Longhorns watch 11-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter as Jayhawks end 19-game losing streak in Big 12 play
Posted November 19th, 2016
LAWRENCE, Kan. — This was a game Texas coach Charlie Strong could not lose.
No coach, or team, or football program worth its helmets and shoulder pads face-plants against a basketball school that’s lost 19 straight Big 12 games on the gridiron. And yet the Longhorns did exactly that on a brisk, chilly Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Texas, a 24-point favorite, turned it over six times and watched an 11-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter. Running back D’Onta Foreman, in the midst of the third-greatest season in UT history, fumbled twice himself and couldn’t convert a critical fourth-and-5 with 58 seconds left.
Kansas, a team that watched all the stars align, hit a 36-yard field goal with seven seconds left to force overtime. Then Matthew Wyman drilled a 25-yarder to clinch the Jayhawks’ 24-21 win and possibly end the Strong era in Austin.
Oh, UT administrators will allow Strong to coach next Friday’s regular-season finale against TCU. No Texas coach has ever been outright fired midseason. But Strong is 16-20 in three years and currently holds the worst winning percentage of any coach in UT’s illustrious century-plus history.
“When you had the blown opportunities we had, it’s hard to win a football game,” Strong said in a somber four-minute press conference.
At times, he didn’t know what to say. Reporters didn’t know what to ask. Standing in the back of the room, Strong’s wife, Vicki, held back tears. Men’s athletic director Mike Perrin looked away from reporters, offering no comment.
At this point, it may be an easy decision for Texas President Gregory L. Fenves. Strong has two years remaining on a guaranteed contract worth $10.7 million. Asked what this game means to his long-term future at Texas, Strong said, “No idea.”
Players struggled for the right words, because after all, nobody wearing burnt orange truly expected this. “It’s Kansas,” defensive back P.J. Locke III said. The Longhorns are 5-6 overall and still need one win to become bowl-eligible; the Jayhawks improved to 2-9.
The shock of it all was simply too overwhelming. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele said he felt fine after getting slammed down in the second quarter. But he didn’t look like himself after returning. In overtime, he attempted to find Dorian Leonard during a scramble drill, but the ball sailed high and made for an easy interception for Mike Lee.
When Kansas took over, Ke’aun Kinner ran for 2, 5, 12, 1 and 2 yards setting up Wyman’s final, fateful field goal.
“Dorian did a good job working for me,” said Buechele, who had just 165 passing yards and three interceptions. “I just shot it high. It was a bad throw.”
After the final kick, Kansas fans stormed the field. Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu slammed his helmet and let out a primal scream. Multiple players, including running back Kyle Porter, dashed off the field and skipped post-game singing of “The Eyes of Texas.”
Foreman ran for 250 yards, breaking Earl Campbell’s 39-year-old record with his 12th consecutive 100-yard game. The junior also set a new school record with 51 carries. But it’s all for naught in a loss.
“There’s not much to say,” left tackle Connor Williams said. “There’s really not much to say.”
The day started great. Sure, it was chilly with temperatures in the mid-40s, but there was sun everywhere and plenty of jokes to be made at Kansas’ expense given how few actually showed up. On the first play of the game, Buechele turned and fired a quick pass to Jacorey Warrick, who shook off a tackler and went the distance for a touchdown. One play, 75 yards and Texas led 7-0.
But on UT’s second possession, Foreman didn’t touch the ball as the Horns went three-and-out. Kansas couldn’t get anything going and punted on all four of its first-quarter drives.
Clouds began forming in the second quarter on the Texas sideline. Buechele went wide on third-and-9 and got slammed down hard by Tevin Shaw. He wobbled and went to the locker room. In came backup Tyrone Swoopes, who promptly fumbled the ball away on his fifth play.
Panic time? Not yet, really. The Jayhawks tried to go for it on fourth-and-inches and got stopped. By this point, Buechele was back on the sideline with what UT officials called a strained neck. But it would become clear that Buechele wasn’t totally OK.
On first-and-10 from the Texas 34, Buechele cocked and fired for Jerrod Heard streaking down the sideline. The ball hung up in the air too long and made for an easy interception by Fish Smithson. Still, Kansas went three-and-out again.
Buechele came back onto the field but was staring down his receivers. Brandon Stewart read a ball intended for Warrick all the way, stepped in front of the receiver and went 55 yards for a touchdown.
“Play calling is HOOOORRRRIIIIBBBLLLEEE!!!!,” tweeted Derrick Foreman, D’Onta and Armanti’s father.
On UT’s next possession, Foreman fought his way for a 12-yard gain and fumbled. The Jayhawks responded with a 33-yard completion to Steven Sims Jr. down to the Texas 10, prompting one KU graybeard in the press box to shout, “Here we go!”
The Jayhawks collected a 36-yard field goal just before halftime and led, 10-7.
For long-time fans, this likely brought up memories of previous nail-biters in Lawrence, including the near-disaster of 2004. Vince Young somehow converted fourth-and-18 late with a 22-yard run as then-KU coach Mark Mangino was yelling about unfairness and Bowl Championship Series “dollar signs.”
Edwin Freeman made an acrobatic interception, and Foreman converted that into a 2-yard touchdown run. The Doak Walk Award candidate went over the 100-yard mark with a 19-yard run on UT’s next drive.
Kicker Trent Domingue missed a 31-yard field goal wide left with 1:49 left in the third quarter. But no problem. Foreman ran for 2, 10, 8 and 7 yards before punching it in from 1 yard out, giving Texas a 21-10 lead.
The Jayhawks kept coming. Khalil Herbert scored from a yard out, and Sims scored on the two-point conversion, cutting UT’s lead down to three with 7:48 left. When the Jayhawks tied it up, the team with nothing to lose played free and easy. The visitors were the ones who tightened up.
“It’s just tough,” Strong said. “Those guys hurt in the locker room and (you) just feel so bad for them.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[brightcove_video video_id=”5217783646001″ caption=”In a surprising upset, Kansas defeated 24-21 in overtime in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Statesman sportswriter Brian Davis breaks down the game. “]