July 20, 2024

Lance Leipold looking to lead Kansas to first bowl win since 2008

Kansas Jayhawks Football

Kansas Coach Lance Leipold glances up at the scoreboard after a play in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma Saturday October 28, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

There’s no denying that Coach Lance Leipold is accomplishing remarkable feats with the Jayhawks, and tonight he’ll have an opportunity at another milestone.

It’s no mystery that Kansas hasn’t won a bowl game in 15 years, which was when Mark Mangino was patrolling the sidelines. With UNLV up next in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Leipold’s squad has a chance to end the 2023 season on a high-note.

Not to mention the Jayhawks can help the Big 12 improve to 2-1 this postseason with a win. Kansas (8-4) left a lasting impression after a 49-17 road victory over Cincinnati in the regular-season finale. It was the third time this year that Kansas scored 48-plus points. Now Leipold is trying to carry that momentum into the bowl game.

The Rebels are a scrappy bunch though, despite losing their last two games. Barry Odom is a defensive-minded coach, who remarkably led UNLV (9-4) to the Mountain West Championship Game in his first season. Odom has never won a bowl game as a head coach though, so something has to give in this primetime matchup.

All eyes will be on the quarterbacks. Jason Bean will be playing his final game as a Jayhawk after a long journey. Although Bean has missed a couple of games along the way, he hasn’t thrown an interception since the win over Oklahoma. He has complete command of the huddle and deep knowledge of the playbook. Unfortunately, Bean will be without Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, who took the same position with Penn State earlier this month.

UNLV signal-caller Jayden Maiava has thrown four interceptions over the past three games. However, the redshirt freshman is an architect at leading the Rebels on scoring drives. It’s hard to argue with that when UNLV is averaging 34.8 points per game, which ranks 21st in the FBS.

Both teams have some studs at the skill positions. Kansas’ All-Big 12 running back Devin Neal is a vital weapon, and a physical workhorse. On top of that, Neal is tied for 15th-nationally, with 1,209 yards on the ground this season. UNLV’s wideout Ricky White is one of the most explosive players in the country. White is fourth in the nation with 1,386 receiving yards, and earned third-team, AP All-America honors. No doubt White is going to be a load for the Jayhawks’ secondary.

Regardless, Kansas has a playmaker at each level of its’ defense. The Jayhawks’ tenacity and physicality should make life hard for Maiava in the pocket. Defensive lineman Austin Booker is a flat-out menace off the edge, who generated 51 tackles, including 12 for loss and eight sacks. Booker also earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors for his heroics. Defensive back Cobee Bryant is a ballhawk, who picked off three passes this fall, and also finished first-team, All-Big 12.

Safety Kenny Logan is the veteran, and a tackling machine. He leads Kansas in stops, and will help Bryant cover White throughout the night. This game has all the ingredients for an offensive shootout, and should be a very entertaining event.

Leipold needs his offense to execute though, and can’t rely on a kicking game that has plagued the team all season long. Still, Kansas is trending, and Leipold is enjoying the ride. Winning 15 games over the past two seasons will bring a lot of buzz for 2024. Kansas would also be the team to beat in the new-look Big 12. So there’s plenty of reasons why Leipold needs to take care of business against the Rebels.