FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Jason Swanson started the season hurt.
He ended it by leading the Kansas Jayhawks to their first bowl
victory and first winning season in 10 years.
Swanson threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, one more than
he had in the regular season, and the Jayhawks beat Houston 42-13
Friday night in the Fort Worth Bowl.
"I couldn't even have imagined this happening,'' said Swanson,
who in late October became the Jayhawks' third starting quarterback
Houston, with record-setting quarterback Kevin Kolb, came in as
the team touted for its high-powered offense. Instead, the Jayhawks
(7-5) had a season-high 538 yards and won for the fourth time in
five games -- all since Swanson became the starter.
"We knew we'd have an opportunity to throw big on them,''
Swanson said. "We just had to come out and do it. ... We saw they
had a lot of schemes and blitz a lot. When a team blitzes, you have
an opportunity to throw a lot of those dinks.''
Tailback Jon Cornish turned two shovel passes -- his only two
catches -- from Swanson into scores of 13 and 30 yards. He also
rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries.
Brian Murph, who hadn't returned a kick all season, turned a
muffed punt into an 85-yard score in the first quarter that put the
Jayhawks ahead to stay. He also caught a 48-yard TD pass.
After leading Conference USA with 457 total yards per game
during the regular season, Houston (6-6) was held to a season-worst
244. That was 126 yards below their previous low.
Kansas had been in only one other bowl since a victory over UCLA
in the 1995 Aloha Bowl capped a 10-2 season. The Jayhawks lost
56-26 to North Carolina State in the 2003 Tangerine Bowl that ended
Mark Mangino's second year as coach.
"It's a winning season for the first time in 10 years. Our
players worked hard to achieve that,'' Mangino said. "It was a
good day for us.''
Swanson started his fifth straight game, going 19-of-29 and
earning MVP honors. The senior hurt his leg during the preseason,
but took over after Adam Barmann and Brian Luke struggled.
Houston has lost six straight bowls since winning the 1980
Garden State Bowl. The Cougars' previous postseason appearance was
a 54-48 triple-overtime loss to Hawaii in the 2003 Hawaii Bowl that
ended coach Art Briles' first season at 7-6. The Cougars slipped to
3-8 last year.
"It hurts not to win. We had high hopes, high aspirations,''
Briles said. "But when somebody slaps you in the face two or three
times, it's going to be hard to welcome Santa.
"It's going to take a while to get over this because it would
have been a great step for a program,'' he said. "But now we're
going to have to start fighting back up that hill again.''
Kolb, a junior, started his 36th straight game and already is
the career total offense leader at the school where David Klingler
and Andre Ware also threw passes. Kolb was 20-of-44 for 214 yards
with three interceptions, all turned into scores by Kansas.
Kolb had a 1-yard sneak for Houston's only touchdown, and Ben
Bell (32 yards) and T.J. Lawrence (44 yards) kicked field goals.
"This year was a lot of fun, we came together as a team to get
ourselves into a bowl game,'' said Cougars sophomore Donnie Avery,
who had five catches for 71 yards. "This is a setback, but we'll
be back in a bowl game next year.''
Charlton Keith got between Kolb and his intended receiver on a
quick-out pass in the fourth quarter. He jumped up and grabbed the
pass, then sprinted 14 yards and dived into the end zone.
Theo Baines had two interceptions for the Jayhawks. The first
set up Cornish's 30-yard TD in the third quarter, and the second
led to Murph's TD catch with 9 minutes left for the final
Five minutes into the game, Murph muffed a punt. The ball rolled
several yards away from him before he picked it up, circled around
several defenders and ran all the way to the left sideline. He then
cut back across the field and slipped past a tackler into the open
for the longest Kansas punt return since 1971.
Swanson had completions of 31 and 19 yards on the first two
plays, but the Jayhawks didn't get another first down on the
opening drive. The Cougars then went three-and-out before Justin
Laird's 57-yard punt that Murph muffed.
Cornish's first TD came in the second quarter. Mark Simmons
added a 32-yard score in the third when he caught Swanson's pass
near the 20, then was free when he twisted inside and the defender