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Monday Rewind - Texas: QB Heaps shows toughness, improvement

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Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps bemoans a missed opportunity in the fourth quarter as he heads off the field with offensive lineman Gavin Howard after being sacked by the Texas defense during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps bemoans a missed opportunity in the fourth quarter as he heads off the field with offensive lineman Gavin Howard after being sacked by the Texas defense during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas. by Nick Krug

Say what you want about Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps' season, skills and struggles as KU's quarterback. But don't question the guy's toughness.

Playing — or is it praying? — behind on offensive that has struggled to keep Heaps' uniform clean all season and given up free paths to pound town, Heaps has stood in there and taken some monster hits. More important than his ability to take them, though, has been his ability to keep getting up.

With each week and each bone-crushing hit, Heaps has taken a little longer and a little longer to get back to his feet. Never was that more evident than during last weekend's 35-13 loss to Texas in Austin, when Heaps saw some of the biggest smacks sent his way all season.

The two that come to mind first were the game-changer in which Heaps, swallowed up by a sea of Texas defenders, coughed up the football and watched UT turn the fumble into seven points, and an all-out blitz in which Texas sent one more pass rusher than KU could block and made Heaps pay for it.

“The strip-sack wasn't as bad as the one he took off the right side,” KU coach Charlie Weis said of the two hits. “Their Sam linebacker was hitting him straight in the face as he was getting ready to throw the ball. That hurt me and I was watching. I wasn't even the one taking the hit.”

Heaps admitted after the loss that he was as sore as he could remember being after a game, and who could blame him? It's surely not just the physical pain that hurts. KU's inability to block defenders — be it in the running game or pass protection — has crippled this offense throughout the season and led to as much mental and emotional pain as any of the beatings Heaps has taken.

Don't get me wrong; Heaps has struggled, too. His celebrated accuracy has taken a turn south, his lack of feel in the pocket — which I think may be a result of him hoping so badly that plays will develop that he does not get the heck out of there when he should — has led to far too many sacks and stalled drives and the offense, to which he holds the keys, has averaged just 17 points per game and scored in the teens for seven consecutive weeks.

If there's one positive sign in all of the ugliness, it's that Heaps' past two games have been two of his best. I thought he was solid in the opener, decent in the Rice game and then bad in the games that followed. But against Baylor and Texas, despite the lopsided scores, Heaps looked better.

Weis agreed.

“For the most part, when the game was under control, I thought the passing game was fairly efficient,” he said after Saturday's loss.

Heaps finished the UT game 11-of-21 for 160 yards but, for the second game in a row did not throw an interception, and also showed improving chemistry with and confidence in junior Rodriguez Coleman down the field. In his last two games, Heaps is 18-of-40 for 245 yards, one touchdown and no picks. Now, I admit that those were the types of numbers I expected to see from Heaps and Weis' offense each game, but, hey, since we have to deal in reality, those numbers do represent progress, even if that doesn't mean much.

I know KU fans aren't interested in moral victories any longer. And who could blame them? But saying that Heaps deserves some love instead of the hate or that the guy should be given credit for battling week after week, series after series despite getting battered play after play does not sound, to me, like moral-victory chatter. It sounds like the humane thing to do.

Heaps is a big part of this Kansas offense and he will continue to be for the Jayhawks' four remaining games — games, by the way, which he said KU needed to win to become bowl eligible. See. Still fighting. And instead of laughing at the guy for even bringing up the words “bowl game” during a season as woeful as this, I'd think fans would appreciate that the guy has not been knocked out yet. He's still believing, still trying to get things figured out.

Who knows if Jake will be the quarterback next season? That hardly matters right now. What does matter is that the guy is taking a beating every week all in the name of doing all he can to help KU football get out of the mud.

Maybe he's just grinding his gears. Maybe it's a crane and not a quarterback that the team needs to get out of this mess. But give the guy credit for trying. And give him an Advil or two for the pain.

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