Kansas University football officials on Sunday night released an update on the status of freshman defensive back Derrick Neal and senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers, both of whom were injured and carted off the field during Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor.
Both players were taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation during Saturday's loss but nothing new was known about their status following the game.
Sunday night, the update indicated that both players had returned to Lawrence and both participated in team activities on Sunday.
Stowers, a starter on KU's D-Line, posted on his Facebook page late Saturday that he was OK and looking forward to his recovery.
Neal, a reserve defensive back who suffered what appeared to be a head injury while making a tackle on a kickoff return, was able to get to the cart under his own power before leaving the field.
KU coach Clint Bowen will be available on the Big 12 coaches teleconference Monday morning and also at his regular Tuesday news conference and at those times may provide an update on Neal and Stowers' availability for this weekend's 2:30 p.m. home game against Iowa State.
There's no denying that Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor was the first significant blow in interim head coach Clint Bowen's campaign to become the Kansas University football program's full-time head coach at the end of the season.
But the Jayhawks' shortcomings were hardly all on Bowen. Kansas committed six bonehead penalties, ran 14 plays that ended at least a few yards behind where they started and struggled to keep up with a roster that was both overmatched and outmanned.
Oh, and the Jayhawks also played a team that had as much talent as any team in the country in Baylor. How the Bears lost to West Virginia is beyond me.
How the Jayhawks lost, however, was easy to see and came in large part because this remains a team and a roster that lacks enough talent to compete at this level and still is struggling with depth at key positions.
So talented are the Bears that they neutralized what had been easy to see for the first three weeks of the Bowen era — hard work, discipline and toughness. None of the three showed up with any regularity on Saturday and that made for a long afternoon for the visiting team.
This certainly is not intended let KU or Bowen off the hook for Saturday's performance, but was anyone really that surprised by the outcome? While the Jayhawks took hope and confidence into their match-ups with West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech — and at times competed in a way that clearly demonstrated that — this one seemed like a mismatch from the jump and it played out that way all afternoon. If anything was a surprise, it was the KU defense's ability to hold the Bears to a three-and-out on the opening possession. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the offense followed with a three-and-out of its own — complete with a false start penalty and two of the nine Michael Cummings incompletions — and failed to capitalize on the fast start by the defense and gain some momentum and control. The Jayhawks aren't talented enough to let those opportunities pass without a fight.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Regardless of the results, you have to continue to be impressed by what Michael Cummings has done for the KU passing game. The junior quarterback completed 21 of 30 passes for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns, despite being pressured all day and getting next to no help from the KU running game. Cummings' ability to hang in the pocket until the last minute to deliver a pass and his toughness to get up time and time again after getting blasted has helped KU take some more shots down the field and given guys like Nick Harwell and Nigel King a chance to impact the game. Asked how he does it, the QB's answer was vintage Cummings. “That's my job,” he said. “And I'm trying to do the best job I can each play at a time.” Cummings became the first KU quarterback since Todd Reesing in 2009 to throw for more than 200 yards in four straight games.
2 – KU officials announced prior to Saturday's game that wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau had been promoted to co-offensive coordinator and would take over play-calling duties from offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator John Reagan. The KU offense has been anything but solid throughout the season and giving Kiesau — an accomplished and experienced coordinator himself — a chance to draw up the game plan and call the game can only help. Saturday's game was such a mismatch and over so early that it's hard to tell how successful Kiesau was and/or will be in the new role. But it's proof positive that Bowen continues to give it all he's got and is not afraid to pull the trigger on a decision he thinks might help the team, whether it works out or not.
