Kevin Haskin: Peyton Bender makes David Beaty’s decision look wise

Kansas’ Peyton Bender passes downfield during the second half of Saturday night’s win over Southeast Missouri, 38-16, at Memorial Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal)

LAWRENCE — All week the secret over whom would start at quarterback Saturday in the Kansas season opener seemed silly.

 

It caused no one to lose any sleep, but reflected little conviction on the part of third-year coach David Beaty and little confidence the QB could take into the huddle for the first series.

OK, the Jayhawks do not huddle.

Not in their Air Raid system, which stalled at times, but was good enough for Kansas to upend an FCS visitor, Southeast Missouri State, 38-16, in Memorial Stadium.

Peyton Bender, to his credit, did possess confidence, leading the Jayhawks to touchdowns on their first two possessions after beating out Carter Stanley, the quarterback who closed out last season as KU’s starter.

The choice of starter was really no surprise whatsoever considering Bender’s pedigree after initially being schooled by Mike Leach at Washington State.

Just three plays into the Jayhawks’ first series, the decision looked smart as Bender fired for paydirt.

While letting Steven Sims do most of the work.

The Jayhawks’ top receiver a year ago ran a routine slant, caught the football, then dodged a pair of overmatched defenders to sail 77 yards and give turf-level onlookers in the new Field Goal Club a reason to hoist their first-quarter brews.

With another TD on the next series, Bender was making this Air Raid thing look manageable, if not easy.

But then the Jayhawks seemed to get too involved attempting to use too much of the playbook with too many players. They bogged down.

“We showed glimpses of the offense and how explosive we can be,” said Bender, “but we’ve got to get more consistent overall.”

The quick-strike capability was quite evident. Just 1:03 remained when KU began its last possession of the first half. Bender completed three straight passes, the last another touchdown to Sims, and the offense regained its early form.

“That helped loosen things up,” Bender said. “We were playing tight through most of that second quarter. We relaxed a little bit.”

Not that the TD upstaged the halftime festivities.

Nothing was going to do that as the 10-year reunion of Orange Bowl victors moved to midfield.

After a video that showed Mark Mangino’s postgame speech that memorable night in Miami, in which he called his team the best in KU history, additional praise was piped for the crowd to hear.

Following the tribute, the former KU coach motioned his men to drift toward the student section where they received, and showed, appreciation one more time.

Cool moment.

“What a great time that was in KU history here,” said Beaty, “and the good news is for us, we know exactly how they did it, and I’m not afraid to steal it for sure.”

Giving the former greats something good to watch was fitting.

Victories have been tough to come by since Mangino was ousted, though Beaty has done his best to build excitement, even if it meant creating some unnecessary intrigue by not revealing a starting QB before the opener.

Again, all indicators pointed to Bender, the new guy yet to make a mistake — due to misfire, miscommunication, missed read or missed block.

“I’ve shown ‘em everything I can do and I was confident they were going to choose me,” said Bender, who learned Saturday morning he would start after meeting with Beaty at the team hotel. “It’s just nice to know they have faith in me to be the guy.”

He was not flawless, but he did fire for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Bender distributed the ball adequately, but threw two interceptions. A 57-yard touchdown to Ben Johnson proved that, yes, the tight end can be an effective target in the four-wide frenzy that is the Big 12.

More football must be played to get a complete read on Bender and the KU offense. Central Michigan is the next team on the schedule, the first of two MAC opponents. The Chippewas needed overtime to beat Rhode Island, an FCS member the Jayhawks dismantled by 49 points in the 2016 opener.

Then, that same 2016 season dissolved into nine straight defeats before the overtime surprise over Texas, which happens to be the same Texas based on a clunky home defeat Saturday to Maryland.

That breakthrough Big 12 win for KU, however, is part of what got some folks excited for this year’s opener with another overmatched FCS opponent. That, and the Orange Bowl reunion, the return of Mangino, Ring of Honor designations for Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins, and a chance to tailgate.

Bender was good enough to engineer a victory. And victories for KU are usually a reason to engage in a bender. So bully for the Jayhawks.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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