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Monday Rewind — Iowa State: Better effort does little to change big picture

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Kansas offensive lineman Jeff Spikes pats running back James Sims on the back after his fumble late in the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

Kansas offensive lineman Jeff Spikes pats running back James Sims on the back after his fumble late in the second quarter on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. by Nick Krug

The general vibe coming out of the Kansas University football locker room after Saturday’s 13-10 loss at Iowa State was much better than the one we’ve all seen and felt for the past six weeks.

However, even though the Jayhawks played their best defensive game of the season and had a shot to win in the fourth quarter, the outcome remained the same — a seventh straight loss, another week of hard work down the drain, another week closer to the end of a third straight disappointing season.

Taking that notion even further, last Saturday’s performance, though better, did nothing to alter the big picture here. KU coach Turner Gill remains on one of the hottest seats in college football and appears to be headed toward losing his job when November ends.

I have to admit it was good to see KU compete for a change. Several Jayhawks played up to their abilities against Iowa State and made the kind of plays we’ve heard the coaching staff say they’re capable of making throughout the season.

Here’s the sad part — it still wasn’t enough. And the Jayhawks still made far too many mistakes, two missed field goals and a fumble deep in ISU territory being the most devastating of them all.

When you look back at it, I’m not so sure that the close nature of KU’s latest loss had as much to do with the Jayhawks playing well as it did Iowa State playing poorly for most of the game.

Look at the facts: KU still gave up 426 yards of offense, including 251 yards on the ground, and scored just 10 points. KU’s poor tackling problem reared its ugly head on throughout the day but especially on Aaron Horne’s 18-yard TD run in the second quarter. After getting the ball, Horne raced to the left and made his way past seven KU defenders en route to the end zone. Worse than that, five different Jayhawks had a real shot at making the tackle and all five whiffed, leaving a pile of white and blue jerseys around the 10-yard line with Horne dancing in the end zone.

It definitely was not all bad. There were plenty of positive signs and more than a few things that the KU coaching staff can point to as progress. Those things, along with a now bigger-than-ever battle with Missouri looming during the last week of the season, should be enough to keep the Jayhawks working hard for three more weeks.

However, the bottom line is this: Saturday’s game very much looked like a battle for the basement in the Big 12. Neither team looked worthy of finishing higher than ninth in the league, which leads me to believe ISU’s surprising victory over Texas Tech — which probably is the eighth best team in the league — had a lot more to do with Tech’s hangover after beating Oklahoma than ISU being ready to compete at that level consistently.

Still, the Cyclones appear to be in much better shape than Kansas. Paul Rhoads is a fantastic coach, a great motivator and always seems to make strong adjustments before, during and after games. In addition, in red-shirt freshman QB Jared Barnett, the Cyclones appear to have their quarterback of the future in place and gaining experience.

Kansas, meanwhile, seems destined for a new head coach and, heading into 2012, will have questions at just about every position. Running back and safety appear to be in great shape, but the rest of the units remain a work in progress.

If you’re a Jayhawk fan, this latest loss had to come as a relief. At least for a week, the Jayhawks weren’t the joke of the conference or the country and you saw that, if nothing else, these players haven’t thrown in the towel on the season. They deserve a ton of praise for that. Lesser men would’ve done so long ago.

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