All right, so the Kansas University football season is officially over and all of the attention around here seems to be on the coaching search that is heating up by the minute and figures to take a few wild twists and turns in the next 10 days or so.
But just because the Jayhawks are done playing football does not mean college football is over. Far from it, in fact. Even for the most die-hard KU fans.
After all, with this being championship weekend and so many different games having all kinds of playoff implications, it might be fun to sit back and watch a little football without having a dog in the fight.
The biggest game on the Big 12 radar, without question, is Kansas State at Baylor. The winner guarantees itself at least a share of the Big 12 title and could, with a TCU loss to Iowa State — however shocking that would be — win the title outright.
For Baylor, the game looms large because a strong victory over K-State could be the statement win the Bears need to convince the college football playoff committee that they should be included in college football's first ever final four instead of TCU, which has maintained a slight lead over BU in the standings despite having lost to Baylor earlier this season for the Horned Frogs' only loss.
That's as much at the center of the national conversation regarding college football as any other game this week and is a big reason that ESPN chose to go to Waco, Texas, for Gameday instead of going to one of the true championship games in the ACC (Georgia Tech vs. Florida State), Big Ten (Ohio State vs. Wisconsin), Pac-12 (Oregon vs. Arizona) or SEC (Alabama vs. Missouri).
Is there a way that both TCU and Baylor could get into that final four? Sure. It might be a bit of a long shot, but it would be one of the most incredible scenarios for the Big 12 Conference. Here's why:
Oregon (10-1) and Florida State (11-0) seem to be in pretty good shape and will both be in without question if they win their title tilts. Let's say that were to happen. The only way that Baylor and TCU then would both be able to get in would be for Alabama (10-1) to lose. And who would Alabama have to lose to? Yep, former Big 12 member Missouri, which sits at 9-2 entering the SEC title game.
Go figure. All of a sudden, after a couple of years of not worrying a lick about them, the Big 12 is suddenly rooting like mad for Missouri again. As much as it seems like that might sting the Big 12, it actually stands to hurt the Tigers more. See, if Missouri wins, that could conceivably keep the mighty SEC out of the playoff picture altogether, which not only would eliminate the conference's title hopes but also would cost each member of the SEC some money.
In that scenario, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Missouri all would have two losses. Auburn and Ole Miss already each have three. Sure, the Tigers would be the champs of the SEC, but would the committee really put a two-loss Missouri team — with home losses to Indiana and Georgia, no less — in the final four ahead of a host of one-loss teams? Never say never, but the smart money is on no way.
With a win over Wisconsin, Ohio State could crash the party, but, with TCU already in and Baylor picking up momentum from a victory over a Top 10 opponent, the two Big 12 teams could stay ahead of the Buckeyes.
So there ya go. Plenty of reason to pay attention to college football this weekend, even though the Jayhawks are done playing.
I know how most of you KU fans work and I know it's tough to ask you to root for Missouri in anything. But if you're pro-Big 12 and would like to see two of the nine teams that beat Kansas stay alive for the national title — not to mention see a little more cash come to the KU athletic department — you'll do just that and do it with joy of knowing that even a Mizzou victory would actually wind up hurting the Tigers in the long run.
Good luck with your decision and enjoy what promises to be a great weekend of college football.
From the minute he was named interim head coach of the Kansas University football program, on the same day former KU coach Charlie Weis was fired, Clint Bowen brought something to the program that previous head coaches couldn't — a deep and real connection to Lawrence.
That's not to say that Weis, Turner Gill, Mark Mangino and others did not appreciate Lawrence, enjoy living here or develop some kind of connection with the community. But it never came close to reaching the level that Bowen's has.
As you all know by now, Bowen grew up here. He played football at Lawrence High and KU, has been a Jayhawk for as long as he can remember and, perhaps most importantly, has no desire ever to leave. People know that. They also know that he can coach. And when you combine the two, you get the flood of support you've seen growing for Bowen day-by-day, week-by-week for the past couple of months.
I can't go a day or a place in this town right now without hearing somebody talk to me about Bowen and why he's the right guy for the job. It should be pointed out that most of these people are not qualified to hire a head football coach at a major university, but almost all of them are KU fans and it's those fans who will have a big role in helping KU football return to respectability, Bowen or no Bowen.
Some people just talk about their feelings. Others send emails and write letters or post their thoughts on social media sites. And still more have tried to think of ways to demonstrate their support for Bowen in a larger manner. One such way recently showed up at local bars Six Mile Tavern, in West Lawrence, and Louise's Downtown, on Mass Street.