3 – After watching Derrick Neal and Keon Stowers leave the game on carts after a couple of scary injuries, it appears both players are OK and on the path to recovery. Stowers posted a message saying as much on his Facebook page late Saturday night. Their availability for next Saturday is up in the air at this point, but the fact that both figure to be OK long-term is much more important than whether they'll be able to play against Iowa State.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The play of KU's offensive line continues to hold this team back. Cummings rarely gets the time he needs to let plays develop, the running game is not working — how many times did Tony Pierson take a handoff on Saturday only to see three or four Bears waiting for him? — and, perhaps worse than either of those issues, KU's offensive linemen also are the most penalized players on the team. Four of KU's six penalties on Saturday were called on the O-Line. That's not a good combination, and unless it gets fixed, or at least becomes less destructive, KU won't have a chance the rest of the way.
2 – KU's streaks of futility grew by one. It's now 31 consecutive losses away from Lawrence. KU also extended its streak of losses against ranked opponents, as the Jayhawks' last victory over a ranked team came in Week 2 of the 2010 season, when they upset No. 15 Georgia Tech at home. The last time KU topped a ranked opponent away from Memorial Stadium came in 2008, when the Jayhawks knocked off No. 12 Missouri, 40-37, at Arrowhead Stadium, and KU's last true road victory over a ranked foe came via a 30-24 victory at No. 24 Kansas State in October of 2007.
3 – Three of the four games remaining on KU's schedule are against nationally-ranked teams. KU will host TCU on Nov. 15 and then finish the season at Oklahoma on Nov. 22 and at Kansas State on Nov. 29. Re-energized by Bowen or not, boosted by Eric Kiesau calling plays or not, that stretch is a nasty way to end a season and the Jayhawks' loss to Baylor on Saturday may have been a glimpse into their immediate future.
One for the road
KU's forgettable loss at Baylor....
• Gave the Jayhawks a 578-595-58 all-time record.
• Featured the most points the KU defense has given up this season and most since Texas A&M scored 61 points in a victory over Kansas in 2011.
• Delivered not only the first career rushing attempt by senior linebacker Ben Heeney but also the 17th double-digit tackle game of Heeney's career. The Hutchinson native led Kansas with 10 tackles.
• Included freshman Corey Avery twice breaking his career-best yardage total on a reception. Avery caught a pass for 36 yards early in the game and later added a 49-yard reception to top that.
KU returns home for the first of back-to-back home games that will close out the 2014 home schedule, as Iowa State and former KU head coach Mark Mangino (now an assistant at ISU) come to Memorial Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Wednesday afternoon marked the full return to a game-week practice for the Kansas University football team, which is slated to take on Baylor, at 3 p.m. in Waco, Texas, on Saturday.
The Jayhawks had a bye week last week and, therefore, went through a little different practice schedule than normal. That's not to say practices were any easier last week. In fact, junior safety Isaiah Johnson told me just the opposite. If anything, he said, practices were more intense, simply because the Jayhawks had time to lock in more on fundamentals yet still focused on physicality.
Plenty of Jayhawks got the rest they needed to get back into the flow for this week, though, and that was evident on Wednesday.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye....
• Tony Pierson was out there working with the first-team offense and appears to be fine. I didn't see him favor anything or go half-speed to protect anything while he was participating in drills. Pierson was knocked out of the Texas Tech game after just two plays with what turned out to be a sprain of some sort near his neck. Good to see he's out there and ready to go for this week.
• Michael Cummings also looked sharp again. Cummings took a beating at Tech and even left the game for two plays. Earlier in the day, Cummings was asked what he got most out of the bye week and he answered with one simple word. “Rest.” From the sound of it, that was as much mental rest as physical rest, but Clint Bowen did give his guys last Friday and Saturday off and Cummings said he went fishing, watched some college football and just relaxed. There's no doubt that that kind of routine was good for everyone on the roster, especially considering the crazy times that have surrounded the program since the firing of former KU coach Charlie Weis.
• Wednesday's practice started with a little bit of flare, as Bowen broke out what appeared to be some kind of championship wrestling belt and then called the team together in a circle at midfield. Evidently, this happens quite often. Three players from the offense square off with three players from the defense in a quick wrestling-style showdown and whichever side — offense or defense — wins two of the three bouts emerges with the belt and bragging rights. I couldn't get a look at exactly who competed, but it looked like the offense won this round and the whole exercise created a lot of energy and excitement to kick off practice.
