CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — One remarkable Kansas football turnaround took just six days.
And if Friday night’s stunning outcome is any indication, another more macro-level about-face may itself be ahead of schedule.
KU, which entered its contest against Boston College as a 19½-point underdog and on the heels of a gruesome offensive performance last Saturday in a home setback to Coastal Carolina, put on a clinic against the Eagles en route to a 48-24 victory at Alumni Stadium. The win represented the Jayhawks’ first on the road against a Power Five opponent since Oct. 4, 2008, and the first away from home for first-year head coach Les Miles.
“If anybody wants to know why a guy would come back to college football, this night tells you how much fun and how important college football is,” Miles said in his postgame news conference. “Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU.”
When senior quarterback Carter Stanley wasn’t plowing into defenders, he was airing it out, finishing 20-for-27 passing for 238 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Jayhawks’ run game — aided by a drastic increase in run-pass option plays and other spread concepts — amassed 329 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries, paced by senior Khalil Herbert’s spirited 187-yard showing on just 11 carries. And the KU defense stiffened after a rocky performance out of the gate, pitching a second-half shutout.
The evening produced a night-and-day difference from the previous week’s outcome, a 12-7 defeat to the Chanticleers that saw the Jayhawks total just 280 yards of offense.
“Our football team felt terrible after the loss. It wasn’t something that was easy to get rid of,” Miles said. “They had a vision of a day like today. It hurt to lose that opportunity with the last club that we played. So they went to work, and the coaching staff challenged them. We said, ‘Hey listen: For you to come back off of the weekend that you just had and prepare, you’re going to have to sell out. There’s no holding back.’ And they did.
“I’m proud of ’em. I think the coaching staff did a great job. Those things are going to happen more regularly with our program, at a great school like Kansas.”
KU (2-1) rebounded from a sloppy start on both sides of the ball to take a 28-24 advantage at the end of an eventful opening half.
Boston College (2-1) marched 75 yards on its first possession to take a 7-0 advantage, aided by 51 rushing yards on the drive by standout running back AJ Dillon and a third-down pass interference call in the end zone against Jayhawk sophomore cornerback Corione Harris. Then, on the second play of KU’s first possession, Stanley threw too high for Andrew Parchment down the middle, his pass picked off by the Eagles’ Mehdi El Attrach. The ensuing Boston College possession ended in a 40-yard field goal and a quick 10-0 advantage.
The teams traded empty possessions, but the Jayhawks came to life on their third, with Stanley finding a wide-open Jack Luavasa down the middle for an 18-yard scoring connection. Korab Idrizi, Luavasa’s tight end counterpart on the Eagles, was just as open on his team’s ensuing possession, though, scoring on a 20-yarder down the middle for a 17-7 advantage to close out the opening quarter.
As so often happened Friday night, KU threw a counter-punch. Stanley, after faking a short pass to Pooka Williams, found Parchment again, this time with a connection down to the Boston College 1. Fullback Hudson Hall scored on the next play, bowling into the end zone for his first career touchdown on the senior’s first career carry to cut the deficit to 17-14.
Boston College responded by driving deep into Jayhawk territory, but a few plays after converting their seventh third-down try in nine attempts, the Eagles came up short on third- and fourth-down tries, turning the ball over on downs at the KU 19.
The Jayhawks then took advantage in a drive that can best be described as a highlight reel of Stanley’s toughness — the quarterback vaulted a defender to convert a third-down attempt; he got out in front of Herbert and blocked on the play, another successful third-down conversion; he lowered his shoulder into a defender a few plays later in an effort that set KU up with a third-down try at the Boston College 4. That’s where Stanley came through with his arm, tossing a 4-yard score over a pair of defenders and into the arms of Parchment in the back of the end zone to hand KU its first lead of the game, 21-17.
Boston College answered through the air on its final drive of the half, with quarterback Anthony Brown scoring a receiving touchdown on a 12-yard pass from wide receiver CJ Lewis on a “Philly Special” trick play to take a 24-21 lead with 45 seconds before the break. But Herbert was in no mood to settle for that deficit, busting an 82-yard run to the Eagle 3-yard line. With five seconds left, Stanley once again found Parchment on a 3-yard toss on a third-down attempt, giving the game its margin at the intermission.
KU finished the opening half with 310 yards of offense, averaging 9.7 yards per play along the way. Stanley was 13-for-15 for 165 yards, three touchdowns and one interception before halftime.
The Jayhawk offense kept up its breakneck pace out of the locker room, while the defense ensured there'd be no dramatic finish.
Liam Jones connected on a 24-yard field goal on KU's first possession to push the advantage to seven. After a Boston College punt, KU’s running backs pushed the lead even higher — Herbert’s 36-yard scamper took KU to the Boston College 12, and sophomore and All-Big 12 preseasons selection Pooka Williams ran it in from there on a delayed handoff to give the visiting squad a 38-24 edge with 5:25 remaining in the third quarter.
Jones’ 30-yard boot in the waning moments of the third quarter represented the Jayhawks’ seventh straight possession with a score and pushed the lead to 41-24, and Boston College came away empty on its ensuing possession, a clock-draining drive ending in a missed 31-yard field goal try.
From there, the outcome — a jaw-dropping result that just hours earlier was considered by most college football prognosticators as improbable, if not impossible — became academic. Herbert's 4-yard score added an exclamation point with 5:44 remaining and drew "Rock Chalk" chants from the pocket of Jayhawk faithful inside Alumni Stadium.
Later, Miles deflected any credit for instilling a belief within KU’s players that this kind of outcome was attainable.
“I would love to tell you that that was me, you know? I really believe in my heart that those kids, these people, they want to be special,” Miles said. “They didn’t show up here to be a guy on a team — ‘I’m a guy on a team.’ No, they wanted to be a guy on a great Kansas team and have experiences like these.”
KU returns home for a 3:30 p.m. Sept. 21 contest against West Virginia at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. For at least one evening, though, the Jayhawks allowed themselves to celebrate an outcome quite literally 11 years in the making.
“Now you know, I definitely violated an NC-two-A rule. I just want to come clean: I told the team after we won that we would park the plane someplace here in Boston and go out on the town,” Miles joked. “So I might not be able to come through with that one. So I don’t know quite where that sits.”
Miles then looked to the back of the room, where Jeff Long was seated.
“And speaking of the athletic director,” Miles continued, “he’s the one who said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea about the flight.’ ”