There's just something about Kansas and TCU on the football field that tends to create entertaining and competitive games.
But who would've thought that would be the case this year, when the winless Jayhawks traveled to No. 13 TCU on Saturday?
Not me. I picked a TCU blowout, both because of the strength of that TCU offense and the fact that KU was on the road. But the Jayhawks played what was without question their best defensive game of the season — even when Trevone Boykin was in the game — and almost did enough offensively to pull off the upset.
KU's latest loss, a 23-17 setback at TCU, provided Kansas fans, players and coaches with plenty of reasons to be encouraged, excited, optimistic and hopeful. And this team should feel good about its most recent effort. But the bottom line remains the same — KU is still making too many mistakes to expect to win games. From false starts and other silly penalties to not converting at key times and struggling to score points, David Beaty's team continues to shoot itself in the foot too often and that's costing them a chance to both be in and win games.
Three reasons to smile
1 – The defense looked sensational and played with a ton of fire, passion and toughness. Credit defensive coordinator Clint Bowen for coming up with another solid game plan against the Horned Frogs and credit the KU players for executing that game plan and not giving a damn about who they were playing, what the records of the teams were or where the game was played. This kind of defensive effort in the next two games could make things very interesting.
2 – Led by Ben Goodman, KU's much-maligned defensive line was darn good in this one. There was a reason linebackers Marcquis Roberts and Joe Dineen made so many tackles in this one — because the D-Line got good push and allowed those guys to clean up the mess. But KU's D-Line was not just in a complementary role. Goodman, Corey King, Damani Mosby, Dorance Armstrong and Anthony Olobia also made a bunch of tackles. KU's defense finished with three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
3 – Kansas did a good job on dynamic freshman KaVontae Turpin. In fact, had it not been for Turpin's 49-yard punt return for a TD that got the scoring started, KU would have received an A-plus here. Turpin finished with just 21 yards on four receptions and -8 yards on the three other punts he got his hands on. He also carried once for seven yards, but, for the most part, KU did a great job of keeping him from hurting them.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Wanted: More points. Sure, KU is dealing with a bunch of young guys playing on the offensive side of the ball, but this was the 10th week of the season and the excuses about youth don't carry as much weight. Bottom line: This team is not going to win any time soon if it can't find a way to put up more points. I really thought we'd see more razzle-dazzle out of this offense than we have and it looks like the offensive line's inconsistent play has taken a portion of the playbook out of the equation. After outgaining TCU in the first half, Kansas had just 18 yards of offense on nine plays — three three-and-outs — in the third quarter.
2 – This is pretty specific, but it was a perfect indication of exactly what's keeping this team from breaking through. Early in the game, with Kansas driving into TCU territory, the Jayhawks faced a fourth-and-seven and, believe it or not, head coach David Beaty called to go for it. Before the fourth-down snap, however, Jacob Bragg was called for a false start. That turned a manageable fourth-and-seven into a fourth-and-12, yet Beaty waved to his offense and said go for it anyway. It seemed as if the same play they called to gain seven yards was available to gain 12. One problem. Before the fourth-down snap could come a second time, right tackle Larry Holmes was whistled for a false start, as well. That turned it into a fourth-and-17 and forced Beaty's hand. The punt team trotted onto the field and an opportunity was lost.
3 – Freshman QB Ryan Willis took another beating. Already playing at less than 100 percent, Willis was beat up in this one and that significantly impacted his effectiveness. Last week, we talked about giving Willis major credit for his toughness. And that still applies. But at some point KU is going to have to do a better job of keeping him clean or else the exciting young quarterback is not going to be able to finish the season.
One for the road
KU's close call at TCU...
• Dropped Kansas’ all-time record dropped to 579-608-58.
• Meant the Jayhawks now have lost 38-straight games played outside of Lawrence. Kansas has also lost 32 straight league games away from Lawrence. A Kansas team hasn’t won a true conference road game in 28 tries. The last Big 12 road win occurred Oct. 4, 2008, in Ames, Iowa.
• Made Kansas 0 for its last 24 against opponents ranked in the top 25. The last time KU won a game against a Top-25 team, the Jayhawks defeated No. 15 Georgia Tech on Sept. 11, 2010. The last time KU beat a Top 25 opponent in a true road contest occurred on Oct. 6, 2007, when the Jayhawks beat No. 24 Kansas State 30-24 in Manhattan.
• Featured the first time in the David Beaty era that the Jayhawks were tied with an opponent after the first 30 minutes. In fact, the last time a Kansas team didn’t trail at halftime was in 2014 when the Jayhawks held a 13-10 lead against TCU in Lawrence.
KU will return home to Memorial Stadium to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, before closing the 2015 season with a home game on Nov. 28 against Kansas State.
The scoreboard shows another beating suffered by the overmatched and outmanned Kansas University football team. But those who witnessed Saturday's 59-20 loss at Texas — including the 90,000 UT fans in attendance — know that things got pretty intense there for the Longhorns in the second quarter.