• One interesting note in terms of personnel.... Freshman wide receiver Darious Crawley is now working as a running back. It's hard to say if the move is permanent or what role the coaches have planned for the 5-11, 190-pound freshman from Houston, but he appears to have some natural ability. It's most likely just a depth thing for practice purposes, though. We'll see.
• Bowen said Tuesday that junior wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman would be in the mix for playing time after a quiet start to the season and he was very much that during Wednesday's practice. Known as a burner who can stretch the field, Coleman's emergence, should it happen, could really help this offense. He was very involved in Wednesday's practice and looked good running around out there.
• Speaking of somebody who looked good out there, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was also very active during the portion of practice I saw. Not only was he more vocal than I remember, with regard to the entire offense, not just his group, but he also flat-out got after it physically, running with guys during routes, throwing passes over the middle and encouraging guys to dig deeper, run it out and finish plays at an almost constant rate. The guy's got great energy and, perhaps more importantly, the players really seem to respond to his style.
• One quick note regarding former Jayhawks now playing in the NFL.... Chris Harris (Denver), Aqib Talib (Denver) and Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay) are all officially on this year's Pro Bowl ballot. Log on to NFL.com to cast your vote.
By now, it's a well-known fact around KU Nation that the Denver Broncos have two former Jayhawks starting in their secondary.
When Denver added free agent Aqib Talib to its roster in the offseason, the signing reunited the former KU cornerback and star of the Jayhawks' victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl with his running mate from that game, Denver cornerback Chris Harris.
For many KU fans, having a couple of their favorite former Jayhawks on the Broncos' roster is a nightmare since so many of them are also fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But Sunday night, during the Broncos home game with San Francisco on Sunday Night Football, Talib gave KU fans a reason to smile whether they dislike the Broncos or not.
For the first time in years (if not ever) Talib gave a shout-out to KU during his introduction that plays along the bottom on the screen on all Sunday night games.
In recent years, Talib often represented his hometown or his high school or said North Dallas after introducing himself. Not Sunday. This time, he simply said, "Aqib Talib, Kansas."
There was some speculation that Talib started leaving KU out of his intro because of his displeasure with the way KU coach Mark Mangino was treated during the end of his time with the Jayhawks. I've never heard that confirmed, but do know it's a popular opinion.
As for why it changed, I don't know the exact details but I know that Talib's snub of the Jayhawks during his intros always rubbed KU fans and several people within the football program the wrong way and I heard that someone at KU reached out to Talib and talked to him about giving KU some love. I even heard one account that Talib spoke to the team before this year's spring game and former KU coach Charlie Weis asked him to start saying KU during the intros. Who knows? But whatever it was, it obviously worked.
During Denver's only other primetime game on NBC this season, they mysteriously did not introduce the Broncos' defense, so this was the first time we were able to see Talib make the change.
As for Harris, he's always been proud to rep KU. He typically says "Chris Harris, Kansas University," but on Sunday he said, "Chris Harris, Kansas Jayhawks."
Regardless of what they say during the intros, it's still so wild to see two former Jayhawks starting for one of the best teams in pro football.
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.
I don't care how many times I go out there the rest of the season, I think I will continually be impressed by how much attention the KU coaching staff gives to fundamentals and proper technique during their normal practice routine.
That was the biggest thing I took away from Wednesday's hour or so that we were out there as the Jayhawks continued preparation for this weekend's game at Texas Tech, and, it showed up everywhere on the field.
Offensive line coach John Reagan worked closely with the tackles on one-foot bursts that helped position them deeper to take on pass-rushers and, while doing so, showed no patience for wasted time.
While working with left tackle Pat Lewandowski at the 5-yard line, Reagan barked to right tackle Larry Mazyck behind him around the 8 to be set up and ready for his reps next. Before Reagan even turned around, Mazyck was in the proper stance and ready to work. This rapid-fire, back-and-forth approach continued throughout the drill.
