LAWRENCE — Fresh off a deflating defeat to an FCS opponent in his team’s season opener, fourth-year Kansas football coach David Beaty borrowed a phrase from “Annie.”
“I’ll tell you this: The sun is going to come up tomorrow,” said Beaty, moments after his team’s 26-23 overtime defeat Saturday night to Nicholls State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, “and this team is going to continue to work towards the goals that they have set.”
Only time will tell whether the sun is setting on the Beaty era, but this much rings true:
It’s still a hard-knock life at Kansas.
Nicholls outgained KU by 74 yards in the contest, gifted 10 fourth-quarter points to the Jayhawks on a safety and a muffed punt return yet still recovered for its first victory against an FBS opponent since 2013. Colonels quarterback Chase Fourcade eluded KU senior linebacker and All-Big 12 preseason selection Joe Dineen on the game’s final play, walking off with a four-yard touchdown run that bested the Jayhawks’ 41-yard field goal on their first and only overtime possession.
Teammates, coaches and even a few fans that made the trek from Thibodaux, La., rushed the field and mobbed Fourcade. KU (0-1) players exited stage left, most as quickly as possible.
Beaty fell to 3-34 in his time at KU — and 2-2 against FCS opponents.
“We knew coming in it was a good football team. We knew that,” Beaty said. “We knew it was going to take every single thing we got, plus overtime, maybe six, seven, eight quarters if it was going to take that, and it came to fruition.”
Nicholls (1-0), which played FBS opponents Georgia and Texas A&M to two- and 10-point defeats in each of the past two seasons, respectively, held a 17-10 advantage entering the fourth quarter, the result of a 40-yard touchdown run by Kendall Bussey that represented the only scoring play of the third period. The Colonels appeared to catch the Jayhawk defense off guard with a quick snap, and the A&M transfer Bussey broke into an empty secondary and made it to the end zone untouched.
The Colonels handed the Jayhawks 10 fourth-quarter points and a late lead, though, snapping a ball over their punter’s head for a safety and muffing a punt at the KU 10, the team’s lone turnover of the contest. KU capitalized with a Peyton Bender-to-Kerr Johnson touchdown strike, and one two-point trick pass play from wide receiver Steven Sims to tight end Mavin Saunders later, the Jayhawks found themselves in front 20-17 with 4:26 left to play.
But two KU gaffes — a 15-yard facemask penalty by Dineen and blown coverage on a play that led to a 25-yard reception by Nicholls receiver Dai’Jean Dixon — set up the game-tying field goal by Lorran Fonseca, who knocked it in from 43 yards out with 47 seconds left in regulation.
“You know, Joe (Dineen) was hustling,” Beaty said. “I certainly would never want him to grab a facemask. But I know he was hustling, and the Bussey kid cut back and he just got him by the facemask. Those happen from time to time, but we've got to bow our neck and we've got to be able to stop him right there, right.
“They had a couple of really big plays in the passing game down the stretch there that we've — those are mano-a-mano plays, and you've got to go make that play, and he made it and we didn't.”
KU had its share of errors in the affair.
Sims caught a 2-yard touchdown but dropped a surefire 37-yard scoring strike from Bender in the second quarter. Linebacker Brian Lipscomb dropped a would-be interception in the first half that would’ve set the Jayhawks up in Colonel territory. New center Alex Fontana misfired on several snaps, including an unintentional direct snap to running back Dom Williams that lost a yard on the Jayhawks’ first play of overtime. Cornerback Hasan Defense committed pass interference on an overtime slant play that gave the Colonels first-and-goal from the KU 5, setting up the eventual game-winning play.
And, down five midway through the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks potentially left three points on the board, electing to punt from the Nicholls 37 instead of trying a 54-yard field goal or even attempting to convert the fourth and 7. Jayhawk kicker Gabriel Rui made a 54-yard field goal with ease from the exact same spot on the field in the second quarter.
KU burned timeouts before both the second-quarter field goal and the fourth-quarter punt.
“I mean, as much as they had some situations that let us back in the game, we let them right back in the game as things turned around,” Beaty said. “We certainly can't make those kind of mistakes down the stretch.”
Next for KU is a 2 p.m. Sept. 8 contest at Central Michigan — the Jayhawks haven’t won on the road since 2009 — and with any hopes of a 3-0 start to the season through what was perceived as a soft nonconference schedule dashed, the goal will now be refocusing players that at times appeared shell-shocked in postgame interviews.
“You know, I think there's a thing called maturity and understanding the game that we have to possess as players and coaches, and we've got to find ways to get ourselves excited,” Beaty said. “I've been on teams that have won eight games, and it's hard to get them fired up to play the next game. Sometimes I've been on teams where you're a .500 team, and they come to work every Monday.
“Just knowing these guys and this team, they won't react like the world probably expects them to. They're going to come back and Monday will look good, Tuesday will look better, Wednesday will look even better.”
Beaty at least has some control over his players’ reaction to Saturday’s letdown.
How first-year athletic director Jeff Long responds? Well, that's perhaps the most interesting question remaining in a season derailed in Week 1.
“We're going to come out (Sunday) getting ready for another good Central Michigan team,” Beaty said. “It's coming up, and here we go.”
Kendrick sees the field
Backup quarterback Miles Kendrick, who Beaty said will play in every game this season, did indeed appear in the opener, handling every play of the Jayhawks’ fourth drive and also a third-and-6 play from the 21 on his team’s overtime possession.
On the latter, the team's final play on offense, Kendrick was dropped for a 3-yard loss on a scramble attempt.
Freshman running back and kick returner Pooka Williams, a four-star player from KU’s last recruiting class, didn’t make his debut in the contest, unavailable because of what KU labeled “a non-disciplinary matter.”
The program refused further comment on Williams’ situation or his availability going forward.