Near the front of each establishment, hang giant banners that simply read “We Want Clint!” They may only be a couple of banners hanging at a couple of bars in town, but they speak for a lot of people and are merely the latest signs of support for the hometown candidate.
The KU administration is going to conduct a full and thorough search at season's end and it's absolutely the right thing to do. The last two hires went wrong and this one, for half a dozen different reasons, has to go right. So taking their time and making sure they get it right should be commended.
Besides, it's not like KU taking its time makes Bowen any less of a candidate or eliminates the overwhelming amount of support he already has received from the community. If anything, it might actually make that support swell.
Bowen will be in the mix. And he will get a legitimate chance to convince KU, beyond the recent results on the field, why he's the best choice for the job. Until then, don't be surprised if you see more banners like these popping up all over town.
I've been going to KU football practice for years now and, after a while, you start to wonder how much you really can see when you're there and, this coach or that coach, how different practices really can be.
I don't wonder any more.
Each week of the Clint Bowen interim era, I've seen something different, something new, something I had not seen before. That could be because we're allowed to stick around a little longer than we ever have before, it could be because things actually are that different, and it could, of course, be some combination of the two.
Either way, I left today's practice thinking to myself how crazy it is to see a bunch of guys who have done almost nothing but lose during their time at KU fighting their butts off in the freezing cold and having fun all the way to the end of the season.
Usually by now — at least during the past four or five years — it's been about going through the motions of getting the season over with and moving on to the next chapter of hoping for something different. Not now. Not today. After dominating Iowa State and nearly knocking off TCU, these guys really believe they can beat anybody right now and they practice like it, coaches included.
Quarterback Michael Cummings said earlier today that there's a feeling of missing out surfacing around the football complex because of the disappointment that they're just now starting to put everything together. Even with that, though, Cummings said it wasn't like the guys were dwelling on it. Instead, they're looking at the last two games as a great opportunity and he said it would be that way if they had two games, five games or 10 games left.
I saw an extra dose of energy out there last week, and coming off the Iowa State victory that made sense. But there was even more out there today. It's crazy to think, but this team really is just two special teams mistakes away from sitting on five victories and having two shots at getting that sixth win for bowl eligibility.
Had they not kicked off to OSU's Tyreek Hill, I think KU wins that game. And if Cameron Echols-Luper hadn't taken that punt back to the house last week to give TCU its first lead since the first quarter, I think that would've changed the outcome, as well.
I'm not the only one. Clearly these guys believe that and even though so many of them are down to the final two games of their careers, they're certainly not operating like the end is in sight.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at today's practice:
• I watched Cummings pretty closely to see how he held up health-wise and he looked fine. Good even. He was a full participant, threw the same amount of ball as the other quarterbacks and even bounced around out there like he wasn't in any pain at all. He said earlier that he felt great today and that most of the right arm/shoulder issue he's dealing with right now was simply a matter of how well he could play through pain. That's good news for Kansas because the answer to that question is, “very well.”
• Former KU center Chip Budde was the former player who spoke to the team before practice and, like many before him, Budde's message was short, sweet, to the point and received with all kinds of hootin' and hollerin', some of it even coming from Bowen himself.
• This week's depth chart has Larry Mazyck listed with the first stringers at right tackle but I also saw Jordan Shelley-Smith (the back-up at both left and right tackle) working with the ones a little bit today. No surprise there. Shelley-Smith has played plenty during the past couple of weeks and it could simply be a case of KU making sure both guys are ready for Saturday's match-up with OU's big and physical defensive line.
• There were plenty of NFL scouts at practice again today and, at least from where I was standing, it looked like most of them were very interested in senior receiver Nick Harwell. I'm sure they were taking notes about junior Nigel King, too, but their eyes seemed fixed on Harwell for extended periods of time. And good for him. After coming to KU with an almost-certain NFL future, Harwell sat out a year and then struggled to get going this season because of KU's offensive issues. He's hot now, though, and it looks like people outside of KU nation are taking notice.
As you all surely know by now, Saturday will mark the final home football game in the careers of several Jayhawks. And while the task at hand seems daunting — TCU enters ranked No. 5 in the nation and favored by 28 points — there are plenty of ways Saturday will be memorable for these guys, win or lose.
In all, there will be a total of 20 seniors honored before Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff with No. 5 TCU.
According to a KU spokes person, tight end Scott Baron is graduating and not returning for a fifth year of eligibility; senior running back Brandon Bourbon, who missed the season with a knee injury, will take part in the senior day activities, but senior running back Taylor Cox, who missed the season with an Achillles' injury, will not. Senior safety Jaccare Givens also will not take part in the Senior Day activities.
