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Cowboys struggle early, pull away against Kansas

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Justice Hill

Freshman running back Justice Hill runs the ball in OSU's 44-20 win against Kansas on Oct. 22, 2016.

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A game against the Kansas Jayhawks usually signifies an easy win.

At least in football. KU is last in the Big 12 and hasn’t won a conference game in two years. The Jayhawks garner so little interest from fans that they can barely fill Memorial Stadium to half capacity, even during Saturday's homecoming.

Oklahoma State, however, always seems to find a way to add drama to each game. This one was no different. Although the Cowboys trailed early, they were able to come back and get the victory, 44-20 against the Jayhawks.

Close calls have become a trend for OSU (5-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12). Two weeks ago, the Cowboys needed to overcome a 17-point deficit to defeat Iowa State at home. In Week 3, OSU needed a late touchdown to defeat Pittsburgh. Central Michigan walked out of Boone Pickens Stadium with a win after a Hail Mary miracle.

When Kansas (1-6, 0-4) scored first on a 68-yard pass to LaQuvionte Gonzalez, the feeling set in. Here we go again.

"We just gotta get adjusted," linebacker Devante Averette said. "That's all. They brought a a new quarterback in and had a little new system for him. Once we figure out what they're trying to do, we shut their favorites down."

The Cowboys were able to answer, but Kansas kept coming. With 6:56 left in the second quarter, Ben Grogan kicked a field goal that would tie the game at 10 and also cement him in Cowboy history. Grogan became OSU’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Dan Bailey.

A few minutes later, Justice Hill broke free on a 12-yard run to put OSU in scoring position. Hill got to finish off his work, punching in the score from a yard out to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game, 17-13.

Hill, a true freshman, has become the clear leader in a backfield that lacked one entering the season. He led the team in carries Saturday with 22 and finished with a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown. OSU coach Mike Gundy said he was pleased with Hill's performance. 

"He's done really well," Gundy said. "He is exciting and can make guys miss. I told the team in there, the difference between this year and last year is our ability to run the ball. Last year we couldn't do that."

Hill has at least one touchdown in each of the past four games and has rushed for 100-plus yards in three of those.

In a game in which receiver James Washington was held to nine receiving yards, Hill was especially valuable to the offense. 

"It is huge," offensive cordinator Mike Yurcich said. "They were taking away James pretty well. They still broke a lot of tackles. Those running backs did a heck of a job running the ball today."

Hill wasn't the only running back to have a big day. In his first game back from a left hand injury, Chris Carson finished with 86 total yards and three touchdowns. 

OSU would take that lead into halftime and never relinquish it. However, the Jayhawks did not go down without a fight.

After a touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph to Carson, the Cowboys appeared to be pulling away. The Jayhawks, though, responded by marching down the field for another touchdown. With 6:24 left in the third, OSU was clinging to a four-point lead.

After the offense was forced to punt on its next drive, the Cowboy defense came up big. Linebacker Chad Whitener applied the pressure to Montell Cozart, who threw an interception right to DeQuinton Osborne, who returned it to the one.

Rennie Childs punched in the easy touchdown, the beginning 20 unanswered points as the Cowboys pulled away, putting fans at ease.

After again flirting with a loss early on, the Cowboys can be happy they weren’t the team to break Kansas’ conference losing streak. 

With an undefeated West Virginia looming for homecoming week, the Cowboys know they will need to come out stronger. 

"They may be ranked in the top 10 in the country," Gundy said. "It's a big game. Each week is a big game."

sports@ocolly.com

More coverage from OSU’s 44-20 win against Kansas

Grogan sets scoring record in win against Jayhawks

Carson finds role in return

Tip drill: Sterns turns busted coverage into big play the other way