They may be small steps, but, at least for a few moments in the past week, Kansas University football was relevant once again.
Don't get me wrong, I fully recognize that there are plenty of die-hard KU football fans who live and die (and most often agonize) with the ups and downs of the program and show up ready to support their team win, lose or draw.
To that group, the Jayhawks are always relevant. But I'm talking relevant to college football. I'm talking relevant in the sense that something crosses one's brain that makes college football fans everywhere go, 'Huh, Kansas. Look at that.'
Last week, the Jayhawks had at least two of those moments. The first and most obvious came on Saturday, when KU put a heck of a scare into No. 5 TCU and threatened to single-handedly shake up the entire college football playoff standings, at least for a week. Truth be told, the Jayhawks did that even in a 34-30 loss to TCU, which entered last week ranked fourth in the ever-important college football playoff standings and, by some time tonight, will know whether that close call with Kansas hurt them or not.
The Jayhawks had plays that popped up on SportsCenter and other highlight shows. The names you know well were kicked around nationally for a couple of minutes and, although it went down as just another L, the effort regained Kansas some national respect.
I figured that respect would come and go pretty quickly but then I read this rundown of the playoff standings from the folks at FOX Sports, who not only gave TCU some credit for holding off Kansas (inspired team, on the road, Big 12 foe, all that jazz) but actually sounded off about the coaching search currently under way here. It caught me off guard and when I read it I had to read it a second time to make sure what I saw was right. But it was. There in the third comment under No. 5 Baylor was mention from former college football great Charles Davis — one of a 13-man FOX panel designed to track the playoff progress — gave a shout-out to interim head coach Clint Bowen for a job well done.
Davis: “(Baylor) will benefit from TCU’s struggle at Kansas (give Clint Bowen the job, Kansas; he deserves it), and the 'TCU’s ahead of Baylor in the poll, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head!' discussion gets quelled, at least for this week. Baylor’s schedule is catching up as they finish with all Big 12 games, including hosting Oklahoma State Saturday night on FOX.”
It might be a small mention and it certainly is not KU impacting the national scene the way the next head coach (whoever that will be) and athletic director Sheahon Zenger want, but it's infinitely better than the blowouts of the Turner Gill and Charlie Weis days and something that, short as it may have been, KU fans can hold onto and take pride in.
The Kansas University football team did not win Saturday's thrilling showdown with No. 5 TCU at Memorial Stadium, but you'd never know that from the reaction that came after it.
Smiles radiated, pride beamed and the Jayhawks walked, talked, looked and sounded like a real football team again. There was even an opportunity for interim head coach to blast the officials for a couple of interesting calls, but, true to the form he's had throughout this whole ordeal, Bowen paused, thought carefully and chose to take the high road.
It was a good move. Even if he didn't agree with the calls that went against his team, whining about them in the postgame press conference would have done nothing — not for the game, not for his candidacy for the full-time job and not for the attitude he's instilled in his team since taking over. That attitude, of course, focuses on one mindset and one mindset only: Work hard, be tough and worry only about the things you can control.
That recipe almost enabled the Jayhawks to pull an all-time upset against a TCU team vying to stay in the conversation for the first ever college football playoff. The Horned Frogs won, and that's all that mattered, particularly on a day when other top-tier teams struggled or lost. But it could be argued that it was the Jayhawks who came away from this one having gained the most.
Never has the support behind Bowen been greater. Interest in the program is headed in the right direction again. Fans of KU football are no longer embarrassed to call themselves that out loud.
Bowen had a lot to do with that, but to give him all of the credit for it would be wrong. He's the captain of the ship, but the guys with the oars are some pretty big time players with a lot of heart and pride. And most of them are pretty good at football, too.
TCU found that out first-hand on Saturday and left Lawrence feeling fortunate to have survived.
If it's football you want to talk about, Saturday's effort against a darn good TCU team proved that the Jayhawks might have a chance to be competitive in their two remaining games. That's something almost no one thought they could say a couple of weeks ago. But this team is tough, the offense is clicking and the defense is confident it can play with anybody. That alone should make for a fun couple of weeks. If it's the coaching search you're more interested in following, Saturday's game was relevant there, too. Bowen has proven he can coach. He took a group of guys who have done nothing but lose and made them winners. Maybe not on the scoreboard all that often, but they'll leave here with their heads up and remember this season much differently than it looked like they were going to. People realize that. People like that. And it's made a huge difference in the way a lot of people view Bowen as a candidate for the job.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – If the way Jimmay Mundine competed out there did not earn your respect, the guy must have done something to your family. Seven catches, 137 yards, a touchdown and a part of what seemed like 40 missed tackles. All while having a heck of a time. Mundine was sensational in this game and has been a huge part of the reason for the solid play turned in by QB Michael Cummings. His effort against a Top 5 team on top of all he already has done this season should put him in the lead for first-team all-Big 12 honors at tight end.