The aforementioned notes are the result of a personal decision for each player and are not related to Bourbon and Cox's pending eligibility. That has not been determined yet.
Here's a quick look at the seniors who will be honored on Saturday along with a few seniors who KU is pushing for postseason honors:
2014 Kansas Football Seniors being honored Saturday
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Exp. Hometown (High School/Previous School)
83 Scott Baron TE 6-2 ½ 236 Jr. SQ Santa Ana, Calif. (Orange Lutheran HS)
25 Brandon Bourbon RB 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Potosi, Mo. (Potosi HS)
43 Ed Fink TE/FB 6-2 ½ 235 Sr. 1L Belleville, Ill. (Althoff HS)
63 Ngalu Fusimalohi OL 6-2 315 Sr. 1L Daly City, Calif. (Jefferson HS/CC of San Francisco)
8 Nick Harwell WR 6-1 193 Sr. TR Missouri City, Texas (Elkins HS/Miami (Ohio)
31 Ben Heeney LB 6-0 230 Sr. 3L Hutchinson, Kan. (Hutchinson HS)
99 Tedarian Johnson DL 6-2 290 Sr. 1L Jackson, Miss. (Murrah HS/Hinds CC)
61 Pat Lewandowski OL 6-5 ½ 290 Sr. 3L Overland Park, Kan. (Blue Valley West HS)
19 Justin McCay WR 6-2 210 Sr. 1L Kansas City, Mo. (Bishop Miege HS/Oklahoma)
12 Dexter McDonald CB 6-1 ½ 205 Sr. 2L Kansas City, Mo. (Rockhurst HS/Butler CC)
41 Jimmay Mundine TE 6-2 240 Sr. 3L Denison, Texas (Denison HS)
16 Trevor Pardula P/K 6-5 212 Sr. 1L San Jose, Calif. (Leigh HS/De Anza College)
3 Tony Pierson WR 5-10 ½ 175 Sr. 3L East St. Louis, Ill. (East St. Louis HS)
55 Michael Reynolds BUCK 6-1 240 Sr. 2L Wichita, Kan. (Kapaun Mt. Carmel HS)
33 Cassius Sendish S 6-0 195 Sr. 1L Waldorf, Md. (North Point HS/Arizona Western CC)
24 JaCorey Shepherd CB 5-11 195 Sr. 3L Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite Horn HS)
27 Victor Simmons BUCK 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Olathe, Kan. (Olathe North HS)
85 Trent Smiley TE 6-4 240 Sr. 2L Frisco, Texas (Wakeland HS)
65 Mike Smithburg OL 6-3 305 Sr. 1L Fairfield, Iowa (Fairfield HS/Iowa Western CC)
98 Keon Stowers DL 6-3 297 Sr. 2L Rock Hill, S.C. (Northwestern HS/Georgia Military College)
LINEBACKER BEN HEENEY
• As of Sunday, Nov. 9, Heeney led the FBS and Big 12 in solo tackles (8.0 per game) and ranks first in the conference and eighth in the NCAA in total tackles (11.2 per game), en route to 101 stops through nine games in 2014.
• Heeney has led the Jayhawks in tackles in seven of their nine games on the year, posting double-digit efforts in six of those contests.
• Heeney led all FBS players on Saturday, Oct. 18 with a career-best 21 tackles in KU's game at Texas Tech. Heeney's 21 tackles are the most by any player in the Big 12 in 2014 and are the second most by any player in the NCAA this season. Among Heeney's 21 stops, were 17 solo tackles – just three short of the FBS record of 20 in a game.
• His 17 solo stops vs. Tech were the second most in Big 12 history and are the most in the NCAA in a single game since Tyler Matakevich of Temple recorded 19 solos agains Idaho on Sept. 28, 2013.
TIGHT END JIMMAY MUNDINE
• Ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth in the NCAA in receiving yards by a tight end with 400 yards on 33 receptions.
• His 33 receptions rank tied for third among 'Power 5' tight ends, while his 400 receiving yards are the fourth-best.
• Has recorded five or more grabs in four games with 24 of his 33 receptions resulting in a first down.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
RECEPTIONS: 7, at Texas Tech
RECEIVING YARDS: 88, vs. Oklahoma State
TOUCHDOWN CATCHES: 1 (2x), last vs. Iowa State
LONGEST RECEPTION: 35, vs. Texas
PUNTER TREVOR PARDULA
• Leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks 13th in the NCAA in punting average at 44.8 yards per punt.
