As far as recent history goes, David Beaty and his Kansas Jayhawks hope that the program’s latest loss, one that could be described as Kansas as it gets will be the turning point, the “remember when” moment that they’ll look back on one day, when they celebrate one of college football greatest turnaround stories.
On Saturday however, that left little comfort for the time being, as a botched snap and spiking of the ball that would have allowed a potential game tying field goal to be attempted went horribly wrong and Kansas began its season with a 41-38 loss to FCS South Dakota State at Memorial Stadium, spoiling Beaty’s Jayhawk debut. It was a loss that hurt, especially given the fact that the Jayhawks fought back from a 31-7 hole and nearly completed the comeback in a game where many teams from the program’s recent past may have found reason to give up.
“Yeah, that's one I tell I don't know that I've ever been involved in one that ended like that to be honest with you. But we practice those unusual situations and we always talk about those things not being a big deal until they're a big deal,” Beaty said. “ That's why we always talk about we focus on the next play being the most important play, and that play gives you an opportunity to play the next play. And we weren't able to get that done just with the down the ball got played.”
Kansas fell behind 31-7 and it looked especially bad when starting quarterback Montell Cozart went down with an injury in the second quarter, leading to the short debut of true freshman Ryan Willis. Cozart would return and he would jumpstart the high octane Kansas offense that Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens have brought to the table.
Joined by junior college transfer running back Ke’Aun Kinner, who rushed for 161 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns, Cozart settled in and wound up having a solid day, passing for 291 on 25 of 38 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Still unfortunately, all anyone would focus on was the final play, nullifying a gutty performance that nearly led to a remarkable comeback story.</p>
"I'll say this, without Montell Cozart, we wouldn't have been in that game at the very end of it, so there's give and take there,” Beaty said.
Like any junior player who was thrown to the wolves as a freshman and has seen a lot in such a short period of time, it was little shock that Cozart handled it all in stride, as he dealt with the adversity following the loss.
"I felt like I was too relaxed. We work on clock situation all of the time. Under two minutes we have to get that field goal. We have to get (kicker) Matthew Wyman out there because we know he has a boot,” Cozart said. “When the ball hit me, I never really got a good grasp on it and I fumbled. So I tried to get on it real quick and get the guys lined right back up. I knew we only had two or four seconds left so I thought we could get the snap off but we just fell short. You never think about stuff like that until it happens to you and it felt like someone just uppercut me right in the gut. Thinking about it, I know it'll never happen again. We'll be fine though."
The Jayhawks fought back throughout, rallying to cut the lead down to 31-14 at halftime. Then, in the second half, Kansas did what many teams of the past couldn’t do, which was play a good third quarter and increase the pressure. The Jayhawks would close the gap to as little as three, three times in the second half, but just were never able to get over the hump on a hot and sultry day and as many of the fans did after the half, it was clear that quitting was never an actual option for this team, not under this coach and staff.
“I tell you this, the thing that I was most encouraged by was although there wasn't a lot of rah-rah going on the sideline, I didn't see deflated kids over there,” Beaty said. “And that is a huge -- that's a huge shout out to our staff for that. I thought they did a really nice job over there.”
Still, it’s a loss and there may be many more that follow, as the damage caused by the previous two regimes have gutted what was a good and very much respected program nearly a decade ago. Beaty and his staff will merely keep grinding and building as Kansas hosts Memphis next Saturday night. As for the first game, the hope will be that this was just a starting point, a distant memory and footnote in the bigger picture, where statements such as the following only add perspective to a greater story to be told.
“We did just good enough to stay close, and we didn't do good enough to win the game,” Beaty said.