LAWRENCE — Kansas football took another reluctant step Saturday in its march toward a winless season.
The Jayhawks fell 52-22 to No. 23 Iowa State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, extending to 10 games a losing streak that dates back to last year. The Cyclones, a 27-point favorite, piled up 552 total yards of total offense, led by junior quarterback Brock Purdy's 23-for-34 passing performance for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Trailing by two scores with 6:49 left to play, the Jayhawk offense went the wrong direction, losing 13 yards to set up a punt from its own 17. Then, on the first play of the Cyclones’ ensuing drive, standout sophomore running back and Wichita native Breece Hall needed just one tote to put the game away, scoring a 58-yard touchdown run to make the score 45-22. Hall finished with 21 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns for ISU, which as a team averaged 7.4 yards per carry.
KU, which has dropped each of its conference games by at least three touchdowns, has now been outscored by 180 points across its first six contests. Despite that, second-year head coach Miles remains bullish on the team’s future, a sentiment reflected in what he recalled as his postgame message to Jayhawk players.
"I just told ’em, I said, ‘Hey listen: I’m going to put this team together. I want your help.’ I think it gets done, and I think it gets done this year," Miles said. "The things that we have to work against (are) those guys that think that because (they’re) in pain, (they’re) going to inflict negative talk. And that’s on every team that’s in America today, good team and bad, but it just gets a little bit more amplified when you’re looking for your first win."
Saturday’s contest was an uphill struggle from the outset for KU (0-6, 0-5 Big 12), which was without nine regular starters on offense and defense.
ISU (4-2, 4-1) scored its first two touchdowns with ease. Cyclone running back Kene Nwangwu capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with an 18-yard scoring run on his team’s first possession. Then, after a fumble by Jayhawk quarterback Jalon Daniels, Purdy punched in a 1-yard plow for a 13-0 lead with 8:07 left in the first quarter.
But the KU defense, playing without a pair of key contributors in safety Davon Ferguson and linebacker Dru Prox, settled in, forcing a punt and a turnover on downs on the next two Cyclone possessions. The KU offense took advantage, with first-year running back Daniel Hishaw scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run to bring the home squad within 13-7 with 9:01 left in the second quarter. That drive was the best of Daniels’ young collegiate career, the highlight 36-yard connection with fellow true freshman Luke Grimm on a fourth-and-6 attempt.
The Cyclones, though, found a counter-punch, with Charlie Kolar corralling a 3-yard touchdown reception to put the visitors up 20-7, a lead they held at the intermission. That third-and-goal grab made ISU 6-for-7 on third-down tries, while KU, which entered the weekend ranked 99th out of 102 eligible FBS teams in third-down conversion rate (21.4%), was 0-for-5 in those attempts at that point in Saturday’s contest.
ISU struck first in the second half, as Purdy converted a fourth-and-1 attempt in style — the 6-foot-1, 212-pound quarterback hit wideout Xavier Hutchinson for a 36-yard touchdown strike, with Hutchinson shaking a tackle attempt by Jayhawk safety Ricky Thomas near the KU 20. That play put the Cyclones up 27-7.
The KU special teams had an immediate answer. That much-maligned unit, which had a disastrous outing in last week’s 55-14 defeat at Kansas State, notched its second kickoff return touchdown in three weeks, with sophomore Kenny Logan cutting and dicing his way to a 100-yard score.
But ISU marched down the field for a second straight score, as Hall capped a seven-play, 77-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring scamper and Purdy connected with Kolar once more, this time on a two-point try that gave ISU a 35-14 lead with 3:14 left in the third quarter. Daniels was picked by ISU’s Greg Eisworth on the Jayhawks’ ensuing drive, and the Cyclones built a 24-point advantage with 11:02 remaining after a successful 40-yard field goal try by Connor Assalley.
KU kept fighting, however, with Daniels scoring on a 12-yard touchdown run and Andrew Parchment following with a successful two-point conversion toss to fellow wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II on a trick play to trim the deficit to 38-22 with 7:34 left. Logan then picked off a Purdy pass attempt and returned it to the KU 30 to give his team a glimmer of hope with 6:49 remaining.
But that’s when the Jayhawk offense sputtered. Hall extinguished any hopes of an improbable KU comeback with his 58-yard scoring dash, and backup ISU quarterback Hunter Dekkers hit Joe Scates for a 30-yard touchdown strike to give the game its final score with 2:14 left.
Playing its second game without standout junior running back Pooka Williams (opt out), KU got 15 combined carries for 30 yards out of the running back tandem of Hishaw and sophomore Velton Gardner. Daniels, meanwhile, finished 16-for-29 passing for 165 yards and an interception, adding 16 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury.
"We have to be able to run the football better," Miles said. "I want the ability to use the quarterback (in the run game) but I don’t necessarily want to use the quarterback as often as we have. But I think we’re improving. I think we’re improving at that spot, and I think (offensive coordinator Brent) Dearmon is doing a really, really good job. But we have to improve."
Prox, a 6-1, 213-pound junior and one of the team’s most reliable tacklers, has opted out of the remainder of the season to tend to a "very significant" personal matter, Miles revealed in his news conference. Other notable Jayhawks that didn’t dress for Saturday’s game included wide receivers Stephon Robinson, Takulve Williams and Lawrence Arnold, offensive linemen Api Mane and Adagio Lopeti, tight end Jack Luavasa and punter Kyle Thompson.
KU will get four more cracks at avoiding what would be only the third winless season in program history, beginning with a 2:30 p.m. Nov. 7 tilt against No. 24 Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. Home matchups against Texas (Nov. 21) and TCU (Nov. 28) will follow, with a game at Texas Tech (Dec. 5) representing the Jayhawks’ season finale.
"I like this team. This team is a good team (with) good people," Miles said. "And good people, good people deserve victory. Good people deserve to make a play. Good people look at themselves with the opportunity to bring that team together, and that’s what we’re looking for. I think we can do it. Still do. …
"We’re not perfect, certainly, but doggone it, we can still put this team together."