After racing out to a 17-0 lead, UT hit cruise control and KU hit back. Had it not been for a couple of bad mistakes and two empty trips that ended inside the Texas 10 yard line, Kansas might have been winning at halftime.
Had that been the case, I talked to plenty of Texas media folks who said the Longhorns very well might have folded. And wouldn't THAT have been interesting.
As it turned out, KU fell short, made far too many mistakes and the Longhorns easily ran away from the Jayhawks with a strong second half.
KU continues to stay the course. And, at this point, it's really all they can do. The players prepare hard and play harder. Head coach David Beaty has stayed consistent with regard to the expectations in the program and the opponents, like Texas did Saturday, have continued to find areas to exploit the Kansas defense and make life tough for the young KU offense. Many wondered if KU's match-up with the Longhorns would give the Jayhawks a better chance to compete, given the fact that UT did not feature one of those nasty, break-neck offenses like Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. And, for a little more than a half, compete they did. Maybe that gives reasonable cause for KU backers to think the same thing can happen against West Virginia and K-State. Then again, maybe not.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It's worth something to point out that the KU defense did respond to that awful start. For a group that has been brutalized most of the season, it would've been real easy for those guys to lay down after Texas got up 17-0. But they didn't. They stayed strong against the run, got good pressure on UT QB Jerrod Heard and forced a huge turnover, all of which gave the offense time to crawl back into the game. The D wore down severely in the second half, but that first-half bounce-back is notable.
2 – Forget about Ryan Willis' skills and ability to throw the football. It's time we applaud the young man for his toughness. Willis, making his fifth consecutive start, took big hit after big hit and kept getting up. Beaty pointed out after the loss that a lot of the punishment was Willis' fault, but he also said he admired the heck out of the young man's toughness. It's that kind of showing, especially from a quarterback, that can get a whole team playing harder.
3 – It's debatable whether this is good news or bad, but I'm going to side with good news because of the message it sends. Wideouts Tre' Parmalee and Steven Sims Jr., were suspended for this game and did not travel to Austin after violating a team rule. Beaty did not disclose the violation and, from the sound of things, it was pretty minor. But the first-year KU coach realizes that when you're in Year 1 of a major rebuilding project, nothing can be considered minor and he clearly is willing to take advantage of every opportunity to send a message, prove a point and make it clear what is expected of the players in this program.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm sure he's a great dude but I think we've reached the point where David Beaty can't trot place kicker Nick Bartolotta onto the field any more. The missed 26-yard field goal was a devastating blow to this team's momentum and chances on Saturday and Bartolotta, after starting the season strong, has been woeful for the past several games. His confidence appears shot and even though it's a lot to put on Matthew Wyman, he's the guy that should be handling all of KU's kicking duties right now.
2 – Texas did not enter the game known as a passing team, but the UT coaching staff clearly saw enough holes in KU's secondary on film to design their game plan around exploiting the Jayhawks' pass D. It worked. Both Texas QBs who played hit the KU defense with big passes and the KU cornerbacks struggled to both stay on top of UT's wide receivers in coverage and to offer much help in the running game.
3 – With Sims and Parmalee sitting in Lawrence, the Jayhawks needed a couple of wide receivers to step up. No one really did. Darious Crawley led the team with 63 yards and a TD on three catches, but the touchdown catch, a 19-yarder, came with 1:07 to play. Parmalee has been by far KU's most reliable receiver this season and Sims also has stood out as one of the top options. Without them, the KU passing game struggled. Tight end Kent Taylor was more involved — and should be the rest of the way — but KU's version of the Air Raid offense is far less potent with Parmalee and Sims sitting in street clothes.
One for the road
KU's loss at Texas on Saturday night:
•Kansas’ all-time record dropped to 579-607-58.
•The Jayhawks have lost 37-straight games played outside of Lawrence, the last win occurring Sept. 12, 2009 at UTEP. Kansas has also lost 31-straight league games away from Lawrence. A Kansas team hasn’t won a true conference road game in 28 tries. The last occurred Oct. 4, 2008, a 35-33, win in Ames, Iowa.
•After a rushing touchdown with 8:49 to play in the second quarter, bringing the score to, 24-14, in favor of Texas, Kansas tied its season-high for points scored in the first half of a game. The Jayhawks also scored 14 points against South Dakota State in the season opener.
•KU’s 236 yards of total offense, compared to Texas’ 190, marked the first time Kansas out gained an opponent in the opening half of play since putting up 333 yards and allowing Iowa State just 89 yards in the opening 30 minutes in 2014.
•KU’s four fumbles in the first half were the most in an opening period since putting the ball on the ground a total of five times against Texas A&M in the first portion of the game in 2011.
