LAWRENCE — Not known for his scrambling prowess, Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender nevertheless used his legs to make two of the most important plays in last week's 27-26 upset victory over TCU.
Perhaps, then, it would've been too much to also expect an out-of-character response from the even-keeled senior in the Jayhawks’ jubilant postgame locker room.
Bender completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Horned Frogs and, as mentioned, extended a pair of pivotal plays on the ground. His first scoring strike on a third-and-goal from the 7 came only after the quarterback bought several seconds by rolling out of the pocket and to his right, and Bender’s 12-yard dash on third-and-11 kept alive the Jayhawks’ go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
An elusive first Big 12 victory finally under his belt, Bender no doubt relished the raucous postgame scene — a couple hundred fans rushing the field to offer congratulations, and later, giddy teammates bouncing off the walls inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
But how much jumping did Bender do in the impromptu mosh pit?
“Not a ton,” Bender recalled with a laugh.
“I watched a lot of it, but just went up to a lot of my teammates, told ’em I was proud of ’em, I appreciate their work, but you know, enjoy this one, but we’ve got to get ready for Iowa State.”
Bender’s measured response likely came as no surprise to teammates and coaches, who saw him handle the rare moment of elation as he’s handled the dump-truck load of criticism he’s shouldered from almost the outset of his two-year KU career. Twice benched midseason only to later reclaim his starting role, Bender has thrown 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a Jayhawk.
David Beaty lauded Bender’s ability to manage criticism during his postgame remarks Saturday, and Tuesday, the fourth-year head coach elaborated.
"(Bender) is uniquely wired," Beaty said. "There's times when I'm asking him to be a little bit more of something he's not. I've learned how to take who he is and make that a positive, too. When you're somebody you're not, your teammates, they see. He is Steady Eddie. It's been a good thing for him, for sure.”
Swarmed Saturday by in all likelihood some of the same fans who have called for his benching, Bender shrugged off the up-and-down nature of his standing among the public as part of the job.
“Playing quarterback, you get a lot of the love when it’s going good and you get a lot of the hate when it’s going bad,” Bender said. “But you know, it’s just something as a player, you can’t pay attention to it. We know what’s going on in this facility. We come up here every week and just work, go to practice.
“At the end of the day, people are going to say mean things; people are going to say good things. I just try not to pay attention to it, and it’s what I do.”
Along with improved offensive line play, Bender cited comfort for his improved pocket presence across the last two contests. Bender has handled the entirety of the Jayhawks’ last two games in the wake of the firing of former offensive coordinator Doug Meacham.
Bender acknowledged handling games start-to-finish — with the full support of Beaty, who sent Bender a text notifying the quarterback he’d start against TCU on the bus ride following the team’s defeat at Texas Tech — has helped stabilize his confidence level.
“It’s nice in a way to know in the back of your head that they’re going to be sticking with you so it’s not a pressure on every throw,” Bender said. “But yeah, I definitely think it has helped. At the end of the day it’s just about executing the offense cleanly. I think it allows you to get in a rhythm, kind of settle into the game and execute the offense how it’s supposed to be run.”
A double-digit home underdog once again, KU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) hosts Iowa State (4-3, 3-2) in an 11 a.m. Saturday contest at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, and here’s where Bender’s postgame message to teammates last Saturday comes into play. Less than 10 minutes after the biggest win of his career, Bender was already thinking about what’s to come.
Considering what the quarterback believes is still within the Jayhawks’ grasp, that response becomes all the more understandable.
“Heading into these last few weeks of the season, our goals are still in front of us, of reaching a bowl game,” Bender said. “I think (the win over TCU) is going to be a huge confidence booster for the whole team.”