As time dwindled away on Memorial Stadium’s clock Saturday afternoon, a small group of Kansas fans sarcastically chanted, “Smith for Heisman.”
The chant referred to the brief Heisman Trophy campaign of Missouri quarterback Brad Smith. Based on Kansas’ 31-14 win Saturday, Kansas quarterback Brian Luke, starting for the first time in his career, looked more like the Heisman candidate.
“What an exhibition he put on out there,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said of Luke. “This is a guy that has hardly played for us at all and went down and did scout-team work for us earlier in the year. He played with a lot of heart.”
After the Jayhawks lost three quarterbacks to injuries in three straight weeks, Luke stepped in and deftly guided his team to a convincing performance. Luke completed 24-of-36 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
His opposition, Smith, threw for 262 yards but netted -41 yards rushing because of six sacks. Luke did not get sacked.
Although it was the first start of his career, Luke, a junior, didn’t enter the game without experience. Forced to play in relief last week after an injury to quarterback John Nielsen, Luke threw for 225 yards and a touchdown against Texas.
“I couldn’t be happier right now,” Luke said.
“Just like last week, I just wanted to come in level-headed, not let my emotions get to me, or the crowd.”
His only blemish Saturday, an interception, came after the Jayhawks had extended their lead to 28-0.
Wide receiver Brandon Rideau, who caught eight passes for 100 yards, said he never doubted Luke’s physical ability. The only thing preventing Luke from moving into the lineup was periodic questionable decisions.
Those lapses in judgment never occurred against the Tigers.
“We’ve got a pretty good passing scheme, and Brian, I give him a lot of credit. He stepped up and played big,” Rideau said. “Brian’s always been a very accurate player.”
Luke started slowly, missing two of his first three passes, but then he found his range. On the Jayhawks’ second possession, he zipped a pass to Gary Heaggans for 18 yards and a first down at the Missouri 9. Two plays later, the Jayhawks went up 7-0 after Clark Green’s 12-yard run.
Luke’s poise also showed on third downs. Although the Jayhawks ranked 11th in the Big 12 Conference on third-down conversions, they connected on half of their 18 attempts.
“That’s what this team is about, is heart,” Mangino said. “We’ve got talented guys, but we’ve got tough kids with a lot of courage.”
Luke had a hot hand at the beginning of the third quarter, leading an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive that gave Kansas a 28-0 lead. He completed three third-down passes, including the 30-yard crossing route to Lyonel Anderson for a touchdown. Rideau caught the other two third-down conversions on completions of 15 and 12 yards. Luke connected on 6-of-8 passes on the drive.
TACKLING HISTORY: Senior linebacker James Kinney set the school career record for tackles at 416 after making 10 against Kansas. Kinney passed DeMontie Cross, who had 415 from 1994-96.
STRONG COFFEY: Sean Coffey continued his tremendous season, breaking into the receiving record book Saturday.
Coffey, a junior wide receiver, jump-started the offense with two touchdowns in an 1 minute, 26 second span in the fourth quarter. The two scoring plays set the record for touchdowns in a season with 10. Mel Gray, Henry Marshall and Justin Gage most recently held the mark with nine.
ROUTING THEIR RIVALS: With the win Saturday, the Jayhawks defeated Kansas State and Missouri in the same season for the first time since 1989.
The Jayhawks’ win in the 113th meeting tied the series record at 52-52-9. The Jayhawks have won two straight against the Tigers. The series is the second-longest in the nation, for they have played one fewer than the Wisconsin-Minnesota series.
Running back John Randle scored twice for the Jayhawks on Oct. 9 to propel the Jayhawks to their first win against the Wildcats since 1992, a 31-28 victory.
FIRST-DOWN DEFEAT: For the first time this season, the Tigers did not get more first downs than their opponents.
Although the Tigers average 20.3 first downs, they had 14, not gaining one until their fourth possession. Kansas had its offense clicking for most of the game, picking up 21.
Entering the game, the Tigers had allowed a Big 12 Conference-low 120 first downs.