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Monday Rewind - Oklahoma: Return of the running game a good step, but can KU keep it going?
It's hard to know if it can be trusted given the inconsistency of the offensive line, but it appears that the Kansas University football team has found its running game again.
During last Saturday's loss to 18th-ranked Oklahoma the Jayhawks came out on fire in the first quarter, with senior James Sims leading the way with 11 carries for 85 yards. Those numbers included Sims carrying the ball on seven of KU's first eight plays from scrimmage and eight of the first 10 en route to the 13th 100-yard rushing day of his career.
One of the great parts about getting Sims going again — sophomore Darrian Miller also looked sharp with 67 yards on 9 carries — is that this latest effort came against a legitimate defense. The 6-1 Sooners rank at or near the top of the Big 12 in almost every major defensive category and, for a quarter, the Jayhawks had their way with them, opening up huge holes, getting a great push from the offensive line and picking up double-digit clips of yardage over and over on the ground.
While that was beneficial for this team's chances in that game, the best part overall is that it likely restored this team's confidence in itself and its ability to run the ball again. You know the old theory, 'Hey, if we can do it against a team like OU, we can do it against anybody.'
While that may be true and certainly was the case in 2012, the key from here on out will be to keep the hunger and desperation that delivered the performance in the first place. This is no time to get complacent or feel too good about the job they did on the ground vs. Oklahoma. It still came in a losing effort and it was slowed down significantly from the first quarter on.
A couple of people I talked to about the game said that OU's coaches were very impressed with how KU came out and ran the ball. For one, they did not expect the Jayhawks' to be able to dominate up front like they did and, for two, a lot of the looks the Jayhawks showed in that first quarter rushing attack were new to the OU coaches and players. Credit KU coach Charlie Weis and his staff, once again, for coming up with clever ways to disguise the basics of what they do. Now, the key is to either figure out a way to do it for longer periods of time or make the necessary adjustments to prevent the offense from hitting the wall.
While last Saturday's effort was encouraging, it was much more about heart and being questioned as football players, men and competitors than anything else.
After Saturday's loss to the Sooners, which, like the Texas Tech loss before it, started out in such promising fashion, Weis was asked to determine how fragile his locker room was at this point in the season. It's one thing to lose games and have no chance in them, but it's another to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders and feeling sky high only to see that hot start turn into a sluggish finish and another loss. Such an up-and-down pattern can really mess with the mind, and these guys deserve credit for hanging in there, whether that includes this year, last year or their entire careers.
Weis has said time and time again that there are enough quality leaders and people who care in that locker room to keep the fragile mindset out of the equation. But the Jayhawks are not in this to keep from being too fragile; they're in it to win games and, even if it does make for a good soundbite, they really don't care about moral victories.
“That was the whole conversation I had after the game,” Weis said. “That was my whole message, about how you really have one of two ways to go when things don't go well. Especially half way through the year, you're sitting at 2-4, you could say, 'Ah, the hell with it, we're 2-4, that's just the way it's gonna go.' Or you could fight to do everything you can to be part of the answer.”
“That was basically the challenge to them,” he continued. “And this was an individual challenge, not a team challenge. It wasn't, 'What's the team gonna do?' it was, 'What are you gonna do?' Because, really the only one that you can control is you. So that was the question I posed to all of them.”
With high-powered Baylor on deck, things may get worse before they get better. But if the Jayhawks can hang in there in that one and continue to put forth the Oklahoma- and TCU-type efforts, things could start to look up down the stretch, when the schedule softens just a bit, believe it or not.