Kansas football: Jayhawks overcome slow start, throttle Missouri State

Sep 1, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Missouri State Bears at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Missouri State Bears at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Kansas football overcame a slow start and dominated Missouri State down the stretch en route to a season-opening victory.

2023 has been arguably the most highly anticipated season in the history of Kansas Jayhawks football. After 2022 resulted in the team’s first bowl game since 2008, expectations are through the roof for the Jayhawks this year. With the second-most returning production in the entire country, there is a lot of continuity on both sides of the ball. That was put on full display early in a 48-17 season-opening win over Missouri State.

The defense started things off on a tremendous foot, moving the Bears backward and forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive. The answer to whether or not Jalon Daniels would play was then answered on the first offensive play, as it was Jason Bean who took the first snaps at quarterback.

Surprisingly enough, the first three plays from the offense were passes. Unsurprisingly enough, the first time Devin Neal touched the ball resulted in a monster gain, as the preseason First-Team Big 12 selection went 48 yards for a score on his first carry of the season.

The Bears punted again after another three and out, but Kansas gave the ball right back on a Daniel Hishaw fumble. After a conversion on 4th and 8, a roughing the passer penalty, and a recovery of their own fumble, Missouri State was able to find the endzone and tie the score at seven. A stop on 4th and short gave the Bears the ball back and a chance to take the lead, which is exactly what they did. A short field goal put the Bears up 10-7 early in the second quarter.

Kansas answered in true Kansas fashion. A three-play scoring drive was highlighted by a 52-yard connection between Bean and Lawrence Arnold. Luke Grimm then capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown grab to put the Jayhawks back in front. The defense finished the first half strong and the offense was able to add a field goal, extending the halftime lead to 17-10.

The opening drive of the second half was near perfection, as the nine-play drive ended with a 17-yard touchdown run by Dylan McDuffie. Another three-and-out for the defense shifted the momentum even further in the Jayhawks’ favor. Bean then took the offense back down the field, but was stopped short on a third and goal QB draw. Another field goal made the score 27-10.

Missouri State answered quickly, however, needing just six plays to go 75 yards and pull back within two scores. Kansas then proceeded to score on their fifth straight possession (not including the two plays at the end of the first half), this time on a 24-yard touchdown run by Hishaw. Cobee Bryant saw a tipped pass land right in his hands, and the Jayhawks turned it into another Neal touchdown just five plays later to bring the score to 41-17.

Kwinton Lassiter got in on the fun, joining Bryant in the interception column. Cole Ballard then took over at quarterback for the Jayhawks and let Sevion Morrison do the heavy lifting. Morrison ran the ball on all four plays of the drive and found the endzone on the final one. One final three and out for Missouri State was enough for Kansas to run out the clock and finish off the Bears for good.

Kansas football dominated the stat sheet

The box score looks about as lopsided as you would expect. Kansas gained 521 yards to just 217 for Missouri State. The Jayhawk defense had a couple of lapses but was solid for most of the night. The Bears had four drives that lasted more than three plays and converted just one of their nine third downs.

They also scored just once in the second half and gained 87 yards (75 of which came on the touchdown drive). Rich Miller and Hayden Hatcher led the way with seven tackles each, while Cobee Bryant and Kwinton Lassiter both collected an interception.

The offense, even without Jalon Daniels, was dominant for a majority of the night. Aside from the drives at the end of each half, the Kansas football team scored on all but two drives (which were the fumble and the turnover on downs). They outgained the Bears by nearly 200 yards in the second half, which helped in outscoring them 31-7 after a shaky first half. Jason Bean collected 317 total yards and a pair of passing touchdowns, while Devin Neal racked up 119 all-purpose yards and a couple scores.

There are a lot of positives to take from this game (most of the offense and timely plays on defense). There are also some things to improve on (form tackling). Regardless, a win without your conference preseason offensive player of the year quarterback is nothing to take for granted. The Jayhawks will be back in The Booth next Friday to take on Illinois.

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