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3 takeaways from BYU’s loss at Kansas

The Cougars couldn’t maintain a halftime lead as the Jayhawks rolled past BYU in the Big 12 opener for both schools

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BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) passes the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas.

BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) passes the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. Kansas won 38-27.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

BYU’s first conference game as a member of the Big 12 ended with a bevy of learning lessons, as Kansas handed the Cougars a 38-27 loss at Kansas Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Jayhawks, after trailing 17-14 at halftime, outscored BYU 24-10 in the second half to run away with the victory.

What needs improving

1. The Cougars are one-dimensional offensively, and it limits them. BYU entered the game with the sixth-worst running offense in the country, and it got even worse on Saturday. The Cougars ended the game with 9 rushing yards on 22 carries, for a 0.4 yards-per-carry average.

BYU ran the ball just eight times in the second half — Kansas had two sacks in the final two quarters — and if not for a 6-yard jet sweep touchdown from Keelan Marion, it would have had negative rushing yards for the half.  

2. Turnovers loomed large in the loss. BYU entered the contest with just two turnovers on the season, but Kansas forced the Cougars into three turnovers, and every single one of them resulted in a Jayhawks touchdown at a critical time in the game.

The first came on BYU’s second offensive play, when Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant hit Parker Kingston hard on a jet sweep, caused a fumble and picked up the loose ball for a 22-yard return for a touchdown. 

The second happened on the third play of the third quarter, when Kedon Slovis threw behind Isaac Rex and the ball was tipped, with Kenny Logan Jr. grabbing the interception and running 30 yards for the Jayhawks’ second defensive score.

The final turnover came late in the third quarter when Slovis had a bad throw downfield on fourth down picked by Bryant. That set up a Kansas touchdown to give the Jayhawks a 35-20 lead.

3. Kansas’ balanced offense — behind Jalon Daniels — took over in second half. The Cougars defense did well during the first half, holding a Kansas offense that had been averaging 500 yards of total offense to 139 in the first two quarters.

Daniels, the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, got the Jayhawks offense rolling in the second half, though, as Kansas relied on its rushing attack, with a complementary passing attack.

The Jayhawks ran for 172 yards after halftime, while Daniels threw for 130 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 54 yards. 

Kansas converted 4 of 5 third-down attempts in the second half and scored on three straight possessions to put the game away. 

BONUS. Another slow start and sloppy play were costly. BYU fell behind 14-0 against Arkansas the week before, and the Cougars found themselves fighting from behind again Saturday.

This time, BYU trailed 14-7 after the first quarter. Like the previous week, the Cougars were again outscored in the third quarter, too, this time 14-3.

The Cougars also had several sloppy moments, from taking a penalty that forced them to forgo trying a 2-point attempt after cutting it to a one-score deficit, to yet another illegal touching penalty.

BYU also called a handful of ill-timed timeouts in both halves when they weren’t set or ready for key plays.

What worked well

1. Kedon Slovis found his rhythm in the passing game, with some hiccups. A large portion of it was by necessity considering BYU struggled so badly to run the ball, but Slovis had his best passing game as a Cougar.

He finished with 357 passing yards and two touchdowns, though those two interceptions were especially costly.

Slovis needed 51 passing attempts and completed 59% (30) of his attempts, though he was able to connect on some long balls to Chase Roberts (50 yards) and Marion (37) to help fuel scoring drives.

Rex also proved to be a solid security blanket yet again, finishing with a career-high seven receptions for 76 yards.

2. BYU’s defense held down the Kansas offense for a half. In the first two quarters, the Cougars defense kept the Jayhawks from scoring offensively on three of their first four possessions. That included a fourth-down stop in BYU territory and two straight drives in which Kansas finished with negative yardage on a drive.

That helped BYU’s offense deliver 10 straight points and give the Cougars a 17-14 halftime lead.

It was a different story in the second half, though, when BYU struggled to get the Kansas offense off the field.

3. The Cougars stayed perfect in the red zone. Heading into the contest, BYU was tied for first nationally by converting 10 red-zone attempts into scores. That included nine touchdowns — that 90% TD red-zone conversion rate was sixth nationally.

BYU had five red-zone appearances on Saturday and converted every one into points to stay perfect in the red zone this season. The Cougars’ TD conversion rate will take a hit, though, as BYU scored three touchdowns and two field goals on those red-zone attempts.

Still, through a third of the season, BYU has scored touchdowns on 80% of its red-zone attempts. Last year, the Cougars converted just 59% of their red-zone attempts into touchdowns.

What’s next?

1. The Cougars have their Big 12 home opener next week. BYU will have a short week for its first home conference game of the Big 12 era, with the Cougars hosting Cincinnati on Friday, Sept. 29.

The Bearcats come into the game 2-2 overall and 0-1 in league play, after losing 20-6 to No. 16 Oklahoma on Saturday.

2. How healthy are the Cougars? BYU will have a bye following the Friday night contest against Cincinnati.

The Cougars could use the week off to get a bit healthier — Kingston left after taking a big hit on BYU’s second offensive play, a dinged-up Aidan Robbins didn’t make the trip to Lawrence and BYU dealt with some shuffling on the offensive line thanks to injuries.

3. BYU needs a win before hitting the road for three of its next four games. After the Cougars host Cincinnati, they’ll play just one home game over the next four weeks, against Texas Tech on Oct. 21.

During that stretch, BYU will play at TCU (Oct. 14), at No. 3 Texas (Oct. 28) and at West Virginia (Nov. 4). If the Cougars lose all three, they could be .500 or worse going into the final quarter of the season.