• Has recorded 24 punts of 50 yards or more, including two of 70 yards or more in one game.Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
• Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
PUNTS: 14, at West Virginia
NET PUNT YARDAGE: 621, at West Virginia
LONGEST PUNT: 72, at Duke
PUNTS INSIDE THE 20: 4, two times, last vs. CMU
When the Denver Broncos, fresh off of last week's whipping at the hands of the New England Patriots, line up for the first defensive play of this weekend's game against Oakland, 27 percent of their starting lineup will be former Jayhawks.
Although Chris Harris and Aqib Talib — both on the Pro Bowl ballot — already are fixtures in the Broncos' starting lineup, the former KU standouts will make room to share the spotlight with linebacker Steven Johnson, a third-year pro who has played primarily special teams since joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
The Denver Post is reporting that Johnson will start in Nate Irving's spot at middle linebacker, as Irving left last week's loss with an injury and is expected to miss some time. Johnson has been in the Broncos' plans at LB for the past couple of years but mostly in a role as a luxury to have a guy like him for depth purposes. When asked to play, Johnson has delivered, but this weekend figures to be his first true crack at proving himself as a regular in the NFL.
While making the leap from seldom-used reserve to starter on a team vying for a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl could be overwhelming, at least one Bronco believes Johnson is ready and has been ready for the moment for a while.
"Stevey Johnson is going to be able to get the job done," Harris told The Denver Post. "He's been in our defense going on three years now. He has experience in there. He's been waiting for his shot. Now he has his shot. We've been needing him on special teams since he's been hurt, but now he has a shot to play and he has a chance to show what he can do."
For more on Johnson's likely move into the starting lineup, check out Post writer Mike Klis' report from Monday.
There was not too much to like about KU's 34-21 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday, but also not too much to hate. It was just one of those sort of deliberate and drawn out games in which the Jayhawks' fell behind early, fought to get back in it and then just did not have enough left in the tank — be that juice or talent — to surge past the Red Raiders.
The players and interim head coach Clint Bowen both said they saw more small signs of progress, but they're not out there solely to progress. They want to win. And they're quickly running out of chances in 2014.
With just three road games remaining in 2014 — at Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State — the Jayhawks, all of a sudden, are staring at the very real possibility of taking that road losing streak, which now stands at 30, into the 2015 season. That's not to say they can't upset one of those perennial Big 12 powerhouses, but the odds that it will happen are slim. That's what made a loss like Saturday's so tough for these guys because they know they had the talent to play with Tech and let a couple of little things beat them.
The way I see it, Texas Tech is not a very good football team and they made plenty of mistakes that, against more talented teams, would have cost them. That's probably what hurt the most for the Jayhawks late Saturday night and into Sunday, when they, no doubt, thought back about the missed opportunity and wondered why they couldn't get it done in a winnable game. The biggest issue continues to be their slow starts and it's hard to say how that can be fixed on the fly. Like most things, it's probably as much of an attitude thing as anything, and if that's the case, KU should consider itself lucky because playing with good attitude and great passion is not at all a problem for these guys.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Ben frickin' Heeney, man. I've now covered more than two dozen college football games that the senior from Hutchinson factored into prominently and I now have an undisputed best game I've ever seen him play. Until now, there were so many 14- or 15-tackle outings that blended together that it made it tough for one of them to stand out above the others. But this one was a whole different level of Heeney. He looked as fast as I've ever seen him look, played with his signature attacking style from start to finish and just made play after play after play. Twenty-one tackles. Seventeen of them of the solo variety. And an interception that was arguably the biggest play of the game for the Jayhawks. I've said it before on a couple of occasions, but I don't think it can be said enough. We're in the midst of watching one of KU's all-time greats and the chance to watch Heeney be Heeney is worth the price of admission all by itself.
2 – The Jayhawks continued to show that, at least under Bowen, they're never out of it. Even after digging a 17-0 hole early in the game, nobody panicked, the Jayhawks stayed with the game plan and eventually began to make plays that got them back into it. A lot of the credit for this goes to quarterback Michael Cummings, who, other than a couple of forced deep balls, was pretty solid for the second week in a row. He finished with 235 yards, 2 passing TDs and a rushing TD, improved his completion percentage (from 54 to 63) and used his poise, confidence and leadership skills to keep the offense plugging away series after series.