2 – Forget about Michael Cummings' statistics, let's talk about the young man's toughness. I counted three times where he walked off the field looking like he might not be able to continue, yet, each time he trotted back out there and not only played but also threw darts. I could go on and on and on and on here, but you get the point. The kid's tough. He's a heck of a competitor. And he deserves a ton of respect even if he's not impressed.
3 – That's two weeks in a row that the Jayhawks have started fast and you can see what that's doing for their chances to be competitive. After brutal starts against Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks have finally stopped digging themselves huge holes that they can't crawl out of no matter how well they play. The improvement of the offense — credit Bowen, Cummings and Eric Kiesau for a big chunk of that — has played the biggest role here, but so has the general mindset of this team. For the first time in a long time, these guys truly believe they're good enough to win and are getting results and production that back that up.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – KU's special teams cost them again. Against Oklahoma State, a Tyreek Hill kickoff return for a touchdown — and the decision to kick it to him — cost the Jayhawks a victory and on Saturday against TCU, punter Trevor Pardula's big leg got the Jayhawks into trouble for a change when Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the difference. Those things will kill a lot of teams, but they're especially deadly for a team like KU that just doesn't have much margin for error.
2 – With all the talent returning in the backfield heading into this season, you would've never been able to convince me that the KU passing game would be more productive for this team. But it has been lately. KU averaged just 2.1 yards per carry against a tough TCU defense. Corey Avery (10 carries, 27 yards and a touchdown) had good moments and it would've been very interesting to see him get three more carries when the Jayhawks took over at the TCU 10 yard line late in the game down by seven. But hindsight's 20/20 and there's no guarantee Avery or anyone else would've got in either. The way Cummings and the pass catchers are playing — along with the improvement of the O-Line — the running game doesn't have to be great. But it does need to be a threat to keep the defense on its heels and 2.1 ypc won't cut it.
3 – It really is a shame that Saturday's loss was the home finale. With the new wave of support building behind Bowen and his boys it would be cool to see what the crowd would look like if the Jayhawks had one more home game this season.
One for the road:
KU's four-point loss to fifth-ranked TCU on Saturday...
• Moved the Jayhawks to 579-596-58 all-time. • Pushed TCU's lead in the all-time series lead 19-8-4. • Increased a streak of 15-straight losses to opponents ranked in the Top 25. • Prolonged a span of more than three years since the Jayhawks have won games in consecutive weeks. • Pushed the stretch of years it's been since KU topped TCU to 18. • Increased KU’s deficit to TCU in games played in Lawrence to 9-6. • Gave KU an even 3-3 mark at home in 2014.
KU will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend for a match-up with the Sooners at 11 a.m. Saturday.
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
Wednesday's KU football practice was one that closely resembled what the game time temperatures are expected to be this weekend when the Jayhawks and TCU Horned Frogs kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Biting winds that dropped the temperature to around 12 degrees made Wednesday a little different than most of the other practices the Jayhawks have had this season, and, although most adjusted accordingly there, there were a few warriors among the bunch out there today.
While most players bundled up with long sleeves and tights to stay warm, a few guys went with short sleeves and shorts just like it was a normal September practice.
The ones I saw who bared all were: Kyle Pullia, Mike Smithburg, Jordan Shelley-Smith and Preston Randall. Go figure, three of the four were offensive linemen. Props to those guys. I stood out there for about 40 minutes and even bundled up in a coat and gloves, it was cold. (I was an idiot and forgot a hat or hood of any kind, so I was toughing it out a little bit).
Anyway, all of this might seem irrelevant, but it really might not be. The high temperature in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday was 45 degrees. While not exactly warm, that was about 30 degrees warmer than what the guys in Lawrence were dealing with. And with afternoon temperatures the next two days hovering around the same mark, it's definitely possible that the game day temperatures expected to be in the high teens — with a 90 percent chance for snow, by the way — could have a much bigger impact on TCU's roster, which includes 79 native Texans, than KU's, which has been practicing in weather like that all week.
We'll see. A heavy dose of snow would make it interesting for both offenses, but, if you're KU, you'll take that trade off because it could even the playing field a little bit.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wednesday's practice:
• Joe Dineen may very well have a new position yet again. The freshman from Free State High was working with the linebackers on Wednesday, this after he moved from safety to running back during preseason camp after the Jayhawks lost Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries. It's hard to know what this means for Dineen's future, without talking to him or KU coach Clint Bowen, but there was some talk before he even signed with KU about the potential for the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Dineen to move to linebacker in the future. Good to see him getting a look there late in the season. Either way, I think his future's on defense.
