LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Montell Cozart threw three touchdown passes, Ryan Willis tossed two more and Kansas gave second-year coach David Beaty his first victory by routing overmatched Rhode Island 55-6 on Saturday night.
Third-string quarterback Carter Stanley also threw a TD pass, LaQuvionte Gonzalez caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, and Taylor Martin and Ke’aun Kinner ran for scores as the Jayhawks (1-0) won for the first time since beating Iowa State on Nov. 8, 2014, a span of 665 days.
They went 0-12 for the first time in school history last season.
The Rams (0-1) were held to 219 yards of offense by a Kansas defense that gave up at least 40 points eight times last season. Wes McKoy was 6 of 29 for 43 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Rhode Island has never beaten a school from the Football Bowl Subdivision in 14 tries.
Beaty has been slowing trying to rebuild the downtrodden Jayhawks, and there was little evidence of progress last season. But an infusion of touted freshmen and high-profile transfers – Gonzalez came from Texas A&M, for example – gave a sparse season-opening crowd reason to be optimistic.
Kansas scored its most points since routing Nebraska 76-39 on Nov. 3, 2007, when Mark Mangino was still roaming the sideline. The Jayhawks are on their fourth head coach since then.
The big question surrounding them Saturday night was who would be under center.
Cozart was the starter before a season-ending injury a year ago, and Willis took over the rest of the way. The two battled until the final week of training camp and Cozart won the right to take the first snaps of the game, though both played a significant amount of time.
Cozart wound up going 18 of 25 for 199 yards, while Willis was 7 of 9 for 144 yards.
Still, there were times they looked like the same old Jayhawks.
Late in the first half, Kansas failed to convert third down, got called for illegal substitution and missed a field-goal attempt. Cozart threw a pick in the end zone midway through the third quarter, while Derrick Neal botched a punt return midway through the fourth quarter.
But for the most part, it was easy to look good against the Rams.
The Football Championship Subdivision bottom-dweller also muffed a punt that led to the Jayhawks’ first touchdown, then had their only extra-point attempt blocked in the second quarter.
Rhode Island: The Rams’ chances were ruined in part by three turnovers, including a pair of fumbles that were recovered by the Jayhawks. Both of them turned into eventual touchdowns.
Kansas: Gonzalez has star potential. The speedy wide receiver had to sit out last season under NCAA transfer rules, so he was playing in his first game since Dec. 29, 2014.
Rhode Island: Plays its home opener against Albany next Saturday.
Kansas: Ohio visits Memorial Stadium next Saturday.