LAWRENCE — Just minutes into what became the program’s latest lopsided setback, Kansas football found itself in a staggering hole.
And, truth be told, the Jayhawks did most of the digging themselves.
KU’s offense, defense and special teams slipped on metaphorical banana peels early and often en route to a 59-23 defeat to TCU on Saturday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Les Miles’ crew offered virtually no resistance in its first contest in three weeks, falling behind 24-0 less than 12 minutes into a game that ended with the Jayhawks on the wrong end of a blowout for the eighth time in eight tries this season.
"I like us. We just need to play better," Miles said after the game. "We just need to be more efficient. Pretty simple."
Consider what KU accomplished, for lack of a better word, across a calamitous first quarter:
• The Jayhawk defense surrendered two wide-wide-wide-open touchdown receptions, a 46-yarder to Pro Wells and a 26-yarder to Carter Ware in scores that saw no defender within 10 yards of those Horned Frog tight ends.
• The KU offense saw a pair of balls snapped well over the head of freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels in plays that resulted in 23- and 24-yard losses, sinking two different drives and contributing to a total yardage differential at the end of the opening period of 187-6.
• Kicking out of its own end zone, the Jayhawk special teams surrendered a 37-yard punt return touchdown run back by TCU’s Derius Davis, who somehow zigged and zagged his way through a congested pathway to the end zone. That folly followed a 20-yard punt from the unit on its first boot of the contest.
Kwamie Lassiter’s 48-yard touchdown catch from Daniels with 1:22 left in the first quarter put a temporary pause on the bludgeoning, but TCU didn’t take its foot off the gas.
Wells responded to that score by hauling in his team’s third wide-open touchdown of the evening, a 24-yarder. A short time later, quarterback Max Duggan chugged through the heart of the Jayhawk defense to score on a 48-yard scamper that gave the Horned Frogs a 38-6 edge with 1:06 left in the opening half.
KU (0-8, 0-7 Big 12) at that point inserted at quarterback junior Miles Kendrick, who for a short time stabilized the offense. But the wheels once again fell off late — TCU cornerback C.J. Ceasar notched a 30-yard pick-six on the second play of the fourth quarter, and linebacker Dee Winters’ 2-yard scoop-and-score on a Kendrick fumble pushed the visitors’ lead to 59-20 with 10:02 remaining.
Those plays tied a nice bow on the more-than-comfortable win for the Horned Frogs (4-4, 4-4).
"I feel like the mindset that we have is to get better every day," said senior safety Ricky Thomas. "I don’t feel like there’s no negativity going on in the team. It’s just us versus us and we’re just trying to get better as a whole unit."
TCU finished the contest with 337 yards on the ground, with five Horned Frogs rushing for at least 30 yards. Zach Evans' 12 carries for 100 yards paced TCU in that department. Duggan was only 3-for-11 passing for 96 yards, but all three of his completions resulted in those wide-open touchdowns to his tight ends.
"We’ve got to cover those," Miles said. "Those things, everybody runs ’em. It’s 100%. If you put a safety in the middle of the field and it’s man coverage, or for that matter if you put two safeties in the middle of the field and it’s man coverage, that release has to be covered because everybody does it."
Kendrick was 11-for-18 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, but also had the two turnovers returned for Horned Frog touchdowns. Daniels was 4-for-13 for 57 yards and a touchdown, and senior Thomas MacVittie completed his lone pass attempt for 4 yards.
Miles indicated the program plans to go back to Daniels in the team’s penultimate contest, a Dec. 5 tilt against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.
"You have to remind yourself that (Daniels) is a freshman and that you’re teaching him," Miles said. "He’s stepping into positions and reading routes that he’s not seen before. And mistakes that were made are significant mistakes, there’s not any question. But we can live with this. This is something that we can get beyond. ...
"I think the future is pretty bright, not as bad as it feels right now."
KU for the first time this season started three true freshmen on its offensive line: Garrett Jones (center), Armaj Adams-Reed (right guard) and Bryce Cabeldue (right tackle). Responsible for both of the botched deliveries to Daniels, Jones after the second miscue settled in enough to retain Miles’ optimistic outlook for his future.
"That was freshman-to-freshman," Miles said. "Every spring ball has a period of time, sometimes it’s as much as a week, where the snapper cannot get the ball to the quarterback as a true freshman. Now you look at (Jones) next year and as we continue to move with our center, he’s going to be a good center. Tough kid. Made some mistakes, but we’ll get those fixed."
Another true freshman, Amauri Pesek-Hickson, started at running back for sidelined KU teammates Velton Gardner and Daniel Hishaw and totaled 100 rushing yards on 22 carries. Wide receivers Lassiter (seven catches, 116 yards and a touchdown) and Luke Grimm (four catches, 72 yards and two touchdowns) also authored memorable individual performances for the Jayhawks.
"Obviously starting 0-8 is horrible. Nobody wants to do that. I’ve never heard of that," Lassiter said. "We always attack the week like we’re trying to get this one, so we’ll do what we can do, work hard at practice. We’ve got to get the next one."