• Keon Stowers, Andrew Bolton and De'Andre Mann all were practicing and appeared to be going full speed through the drills I saw. That bodes well for KU's lineup this weekend. Still waiting for more information on offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi. We might not fully know his status until game time.
• Maybe it was just their way of combatting the cold, but the coaches, including Bowen, had an extra dose of intensity on Wednesday. Probably not worth reading too much into, but that's one thing that always has impressed me about this coaching staff — no matter who the opponent is or what their odds are for the upcoming game (and remember they are playing the No. 5 team in the country this weekend), the coaches prepare like they'll be right there and like they have a great shot. That kind of mentality rubs off on the players and can become the foundation of a program.
Saturday afternoon marked just the ninth victory in the career of KU linebacker Ben Heeney and the senior captain could not have cared less about it because it felt like a million bucks.
The biggest reason for that, Heeney said, was because it marked interim head coach Clint Bowen's first career victory as the KU leader and that's something these players have been battling for since Bowen took over for Charlie Weis in late September.
That was by far the biggest storyline on Saturday night, as the statistics, big-time plays, ebbs and flows of the game tiny details all took a backseat to Bowen's big win. Players, staff members, fans and family celebrated the victory with great joy and, although some probably thought the whole scene was a bit of overkill given the fact that the win came against a 2-7 team, nobody in crimson and blue was apologizing for it and you can't take away the fact that the Jayhawks played very well from the opening whistle to secure their third victory of the season.
The road gets harder from here — flat-out frightening, in fact — but several guys said last year's upset win over West Virginia that snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing skid breathed new life into the program and helped them approach the final weeks of the season with new hope and confidence. It didn't wind up mattering, but that team wasn't led by Bowen.
The Jayhawks beat a bad football team on Saturday afternoon, but they did so convincingly and were clearly the better, more confident, more talented football team. The way things have gone for Kansas football lately, bad team or not, a win is worth celebrating, particularly when that win comes as a result of the Jayhawks playing well. They did so in just about every facet of the game on Saturday and showed a little glimpse into why they had such high hopes for this season when it began two months ago.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Because everyone else was. The haters, skeptics, die-hard fans and cautiously optimistic followers of the KU football program all saw eye-to-eye for a few minutes after Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State. The mistakes didn't matter, the scary moments in the third quarter were irrelevant and the nasty schedule that lies ahead was not on anyone's mind. All that mattered was the joy and smiles and celebrations on the field, in the locker room and around the stadium for a group of players, coaches and fans who absolutely deserved an outcome like the one they got on Saturday. I'm sure the differing viewpoints have sorted themselves out again by now, but at least for a while, everyone involved with KU football had a chance to be on the same winning page.
2 – The KU defense was nasty and guys not named Ben Heeney made plays all over the place. Sure, Heeney led the team with seven tackles and played his usual all-over-the-place type of game, but half a dozen other guys on the KU defense out-shined their leader in this one and that made things nearly impossible for the Cyclones. JaCorey Shepherd (5 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 1 interception) was as good as he's ever been, Dexter McDonald held up his end of the bargain on the other side of the field, Victor Simmons (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass break-up) had the game of his life, Jake Love had a sack and a pass break-up, Courtney Arnick had five tackles, one for a loss and two pass break-ups and Michael Reynolds had another sack and forced fumble and continued his stellar streak of games. In short, this defense played the way you would expect to see from a defense that listed “being the top defense” in the Big 12 as one of its goals before the season began. Sure, it was against a struggling offense and their back-up quarterback, but they still delivered time after time after time.
3 – KU's offense featured all kinds of play-makers, but few were as impressive as junior receiver Nigel King. King finished with 101 yards on five receptions and made arguably the biggest catch of the game, a 42-yard grab on third-and-19 that set up a touchdown that pushed KU's lead from 24-14 to 31-14 and essentially served as the knockout blow. King got open all afternoon, was tough to bring down and used his incredibly strong hands to rip the ball out of the air when it came his way. The Jayhawks are losing a lot of offensive players from this year's team, but having King back next season will be huge.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Senior offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi left the game with some sort of right leg injury and it's not yet known how serious the injury is. The last place the Jayhawks can afford to lose a starter is on the offensive line, but that's especially true of Fusimalohi, who has started every game since arriving in Lawrence and is one of the Jayhawks' strongest players in the trenches.
