Inside Kansas Football’s Do-or-Die Drive Against South Dakota

by Matt Galloway

Lance Leipold will likely long remember every major detail of his first game in crimson and blue, with Kansas football’s new head coach debuting in style by way of a 17-14 come-from-behind victory over South Dakota last Friday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. At the very least, that statement rings true for redshirt junior quarterback Jason Bean, who labeled the immediate aftermath of his first contest with the Jayhawks a moment he will “never forget.”

Here’s a granular look at the 11-play, 64-yard do-or-die drive that put KU ahead for good, as told by three of the players whose clutch performances made it happen:

Lawrence Arnold, redshirt freshman wide receiver: When I woke up Friday I knew what I had to get done. I knew my family was coming up from Texas, so I wanted to give them something to see. I wasn’t overthinking it. It was mostly just me thinking we’re fixing to go out here, make routine plays and do things we know we can do.

Mason Fairchild, junior tight end: Coach Kotelnicki said once that waking up the day of a season opener is like Christmas morning. You’re ready to roll.

The Jayhawk offense managed just 183 total yards across its first 11 possessions of the season. Before the unit took the field for a 12th that would determine the outcome of the game, Bean huddled up his teammates and delivered this rallying cry: “We have to get this for this team, we have to get this for this school, we have to get this for this city.”

"I just felt like with Coach Leipold coming in, we just wanted to prove everybody wrong and show we do have the potential to win games here. There was a big crowd out there on Friday night. I didn’t want them going home on a sad note."

Jason Bean, Quarterback

Bean: It just kind of came into my head. It was a big-time situation and we needed a touchdown. I was trying to think of something to inspire the guys to go get it done.

Fairchild: When Jason first got here, everyone noticed he was more on the quiet side. That was just more natural for him; it had nothing to do with his leadership. But as we’ve gone along he’s done a really great job progressing into that role. As he took the reins of the offense and went into that last fourth-quarter drive, his leadership grew exponentially. It’s gotten so much better. Even this week in practice he’s been more vocal than I’ve ever seen him.

Bean: Being at KU, there’s a lot of talk about the basketball scene here. There’d been a couple years for football without winning games. I just felt like with Coach Leipold coming in, we just wanted to prove everybody wrong and show we do have the potential to win games here. There was a big crowd out there on Friday night. I didn’t want them going home on a sad note.

First-and-10 from the KU 36, 4:30 remaining: Bean and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trevor Wilson start the drive off on the right foot, with the pair connecting on a 17-yard slant play that puts the Jayhawks into Coyote territory. A Buffalo transfer, Wilson finished his KU debut with a team-high five catches for 50 yards.

Arnold: Before the drive even started I was like, ‘Trevor, you’ve got to go out there and make a play. You’ve got to show your playmaking ability. You’ve got to go out there and get your film and show this is something you do every day at practice.’ When Trevor first came in, everybody knew he was going to be an electric-type player, but I think he opened a lot of eyes with his strength and speed, too.

Bean: Trevor and I got here at the same time. We’ve kind of been inseparable ever since. He’s one of my closest friends here, my roommate. He’s a great guy. I’m happy he’s on our team.

Arnold: Me and Trevor are kind of in the same situation. Our fathers both passed recently. I’m really close with Trevor. We talk a lot. I was really proud of how he showed up and showed out.

Fourth-and-10 from the South Dakota 47, 3:26 left: Bean connects with a wide-open Fairchild for a 20-yard must-have strike to keep the drive alive. Fairchild, who finished with four catches for 58 yards (and one nod on SportsCenter’s Top 10), had been open on a nearly identical play earlier in the game, but the Jayhawks weren’t able to capitalize.

Fairchild: First thing you might think: Is that a tense huddle? It really wasn’t. We were all just kind of focused on making the next play. Obviously the plays before that didn’t work as well as we wanted, so we knew we had one more shot to get those 10 yards. During the play, once I got past the linebacker, it was a similar look to what happened earlier.

Bean: Mason, he’s going to be one of the first guys in the building and he’s going to be studying his tail off all week to make sure he’s in the right position. I think that kind of showed Friday with the plays he was making.

Fairchild: Once I got past the linebacker there was just kind of some dead area I could sit in, and Jason found me. Truthfully, there was absolutely nothing going through my mind as the ball was in the air. I was so locked in that I was not thinking about anything. It was a good play, yeah, but the job’s not finished. You’ve just got to toss the ball back to the official and get back in the huddle.

Arnold: Those plays that he made Friday, those are routine plays for him. Those are plays he always makes during practice. He always finds a way to get open. All the fans need to know: Mason Fairchild is going to be a big name here.

Third-and-9 from the South Dakota 26, 2:09 remaining: Bean scrambles for a 5-yard gain and slides short of the sticks, but South Dakota defensive back Myles Harden makes a crucial mistake, hammering Bean into the turf while the Jayhawk quarterback was in his slide. A personal foul gives KU a fresh set of downs, and after a review, targeting is confirmed against Harden, who is ejected.

Bean: I knew pretty instantly that I’d be OK. I think it looked a lot worse than what it felt like. It was a hard hit, but you know, I think I was actually hit harder earlier in the game than that play. I was just glad we got the penalty to keep us going. I thought to myself, just get up. Show toughness — not only to South Dakota but to my own team, so they know I’m here to stay.

Arnold: The targeting review really helped in a big way, just so we could get our offensive scheme right and know where to go, how we’re going to go about the play. We talked about how the corners were going to play the leverage, how the defensive line front was going to look, how the linebackers were going to play. Just being able to get in the huddle in a crucial moment like that because of the penalty, it made a big impact.

