jackrabbits race to a 31-7 first-half lead, and any enthusiasm over Beaty's first game as a Division I head coach had evaporated on a Saturday afternoon in which the heat index approached triple digits.
''Those turnovers just settled me down,'' Cozart said. ''I just took a deep breath and said, `Here we go. It's time to play.' We got into some great situations using our tempo against a good defense. Give credit to South Dakota State, though. They came out and played great.''
The Jackrabbits certainly didn't make a comeback easy. But with some newfound confidence, Cozart nearly pulled it off. He wound up throwing for 291 yards and a touchdown while running for 94 yards. Often, the most effective way that Kansas moved the ball was with Cozart fleeing the pocket and using his long strides and swift feet to pick up first downs.
When it was time to air it out, Cozart spread the ball around. He hit 11 different targets, most of whom he had never played with before their arrival this past season.
''Everyone just came out and executed,'' Kansas safety Fish Smithson said. ''We came in at halftime and talked about it. They had a lot of different things we hadn't seen at practice or worked on for a week or two, so we just got back out there and tried.''
South Dakota State scored with 5 minutes left to push its lead to 41-31, but Cozart - calmly running Beaty's ''air raid'' offense - quickly marched down the field. The Jayhawks twice picked up third downs before Cozart hit tight end Kent Taylor from 10 yards out for a touchdown with 1:39 remaining.
Burning through timeouts, Kansas forced a punt with 39 seconds to go. Two plays hardly went anywhere, but Cozart's 20-yard strike to Derrick Neal appeared to get within field-goal range.
Then came the fumble, one play that overshadowed everything else Cozart had done.
''I think everybody in the stands, at least on our side, would have liked to see what would have happened there,'' Beaty said, ''but we have to earn that. We have to earn it.''
Kansas kicker Matt Wyman said he was prepared to race onto the field, and that with the wind behind him, a try from 55 yards would have been within range. But he never got the chance.
''We wanted to know how they were going to fight when they got in an adverse situation. We got in that situation pretty quick,'' Beaty said. ''We're never out of the game. Never out of it.''