What’s been Kansas football’s biggest eyesore this season only grew in gruesomeness Saturday.
So the Jayhawks’ opponents took it upon themselves to show the visitors how it’s done.
West Virginia's Leddie Brown broke open what had been a surprisingly competitive contest with an 87-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, giving the Mountaineers a two-touchdown advantage en route to an eventual 38-17 victory over the Jayhawks at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. The outcome represented the 51st consecutive defeat in a conference road contest for KU, which entered the game as a 21-point underdog.
Brown’s scoring run — the 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior scampered through the middle of a stacked box and was home-free for the dash’s final 80 yards — successfully converted a third-and-1 play from the WVU 13-yard line.
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, were 1 of 9 on their third-down tries at that point in the game, and their next drive didn’t help that number — Pooka Williams was dropped for a 4-yard loss on first down and Miles Kendrick was sacked on second- and third-down plays, forcing a fourth-and-24 and a must-punt scenario.
WVU capitalized on its next possession with an 8-yard touchdown connection from Jarret Doege to Sam James, giving the Mountaineers a 31-10 advantage. KU, which jumped out to a 10-0 lead only to surrender 38 unanswered points, finished 2 for 13 on third-down attempts one game after going 1-for-14 in those scenarios in a 47-7 defeat to Oklahoma State.
KU (0-4, 0-3 Big 12), which was without head coach Les Miles, entered the weekend ranked 73rd nationally out of 76 eligible teams in third-down conversion percentage, successful on just 23.1% of its tries in that category this season.
"The shorter the third down is the better opportunity you have to get it. We’ve just got to execute," said tight ends coach Joshua Eargle, who served as interim head coach Saturday. "I think the plan is there. Kids are giving it all they’ve got. We’ve got to be able to make a play when it comes time to make the play. That’s on me."
Even the Jayhawks’ lone offensive touchdown Saturday came on a flukey play — Kendrick underthrew Andrew Parchment on a deep pass in the first quarter, but the ball ricocheted off the hands of a Mountaineer defender and into the waiting arms of the senior wide receiver for a 43-yard score and a 10-0 advantage. Much later, Williams’ 92-yard kickoff return with 1:45 remaining gave his team its only other touchdown.
Williams’ season struggles continued, with the junior carrying the ball 11 times for just 21 yards. WVU (3-1, 2-1), which got 18 carries for 195 yards from Brown, finished 6 for 16 on its third-down tries, including the running back's notable third-quarter exclamation point.
"I really liked the way we came out. I thought we came out with fire," Eargle said. "I thought we had a great plan. I think (offensive coordinator Brent) Dearmon and the offensive staff really, really put together a plan that was going to be effective. We hit some adversity, fell behind the chains a little bit and stumbled some. But you put that on me. We’ve got to get those guys ready to play four quarters. I thought their fight was there."
Kendrick, who became the Jayhawks' third starting quarterback this season, handled the entire contest but struggled mightily, finishing 14-for-23 passing for 95 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. KU's offense compiled just 157 yards, dwarfed by the 544 yards posted by the WVU offense.
With senior Thomas MacVittie and junior Miles Fallin "nicked up" and freshman Jalon Daniels unavailable due to injury, KU never seriously considered making a change at quarterback midway through the contest — "He was the guy we needed to ride," Eargle said.
"I don’t think our guys flinched today," Eargle said. "I think our guys kept fighting. I think they have a warrior’s spirit. So stinkin’ proud to be a Jayhawk. So stinkin’ proud to be on this staff and represent those kids, standing here today. It wasn’t their fight (but) they didn’t quit."
KU's season continues at 11 a.m. Oct. 24 with a road contest against Kansas State in Manhattan.
"We’ve just got to kind of hone in," Eargle said. "We’ve just got to keep working on the finer things. It’s not big things. These Jayhawks right here that coach Miles have are coming. The best is yet to come."