Falling under the category of awful timing, the way KU's meeting with Oklahoma came one week after OU lost to Texas, the Jayhawks next week will have to travel to TCU to take on the Horned Frogs who likely just saw their national title and Trevone Boykin's Heisman Trophy hopes go out the window with a loss at Oklahoma State.
Before leaving Austin, Texas, I spoke with one of the Big 12 officials who worked Saturday's KU-Texas game to see if I could get a clarification on the situation surrounding the punt that was muffed by Derrick Neal in the first half of KU's 59-20 loss.
The ruling on the field was that Neal touched the ball and a Texas player recovered it at the KU 17. Replay during the game confirmed as much — according to the official, the camera angle showed Neal's fingers bend back after making contact with the ball — but KU coach David Beaty continued to have discussions with the referees for several minutes after the replay confirmation.
Beaty said after the game that he was arguing that the UT player who recovered the ball "clearly went out of bounds" and was the first one to touch it after returning to the field of play. By rule, that would be deemed illegal touching and possession would be given to Kansas.
The official this morning told me that the refs on the field missed the call during live action and that replay could not get involved after the fact. It falls in the same category as a play in which a team challenges the spot of the football and on replay officials see a facemask penalty. Because the penalty was missed on the field — and penalties are not reviewable — the infraction cannot be flagged after being discovered by replay.
In short, the missed call on the field cost Kansas because the rules were on the Jayhawks' side.
These things happen, though, and the officials had nothing to do with Neal's poor decision and inability to execute the fielding of the punt.
The official, who said he was impressed with how hard the Jayhawks played, added that Beaty was very calm and respectful during his discussions and "asked his questions in the right way."
The first thing I saw when I woke up Monday morning was a text from a friend informing me that someone had quite literally broken into Memorial Stadium, torn the goalpost down in the south end zone and dumped the broken metal in Potter Lake, as is the custom when the KU football team pulls off a victory that sets off a rockin' celebration.
I get the whole kids-will-be-kids narrative and the lighten-up-what's-wrong-with-having-a-little-fun mindset. But I gotta tell ya: The whole schtick did not sit right with me from Minute 1.
I'm not going to judge you or even call you crazy if you choose to applaud the way a few dozen fans — whether they're Royals fans, KU fans, both or neither remains unknown — celebrated Kansas City's first major sports title in 30 years.
But can we at least agree on one thing? You have to admit it looks a little foolish.
I mean, did supporters of Stanford tear into the school's football stadium and do more than $10,000 worth of damage to celebrate the Golden State Warriors NBA title last summer?
Did anybody hear about a bunch of UMass students breaking into the gymnasium and cutting down the nets last winter when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl?
Of course not. And if they had, it would have made each of those schools look stupid the way this made KU look lame.
And that's to say nothing of the automatic and unnecessary shots that people across the country since have fired at KU football over this whole mess. What do those guys do? All they're trying to do is find a way to climb out from underneath one hell of a mess created by the past two football coaches and going about it rather quietly and respectably.
Kansas football has got enough problems without the rest of the country being given a gift-wrapped reason to make fun of the struggling program.
Look, I'm not so old that I can't remember what it was like to be a kid, to celebrate with wild abandon or even to do dumb things that I now look back on and scratch my head about. I'm not sure you ever actually get old enough to lose sight of those things. But you do grow up. And I'm pretty sure I never thought it would be OK to represent my school or town by damaging property, trespassing and putting myself and a bunch of others in harm's way while celebrating the accomplishments of a team in another city.
Sure, a huge chunk of KU's enrollment is made up of Kansas City kids. And good for them. Whether they've been pulling for the Royals since their mothers and fathers first introduced them to baseball at age 5 or just jumped on the bandwagon and only have been Royals fans for the past 18 months, their team winning the World Series is good reason for a great celebration.
And to the credit of hundreds of KU students and Lawrence residents, celebrate is what they did. Downtown, with chants and screams, high-fives and hugs. Not vandalism. Thousands more did the same thing across Kansas City.
So to let the action of a few hardcore party people — many of whom might actually be decent people — ruin what otherwise was a pretty cool scene, would be unfair. That's not what this is. Instead, this is the voice of logic and reason, something that was clearly missing when these guys and gals blew their own minds by deciding to wreck Memorial Stadium because a baseball team from a city 40 miles away won the World Series.
It was another rough day for the overmatched Kansas football team, which was drubbed, on Homecoming weekend no less, 62-7 by an Oklahoma team that probably could have scored a lot more.
OU's Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard did all kinds of damage through the air and the three-headed monster of Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Alex Ross bullied the Jayhawks on the ground.
Saturday's 52-point spread was the second worst of the season, trailing only Baylor's 66-7 beating earlier this year.
