Manhattan Lawrence native and current Kansas University assistant football coach Clint Bowen has the unique perspective of having cheered, played and coached for the Jayhawks football team during the past four decades.
That’s why the Sunflower Showdown, which kicks off the 110th meeting between KU and K-State at 11 a.m. today in Manhattan, always has been a little more special to Bowen.
“The first one I really remember, and it was at K-State, was when (former Jayhawk) Marvin Mattox blocked the field goal in ’87 to secure both of them finishing (0-6-1 in Big Eight play),” Bowen said. “That’s my first real memory of it.”
Thanks to that blocked kick in the game’s waning moments, the Jayhawks and Wildcats tied 17-all in that one, leaving KSU winless on the season and KU to finish at 1-9-1. The game was dubbed by many as the Toilet Bowl, but for Bowen, who grew up a diehard Jayhawk, that first taste of this rivalry served as the foundation upon which many great memories were built.
He still remembers the game during his junior season in 1992, when the Jayhawks, led by Gilbert Brown and Dana Stubblefield, dominated the K-State offense in a 31-7 KU victory. That was one of just four KU victories against K-State coach Bill Snyder during his 20 years in charge of the Wildcats, and a year later K-State got bragging rights back with a 10-9 victory over Bowen’s Jayhawks.
“We were getting better at the same time they were getting better,” Bowen recalled. “And we had some great games against them. I’ve never been a part of truly having the upper hand on K-State. I’ve always kind of been on the short end.”
Although his chapter in this rivalry has led to more disappointment than elation, Bowen always has maintained perspective.
“For me, it’s always been a little bit more of a mutual respect,” he said. “You’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. It’s an amazing story and (Snyder has) done a great job, and they continue to do a great job.”
After leaving Lawrence following the 2009 season, Bowen for the first time dealt with life away from the KU-KSU showdown in 2010 when he coached at Western Kentucky and 2011 when he worked at North Texas. It killed him.
“When you’re away from it and you’re watching the game — and obviously it didn’t go well the two years I was gone — it’s frustrating,” he said. “If you’re not a part of it, it’s almost more frustrating than if you are a part of it because you kind of know the exact reasons why. When you don’t know why, those are frustrating to watch.”
Now that he gets to rejoin his spot on the field in the middle of all that purple and blue, Bowen is looking forward to every aspect of the revitalized rivalry.
“This is one of the fun ones here,” he said, “because you have such familiarity with those kids. The majority of their roster are kids I had a chance to see in high school and probably have some type of relationship with. In a way, it’s kind of neat to go, ‘I remember (KSU offensive lineman) Cody Whitehair when he came out of Abilene High. I remember (KSU wide receiver) Chris Harper when he was at Wichita Northwest.’ You know what I mean? So you’re kind of like, ‘Gosh, the kid’s grown up a little bit.’”
Baty on duty
Asked earlier this week which quarterback would stand in as K-State’s Collin Klein with the scout team this week, KU coach Charlie Weis offered two answers.
“I’m not available this week,” Weis joked. “I’m actually gonna use (sophomore) Turner Baty. Turner’s not built like him, but he’s loose and things like that. That’s right up his tree.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said fourth-string QB Blake Jablonski and wide receiver Christian Matthews, who’s known for running KU’s Jayhawk set, also handled some of the responsibilities and had big shoes to fill.
“That’s rough,” Campo said. “We had the red shirt off the quarterback, but it wasn’t the same quarterback.”
Crist moving forward
Speaking of quarterbacks, KU QB Dayne Crist used much of the Jayhawks’ bye week to get his head right and shake off the disappointment of his slow start.
“It’s coming back,” said Crist, who enters today’s game ranked 120th in the country with a 96.7 passer rating. “I just tried to go back and revisit everything to figure out how I could get back to being more confident, going back to times I was at my absolute best and what I did to get there and trying to implement some of those ideas again.”
Weis appreciated the extra effort and did what he could to help Crist move forward.
“All he’s gotta worry about is doing the best he can to put us in a position to try to beat K-State,” Weis said. “He can’t worry about the games we’ve played already, they are past tense. Don’t be thinking about the past. Be thinking about the present. That’s the only thing that matters.”