LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lance Leipold did plenty of background work on Kansas before accepting its head-coaching job a couple of years ago. But in the pantheon of the obscure, he never looked up the last time the Jayhawks started 4-0 in back-to-back seasons.
When told it had been 108 years, Leipold replied Saturday: “I'm glad I didn't do all my research.”
“Sometimes you don't know what you're really stepping into until you there,” Leipold added with a smile, after leading the once-suffering Jayhawks to a 38-27 victory over BYU in the Cougars' Big 12 debut. “Like I told our team, I'm really proud of them when you look at the short time what we've been able to do.”
Jalon Daniels threw three touchdown passes, including two in the second half to Luke Grimm, and the Jayhawks got a pair of scores from their opportunistic defense in rallying from a 17-14 halftime deficit. Cobee Bryant returned a fumble for the game's first touchdown, and Kenny Logan Jr. brought back an interception early in the third quarter for another score.
The offense got going down the stretch, helping the Jayhawks win their eighth straight September game.
“When you walked in here in the past you would hear frustration,” explained Leipold, whose team will try to match last year's 5-0 start when it heads to No. 3 Texas next weekend. “You walk in there now and it's different, and that's where it should be."
Kedon Slovis was 30 of 51 for 357 yards with two TDs and two interceptions for BYU. But the Cougars (3-1) were imbalanced on offense, running 22 times for nine yards, and settling for two field goals in the red zone proved costly.
“We just battled through,” Logan said. “We showed we can take some jabs.”
The Jayhawks, who struggled to put away Nevada last week, rolled into their conference opener averaging more than 500 yards per game. But the Cougars consistently put pressure on Daniels, who at times needed every bit of his athleticism just to get the ball away, and their defense held Kansas to one offensive touchdown in the first half.
The other score? That came on Bryant's bone-jarring hit on BYU's second play from scrimmage. The ball popped out, Bryant was there to scoop it, and the cornerback — who had a pick later in the game- returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
The Cougars refused to let the turnover set the tone for the game. They answered with back-to-back 75-yard touchdown drives, then used another long drive in the final minutes of the first half to add a field goal for a 17-14 lead at the break.
That's when the Kansas defense got into the act again.
On the third play of the third quarter, Slovis had his pass batted into the air by tight end Isaac Rex, off the hands of linebacker Jayson Gilliom and into the arms of Logan, who returned the interception 33 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
“The defense played lights-out,” Daniels said. “Stuff you can’t make up. That doesn’t happen every day.”
“We gave them 14 points,” Rex said later. “If we didn't do that, we would have had enough points to win the game.”
The Cougars could only muster an answering field goal, and the Kansas offense finally started humming.
Daniels swiftly led his team down field, converting an early third down with his legs before finding Grimm in the back of the end zone on another third-down play for a touchdown. And after Bryant picked off Slovis on fourth down to end BYU's ensuing drive, the Jayhawks marched other way with Daniels finding Grimm again to extend the lead to 35-20.
BYU's Keelan Marion scored midway through the fourth quarter, but the Jayhawks added a field goal to put the game away.
"There were some moments we want back,” Cougars defensive lineman Tyler Batty said. “There’s a lot to learn form here.”
BYU survived at Arkansas last week by scoring the last 17 points in a 38-31 win. But the Cougars looked downright tired in the second half Saturday, perhaps worn down by the physical nature of back-to-back road games against Power Five opponents.
Kansas defensive coordinator Brian Borland made it clear before the season that his group, which struggled mightily at times last year, would not hold back the Jayhawks this season. On Saturday, his defense was the difference in the outcome.
BYU plays its Big 12 home opener against fellow newcomer Cincinnati on Friday night.
Kansas visits Texas next Saturday for the first time since a 57-56 double-overtime win in 2021.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll