Despite dropping five straight games after starting the season 2-0, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill has continued to talk about improvement and progress.
Sunday, one day after suffering an embarrassing loss to in-state rival Kansas State for the second year in a row, Gill shed some light on how he and his coaching staff measure improvement.
“Week to week, and from the beginning of the year to where we’re at today are kind of the two ways we look at it,” Gill said. “Week to week, from Oklahoma to the Kansas State game, I think we took a step back as far as the overall team continuing to improve. Overall season, I know we are better than we were last year on offense and special teams. Defense … it’s kind of hard to say whether we are totally improved in that area.”
The numbers seem to say no. During its current five-game losing streak, the KU defense has given up an average of 57 points and 595 yards of offense per game. Rather than dwell on that, Gill and company seem content to promote the positive, with the overall state of the offense and special teams outweighing the disappointing defense.
“We look at numbers, and we also look at assignments and what they’re doing with their techniques and how that compares to last year,” said Gill, continuing to talk about how improvement is measured. “That’s how I can make that statement that we have improved, overall, as a football team compared to last year.”
Regardless of what the numbers say or how maddening the past five weeks have been, most of KU’s players have remained upbeat and continued to tell tales of progress.
“We are improving,” sophomore running back James Sims said. “It’s just little by little. People may not see it, but we see it as a team. We just need to take bigger steps instead of smaller steps.”
A quick check of how improvement was gauged after Saturday’s 59-21 loss revealed that the KU players may not be looking at it the same way the coaches do. Instead of focusing on the big picture — year to year, game to game, first half of the season to second half — the players look a little closer to home.
“I think it’s an every-day deal,” junior wide receiver Kale Pick said. “Just come in every day and pick out a few things you can improve on and try to improve on those and get your game better overall. I think a lot of our players do that. They come in and study the film and what they need to work on, whether it’s technique or fundamentals, making plays.”
Added sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb: “We really do take it day by day. Last year was a totally different team from this year. We have different guys out there, a lot of new faces. And we feel like we’re right on the brink of breaking through and being able to be a really good team, especially offensively.”
So what has been holding them back?
“The thing is, we can’t look at the scoreboard,” Webb said.
Offensive coordinator Chuck Long wholeheartedly agreed.
“It’s hard, emotionally, for a young guy to look at the scoreboard when it’s not going the right way,” Long said. “You’re talking about an 18-year-old kid there. And I thought (Saturday) was the first time they kind of let that get to them. Probably because it was an in-state rivalry, and they wanted it so bad. Playing your in-state rival like that can do some things to your psyche.”
Long continued: “It’s a fight. It’s a mental process. It’s hard to understand, but it’s a mental toughness that you have to develop over time. Quite frankly, you develop some of your mental toughness through times like this.”
Kansas (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big 12) will travel Saturday to Texas (4-2, 1-2).