LAWRENCE — Jake Heaps might have nightmares for a while. James Sims might want to forget the final game of his collegiate career.
The Jayhawks’ quarterback and running back combined for five of Kansas’ six turnovers on Saturday in a 31-10 loss to Kansas State, bringing another dreadful season to a close.
(Kansas State cornerback Dorrian Roberts returns an interception in the second half against Kansas on Saturday in Lawrence. Roberts had one of six takeaways on the day for the Wildcats, which included four interceptions and two fumble recoveries).
Last season the Wildcats rolled 56-16 and forced five turnovers. This time around, K-State’s safeties forced five of them.
Dylan Schellenberg got to the Jayhawks early, picking off freshman quarterback Montell Cozart with 9:09 left in the first quarter. Kansas pulled Cozart after that and went all Heaps until late in the fourth quarter.
Schellenberg, who had an interception and a fumble recovery to go along with nine tackles, thought his interception got the offense going.
K-State scored 21 straight points after the first KU turnover.
“It gave us momentum off the bat,” he said. “We started hot on offense and I hope that contributed to the start.”
Despite getting slashed and dashed by the Oklahoma run game a week ago, the Wildcats seemed adjusted to the running attack behind the Big 12 rushing yards leader in KU’s Sims.
Sims had 10 of his 22 carries for 82 yards in the first quarter alone, but on his third carry of the second quarter, K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller ripped the ball away and Dante Barnett dived on the loose ball to recover. It was the first of three takeaways by Barnett, the other two coming on interceptions.
Barnett said they knew coming into the game that Kansas had routinely hurt itself this season by committing turnovers when games were close.
“We’ve seen a lot of games where it was a close game in the beginning, but constantly turning it over hurt them,” he said. “That’s what we really focused on going into this game.”
From their first drive of the second half the Jayhawks would turn it over on four straight possessions. Sims started it with a fumble that was recovered by Schellenberg. Then Barnett ended consecutive drives with interceptions of Heaps. Dorrian Roberts knocked Heaps from the game by intercepting his 29th pass attempt, coming early in the fourth quarter.
Roberts said chasing Heaps from the game was a good feeling. The Jayhawks attempted just four passes the rest of the way, and all fell incomplete.
“I love getting interceptions,” Roberts said. “If the quarterback’s going to throw me one, I’m going to take it. To get that and just end the game — they probably didn’t want to throw any more — it felt good.”
Despite all the turnovers, the Wildcats produced just 10 points off the takeaways in the second half, including throwing an interception of their own and getting a field goal blocked.
K-State coach Bill Snyder thought the defense played well, in spite of the offenses shortcomings with some good field position.
“We didn’t convert enough of them,” Snyder said of the turnovers. “We had five or six turnovers and our defense played well throughout the course of the ballgame, gave up a little movement, but you think about it and field position was not in their favor because the offense didn’t move the ball. We responded a good fortune of the time with turnovers, I was pleased about that.”
Kansas coach Charlie Weis said the turnovers made the difference in the game.
“You get down 21-0 and everyone is waiting for us to throw in the towel and we got it back to 21-10,” he said. “Then we turn it over a couple times in the third quarter. That kind of put the game away for them.”
Past the turnovers, Blake Slaughter led the defense with 15 tackles, 14 of which came in the first half. Mueller, meanwhile, finished with six tackles and a sack, leaving him tied for the school record for sacks in a season at 11.5.
Mueller said his teammates let him know how close he was to the record all week, and now he has one more game to break it.
“I had 10 and a half coming into the game, I needed a sack and a half to get it, I don’t think I got it,” he said. “With my teammates constantly reminding me in practice, it’s hard not to think about it.”
Saturday was K-State’s fourth multi-interception game this season and third in the last five games. The Wildcats also brought their season interception return yard total to 350 against KU, breaking the 2002 school record for interception return yards in a season. It was the most interceptions in a game since K-State recorded four against Oklahoma State last season.
Roberts said the Wildcats have a turnover goal going into every game, and Saturday’s performance exceeded it.
“We come in every game wanting to force at least three turnovers,” he said. “To get more than that just shows you how well we prepared. We try to prove it every game.”