At this point, we're kind of facing the old it-is-what-it-is deal with this football team. The Jayhawks are overmatched every week and despite preparing hard and playing to the final whistle, there really isn't much you can point to that, if done right or better, would make that much of a difference. Of course this team still wants to get a win this season. And, yeah, three of KU's final four opponents combine to be four games under .500. So maybe there is an outside shot at finding a little hope. But I wouldn't bet on it. This season has taken on the feel of one that KU will close out with the goal being to get as many young guys as much positive experience as they can get so there's at least some reason for optimism heading into 2016.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Matthew Wyman continues to make a difference in the punting game and appears to have solved KU's issues there. Beaty said the kicking game was one of the few highlights from Saturday and Wyman's 42.8-yard average, with two downed inside the OU 20, has definitely made a noticeable difference for this team. If nothing else, it's at least forcing KU opponents to have to put together longer drives to pile up the points.
2 – It doesn't matter much on the scoreboard or in the stats, but it's pretty impressive to watch these guys never get down. Now, I'm not saying that the Jayhawks enjoy these beatings, but you really don't see guys hanging their heads or sulking on the sideline any longer. They stay up and they keep playing. That's not easy. And they should be applauded for that if nothing else.
3 – Let's be honest. It was Halloween and I was surprised there were as many people there as there were. With that in mind, KU made sure everyone got out of there in plenty of time to get ready for Halloween and trick-or-treating. Can you imagine the conflict if this game had gone down to the wire?
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Oklahoma was not forced to punt one time during Saturday's victory over Kansas, and the defense that, just a couple of weeks ago appeared to be making significant strides, struggled big-time against a pretty dominant offense.
2 – In-game coaching issues still seem to be popping up at a regular rate. Whether you're talking about strange timeouts, slow adjustments or general uncertainty, it still seems that this group of players and coaches working together for the first time are figuring things out on the fly a little bit. That's to be expected in the first year of a new coaching regime, but it makes for a few head scratchers.
3 – KU's running game continues to struggle big time. In this one, Kansas managed just 35 yards on 36 carries. Seniors De'Andre Mann and Taylor Cox run hard when they get the ball and usually gain every yard available. That's the problem. There just isn't much there. Instead of getting better, it seems to be getting worse. But KU has faced two of the Big 12's best defenses during the past couple of weeks. So maybe there's hope that the tough sledding the Jayhawks have experienced in the past couple of weeks will lighten up in the final month of the season.
One for the road
KU's 55-point loss to the Sooners on Saturday:
• Dropped KU's all-time record to 579-606-58.
• Prolonged a streak of 21-straight losses to ranked opponents and extended a streak of 10-consecutive losses to a top-25 opponent in Memorial Stadium.
• Featured Kansas starting five true freshman on offense against the Sooners. The total number of freshmen who started offensively can be increased to six with the addition of red-shirt frosh Jacob Bragg.
• Pushed OU's all-time edge in the series to 73-27-6 and 35-15-4 in Lawrence. In the Big 12 Conference era, the Sooners hold a 21-1 advantage (6-1 in Lawrence). KU’s two Big 12 wins over OU came in 1996 and 1997, the first two years of the league. OU is now 6-0 on the road against the Jayhawks under Bob Stoops.
Kansas heads south to Austin, Texas, to take on 3-5 Texas at 7 p.m. Saturday. After back-to-back wins over OU and K-State seemed to right the ship, the Longhorns were blanked by Iowa State on Saturday, 24-0, in Ames, Iowa.
Call it false hope, fool's gold or the this is why we can't have nice things syndrome.
Whatever you dub it, it has become a heck of a pattern for Kansas University football during the past five-plus seasons.
Despite KU's dismal 12-53 record in the post-Mark Mangino era (2010-present), there have been a few memorable victories and even more close calls against some of the Big 12's best.
But while it's easy to remember last year's near upset of TCU or the Texas game at home that KU lost in the final 17 seconds a couple of years earlier, it's much harder to remember what happened in the week's that followed those close calls. The reason? Most of those results are ones the Jayhawks would rather forget.
Here's a quick look at the 10 most notable face plants since the start of the 2010 season, which, you could argue, actually began with KU following up a 5-0 start to the 2009 season with an 0-7 finish.
• Sept. 17, 2010 — Southern Miss 31, Kansas 16: After upsetting 15th-ranked Georgia Tech, following a disappointing loss to North Dakota State in the season opener, the Jayhawks traveled to Southern Miss and were outclassed from start to finish. Turner Gill's first road game featured a handful of clock management issues and penalties that all but guaranteed a Kansas loss. Just before halftime, the Eagles returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and took a 21-3 into halftime. KU never recovered and never threatened in the second half.
• Nov. 13, 2010 — Nebraska 20, Kansas 3: One week after a ridiculous fourth-quarter comeback at home beat Colorado, 52-45, the Jayhawks' suddenly-high-powered offense went to Gill's alma mater to face an offensively-challenged NU team playing with an injured quarterback. It didn't matter. The Kansas offense, led by QB Quinn Mecham, managed just 87 yards on 47 plays, and the defense, though tough all night, just did not get enough rest to hold the Huskers down.
