LAWRENCE, Kan. — After deciding that Jake Sharp didn’t fit the offense, Kansas fit the offense to him.
As a result, the No. 16 Jayhawks may have solved a festering problem in the running game just in time for Big 12 action. Smaller and quicker than Jon Cornish and Brandon McAnderson, the featured runners in 2006 and 2007, Sharp scored three touchdowns Saturday in a 30-14 victory over Colorado.
The week before, he played a key role in a big comeback victory over Iowa State.
“He’s a different type of running back than we’ve had in the last two years here,” said coach Mark Mangino. “He doesn’t run with the same style as the kids before him who rushed for over 1,000 yards.
On a career-high 31 carries, Sharp ran for 118 yards while Todd Reesing threw for 256 yards and another score. Kerry Meier, the backup quarterback who’s turned into one of the nation’s top receivers, caught nine passes for 94 yards for the Jayhawks (5-1, 2-0 Big 12)
The adjustments have “absolutely” been a boost to the running game, said the 190-pound Sharp.
“That’s the name of the game. You run plays that you’re good at,” he said. “Offensive coordinator Ed Warriner) has done an excellent job with that. He always has.”
The Jayhawks used their off week to adjust blocking schemes and install new plays.
“Jake, I think he’s starting to prove himself,” said Meier. “He might not be the be the biggest guy, but he sure packs a punch. He’s a fighter. I can’t say enough about him.”
The Jayhawks led only 16-14 after Cody Hawkins’ 1-yard touchdown run at the end of the third period. But Reesing quickly engineered two scoring drives to salt away Kansas’ 20th win in 23 games and their 13th in a row at home.
Sharp scored on runs of 1, 8 and 7 yards and Reesing was 27-for-34 without an interception.
“The more carries I get, the more confidence I get,” said Sharp. “There is room for improvement.”
It was the 10th straight road loss to a ranked opponent for Colorado (3-3, 0-2), which trailed only 9-7 at halftime even though Kansas had a safety and two interceptions.
“It’s a tough game,” said Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins, who ran for a TD and passed for another. “We had a couple of opportunities early, but we didn’t capitalize. When you play in the Big 12, you’re going to play great teams every week.”
Late in the first quarter, a 27-yard punt gave the Buffaloes the ball on the Kansas 28. Hawkins, after connecting with Cody Crawford for 16 yards on third-and-nine, found Crawford again with an 11-touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. The Jayhawks hadn’t trailed at home since last Nov. 3, a span of five games.
Hawkins was 8-for-22 with for 90 yards, with two interceptions. He was replaced by Matt Ballenger late in the game.
After Kansas’ Jacob Branstetter missed a 39-yard field goal attempt, Sharp and the Jayhawks finally got moving midway into the second quarter. Sharp ripped off gains of 21 and 10 yards and Reesing hit Dexton Fields for 27 yards, setting up Sharp’s 1-yard TD run.
On Colorado’s next possession, Jake Laptad chased Hawkins 16 yards backward and tackled him in the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 lead.
“He just lost concentration and did something he shouldn’t have done,” said Colorado coach Dan Hawkins.
Overcoming an illegal block penalty that gave Kansas first-and-goal from the 21, Reesing hit three straight passes, capped by a 5-yard scoring toss to Dezmon Briscoe.
Josh Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards and caught a 38-yard pass on third-and-eight from the 39 and Hawkins scored to make it 16-14.
Reesing found Briscoe for 17 yards and Meier for 17 a few minutes later and Sharp scored on an 8-yard run. Fields’ 36-yard punt return gave the Jayhawks a short field and Sharp scored the final TD from 7 yards out.
“You’ve got to adjust to what your players can do,” Mangino said. “We made a decision during the off week that you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. We understand what Jake’s strong suits are and we’re trying to play to them. And so far, it’s been successful.”