Down the field 60 yards, the same sort of instruction was being given by defensive backs coach Dave Campo, who routinely stopped one drill to demonstrate with his body what he was yelling with his voice.
It's funny because during Tuesday's media session, Campo slyly pointed out that, even though being a head coach at the college level is a young man's game, he still believed he had plenty of energy left in the tank. Wednesday, I saw it on full display. What a resource.
At one point, Campo was caught in the middle of the drill and nearly taken out by safety Isaiah Johnson, who, wisely, wrapped up his coach and did all he could to prevent himself from taking him to the ground. Rather than sighing or taking a moment for relief, Campo rolled his eyes, mumbled something or other under his breath and hustled back out to his spot in the drill. Great stuff.
It's not as important for the veterans who have been through this whole thing before, but seeing the coaches work like this really helps send a message to the young guys and, in my opinion, is exactly what's necessary to change the culture and future of the program.
Here's a quick look at some other things that stood out from Wednesday's practice:
• Former KU kicker Scott Webb was on hand to watch the action. Webb, as you may recall, was the KU kicker on the Orange Bowl team in 2008.
• Senior Tony Pierson spent the early portion of practice working exclusively with KU's running backs. The good thing about Pierson right now — other than all that speed — is that he's reached a point where he's advanced enough as a receiver and yet still comfortable enough as a running back to be used in either spot (or even both) week in and week out.
• Want one for the attention to detail file? During a drill with the running backs, who ran through the gauntlet to simulate tacklers reaching and grabbing to bring them down, running backs coach Reggie Mitchell recognized that Aaron Plump did not have a ball. Rather than letting it slide and moving on to the next drill, Mitchell made Plump go get a ball and take his turn again.
• I watched the O-Line for quite a while on Wednesday and the main thing I took away was this — these dudes are working hard. I can't say I heard as much grunting and groaning during all of the drills I saw in preseason camp as I did during one or two drills on Wednesday. Say what you want about the line, but don't say it doesn't matter to these guys and that they're not working to get better.
• At least for the time I was out there, senior cornerback Dexter McDonald was a full participant. KU coach Clint Bowen said earlier this week that he expected McDonald to play Saturday and I didn't see anything that would indicate otherwise.
The first signs showed up at the weekly Hawk Talk radio show at Salty Iguana a little less than 36 hours after he officially had accepted the title of interim football coach at Kansas University.
But things are starting to get a little more serious now.
That night, back on Sept. 29, friends, family and football supporters packed the restaurant in West Lawrence to standing-room-only capacity to show their support for Clint Bowen, who stepped in to replace the fired Charlie Weis as the leader of the Jayhawks.
Since then, the love for Bowen has only grown. First was the decoration of the football complex that greeted the Jayhawks upon arriving home after their 33-14 loss at West Virginia, Bowen's first game as a head coach. Then came the show of support by former KU players and Bowen teammates prior to last Saturday's 27-20 home loss to Oklahoma State. Between 150-200 former Jayhawks showed up to line the field as the Jayhawks ran out of the locker room, and many said they came specifically because they believe in Bowen, a former Jayhawk player himself, who has spent 16 of 19 coaching seasons in crimson and blue.
The latest in the Bowen love fest showed up sometime Sunday, when a Facebook page touting Bowen as the choice for KU's next head coach was created. By the time I posted this blog it already had received 608 “likes.”
The goal of the Facebook group is spelled out ever-so-simply in the “About” section of the social media site: “This is a page dedicated to making Clint Bowen the next HC for KU football; through the support of KU students, alumni, and fans. WE WANT BOWEN,” it reads. It includes a couple of photos, a couple of posts — the most notable reads “Let Zenger hear us loud and clear - WE WANT BOWEN!!! — and a bunch of familiar names from past KU football rosters.
I first saw the page early Monday morning and thought to myself, 'Huh, look at that, more love for Bowen.' At the time it had around 140 likes and I didn't really think much more about it.