• Sept. 17, 2011 — Georgia Tech 66, Kansas 24: One Saturday, the Jayhawks picked up a huge victory over bowl-bound Northern Illinois on their final offensive play of the game. The next, the Kansas defense was trounced by a Georgia Tech team that shattered several school records and wound up printing T-Shirts to commemorate the occasion. Kansas' offense did a decent job in the first quarter in Atlanta, but, with the defense looking like swiss cheese, KU simply could not keep up on the scoreboard.
• Nov. 19, 2011 — Texas A&M 61, Kansas 7: For three quarters at home against Baylor, the Kansas defense had future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III completely bottled up. But then someone tapped RGIII on the shoulder and he led a fourth-quarter comeback that led to a 31-30 overtime victory for the Bears. Perhaps deflated by coming so close to such a huge upset, the Jayhawks barely even showed up the following week in College Station, where Ryan Tannehill torched the KU defense and the KU offense did not crack the scoreboard until the game's final minute.
• Oct. 20, 2012 — Oklahoma 52, Kansas 7: After a hard-fought 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State in miserably wet conditions, which featured James Sims unofficially laying claim to the title of the Big 12's best running back, the Jayhawks traveled to the Sooner State to take on OU the following week and never had a chance. Led by Landry Jones and an unstoppable aerial attack, OU ran the Jayhawks out of the building early. KU had a chance to keep things interesting early, but a simple pass to the flat by QB Dayne Crist that might have been an easy touchdown was woefully behind Tre' Parmalee and Crist did not throw another pass all game.
• Nov. 3, 2012 — Baylor 41, Kansas 14: One week after coming within a couple of plays of knocking off Texas — the UT comeback included a must-have fourth-down conversion and the winning TD in the final 20 seconds — Kansas no-showed against Baylor, yet again, in Waco, Texas. The Bears didn't even play all that well in this one, they just steamrolled their way to a 21-0 second half that left Kansas looking for answers as both Michael Cummings and Dayne Crist played under center for the struggling Jayhawks in this one.
• Nov. 17, 2012 — Iowa State 51, Kansas 23: One week after nearly ending their Big 12 AND road losing streak in the form of a double-overtime loss at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks returned home for what was supposed to be a huge opportunity at a win on Senior Night in front of a fired up home crowd. Just before the game started, the Jayhawks changed out of their traditional blue uniforms and came back out wearing all black. It might as well have been all white, as in “we surrender.” Third-string ISU QB Sam Richardson, whom KU did not even have film on heading into the game, torched the Jayhawks to the tune of 23-of-27 passing for 250 yards, four touchdowns, another on the ground and an easy ISU victory. The game went down as Richardson's coming-out party and yet another huge disappointment for Kansas.
• Oct. 5, 2013 — Texas Tech 54, Kansas 16: It probably should've been looked at as a sign of trouble at the time, but there was no disputing the excitement that came after Matthew Wyman drilled a 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech (13-10) after an improbable stop by the KU defense in the game's final minutes. Rather than capitalizing on the momentum of that big kick and a 2-1 start, the Jayhawks returned to the very same field the next week and let Texas Tech have its way with them. This one was made worse by the fact that the Jayhawks raced out to a 10-0 first quarter lead and then, in a little over a half, were outscored 47-0 to set the final margin.
• Nov. 23, 2013 — Iowa State 34, Kansas 0: Behind the hard running of James Sims and the spark ignited by the play of true-freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, the Jayhawks ended their Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 home victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16. The win, in which KU thoroughly dominated, was supposed to be the springboard for a strong finish and some momentum heading into 2014. But instead, the very next week, on a bitterly cold night in Ames, Iowa, the Jayhawks were blanked by one-win Iowa State, which embarrassed the Jayhawks by running wild on an icy field.
• Nov. 22, 2014 — Oklahoma 44, Kansas 7: After nearly shocking the college football world by putting a heck of a scare into national-title-contending TCU, the Jayhawks traveled south to take on an average Oklahoma team and walked away a part of history. OU running back Samaje Perine ran over, through and around the Kansas defense all afternoon on his way to an NCAA record 427 rushing yards that came against little resistance. The Jayhawks never put up a fight in this one and appeared to miss more tackles than they made.
To be fair, during that same time frame, there have been a handful of positive responses to close calls or KU victories. And those, which have been few and far between, include: KU responding to a season-opening loss to North Dakota State in 2010 with win over Georgia Tech; KU responding to its Iowa State win in 2014 with a near-upset of TCU; KU responding to a season-opening 42-24 victory over McNeese State in 2011 with a 45-42 win over Northern Illinois the following week. Those back-to-back wins still are the only consecutive victories at Kansas in the post-Mangino era.
On the heels of last week's close call against Texas Tech and with KU headed to Oklahoma State on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Boone Pickens Stadium, the Jayhawks now have their next opportunity to add a game to one of the two categories above.
