Last season, in its only nonconference road test of the year, the Kansas University football team looked like a Top-25 team at the beginning and a bottom 25 team at the end.
Saturday, when the No. 24-ranked Jayhawks (1-0) travel to El Paso, Texas, for their only non-conference game away from home in 2009, they’ll be looking to build on last week’s fast start while exorcising some of the demons from last year’s 37-34 loss at South Florida.
“That was definitely a tough game to swallow,” said KU quarterback Todd Reesing, whose interception late in the game against USF sealed Kansas’ fate. “But we didn’t lose that game in the fourth quarter, we lost it over the course of the entire game.”
With that in mind, the Jayhawks spent most of this week focusing on delivering a complete effort against UTEP on Saturday.
“I think we are well prepared to play on the road, and our players are looking forward to it,” KU coach Mark Mangino said. “As you know, if we want to have success in the conference, we have to be able to win on the road.”
During Mangino’s time at Kansas, KU has been less than stellar outside of Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks are just 2-4 in nonconference road games in the Mangino era and were 1-3 in true road games during 2008, with the lone victory coming at Iowa State.
Overall, Kansas is 9-24 as the visiting team during Mangino’s seven seasons at Kansas. Take away the 4-0 mark during the 2007 Orange Bowl season, and you’re staring at a team that has never won more than one road game during a season under its current head coach.
Because of their past struggles, the Jayhawks believe they now know what it takes to play well and win on the road.
“You have to be able to go into other places and quiet their crowd and make things happen to get where you want to be,” defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said.
Added senior safety Darrell Stuckey: “They have the whole crowd. All you have is one little section. So you have to remember that a victory is never a victory until the clock hits zero in the fourth quarter.”
With so many veterans and so much experience on the roster, the Jayhawks don’t buy into the notion that the team’s struggles on the road have to do with the current regime. As cliché as it may be, for this bunch, each road game is its own animal and each represents a new opportunity to flip the script from sad-sack visitor to road warrior.
“Obviously, going on the road, it is a whole new environment,” Reesing said. “We have guys that are young that are going to have to learn to play on the road and deal with the hostile environment. Any time you play on the road, it is tough — it doesn’t matter if it is conference or nonconference. It is going to be a big game for (UTEP), and it is a big game for us. We want to start our first road game (of 2009) on the right foot.”