2 – KU's kickoff return game still looks sub-par. JaCorey Shepherd is a dynamic player and a great athlete and I can't imagine that the Jayhawks' issues here rest with him. It just seems that every time the Jayhawks return a kickoff they struggle mightily to get it back to the 20 yard line, and that's whether they take it from the goal line or the 6 or 7. It doesn't make sense. But it has to be some sort of breakdown in the blocking in front of Shepherd because he almost always runs into a wall of three or four coverage guys before reaching the 20.
3 – It's easy to look at what Michael Cummings has done in the past four or five games and be happy for the guy and impressed by his ability, toughness and heart. It's equally as easy to look at Cummings and exhale violently when it hits you that, if just given a chance, this guy could have been a difference maker for the past couple of KU teams. Cummings isn't the best quarterback in the league and he'll never catch your eye as someone you desperately want to have as your quarterback, but he's a gamer and he's been considerably better in the past five weeks than anything KU's put out there in a long time and you can't help but wonder how much farther along he'd be if he'd been given this kind of chance a little earlier.
One for the road
Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State...
• Pushed KU into a tie for eighth place in the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders own the tiebreaker and neither eighth or ninth place is worth bragging about, but it would be a small sign of progress.
• Improved KU's lead in the series to 50-38-6, including a 28-16-3 advantage in games played in Lawrence.
• Moved Kansas to 579-595-58 all-time.
• Gave KU just its third Big 12 Conference victory in the post-Mark Mangino era (41 games).
KU will face arguably its biggest test of the season when No. 6 TCU comes to town for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium and what will be the final home game in the careers of some pretty memorable KU seniors.
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.
As has been the case throughout the past few weeks, interim KU coach Clint Bowen kicked off Wednesday's practice with a visit from a former Jayhawk. And this one meant a little more to Bowen than some of the others.
Charley Bowen, the older brother of the interim KU coach, was given the opportunity to talk to the team before Wednesday's practice and it was very clear by observing the head coach's actions that he was fired up for his big brother to speak to his squad.
During his introduction, Bowen highlighted a few of his brother's accolades — 44 starts, all-Big Eight honors, etc. — and then gave an inspired welcome as Charley stepped into the huddle to address the team.
After sharing a few words, most of which had to do with life after football and maximizing the opportunity these players had today, Charley was greeted by a rousing ovation, a few hugs and an energetic start to practice.
Charley told me it was the first time since 1992 that he had been on the practice field at Memorial Stadium. The only other KU practice he's been able to attend since then was in Arizona during the days leading up to the Insight Bowl in 2008.
Asked if being back on the field made him miss his playing days, Charley smiled and said simply, “You always miss it.”
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice as the Jayhawks continued preparations for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. showdown with Iowa State:
• Senior defensive tackle Keon Stowers did not practice, but was on the field and did all he could to be a part of the action. Unlike his teammates in pads, Stowers wore only shorts and a jersey, but that did not stop him from coaching up the guys who were out there getting the reps in his place. Whether it was during individual drills or during team action, Stowers always found time to offer a helping hand and seemed fully engaged in every aspect, just as if he would've been out there. Bowen said earlier this week that the team was hopeful that Stowers would play Saturday and it sounds as if that's still the case. The good news there? Stowers is such a veteran with so many games under his belt that he could probably miss most of practice and still get out there on Saturday provided he's physically ready.
• It's hard to say what to make of it, but senior tight end Trent Smiley ran some with the first team offense during Wednesday's practice. Known among KU's tight ends as a strong blocker, Smiley lined up in the backfield, at his regular tight end spot and on both sides of the formation during the portion of practice when he ran with the ones.
• As was reflected on this week's updated depth chart, sophomore linebacker Courtney Arnick ran with the first team defense in place of Jake Love, who has been dealing with an injury. Love practiced and should get plenty of reps and play plenty of snaps on Saturday, but Arnick is quietly putting together a pretty strong season. Arnick all of a sudden has the look of a player the Jayhawks will be fortunate to have back in the lineup in 2015. Should be interesting to see how strongly he finishes the final third of this year's schedule.
• Defensive backs coach Dave Campo was very vocal during Wednesday's practice and most of what Campo barked about had to do with the vision of his DBs. “Get your eyes right,” Campo continually yelled during one drill. During another, he simply yelled at one of his DBs, “Get your eyes off of him (the quarterback) and worry about your man.” Nothing Earth-shattering here, of course, but it's cool to see these types of little details emphasized on this level.
• Finally, in case you missed NY Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., doing his one-handed pregame routine during the Monday Night Football game last week, check out the video below. It's become sort of a viral video and on Wednesday a couple of Jayhawks were attempting to match the moves. One who came the closest, believe it or not, was Buck Michael Reynolds. Could an INT be in Reynolds' future this week???
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.