The Kansas University players and coaches said they sensed something a little different in the hours leading up to Saturday's loss to Texas Tech.
And, judging by the way things looked on the field, they certainly were on to something.
The winless Jayhawks and their outmanned and overmatched defense entered Saturday as a 32-point underdog against one of the nation's most potent offenses.
But instead of being steamrolled for the second week in a row, the Jayhawks battled. Led by true freshman QB Ryan Willis, the offense clicked like rarely had been seen in recent years and the defense played its heart out to keep the Red Raiders to less than half of their season scoring average.
One of the most common phrases in sports is the one that says “there are no moral victories.” But for a team like Kansas, which is undersized, understaffed and in a serious rebuilding mode, I don't think there's anything wrong with latching on to every moral victory you can find. And Saturday certainly was one, perhaps even two or three.
It's easy to look at Saturday's outcome and feel pretty encouraged. Kansas played with a lot of heart and some of the youngest, most inexperienced guys on the team looked awfully sharp and played beyond their years. But there were still a ton of mistakes — silly mistakes that might have cost KU the chance to win — and this game, perhaps better than any other to this point, illustrated exactly where this program is right now. There will be progress. It will show up at unexpected times and in unexpected places, but the talent gap and lack of quality depth means the Jayhawks are going to have to play a nearly flawless game to have a shot at a victory. Had they done that against Texas Tech, the first win of the season might have been the result. But they didn't. And now it's on to the next one, with new lessons learned and more growing pains ahead.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's postgame notes featured 12 different entries regarding true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, who set freshman records for completions (35), attempts (50) and yards (330) during Saturday's loss. It was not just Willis' numbers that were impressive, though. For the second week in a row, the Bishop Miege High grad led the offense, played with a perfect blend of poise and confidence and, this time, led the offense to 20 points and a near upset. Willis has a strong arm, makes quick decisions and can put the ball wherever he needs to and right where his receivers like it. It's early in his career, but Willis definitely appears to be KU's QB of the future. And, what's more, that doesn't look or sound all that bad.
2 – This offense is a lot of fun. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty sure have put in an entertaining and exciting offense. The Jayhawks rolled to 475 yards, put the ball in the air 50 times and did it while not completely abandoning the running game. The passes get out quickly and allow the KU play-makers to make moves in space. When the line holds up and Willis gets time to set and read, a four- or five-yard gain is almost automatic. The best part about this offense is I think we've only scratched the surface on what it can do and what these coaches want to do with it.
3 – The Jayhawks may have fixed their punting issues. It seems like a small thing, but not being able to kick the ball well and flip the field puts the Kansas defense at an even greater disadvantage on a weekly basis. Give Matthew Wyman a little more time to fine-tune his approach and I think the Jayhawks will realize they have found their punter. Wyman has a big leg, he's a heck of a competitor and he's a perfectionist. He'll work at it and only get better from here.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Wide receiver drops were a problem again. Willis completed 70 percent of his throws and that number could have been and should have been closer to 80 percent if the KU receivers had caught everything thrown to them. We're not talking about tough drops, either. We're talking about easy catches that hit wide open guys in the hands. Can't have that when you're already at a huge disadvantage in every game you play.
2 – Matthew Wyman may have saved the punt team, but there appears to be a significant issue with the kicking game. Both Wyman and Nick Bartolotta missed a pair of kicks — one was even an extra point — and KU is in no position to be worried about a 22- or 34-yard field goal should it ever find itself in a game where a field goal of that length, particularly late in a game, perhaps to tie or win, could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
3 – I guess it's always better to be safe than sorry, but in each of the past few games — and a couple of times in this one — there have been some interesting timeouts called from the KU sideline. This goes in line with some of Beaty's curious fourth-down decisions and makes you wonder if the first-year head coach still has a ways to go in the area of game management. As is the case with his young team, the only way to improve in that area is to log games and go through it.
One for the road
KU's 30-20 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday...
• Dropped the Jayhawks' all-time record to 579-604-58.
• Included 475 yards of total offense by the Jayhawks. KU's season-high was 576 against South Dakota State on Sept. 5.
• Featured the most passing yards (330) by the Jayhawks this season. Kansas last threw for more yards in a 342-yard performance against TCU in 2014.
The Jayhawks head back out on the road next weekend, when they'll look to snap their 35-game losing streak away from Lawrence with a 2:30 p.m. meeting with Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The game will end a stretch of four straight 11 a.m. games for Kansas.
It wasn't the worst beating in school history, it wasn't anything unexpected and it wasn't particularly ugly.
It was just a little taste of reality setting in for the Kansas football team, which was walloped, 66-7, by No. 3 Baylor on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Bears, favored by as many as 46 points in some places, jumped out quickly and wasted little time getting their high-powered offensive machine rolling.