3 – Kansas had just four penalties enforced against it during Saturday's loss in Lubbock. This represents marked improvement from the past two games, when KU finished with 11 against West Virginia and 8 more against Oklahoma State. With a team like this, when the margin for error is so small that the Jayhawks cannot get away with hardly any mistakes or mental lapses, eliminating those moments when they make life harder on themselves is absolutely critical in every aspect of the game. That means catching passes that are catchable, carrying out assignments and fundamentals all the way through the end of the play and, of course, avoiding those unforced errors that turn manageable situations into nasty ones. KU was not flawless in this department across the board against Texas Tech, but they did take care of business in the penalty department.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's 128 net rushing yards was nearly 150 fewer yards per game than the Red Raiders had given up to opponents on average this year. The total is not as big of a problem — though they still left a lot of yards out there by failing to convert on third downs — as the yards-per-carry average. Led by Corey Avery's 69 yards on 15 carries, Kansas averaged just 3.2 yards per rush in Saturday's loss, which again shows the number of yards they left on the field, which in turn led to missed first downs and ultimately missed points. KU has the horses to have a strong running game, but too often the blocking at the point of attack is breaking down making life miserable for Avery, De'Andre Mann and Michael Cummings.
2 – After carrying the ball for nine yards on the first two plays of the game, senior Tony Pierson missed the rest of the day with an undisclosed injury. There's been some talk that Pierson might have suffered some kind of injury to one of his hands but no official word has come from KU. Regardless of what it is or how long it keeps him out, it's pretty disheartening to see this happening to Pierson for two reasons — 1. It really puts the KU offense in a tough spot because he's a guy who can do so much and put so much pressure on defenses. 2. It's just a drag for Tony. He's been one of KU's best players during the past four years and been nothing but a model teammate and student and lead-by-example kind of guy. Good things are supposed to happen to guys like that, not injuries that keep them off the field.
3 – He recently missed a game because of injury, so that could still be a factor, but there's no question that senior cornerback Dexter McDonald is just not quite right. Unlike last season, when he made pretty much every play that was put in front of him, McDonald is having an up-and-down season so far. In his latest outing, he dropped an interception that he probably would've caught 99 times out of 100 and also was beat for a touchdown. To be fair, the ball was thrown perfectly, but McDonald still let his guy get behind him. These aren't catastrophic miscues and it's very possible that he'll bounce back, but the bar has been set so high for him because of his fantastic skills and incredible 2013 season that even the slightest off day makes it seem like something's wrong.
One for the road
KU's loss at Texas Tech...
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 578-594-58 all-time.
• Pushed Texas Tech's edge in the all-time series with Kansas to 15-1.
• Included KU's first points of the second quarter all season, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Cummings to Justin McCay with 31 seconds to play in the first half.
• Featured another failed fourth-down attempt, which made Kansas just 2-for-11 this season when electing to go for it on fourth down.
The Jayhawks (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big 12) will take their second and final bye of the 2014 season, which many players said comes at a perfect time. Not only will it give them some time to rest up and get healthy, but it also will give them a little more time to further absorb Bowen's coaching style and set the tone for the way they want to finish the season. After the bye, KU will travel to Waco, Texas, for a match-up with Baylor on Nov. 1.
Two weeks after being blanked by a struggling Texas team at home, the Kansas University football team took the 16th-ranked squad in the nation to the wire in a 27-20 loss at Memorial Stadium.
It's been quite a transformation since former KU coach Charlie Weis was let go and interim head coach Clint Bowen was plugged in to replace him. The roster remains the same, the issues that existed under Weis are still present (though improving) under Bowen, but the Jayhawks appear to be playing harder and fighting with everything they've got.
Even while falling behind 20-7 at halftime, one did not get the sense that Kansas was out of it or overmatched. Led by a defense that's getting better each week and an offense that enjoyed its best four-quarter stretch of the season, the Jayhawks got the game tied at 20 with 6:55 to play and then watched a special teams miscue cost them.
Consistent effort and progress is what Bowen has preached since taking over and, even though things weren't perfect against the Cowboys, it's hard to argue that both were not achieved during KU's latest outing.