Later in the day, someone sent me a link to the page and when I checked in again, the number of likes had doubled. The same thing happened Monday night, just before I sat down to write this, and that's when I began to pay attention.
Don't get me wrong, I get it; 500, 1,000, even 5,000 likes on a Facebook does not magically make Bowen become the automatic choice to be selected as the next head coach of the Jayhawks. No matter how high the number grows, it likely will never register high enough for KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger to truly factor it into his decision. But I can guarantee you that Zenger, provided he finds out about it, will take note of the page and it will mean something.
What that is is anyone's guess. But, if nothing else, it's a clear sign that Bowen is well liked, and that gives him a chance.
Just for fun, let's say the page was created around 10 p.m. Sunday night. I wrote this blog around 10 p.m. Monday night. So in that 24-hour period, 608 people found it worthwhile to log on to the page and click the like button in support of Bowen.
If the page continues to grow at that pace —which may very well be tied to the question of whether Bowen's Jayhawks continue to play the way they have the past two weeks — then by the time he runs onto the field at Kansas State for the Jayhawks' season finale on Nov. 29, the “We Want Bowen” Facebook page could have more than 29,000 likes, which is probably a little more than the number of people who actually showed up at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium for last weekend's game. Even that number is not as high as it needs to be to consider the potential hire a home run, but it sure wouldn't hurt.
Reaching that number is probably the longest of long shots. In fact, there's probably very little chance that the number of likes on the page even reaches five digits. But whether they find their way to the Facebook page or not, people everywhere are making it known that Bowen is the guy they want to lead the Jayhawks into the future. I've received emails, phone calls and Tweets that say just that and I'm just one person.
That does not include the feelings of everyone out there, of course. Nor does it mean that many of those same people would be upset if Zenger chose to go a different direction. There are plenty of guys who would be great choices for the job and several who probably would have a terrific shot at becoming successful. But not many of them, if any, would move into the head coach's office at the Anderson Family Football Complex with the kind of backing that Bowen currently has.
He has to sustain that, of course. And the only way for that to happen is for him to continue to make the Jayhawks competitive in what ESPN.com recently voted the second best conference in football in its latest College Football Power Rankings. So, there's that. But if it happens, and especially if Bowen can find a way to lead Kansas to a win or two, then there will be no need to take a poll to find out how people would feel about Bowen being hired. They've already spoken.
Here's a look at the "BOWEN should be HC" Facebook page
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.
Former Colorado and Northwestern football coach Gary Barnett is probably not going to be the next head coach at Kansas University.
Probably, as in former Jayhawk running back Jake Sharp might have a better shot.
But that doesn't mean that Barnett can't help Kansas.
Thursday morning, on both WHB 810 sports radio in Kansas City and in an article written by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Barnett expressed his interest in the KU job. He did this when the job was open in the past and his desire to give it a try in Lawrence seems sincere. But that doesn't mean he's the guy.
There are a bunch of reasons for that, ranging from his age (68), his resignation from Colorado following a recruiting scandal and the fact that he's been out of coaching since 2005, but the bottom line is the Jayhawks can probably do better. Maybe not better as in Jim Harbaugh, but better as in younger, more ties to Texas, more ties to Kansas, more energy for the massive rebuilding project that is Kansas football.
Barnett was a darn good coach in his day. His rebuild at Northwestern was one of the best of the time and his Colorado teams were always competitive in the Big 12 and the Buffs haven't had a winning season since he left.
But KU does not have to hire Barnett to get something from him. Just him showing interest in the opening is good news for Kansas. It proves people want the job. It proves that good coaches with a good track record and a recognizable name want the job. It provides the appearance that the KU job is worth taking. And let's face it, at the moment it's not as if very many people out there are thinking that way.
The Jayhawks have been in the cellar of the Big 12 for several years in a row, unable to beat even Iowa State. The current roster is full of talented seniors who won't be around for the next head coach and the offensive line and quarterback positions — two of the game's most important — are a mess.