"Nah, we’re going to do this. We’re gonna run a play, we’re going to score and we’re going to win this game."

Lawrence Arnold on what Jason Bean told the huddle

First-and-10 from the South Dakota 10, 2:03 remaining: Bean rushes for another 5-yard gain, but a holding penalty against Fairchild backs KU up to the Coyote 16.

Fairchild: There’s nothing you can do. It’s not in my control. I’m not the kind of guy that dwells on a play that happened a play or two before. If it’s good, don’t think about it. If it’s bad, flush it and move on.

Arnold: We were all thinking, like, ‘Dang, we were just right there. Now we just got bumped back.’ But Bean being the leader, the quarterback, he was like, ‘Nah, we’re going to do this. We’re gonna run a play, we’re going to score and we’re going to win this game.’

Second-and-16 from the South Dakota 16, 1:10 remaining: Arnold hauls in a pass at the 10-yard-line, turns and evades a diving tackle attempt from one South Dakota defender, then drags a second Coyote the final three yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score. Arnold, whose 2020 lasted just four games before a season-ending shoulder injury, finished with three catches for 33 yards and became the first Jayhawk freshman since JaCorey Shepherd (2011) to notch two receiving touchdowns in a season opener. After the contest, Arnold said: “I live by ‘make a man miss.’ ”

Arnold: I looked at the corner before the play and I was like, he’s playing far off and my route is not that far, and a touchdown is not that far either. I knew Kwamie (Lassiter) was going to run a route that was going to distract the corner and the safety so I could get the ball and at least have a chance to make someone miss. I saw the ball come and I just knew I was going to make a play. I knew the team needed me to come in for ’em. I just made a routine play.

Bean: Throughout fall camp Lawrence has been battling different injuries. He’s been in, getting extra work. The whole offense can see him wanting to get better each day. I was extremely proud of him for the way he performed. It was just a great thing for him. He finally saw that he could do this. I think there’s no looking back for him at this point.

Fairchild: One of the drills that we like to run on a daily basis is a “make-you-miss” drill, and Lawrence is one of those guys that you know is probably always going to have the upper hand.

Arnold: ‘Make a man miss’ has been part of my identity since I was probably a freshman in high school. All of my receiver coaches in high school, we all live by not letting the first guy tackle you. You’ve got to make the first man miss. If you’re going to live by that and you’re going to say that, that’s just something you’ve got to go by — little league, middle school, high school, college football; it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to say that, you can’t let the first guy tackle you.

Fairchild: On that particular play I was in protection and I didn’t really have anything to protect, so I was just kind of watching. I saw him catch the ball and break a tackle and I started sprinting toward him, just filled with joy.

South Dakota had the ball at its own 23 with 62 seconds to make something happen, but the KU defense was having none of it. The Jayhawks, who surrendered just 263 total yards on the evening, stopped the Coyotes on four consecutive plays, with junior safety Kenny Logan’s pass breakup on a fourth-and-3 attempt sealing the outcome.

Fairchild: I had the utmost confidence that our defense was going to shut ’em down. Even before the game all the defensive guys were saying, ‘We got your back.’ They just kept making plays over and over again. I knew they were going to be able to make plays to get us out of that situation.

Bean: I trusted in them that last drive. That whole game they played exceptionally well. Kenny Logan kept telling me on the sideline that he had my back. I just believed in him, believed in the whole defense, and they came through. I think the ceiling is extremely high for that side of the ball.

Bean took a knee to run out the final seconds on the KU victory, and the Jayhawk student section poured onto the field to celebrate the program’s first victory since Oct. 16, 2019.

Arnold: When the defense got the fourth-down stop, I saw how all the fans moved from the top of the stands to the bottom. I was like, oh yeah, they’re about to run on the field. As soon as we run off the field, they’re coming on the field. It’s just the environment down here. It’s love. Everyone loves to see winning, but the environment that our fans bring, it’s just unbelievable. Win, lose or draw, it’s always love. They’re going to help us, they’re going to scream for us, they’re going to cheer us on. It was a special moment for me.

Bean: I’ve never been part of anything like that. At North Texas there were some good crowds, but I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that. With all those people being there, I just wanted to do it for them. There’s been a lot of tough times the last two years with this football team. I just wanted them to go home with their heads high, proud of the football team and proud of the way we executed.

Fairchild: I just remember Coach Leipold after everyone got back in, he just said, ‘Obviously a lot of things need to be cleaned up, but I’m proud to be your head coach.’ That was inspiring.

Arnold: When I gave my momma a hug after the game I looked at her and it looked like she was going to cry. She was just like, ‘Your dad would be so proud of you.’ That just stuck with me. To this day, when I say that back now, it just makes me smile. Just hearing that from my momma and my family, it made me feel good. I know he’d be proud of me.

Another tilt under the Friday night lights now awaits KU, which will need a victory over No. 17 Coastal Carolina in order to move to 2-0 for the first time since the 2011 season. The Jayhawks and Chanticleers will meet at 6:30 p.m. in Conway, South Carolina.

Bean: We got the job done. We showed our coaches resilience in that whenever there’s a tough situation, we can handle it and execute. There’s a lot of great moods and attitudes going into this week. I think this team is really hungry. This is a great opponent that we’re facing this week. I’m excited to go on the road and play in another team’s stadium.

Arnold: It was a big win for us, but we still have a lot on our plate, a lot on our shoulders. That win doesn’t solidify everything for us. It was a big win in the direction we’re going, but we have a lot to prove to everyone.