This week's near-upset of Oklahoma State may have been all about the Kansas offense finding its groove, but it would be a crime to overlook what this KU defense is doing right now. Saturday's game marked the second week in a row in which the Kansas defense did not surrender a single point in the second half. And it's not as if they were playing chumps during the past two weeks. Both West Virginia and Oklahoma State came in averaging well over 400 yards per game and the KU defense found enough rhythm, especially in the final two quarters, to really frustrate those dynamic offenses and give the Jayhawks a chance to hang around. It would have been real easy weeks ago for this defense to throw up its hands in frustration for the offense's struggles, but instead of doing that, Ben Heeney and company kept working, put more on their shoulders and finally saw the offense help them out a little on Saturday.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Michael Cummings clearly looks like the answer at quarterback. Not only does the junior who made the sixth start of his career look more comfortable, confident and competent out there, but he also is not afraid to make plays. He got the ball to Nick Harwell seven times. He exploited mismatches for Jimmay Mundine five times and he helped get Tony Pierson the 10-15 touches per game he needs for the offense to get going. The best part about all of that? He was hardly impressed. Cummings said he loved being back out there again but added that, based off of the team's performance, it's clear that they still have a ton of work to do. It didn't sound like coach speak when he said it either. Bowen didn't anoint Cummings the starter for the rest of the season publicly, but there's no doubt that the 5-10 junior is KU's answer at the position.
2 – The pride in the room was palpable but at no point did you get the impression that the Jayhawks thought what they did on Saturday was anywhere near good enough. That's a reflection of their head coach, who clearly appreciated how hard his team played and fought and how close they came to pulling the upset, but continues to emphasize that getting close is not what's important. Bowen coaches that way, his players reflect that in the way they play and, for the first time in a while, these guys seem to really believe in themselves. Instead of just hearing them say it, you can actually sense it. Nowhere is that better summed up than in a few words Bowen uttered toward the end of Saturday's postgame press conference: "I'm not so sure our team has to take a back seat to anybody. We show up any given day and compete."
3 – KU's secondary proved just how good it is by frustrating Daxx Garman (17-of-31 for 161 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 1 lost fumble) and the Oklahoma State passing offense WITHOUT the services of starting cornerback Dexter McDonald, who missed all but one play of Saturday's game because of injury. Matthew Boateng filled in and fought his tail off, JaCorey Shepherd kept his sensational season rolling, nickelback Tevin Shaw played arguably the best game of his career and safeties Cassius Sendish, Isaiah Johnson and Fish Smithson were tough against the pass and strong in support of the run.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Those darn kickoff returns. That's two weeks in a row that the Jayhawks have given up a kickoff return for a touchdown, and this one cost them the game. Bowen said practicing the kickoff coverage unit was one of the toughest things to do because you can't afford to send guys flying down field at full speed repeatedly in practice without risking injury, but KU's going to have to find something that works because this group is not getting it done. Bowen said it was the second week in a row with the new personnel on that unit, so maybe it's just a matter of reps and time. Compounding matters is the fact that KU, though decent, continues to get nothing significant from its kick return unit. Average starting field position for OSU on Saturday was its own 35, which included four drives starting in KU territory. Average starting field position for KU? The KU 28, with just one drive starting in OSU territory. Until that kickoff return by Tyreek Hill, the Jayhawks had kept the Big 12's No. 2 all-purpose yards per game guy bottled up to the tune of 71 yards, less than half of his average.
2 – Trevor Pardula's shank punt near the end of the first half proved to be a killer. It's hard to pile on Pardula too much here because the guy so often has been one of the few bright spots in some bad beatings during the past couple of seasons. But when KU really needed a good one to finish off a strong first half, Pardula yanked a 20-yard kick out of bounds. That set the Cowboys up with a short field and, five plays, 30 yards and 59 seconds later, OSU picked up a touchdown that pushed the halftime lead to 20-7. The way the Kansas defense was playing, if Pardula had just boomed his average kick of 44 yards, the Cowboys may have come away empty and led by just six heading into the locker room.
3 – KU knocked down its penalty total from 11 last week at West Virginia to 8 this week against OSU, but that's still a tad too high. The reason? Because so many of KU's penalties were unforced. The Jayhawks had four false start penalties, a couple of face masks and a questionable pass interference call. When you're playing hard, these things are going to happen — particularly on defense. But Bowen and the offensive coaches have to find a way to address the false start penalties by the offensive line. This offense is not good enough to overcome flipping second- or third-and-short situations into second- or third-and-long.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' 27-20 loss to 16th-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday...
• Dropped Kansas to 578-593-58 all-time.
• Featured the Kansas defense forcing Oklahoma State to a three-and-out on its first drive of the game, marking the third time in six games that the Jayhawks haven’t allowed a first down on their opponents’ first drive.
• Included KU's first lead in Big 12 play since a 31-19 victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16, 2013 (7-3 in the first quarter).
• Included an offensive series that featured the most plays in a single drive by Kansas this season, a 14-play 72-yard drive that spanned 4:56 and ended with a KU field goal that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
• Featured a forced fumble by Michael Reynolds that gave the Kansas defense its sixth forced fumble in as many games.
