With former Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing returning to Memorial Field to see his name revealed on the Ring of Honor, KU partied like it was 2007.
They played like it too.
Fueled by six turnovers from the defense and 400 rushing yards from the Jayhawk offense, KU dominated Rutgers 55-14.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” sophomore quarterback Miles Kendrick said after the game. “Come out on the field and dominate was great. It’s what we work for and we want more.”
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s defense forced critical momentum-changing plays all day, starting with Bryce Torneden pick-six with 10:30 left in the first quarter. The next drive, Torneden recovered a Jonathan Hilliman fumble at the Rutgers 22.
“Clint Bowen has done a terrific job preparing our defense coming into this season and so far the things we have tried to develop within that side of the ball have come to fruition,” head coach David Beaty said after the game.
Junior safety Mike Lee also cashed in on a turnover with a 31-yard pick-six of his own with 14:10 left in the second quarter. Lee made several cuts, starting near the Rutgers sideline and racing back to the middle of the field to score.
“I try to tell them [the coaches] I got running back skills, but they don’t listen to me,” Lee said. “I had to get in the end zone, so I felt like I had to make players miss and that’s what I did, and it was a good celebration.”
“That was impressive,” redshirt senior captain Joe Dineen said about Lee’s interception. “I haven’t seen that before. I told Mike when he got to the sideline ‘wow, I didn’t know you could that.’ That’s huge for us. Anytime we can get into the end-zone as a defense it’s obviously a pretty cool feeling.”
The six turnovers forced by the Jayhawks matched their total against Central Michigan last Saturday. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Kansas led the country with a plus-six turnover margin. The 13 turnovers by KU this season already surpasses last season’s total of nine.
“I feel like, as a whole, as a defense, I feel like all of us have a lot of confidence,” the junior safety Lee said. “Everybody watches film together. Everybody knows what position they have to be in.”
Freshman running back Pooka Williams got the start for the Jayhawks for a second straight week. The freshman sensation gained 158 yards on 18 carries. He took it to the house on a 52-yard run to start the fourth quarter to give KU a 48-14 lead. Even when he didn’t score, Williams found ways to make the highlight reel, including a run where he attempt to hurdle Rutgers defensive back Isaiah Wharton. He failed to do so and fumbled the ball out of bounds, but he gained 25 yards.
Rutgers-Kansas in one GIF pic.twitter.com/fGZcfdJs2X
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) September 15, 2018
“I was so excited,” Lee said about seeing Williams on the field. “The first game I wish he could have played, but he didn’t, and I felt like when he was to come back I felt like he was going to do his job. Every time I always tell him ‘it’s going to come. The holes are going to open up. You’re going to score.’ Every time I say that, he scores, and I feel like I’m a good luck charm to him.”
Beaty said that KU has a deep running back core and any of those guys can make big plays.
“That’s what we pride on ourselves on, our group,” running back Khalil Herbert said. “We compete every day. During the game, it’s no different. Each of us try to break one. Today we were able to show it.
Beaty deployed both Peyton Bender and Kendrick at quarterback. After splitting snaps in the first half, Kendrick became the main option under center for most of the second half.
Kendrick finished the game going 6-of-11 for 66 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Bender went 8-of-12 with 73 yards, all of it happening in the first half.
“Some of the things they [Rutgers] did structurally lent itself a little bit more to what we had game planned for…,” Beaty said when asked about the switch from platooning quarterbacks to sticking with Kendrick. “Because of that it was just a matter of time before we were going to use those packages and see if they would create some success for us, and he pretty good command of it.”
“We were about to put Peyton back in there, because we had a lot of time left in the fourth quarter. Then on that next drive for the defense it took a little while and we just felt like…we had the game in control and we got some other guys in the game.”
In the first half, Rutgers would not go away quietly. After two overthrown passes by Bender, Beaty decided to employ Gabriel Rui to kick a field goal at the Rutgers 36. Deonte Roberts blocked it and returned it 64 yards to make it 10-7 with 9:06 in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Bender led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took over four minutes off the clock. Kendrick came in for his first series of the game and punctuated the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Booker to stretch the lead back to 10.
With 3:07 left until halftime, Hilliman finished a 9-play, 86-yard drive with a 2-yard score to cut the Kansas lead to 10. Two plays later, KU responded with a 59-yard touchdown run from Herbert to go up 17 before halftime. Rutgers failed to score the rest of the game.
— Pooka.gif (@gifhawk) September 15, 2018
“Whatever I got to do to help the team score, get us momentum going again, it was essential that we got some points on the board on that drive after they scored,” Herbert said about his touchdown run.
Kansas was favored by 2.5 points coming into the game, according to OddSharks. It marked the first time Vegas gave the edge in a Power 5 game since 2009.
Kansas will exit nonconference play with a 2-1 record, the first time since 2014 the team will start Big 12 play with a winning record.
After the week one loss to FCS Nicholls, the Jayhawks have outscored opponents by a combined score of 86-21. Dineen credited the coaches for getting the players to bounce back after the devasting loss.
“I think it’s our coaches,” Dineen said. “After week one, it would have been so easy to just throw in the towel and be like this is going to be like any other year. They really got us going in the right direction. They picked us up. They got us ready to go for Central Michigan and then obviously they got us ready to go for Rutgers.”
KU will travel to Waco, Texas to face Baylor next Saturday at 2:30 to start Big 12 play.