Kansas prevails with defense
They split their tackles wide alongside the receivers. They threw wrong-handed shovel passes. They pulled off a fake punt.
The biggest surprise: They won with defense.
While their offense was stymied most of the night, the Jayhawks came up with three interceptions and beat Virginia Tech, 24-21, to cap one of the finest football seasons in school history.
The takeaways led to 17 Kansas points, including Aqib Talib’s 60-yard return for the game’s first score. He was chosen the game’s most valuable player.
“Everybody talks about Virginia Tech’s defense,” said safety Justin Thornton, who also had an interception. “We came out to show we can play defense at Kansas, too.”
No. 8 Kansas (12-1), perhaps the biggest surprise in college football this season, won in its first Bowl Championship Series game to set a team record for victories. A year ago. the Jayhawks went 6-6.
“People kept telling us we couldn’t win against this team, that we couldn’t win the big game, that we had no chance,” quarterback Todd Reesing said. “We took that to heart. We like being underdogs.”
The No. 5 Hokies (11-3) suffered their fourth consecutive BCS loss. It was a bittersweet finish for the Hokies, who revived campus spirits this season following the April 16 massacre that left 33 students and professors dead.
“I think we still accomplished something this season,” tackle Duane Brown said. “We couldn’t finish off on a high note.”
The Jayhawks played in their first major bowl since the 1969 Orange Bowl, and they made a big splash at the start, racing to a 17-0 lead in the first 23 minutes.
Virginia Tech closed the deficit to 17-14 before Sean Glennon was intercepted by Thornton, whose 30-yard return gave Kansas the ball at the 2 with 11 minutes left. Reesing scored on the next play.
Chris Harris also had an interception to set up a field goal, and the Jayhawks totaled five sacks while allowing only two scoring drives.
Virginia Tech drove 78 yards to score with three minutes left on Glennon’s 20-yard pass to Justin Harper. The Jayhawks’ Raimond Pendleton fielded the ensuing onside kick, and they ran out the clock.
“It feels really great,” Kansas tackle Anthony Collins said. “Now I feel like USC and Florida and them feel every day. They don’t get any better than this.
“I know it ain’t the national championship, but it doesn’t get any better. We won the Orange Bowl.”
Virginia Tech’s biggest gain came on special teams. Harper scored on an 84-yard punt return after taking a lateral on a reverse from Eddie Royal, who fielded the kick.
Otherwise, Kansas’ special teams played well. Joe Mortensen blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt to preserve a 17-14 Kansas lead. A fake punt kept one drive going, and Kyle Tucker’s booming punts kept the Hokies pinned deep.
“We were supposed to be outclassed on special teams, and I think we held our own,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said.
The game was among the chilliest Orange Bowls ever, with a temperature of 57 degrees at kickoff and winds gusting at up to 25 mph.
The Jayhawks were the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season at 44 points per game, and they took a wide-open approach beginning on the first series. Once they lined up with both tackles flanked wide alongside the receivers, and on another play Reesing threw a left-handed shovel pass for a 9-yard gain.
Kansas split a tackle wide again when Reesing completed a pass to convert a fourth-and-1 situation, which led to a touchdown for a 17-0 lead. Reesing hit Marcus Henry with a 13-yard pass for the score, capping a 59-yard drive.
Reesing finished 20-for-37 for 227 yards.
“I’m ecstatic,” Reesing said. “This is the best feeling I’ve ever had. We fought hard all year, and we fought hard today.”
With only one scoring drive of more than 17 yards, the Jayhawks left most of the big plays to their defense. The biggest was by Talib, who stepped in front of the intended receiver to intercept freshman Tyrod Taylor and ran along the Virginia Tech sideline untouched for a touchdown.
“Coach had us in a call where I was able to jump any route,” Talib said. “The quarterback was late with the throw, and he threw me the ball.”
It was the first interception return for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl since 1968.
Virginia Tech came into the game with the more heralded defense, but the Jayhawks had four sacks in the first quarter. They threw Taylor for losses of 11 and 8 yards on his first two plays as part of the Hokies quarterback rotation.
On Virginia Tech’s next possession, Josh Morgan dropped a potential touchdown pass, and Jud Dunlevy missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Virginia Tech mounted a 68-yard drive late in the first half, and Branden Ore scored on a 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 17-7. Ore was suspended for the first quarter for being late to a practice but still finished with 116 yards rushing.
Against the ball-hawking Jayhawks, that wasn’t enough.
“Give Kansas credit,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. “They made the plays, and we did not make enough. Usually when you turn the ball over three times against a good team, you are going to have a hard time winning.”
Last updated: 3:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012