The Jayhawks (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big 12) will hit the road for a 2:30 p.m. Saturday match-up at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off of a 37-34 loss to West Virginia and own the same records as the Jayhawks. “We haven't given up, despite what a lot of people think," senior linebacker Ben Heeney said. "We're 2-4, we have six games left and we're focused on Texas Tech right now. Why can't we win next week?” All of a sudden, that seems like a pretty fair question.
If there's one thing I've learned in the two Kansas University football practices we've been able to watch since Clint Bowen took over as the team's interim head coach, it's that paying attention to detail won't be lacking for the Jayhawks.
Bowen and his squad again spent the first hour or so of practice working on fundamentals and drills that are both designed to prep the players for their next opponent and develop them for the future.
Wednesday's session began with Bowen — the current head coach — walking his kickoff coverage team through a very slow and methodical drill designed to teach kick coverage. It seemed appropriate given (a) the fact that KU gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and (b) Bowen has emphasized a ton in the past two weeks that KU has to get better in special teams if it expects to have a chance to compete in the Big 12.
There was nothing flashy about the drill, just 11 guys running quarter-speed down the field and focusing on staying in their lanes. Later, the team went to full kickoff coverage and tried to recreate the slow-mo specifics.
• Shortly after the kickoff coverage drill was complete, the Jayhawks emphasized field goals and Matthew Wyman had a fantastic day. Wyman drilled all of his kicks, including one from near 50 yards. As Wyman set up, senior receiver Nick Harwell was making sure those on the sideline realized the importance of every little detail. “Let's make sure we make this (stuff) matter,” Harwell yelled repeatedly. As soon as Wyman drilled the kick, Harwell was the first to lead the charge in celebrating the kick before the Jayhawks moved on to individual drills.
• One of my favorite parts of these practices has become the one-on-ones between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Not only does it show guys competing their tails off, but, on Wednesday, it also gave me a good, rapid-fire look at all three KU quarterbacks competing for the starting job. It was too hard to tell exactly who looked best as a thrower — each guy (Michael Cummings, Montell Cozart and T.J. Millweard) had good moments and bad — but it was easy to see who was the most impressive receiver. His name was Nigel King and he caught everything. King got open, used his big frame to shield off DBs and snatched the ball out of the air with his strong hands the way a father might catch a return throw of a Nerf football from his son.
• One other quick note about kickoffs: Don't be surprised if you see KU senior Tony Pierson back there returning kicks this week. The coaching staff has really emphasized trying to find ways for Pierson to get more touches and that could be an easy one. To no one's surprise, Pierson also got some reps at WR and RB on Wednesday.
• It might not mean much come Saturday, but quarterback Michael Cummings and center Joe Gibson worked with the first unit at the start of practice. If that holds to Saturday, it would be a change in the starting lineup at both spots, as Cozart and Keyon Haughton had started the first four games in those positions. Again, it's too early to say and too hard to know if that was an indicator or just a rotation-type coincidence.
• KU alum Dana Anderson, a huge Jayhawk supporter whose name is on the outside of the Anderson Family Football Complex, attended Wednesday's practice and spoke to the team before the action started.
The echo of applause from the Kansas University football players celebrating Sunday's announcement of Clint Bowen as their new interim head coach has barely silenced and the past 36 hours have been more about getting their feet under them than moving into the future.
So, no, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger has not spent a ton of time in the past two days worrying about the coaching search for which he'll have plenty of time during the coming months.
After pulling the trigger to dismiss the man he had hired for the job just under three years ago, Zenger took time out to breathe on Monday and thoroughly seemed to enjoy the reaction to Bowen's promotion, some of which was emotional and some a surprise.
There is still work to do for both Bowen and Zenger, but both deserved the chance to smile and celebrate on Monday.
Today, Bowen and the Jayhawks will dive full-speed into game prep for West Virginia — 3 p.m. Saturday in Morgantown — and Zenger will go back to his normal routine as well.
With that in mind, here are four things you should know about the KU coaching search, whenever it begins....
1. It has not started yet nor does Zenger already have “his guy” lined up and an agreement in place. Reports to the contrary are simply premature and a reach. It's far too early for that and, many of the most legitimate candidates on his wish list are busy coaching for other programs. Last time, when he hired Charlie Weis, Zenger hit the road right after the season ended and did not return home for almost three weeks. He had to hurry then. Recruiting hung in the balance and he needed a coach and staff to lead the Jayhawks into the offseason. The urgency is not as strong this time and so Zenger will take his time. He's got a clear idea of what he wants — and maybe more importantly what he doesn't — and will gladly talk to coaches who may be interested should they want to chat. But the heavy lifting in the search has yet to begin and may not start for some time.
