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Kansas: a tale of two quarterbacks

AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

The worst of times won handily for Kansas in Thursday’s 55-19 loss to Texas Tech.

For awhile, it looked like the Jayhawks were turning things around after going down 14-0 in the first quarter. Last year in a 10-point loss to the Red Raiders, Kansas was down by three possessions before turning the jets on. That ray of hope came from the defense pinning the Red Raider offense inside the 10-yard line on a punt, forcing a safety on a botched snap.

Just before that turnover, the Jayhawks suffered a three-and-out after picking off Patrick Mahomes. The script repeated after getting the ball back due to the safety, this time walking back two yards in another three-and-out.

Whatever push the Kansas defense was getting was muted by the offense’s shortcomings. It wasn’t just the handiwork of one man under center, but two quarterbacks with similarly unsatisfying performances.

Starter Montell Cozart orchestrated that ensuing drive after the interception from Fish Smithson. Ryan Willis came in on the next drive only to end with the same unproductive result. He led a 65-yard drive a few possessions later to instill some hope — trimming KU’s deficit to 11 points — but it was his only highlight of the game.

Willis finished the night 14-of-26 for 142 yards and one touchdown. Cozart completed 9-of-20 attempts for 97 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Their lack of success goes beyond the box score, which shows they completed just over five yards per pass. Sure, those incompletions and Cozart’s interceptions were costly, but individual incompletions and other mistakes show the true issues for this offense, which was given so many chances by a defense that was eventually tired out by Tech’s offense even when Mahomes exited the game with an injury.

After KU reached the end zone following a special teams turnover to open the second half, the scoreboard margin was reduced to 12 points: 28-16, Red Raiders. Tech’s offense was stuffed on the ensuing drive and set up Kansas within striking distance. All that separated the game from being reduced to a single-possession scoreboard margin was 38 yards, but thanks to heavy pressure, Willis was called for intentional grounding with the ball on the Tech nine-yard line.

That was the pivotal point of the game. Instead of being within striking distance for a touchdown, a field goal was all that was afforded. The Red Raiders led by two scores, 28-19.

Flash forward to Tech holding a 48-19 lead in the fourth quarter. The game was completely lost at that point, but Cozart encountered pressure and — in an effort to throw the ball away — threw an interception to Jah’Shawn Johnson by the sideline.

This isn’t the first time Kansas has faced these issues. Willis and Cozart have been splitting time all season. However, it is particularly concerning that neither showed consistent improvement against a defense that gave up 325 passing yards per game before Thursday. The TTU pass rush group hadn’t become a strong unit, either, but heavy pressure from the Red Raider defense strongly influenced Kansas’s quarterbacks.

Placing blame on one aspect of the game in a 36-point loss is misguided, but opportunities were squandered after impressive outings from the Kansas defense and special teams. If quarterback play improves and the other two phases of the game stay on the same trajectory, there could still be hope for good times to arrive in Lawrence.

Kansas: a tale of two quarterbacks

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