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Archive for Saturday, August 26, 1995

MAYER COLUMN

August 26, 1995

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Just prior to his becoming a Roman senatorial pincushion, the late Julius Caesar was warned to be wary of the Ides of March. Then Brutus and some other guys in the back room fulfilled that prophecy.

Hope I'm not the same kind of harpy that put the onus on The Big C, but I'm terrified about the Ides of Sept. 14 where coach Glen Mason and the Kansas football team are concerned. That is the third game of the 1995 season -- TCU here. It was in the third game last year, same opponent, when the air began to seep out of a KU balloon that seemed to have great potential for a bowl-type excursion.

The 1994 Kansas team, with high expectations, disposed of Houston handily, 35-13, then sputtered but managed to hang on for a 17-10 ``glamour'' win against Michigan State here. Hopes for all of us were understandably high, even though we fully recognized what a nemesis the next foe, TCU, had become over the years.

The Horned Frogs, however, were supposed to be seeking some kind of identity under coach Pat Sullivan. Kansas went to Texas confident it could come back with a record that would blossom to a heady 4-0 after a visit by Alabama-Birmingham. And with Kansas State the fifth game on the slate and struggling Iowa State sixth, holey moley, how long had it been since KU got off to a 6-0 start? (The answer was 1968, under Pepper Rodgers. In fact, that Orange Bowl crew got to 7-0 before Oklahoma pulled off a 27-23 stunner here.)

But it was Kansas that suffered the identity crisis at Fort Worth. Quarterback Max Knacke led the Froggies to a 31-21 victory. Leading by four points, Kansas twice had the ball in TCU territory but got no points. And another major flaw showed. Time and again on critical third-down plays, the supersoft KU defense failed to muster workable pass rushes and Knacke and Co. had their way.

There was the predictable romp past Alabama-Birmingham, 72-0. But then came the Kansas State game here on Oct. 6 when the defense couldn't even breathe hard on quarterback Chad May and those tantalizing dreams were suddenly shattered by a 3-2 start.

Kansas won 41-23 at Iowa State but the record stood at 4-3 after the 20-17 loss to a vulnerable Oklahoma team here. That's the one where the Jayhawks had only 17 yards of total offense in the first half but went to the dressing room trailing only 7-3. KU rallied to take a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter only to get beat by a 13-point Sooner rally capped by Scott Blanton's second 39-yard field goal of the day.

When OU came to town, people were still grumbling about the sporadic KU offense and a no-penetration defense in the televised night-time loss to Kansas State. When OU came back to dump the Jayhawks, there was grumbling in the stands such as I hadn't heard since the Bob Valesente days.

Could be that it all traced back to that terrible disappointment at TCU. When the defense couldn't rise up on key occasions against the Frogs, doubts began to rise about what it could, or couldn't do against May and KSU. It couldn't, and Kansas wound up with a 6-5 stay-at-home mark while KSU had another nine-victory season and a second straight bowl trip.

TCU's win, however, wasn't a fluke. The Froggies managed a convoluted tie for the Southwest Conference title and finished 7-5 after a 20-10 loss to Virginia in the Independence Bowl. Kansas is due to be better this fall, providing it can generate a defense that can knock a tin can off a post on a windy day. But then TCU is going to be pretty doggone good again, with Knacke geared for a big year, tailback Andre Davis a prime-time performer and the strong receiver corps.

Kansas is 5-16-4 against Texas Christian, which time and again has managed to use KU for a convenient victory. Will this be another year when the Frogs turn Kansas into a springboard to good times? Or can Kansas somehow get to Colorado with a 4-0 mark to open the the league season on Oct. 7?

Sept. 14 is terribly pivotal to the success of this 1995 Jayhawk squad. If Kansas can't beat Cincinnati here and North Texas there in the preceding games, it's really in trouble. If it can then get past TCU and handle Houston here on Sept. 23, we could be looking at a 7-4 or better season.

But there's another jinx to consider, beyond ever-pesky TCU. The Kansas-Frog game is on television, ESPN, at 7 p.m. on a Saturday. It was on ESPN, at night, that K-State upset the applecart last fall.

KU's football television history is not terribly reassuring. The last time the Jayhawks were displayed on the tube and won was in the 23-20 thriller against Brigham Young in the Aloha Bowl in 1992. Up to then, Kansas had lost seven straight televised games; since the Aloha triumph it is 0-3.

So KU faces a double-whammy here Sept. 14 -- TCU and a television drought, one win in the last 11 exposures. At the same time, a triumph on the Ides of Sept. 14 could set the stage for an 8-3 record that Kansas was, at certain times, close to posting last fall.

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