If a guy like Barnett, with his 92 career victories and 34-22 career mark as a head coach in the Big 12, is interested, that could help raise some eyebrows from others around the country and, at the very least, give Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger more and better options.
I'm not naive. I realize that a big reason Barnett might want the job is for the paycheck. Who wouldn't be excited about the idea of making $5-7 million over the next five years no matter what the challenges are? Sure sounds better than the dough he's bringing home as a color guy for radio broadcasts of college games. Beyond that, it's rarely a good look, for the individual, to be campaigning for job openings on local talk radio shows.
But even without spending a day in the head coach's office, Barnett just did KU a favor. And it didn't cost Zenger a dime. The more names like this that surface — and the more time the Kansas opening spends in the headlines — the more likely it becomes that the guy who is the right fit but is on the fence about taking the job decides it's worth it and takes the plunge.
Here's the quick coaching search nugget of the day as it pertains to the KU football program.
Although the search still has yet to start — (a) because the program would like to see what it's got in interim coach Clint Bowen and (b) because it's barely October and most, if not all, of the viable candidates for the job are busy working their butts off at other schools — there seems to be at least a tidbit or two of information floating around every couple of days.
Lately, a lot of that information has focused on San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh, as you know, was rumored to be thiiiisss close to taking the job when Turner Gill got it, but things, according to popular opinion, blew up at the last second and the Jayhawks were left with Gill.
One of the big draws for Harbaugh then was that his wife grew up in the Kansas City area and is a KU fan. Well, if you believe what's being thrown out there right now, you're likely thinking that that's a big draw again this time around.
Various reports have said that Harbaugh and the 49ers are not exactly seeing eye to eye at the moment, and many of them indicate that the Niners head coach is unlikely to return to the Bay Area in 2015.
Does that mean he's coming to Kansas? Hardly.
Could it happen? You bet. But is all of this current buzz an indicator that it's going to or even that he would be the leading candidate? Nope.
I'm sure if Harbaugh were interested in the job — and that part, to me, is not that big of a stretch — he could make his interest known and perhaps even contact KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger himself to check the temperature on the job. Doing so would go a long way toward helping his chances.
But even if Harbaugh ultimately decides to go after the job, he's not exactly a slam dunk, no-brainer hire for Kansas.
Here are a few reasons Harbaugh could have trouble landing the job:
• The price tag could be too high. For one, it doesn't sound to me like KU's interested in paying the $3-$5 million per year range that Harbaugh could command, so right there he could be pricing himself out of the job. Even if KU was willing to pay big bucks, there's no way Harbaugh's salary would exceed what Kansas pays Bill Self, who, in 2013, signed a 10-year, $50 million extension.
• Speaking of Self, could Harbaugh work at a school where he and the football program were not the kings of the castle?
• Harbaugh had a ton of success at Stanford and clearly is more than capable of doing a solid job at the collegiate level, but he'd be coming to Kansas directly from the NFL and I'm guessing that both Zenger and the KU fan base might be a little gun-shy about that, given the NFL ties of their last head coach.
• There's no question that Harbaugh would draw a ton of attention from Michigan, his alma mater, if the Wolverines' job came open and that possibility could keep KU from pursuing Harbaugh too heavily. For one, if the situation at Michigan suddenly turned favorable — better pay, a new AD, etc. — then KU, in its current state, probably could not compete. For two, even if KU could land Harbaugh now, you'd have to wonder if the lure of his alma mater or even the NFL again would be a problem down the road.
None of this means Harbaugh is a bad option for Kansas or that the Jayhawks should stay away. He's a proven coach with an incredible track record who, if truly committed, probably could get Kansas back on the right track in a hurry.
But there are at least a few concerns that might keep KU from getting too invested in Harbaugh too soon.
I'd say he remains a solid candidate but probably isn't in the top couple of names on Zenger's list as things stand today. We all know how quickly things can change, though, so buckle up and get ready for this thing to heat up when November hits.