QB Seth Russell looked smooth and poised all afternoon and may not have broken a sweat. Shock Linwood and that Baylor rushing attack faced very little resistance and the KU offense, after a fast start, never really looked in sync for most of the afternoon.
Until the talent and experience level of Kansas football is upgraded dramatically, these types of games — especially against these types of opponents — are going to remain the norm around here.
Good thing KU coach David Beaty is friendly with the Baylor coaching staff. Because if he had not been, the Bears could have really embarrassed the Jayhawks on Saturday. Not that losing 66-7 is anything to be proud of, but we're talking triple digits here. And if Baylor had wanted to get there, I'm not sure the Jayhawks would have been able to do anything to stop it. The best thing about Saturday's game against Baylor is that it came early in the schedule and it's now over.
Three reasons to smile
1 – For his first start and coming against the No. 3 team in the country, true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis looked pretty good. He wasn't amazing and he did not play mistake-free football, but he definitely showed some things that surely had KU fans and coaches looking forward to seeing more.
2 – Saturday was our first look at true freshman Jeremiah Booker and you can color me impressed. He finished with 39 yards on 3 receptions but looked strong and explosive every time he caught the ball and appears to be a real bright spot for this offense as you peer into the future. He's a big, physical kid who snatches the ball out of the air with both hands and then has enough athleticism to get out and go after the grab. No wonder the KU coaching staff was raving about this guy all summer.
3 – The game is over and KU got out of there without being the butt of another national joke. Sure Baylor lit the Jayhawks up, but (a) it was about what people expected and (b) the Jayhawks actually held Baylor to a season-low 644 yards of offense. Incredible.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – For the second week in a row KU coach David Beaty chose to punt on fourth-and-short early in the game instead of taking the more aggressive approach and going for it. This trend is a bit alarming because, with its current roster against the teams it is facing, Kansas needs to find a way to create as many breaks as possible each game and, really, has nothing to lose if it were to elect to go for fourth downs and/or trick plays.
2 – These injuries are really starting to get ridiculous. Already without its top two quarterbacks (Montell Cozart and Deondre Ford), Kansas played Saturday's game without its top cornerback (Brandon Stewart, groin) and its leading receiver (Tre' Parmalee, concussion). Having any or all of those guys probably would not have done much to change the score or the outcome but it sure makes it difficult for the Jayhawks to even compete.
3 – KU's once strong and stacked running game is limping along. Ke'aun Kinner, who is dealing with some type of injury, turned in his third consecutive sub-par game after back-to-back 100-yard outings to open the season and De'Andre Mann (also injured), Taylor Cox (45 yards on 19 carries) and Taylor Martin (24 yards on 7 carries) are just not giving the Jayhawks much on the ground. As Beaty has said, this is on more than the running backs and offensive line, but until KU can find a way to run the ball with success again, the offense is going to continue to struggle.
One for the road
KU's home loss to third-ranked Baylor:
• Dropped Kansas’ all-time record to 579-603-58.
• Marked KU’s 18th consecutive loss to opponents ranked in the Top 25.
• Featured the first time that KU scored points on its first offensive series this season.
Kansas (0-5) will return to Memorial Stadium to face another high-powered conference foe at 11 a.m. Saturday, when Texas Tech comes to town. The Red Raiders (4-2) have given up the most points and are four points shy of being the Big 12's best in points for during conference play so far this season.
Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen had a unique way to describe Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan, who stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs a whopping 410 pounds.
“There's a couple of plays (on Baylor's game film) that looks like the end of the movie when a team has to score a touchdown and one guy knocks 11 people over and they run behind him and score,” Bowen said of the Baylor senior who primarily is used as another blocker.
“There's actually a couple clips in there that resemble that, where he knocks a guy down, knocks another guy down and keeps running. He's a big fella.”
While the senior from Amarillo, Texas, does not necessarily fit the make-up of the rest of the Baylor offense — fast, explosive, athletic guys who like to do their damage in space — he does operate as the perfect complement to those other receivers and offers a perfect option for when BU coach Art Briles and his son and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles want to mix things up.
“Kind of a unique situation with what they do with him,” Bowen said of the tight end who does not yet have a reception this season but gained national fame by snagging an 18-yard TD reception during the 2015 Cotton Bowl. “They will throw him the ball, but, obviously he's in there to be a lead blocker and he's a big human that gets a lot of movement.”
McGowan, who wears a size 20 shoe, red-shirted his first season at Baylor and dressed for four games but did not play as a red-shirt freshman in 2012.
A year later, McGowan played in all 13 games on special teams and as a reserve offensive lineman. He filled the same role in 2014, when he again played in all 13 games, and was moved to tight end for the final third of the Bears' schedule.
Asked how to handle him if he does catch the ball during Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff against Kansas at Memorial Stadium, Bowen had one simple rule for his defense to remember.
“We gotta make sure we don't take him on real high,” Bowen said with a grin.
As for which Jayhawk has filled McGowan's role during practice with the scout team this week, Bowen did not provide a specific name but did offer some feedback.
