ATHENS, Ohio — Mike Lee didn’t even have time for a quick breather.
Lee, the Kansas football sophomore safety, had just picked off a pass in the end zone in Saturday afternoon’s game against Ohio at Peden Stadium, just the Jayhawks’ second takeaway of the season. Trailing by 11, the bright spot from Lee and the scuffling KU defense gave the offense a chance to cut the once 18-point deficit to one score.
Cue the game-changing moment, one of many scattered across the Jayhawks’ infamous road losing skid.
KU quarterback Peyton Bender threw an interception on the first play after Lee’s takeaway, the defense surrendered a touchdown during the ensuing drive that started at the KU 32 and the Jayhawks lost away from home again, this time 42-30, to extend arguably college football’s most embarrassing skid to 42 consecutive true road losses.
“Nah, I did not (catch my breath),” Lee said after the game. “It was so fast, our offense threw a pick so fast, I was like, ‘Dang, I just caught a pick, and we just turned the ball over again?’ I still was tired a little.”
The Jayhawks (1-2) are now two road defeats away from tying the all-time mark for visiting team futility, set by Western (Colo.) State from 1926-36. KU’s last road victory came Sept. 12, 2009, at UTEP.
KU coach David Beaty and Bender both said the goal coming out of the half was to make it a one-score game, an opportunity Bender had on the drive that ended in his interception. Bender finished 30-for-47 passing for 343 yards, two touchdowns and the pick.
“I felt like we were continuing trying to chase, trying to get it to a one-score game,” Beaty said, “and that was kind of the deal, getting it down within closing distance to be able to get it done. We just ran out of time there. We needed some stops and didn’t get ’em.”
Beaty called Bender’s interception, thrown behind and tipped off the hands of junior wideout Steven Sims, “disappointing,” but said it’s the defense’s job to respond again.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of being firemen,” Beaty said. “When that happens, we’ve got to get off the field. We did a better job of that last year than we did this year.”
Lee’s interception, an athletic snag on a first-and-goal play from the 7-yard line, actually represented a fireman-type moment — it ended a drive that started at the KU 43, as the Jayhawks were unsuccessful on an onside kick attempt to start the third quarter.
“It was huge by the defense getting that interception,” said Bender, who was sacked five times in the defeat. “Just unfortunate that we couldn’t connect, but definitely (swung) the game because it ended up going in off that. Definitely one we wish we had back.
“Tipped balls get intercepted, and that’s what happened.”
Sims, limited and ultimately removed from last week’s defeat with an ankle injury, played and led the Jayhawks with six receptions and 60 yards. He said the pass was a little behind him but added any ball that touches his hand is his responsibility.
“I feel like that drive right there, that was a big turning point in the game,” Sims said. “We really needed points that drive. An interception, caused by me on a tipped pass, that was a bad play by myself.”
Though an underdog Saturday, KU had perhaps its best chance to end the road losing streak this season with Big 12 play beginning next weekend. The 24,000-capacity Peden Stadium on the banks of the Hocking River hardly represented a hostile environment — “It’s third down. You have our permission to get agitated,” the public address announcer implored fans in one of many creative noise requests.
Instead, KU suffered its second straight double-digit defeat to a Mid-American Conference foe, and Beaty fell to 0-12 on the road and 3-24 three games into his third season.
The scuffling KU defense spotted Ohio (2-1) an 18-point lead a few seconds into the second quarter, and the hot-and-cold Jayhawk offense was never able to cut the deficit to single digits.
KU entered the half down 11, which actually represented a step in the right direction.
The Bobcats’ first play from scrimmage was a 63-yard rush from running back A.J. Ouellette, an example of the limited resistance the Jayhawk defense offered early on. Ohio scored on four of its first five drives of the half, averaging 8.7 yards per play in the first two quarters.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke put the Bobcats up 18-0 with 14:53 left in the second quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Troy Mangen, one of two touchdowns on the day for the tight end. The Jayhawks responded with a 56-yard rushing touchdown from Khalil Herbert and a nifty 9-yard scoring reception from Chase Harrell, the latter coming with eight seconds left in the half.
But Ouellette, who finished with 102 yards on 10 carries, carried the ball on every play in the first drive after Bender’s interception, capping it with an 8-yard scoring dash to again make the margin 18. Rourke, one of two Bobcat quarterbacks to eclipse 100 yards passing, made it 39-14 on a 9-yard touchdown completion to wideout Andrew Meyer with seconds left in the third quarter.
The KU offense leaned heavily on Herbert, who had 103 yards on 11 carries in the first half and finished with 137 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts, the final score a 1-yard plunge as time expired.
KU will open Big 12 play with an 11 a.m. Saturday matchup with West Virginia at Memorial Stadium, which won’t provide an opportunity to break the road losing streak but will give the Jayhawks a shot at regaining some of the preseason buzz that has seemingly evaporated after only three games.
Kansas … 0 … 14 … 0 … 16 … — … 30
Ohio … 11 … 14 … 14 … 3 … — … 42
OHI — FG Zervos 41, 10:49
OHI — Rourke 3 run (Hale pass from Farkas), 4:15
OHI — Mangen 10 pass from Rourke (Zervos kick), 14:53
KAN — Herbert 56 run (Rui kick), 9:11
OHI — Mangen 9 pass from Maxwell (Zervos kick), 6:20
KAN — Harrell 9 pass from Bender (Rui kick), :08
OHI — Ouellette 8 run (Zervos kick), 9:53
OHI — Meyer 9 pass from Rourke (Zervos kick), :18
KAN — Booker 1 pass from Bender (Rui kick), 11:47
KAN — FG Rui 34, 5:35
OHI — FG Zervos 46, 2:13
KAN — Herbert 2 run, :00
A — 22,056.
GAME IN FIGURES
… KAN … OHI
First downs … 24 … 22
Rushes-yards … 32-108 … 42-196
Passing … 343 … 254
Comp-Att-Int … 30-47-1 … 16-22-1
Return Yards … 120 … 34
Punts-Avg. … 4-42.0 … 2-48.5
Fumbles-Lost … 0-0 … 0-0
Penalties-Yards … 7-50 … 7-61
Time of Possession … 27:22 … 32:38
RUSHING — Kansas, Herbert 19-137, D.Williams 4-5, Stanley 2-2, D.Thompson 1-(minus 6), Bender 6-(minus 30). Ohio, Ouellette 10-102, D.Brown 12-68, Ross 7-32, White 1-0, Maxwell 3-(minus 1), (Team) 1-(minus 2), Rourke 8-(minus 3).
PASSING — Kansas, Bender 30-47-1-343. Ohio, Maxwell 5-6-1-102, Rourke 11-16-0-152.
RECEIVING — Kansas, Sims 6-60, Q.Hampton 6-39, Harrell 5-58, Booker 4-59, Fairs 3-77, B.Johnson 2-25, Herbert 2-18, D.Williams 1-6, Schadler 1-1. Ohio, Cope 5-104, Meyer 5-86, Mangen 3-35, White 1-17, Knock 1-7, Odom 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.