BY JEREMY HOECK
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Actually, as I’m writing this, we’re driving through Omaha, Neb. on Sunday night.
The Mrs. and I trekked down to the Sunflower State this weekend for the USD football game at Kansas. Big 12 country. Land of the Jayhawks — speaking of which, I’m still not sure if that’s an actual bird or a mythical one.
By now, you know the score: Kansas beat the Coyotes 31-14. The 17-point difference was certainly much less than the betting line of 23.5 (not to mention just off my 14-point prediction).
Ask USD, though, and that’s not much consolation.
“I think our goal coming down here was to be there in the fourth quarter, which would give us a chance to win the game,” senior linebacker Tyler Starr said later. “We were there, things just didn’t go our way.”
Among those things that didn’t work out so well:
• Rush defense. And not that this is much of a surprise (especially given the FBS opponent), but Kansas ran for 280 yards.
• Special teams. The Jayhawks averaged 23 yards on four punt returns, which doesn’t sound like much, but loomed large considering USD’s 38.1-yard average on those punts. Not a very good net.
• Passing game. USD quarterback Josh Vander Maten was 8-for-18 for 67 yards, with 37 of those coming on one play late in the fourth quarter. Right now, it’s a one dimensional offense for the Coyotes. Asked later if there are certain things he could point at that aren’t working well, head coach Joe Glenn said, “The whole thing.”
Sure, a couple of those areas can be attributed to the opponent for the Coyotes (not many outside of North Dakota State will play a mistake-free game against an FBS team). But, in short, there are still some things to fix for USD.
“We have to capitalize on those plays, especially if we want to beat a good team like Kansas,” Vander Maten said. “You have to make big plays.”
Still, despite those frustrations, the Coyotes were within striking distance late in the fourth quarter. USD got within 24-14 with 7:36 to play, but the Jayhawks put the game away with a touchdown two minutes later.
Close but not enough for USD (1-1), which nabbed $400,000 for its trip to Lawrence.
“I feel like this is a game that we had hoped to win,” Glenn said. “We thought if we could keep it close in the first half, even though they started shaking us down for our lunch money.”
As for that trip, it was only my second time covering an FBS game for USD. The first, of course, was a memorable one, back at Minnesota in 2010.
Regional games like the one at Kansas only make sense to travel for, especially if you can just hop in a car — flight trips are pretty much out of the question.
Although, I’m tentatively planning a trip to Oregon next year, to in part cover the USD football game and to have a few extra days to bum around Eugene with the Mrs.
All in all, Lawrence was a fun atmosphere. Wouldn’t mind getting down there again sometime.