“We don't have that guy,” he joked. “The guy playing him does not look like him.”
Many believed Saturday's showdown at Iowa State looked to be a winnable game on paper. And, for a little more than a quarter, the Jayhawks hung in there and appeared ready to compete with the Cyclones, whom they defeated 34-14 a year ago.
But a couple of costly mistakes and curious decisions cost the Jayhawks and, just like that, they found themselves down 17-0 at halftime and facing a major uphill climb to get back into the game.
Kansas (0-4) did not play particularly well in any aspects of Saturday's loss. The offense, though efficient at times, never really threatened the ISU defense and the KU defense continued to struggle in the run game, giving up 243 yards on the ground and more than 500 yards of total offense yet again.
Games like these have become all too familiar for KU fans — and the players and a number of different coaches — during recent years, and, although many believed the Iowa State game could be different, the reality of KU's current situation is that games like this are going to continue to be a part of the fall for some time to come.
And many of them could be much, much uglier than Saturday was.
This thing is starting to look a little scary. Nobody expected KU to win many games this season and a good chunk of those of follow the program knew that a winless season could be in the cards. But within that framework, the hope and, really, the expectation, was that the Jayhawks would look a little better each week and put a product on the field that was (a) disciplined, (b) played hard and (c) one fans could be proud of. That was during the first week or week and a half, but in the past few games things seem to have gone in the wrong direction. That's not to say there have not been improvements in a few areas. There have. But for the most part
Three reasons to smile
1 – OC Rob Likens and the Kansas offense took a few shots down the field. That has to happen in the coming weeks if the Jayhawks hope to get Ke'aun Kinner and that running game going again, and it was good to see it happen in this week's game. Starting QB Montell Cozart took a few shots early on — missing on them all — and freshman Ryan Willis, who filled in after Cozart left with a shoulder injury, threw a few nice looking deep balls later in the game. The O-Line has to hold up long enough for this to work, but as long as it does, the deep ball has to be a part of KU's passing game from here on out.
2 – The Jayhawks are able to move the ball between the 20s. Getting into the red zone and finishing drives is another story, but Cozart and the offense looked pretty good moving it up and down the field before breaking down. Cozart finished 15 of 21 passing for 150 yards and Willis was 8 of 16 for 100 yards. Most of the throws by Cozart were short outs that were both safe and effective and that allowed KU to use the tempo it wants to use to keep pressure on the defense. It's good to see, but it will not matter much if KU continues to stall after putting together good starts to their drives.
3 – After committing seven penalties in each of the past two games, the Jayhawks were flagged just four times in this one. Unfortunately, two of those flags — a false start on a fourth-and-one early and an offsides penalty on a third-and-four for ISU — came at huge times and the Jayhawks made plenty of other non-penalty-flag-drawing mistakes that cost them. Still, it's important for huge underdogs like Kansas to limit their penalties as much as possible and four is certainly a respectable number.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Tom Keegan wrote about it in today's column and I Tweeted about it during the game. KU coach David Beaty's decision to punt from the 35 yard line on fourth-and-three early in the game seemed like a terrible decision. Beaty said the wind and the down-and-distance factored into his decision to punt instead of kicking the field goal or going for it. But, to me, that sounds too much like a coach coaching with a College Football Playoff berth on the line not a guy trying to inject some confidence into a program in a major rebuilding mode. Teams like Kansas need to be more aggressive, not less, because they really don't have much to lose.
2 – The offensive line and KU running game struggled big time for the second week in a row — 38 yards on 33 carries. If they don't get that right in a hurry, this new-look Air Raid offense is going to be hard-pressed to reach 20 points in any game and, in a hurry, could start to look an awful lot like the offenses we've seen around here in recent years.
3 – KU quarterbacks are dropping like flies. Through four weeks, the Jayhawks are now down two quarterbacks, with Week 3 starter Deondre Ford out for an unknown amount of time with a thumb injury and now No. 1 QB Montell Cozart dealing with a shoulder sprain. Cozart has yet to play a complete game this season and if he's out for any amount of time, you're looking at two true freshmen (Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley) handling the top two spots on the depth chart and forgotten man T.J. Millweard quickly moving up from fifth string to third. None of that is good news.
One for the road
KU's 25-point loss at Iowa State on Saturday:
• Dropped KU's all-time record to 579-602-58.
• Prolonged a streak of 32 consecutive losses in true road games and 35 total games played away from Lawrence. Kansas’ last road win came at UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009.
• Also extended KU’s Big 12 Conference road losing streak to 28-straight league road games and 31 conference matches played away from Lawrence. KU’s last Big 12 road victory occurred in Ames, Iowa on Oct. 4, 2008.
After two weeks on the road, the Jayhawks return home for yet another 11 a.m. kickoff, this one against third-ranked Baylor, which enters the week as a 38-point favorite.