2.Clint Bowen is absolutely, 100 percent a real candidate for the job. He would have been even without the interim tag and Monday's incredible reception. And that's because he's put in his time with this program, he has won at Kansas as a player and a coach and he, probably more than anyone on the planet, wants to make KU a winner again in a very bad way. You just don't overlook a guy like that, especially when it's one who is qualified, has proven himself to be a solid assistant coach and coordinator and is already sitting there under your nose.
3.Mark Mangino is not on our coaching search list and, barring the miracle of all miracles, he's not coming back. I understand the appeal. I get why people would love to have the big guy back. But it's not worth holding your breath over. Mangino may have been let go unfairly, but what's done is done and, fair or not, there was an investigation into his treatment of his players, there was a settlement reached between KU and Mangino, and attempting to bring him back could come with some significant risk for KU. In a perfect world, he might be the perfect candidate. But there are too many imperfect factors that make that very hard to see.
4.There's no doubt that making the move to fire Weis four games into the season gives Zenger some time to find his next head coach, but this move was not made for Zenger to have more time. It was not made for Bowen to get a hero's welcome. It was not even made just to move on without Weis in the head coach's office. It was made for the players. 100 percent, no questions asked. Zenger truly believes that this roster has talent and that the staff in place can lead them to better days. Now they get their chance on their terms. John Reagan can call whatever offense he wants and use whatever players he sees fit. Bowen can do things the Jayhawk way and the way he's always known to work. And the rest of the coaches will get a ton of freedom and support from Bowen to coach the way they coach as long as they're willing to work hard and within the framework of the blueprint Bowen talked about Monday. It's a tough deal to completely shift gears like this at this point in the season and Bowen knows that. That's why he's going to lean on his talented staff as much as possible to help make the transition as smooth as it can be.
It's a risky proposition to make too much of an introductory press conference, but the one that went down at the KU football complex today was at least enough different than all the others that came before to make me wonder if this day will go down as a turning point for Kansas football.
KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was introduced as the interim head coach this morning in Mrkonic Auditorium, and you could tell in 2 seconds what the moment meant to him.
Bowen was equal parts emotional, entertaining, witty and serious during the 20 minutes he spoke to the media, and he left many in the room believing that, at least for the next nine weeks, KU football was in pretty good hands.
Bowen's team — and make no mistake about it, this is Bowen's team for the rest of the 2014 season — will play tough, smart, energetic football and they'll have fun doing it. They'll represent KU the way Bowen has since he was a young boy sneaking into games at Memorial Stadium to watch some of his childhood idols, and Bowen will give everything he has to the program during his audition for the real deal. If he wins at all, he'll have a great chance at getting the interim tag removed. If not, well, he'll rest easy knowing he got his shot and gave it all he had.
Maybe that's what KU needs right now — a guy like Bowen, who will vow not to rest until things get better. Charlie Weis worked hard. And KU fans should forever be thankful for that, regardless of how things went on the field. But he wasn't a Kansas guy. KU didn't mean to Weis what it means to Bowen, and the same can be said about Turner Gill as well, save for the working hard part.
When Mark Mangino was forced out after one of the most successful stints in KU football history after the 2009 season, the Jayhawks paid a heavy price for the administration making the wrong move. Mangino did not deserve to be dismissed and, if you're one that believes in karma, it's easy to say that struggles and shellackings of the past four-plus seasons have been exactly that.
Maybe KU football was a little bit cursed. Maybe the Curse of the Mangino was to Kansas what the Curse of the Bambino was to the Boston Red Sox. But, instead of having to wait 86 years for the fog to be lifted, maybe Kansas only had to wait five.
Even if Bowen doesn't win and even if he's not the next full-time head coach at Kansas, it's possible that what he does during the next nine weeks will be enough to put the KU football train back on the right track.
In some ways, it seems like that's already happened. There's a different vibe around the building. Doors that were closed are now open. A larger portion of practice will be open to the media and the access to the players and coaches will be greater.
Beyond that, Bowen said he wanted to give the program back to the KU football family and emphasized that all former players are welcome in the building and at practice, no questions asked.
Those are all good first steps. Now all Bowen has to do is make the product on the field match the mood in the building and the vibe of the people close to the program. Only then will people entertain the idea that things might finally be different.