New look, same old feeling
Jayhawks fail to score in new threads vs. UT
TEXAS 23, KANSAS 0
So much for the mystique of the red jerseys.
Yeah, the uniforms worn by Kansas on Saturday in front of 36,904 at Memorial Stadium were the modern day crimson chrome uniforms and not the classic reds worn by the Kansas University football team in the glory days of yesteryear. But red is red, a loss is a loss and the 23-0 blow — to the mind, body and soul — delivered by Texas on Saturday had an all-too-familiar ring to it.
Sure, the game featured a couple of positive signs for the home team. But those numbers and accomplishments meant nothing to the Jayhawks, who were charged with trying to explain how the offense laid an egg during the team’s second shutout loss in six games, dating back to the final two games of last season.
“Stats are for losers,” KU coach Charlie Weis said after the game that dropped Kansas to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big 12 play — and him to 6-22 as the Jayhawks’ leader. “There’s a lot of stats out there that I could say were positive. The bottom line is, when you lose the turnover ratio like that, you’re going to lose most games.”
That might have been the most frustrating part of Saturday’s loss for the Jayhawks, who watched sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart throw four interceptions and lost the turnover battle, 4-1. They’ve seen this movie before. A bunch of times. It has played out so frequently in front of their eyes, in stadiums across the country, that they’re starting to get the feeling that it’s one of those movies shown on TBS every few months. The ending never changes. The plot remains the same. And it’s often pretty tempting to change the channel during the commercials.
“Sometimes, yeah, I feel that way,” senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd said. “That’s just being honest. It’s like growing up. You can’t keep making the same mistakes. Your parents will only tell you so many times before you have to learn on your own.”
Saturday’s loss set up like this…. again: The KU defense plays inspired football from start to finish to try to keep the team in the game. If not for a 24-yard interception return that set up one UT score and a 41-yard punt return that set up another, there’s no telling how many points the Kansas defense would’ve surrendered to the struggling Longhorns.
“It’s really frustrating,” said senior linebacker Ben Heeney, who led KU with 10 tackles. “But I’m proud of the way the defense played today and I think if we continue to play like that we can continue to put our team in position to win some games.”
That may have been the case on Saturday had the offense been able to find the end zone. KU’s best chance came on its opening drive, when Cozart (12-of-31 passing for 140 yards) drove the Jayhawks to the doorstep of the goal line but tossed his first interception on a tipped ball that was intended for a wide open Justin McCay on a slant pattern. After that drive, Kansas reached the red zone just once more. That, too, produced nothing, as offensive coordinator John Reagan elected to go for a fourth-and-goal on the Jayhawks’ second drive of the second half but watched a fade pass to Nigel King fall incomplete. Thirteen plays. Seventy-nine yards. No points.
“We’ve shown that we can move the ball, no matter what the defense is,” senior receiver Nick Harwell said. “If anything, I’m surprised about the fact that we just have a hard time getting into the end zone.”
Asked if he could pinpoint what was keeping Kansas from breaking the plane, Harwell (5 receptions, 39 yards) admitted to being stumped.
“Our coaches have a lot of confidence in their play-calling and we have a lot of confidence in their play-calling, as well,” he said. “I just can’t really say how we aren’t able to get the ball in the end zone.”
The how of it all really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that they can’t. After exploding for 24 points in the opening quarter of the season, KU has managed just 37 points in the 15 quarters since. That’s barely a safety per quarter. And, at this point, it seems like a safety, special teams touchdown or defensive score might be this team’s best chance of putting points on the board.
Heeney said that thought was not lost on the defense.
“On the field, when we’re huddled up, we just kind of talk to each other and say, ‘It’s on us, we have to get a turnover, we have to get ourselves back in the game,'” Heeney said. “We just know that we have to continue to play well in order to give us a chance to win.”
Added Shepherd: “We’ve got a good offense. They draw up a good scheme. But not being able to score points is kind of frustrating, especially knowing the players that we’ve got out there.”
Weis said after the game that moving on from a loss like this was tougher to do than moving on from something like the 41-3 shellacking at Duke. Two reasons. First, the Duke loss was what Weis called “an embarrassment.” Saturday against Texas, he said, was not. Second, the Jayhawks really believed they could win Saturday’s game and snap their 11-game, 76-year losing streak against the Longhorns.
“I know it’s tough to imagine, but this is worse than Duke,” Weis said.
So where do the Jayhawks turn now, with nothing but tough Big 12 contests on the horizon and more questions than ever about an offense that seems to be stuck in the mud?
There’s only one place, according to Weis.
“What do they get for all the blood, sweat and tears,” he asked. “All I can tell ’em is this is what people that persevere do. They keep pushing, because your only other choice is to quit. And I don’t think you saw that out there today.”