Posts tagged with Monday Rewind
All season, as the Kansas University football team has piled tough loss on top of tough loss, people, both inside and outside of the program, have preached progress.
It’s one thing to see it in a 20-14 comeback loss against Oklahoma State in which the Jayhawks woke up after carving out a 20-0 hole through three quarters. It’s another to see it in a near victory against Texas, a game KU should have won. And it’s still another to see it in several first halves in which the Jayhawks remained within arm’s reach — down just six or seven points at the break — of quality opponents such as Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.
Even with all of those signs pointing in the right direction for a program desperate to shake its losing culture, never was this team’s evolution from flops to fighters as evident as last Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, where the Jayhawks (1-9 overall, 0-7 Big 12) went toe to toe with the 25th-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders before losing, 41-34, in double overtime.
We’re not talking about giving a nice effort and hanging in there against a better team. We’re talking about seeing a you-punch-we-punch, you-score-we-score, you-dig-we-dig-deeper mentality that has been building in the KU locker room slowly and steadily throughout the season.
It wasn’t just the final score or the fact that KU actually had a lead in the first overtime that showed yet more evidence of this team’s growth under first-year coach Charlie Weis. It was the way these guys played. Tough, physical, relentless football from the first quarter to the final extra period.
Were there mistakes? Sure. Plenty of them. But the Jayhawks overcame each one and refused to let the game get away from them despite trailing 21-7 early in the second quarter with Texas Tech driving for the knockout punch.
In the world of college football, winning is the name of the game. And no matter how much the Jayhawks have improved, they continue to fall short in the area it matters most. But one of the best things about progress is that it can inspire players to continue to work hard no matter what their record is because they can see and feel the improvements they’re making. This Kansas roster is full of players like that. Young and old. And it is coached by a group of men who know how to emphasize and celebrate those steps and learn from mistakes.
During the past two seasons we heard a lot about progress but saw very little evidence that any was being made. Anyone remember the net punting brag? The Jayhawks don’t have to grasp for straws like that any longer. They still have a ways to go before they can be considered a quality team with a shot at consistently winning in the Big 12. But they are competitive. And they are getting there. They are capable of preparing a gameplan that can deliver a victory against any team just about every week. And it seems safe to say that the rest of the conference now knows that.
Although this type of season and the promise of progress is not exactly what most of these guys were hoping for, it was and is a necessary step toward turning things around.
I think the players and coaches all realize that. But none of them are content with it.
“It puts a bad taste in our mouths,” said red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings of the double-overtime loss to Tech. “We’re definitely more hungry going into next week.”
Added Weis, who spoke with pride about the toughness shown by his club last Saturday: “We were extremely motivated in this game. And I think we’ll be even more motivated for next Saturday.”
That’s when the Jayhawks will play host to Iowa State at 6 p.m. in the final home game for 23 seniors at Memorial Stadium.
Weis, on Sunday, made a plea for people to pack the house — not for him, but for those seniors who have given all they have for four or more seasons and got very little in return in terms of feel-good moments.
Filling Memorial Stadium and standing as they take the field would be a cool way to cap of their careers. Will you be there?
Before moving on to this week's examination of Iowa State, here’s one last look at everything the KU running game accomplished last weekend:
- As a team, Kansas rushed for 390 yards, the most its ever gained in a Big 12 game and the most since rushing for 418 against UAB in 1994.
- Sophomore HB Tony Pierson rushed for 202 yards in the game,
the most rushing yards by a Jayhawk since Reggie Duncan rushed for 227 yards against Texas Tech in 2001.
- Pierson’s 69-yard run was the longest of the season by a Jayhawk
and the longest since a 69-yard run by Cornish against Northwestern State in 2006.
- Pierson’s 206 yards marked his third game of rushing for at least 100 yards.
- Pierson rushed for 106 yards in the first half marking the third-straight week that a Jayhawk has broken 100 yards in the first half of play.
- Junior HB James Sims rushed for 127 yards in the game, marking his sixth-straight 100-yard game. Sims becomes the first Jayhawk to rush for 100-plus yards in sixth-straight contests.
- The two 100-yard rushers gives KU 10 games with a player rushing for at least 100 yards, which matches the school record. Kansas had two 100-yard rushers in the game for the first time since the South Dakota State game when Pierson and Taylor Cox both gained 100-plus yards.
- Sims rushed for 48 yards on KU’s 63-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. He scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the year.
- Sims scored two touchdowns in the game, giving him 26 in his career. It moves him within two scores of second place on KU’s all-time list (Tony Sands, 28).
- Sophomore HB Tony Pierson rushed for 202 yards in the game, the most rushing yards by a Jayhawk since Reggie Duncan rushed for 227 yards against Texas Tech in 2001.
With three games remaining in the season and few questions — other than will the Jayhawks win again — left to be answered, it makes sense to look ahead a little for this week’s Monday Rewind.
I’ve been asked for weeks now if KU will win another game this season and my answer always has been yes. It still is, but time is certainly running out.
I once thought both Texas Tech and West Virginia were unwinnable games, but with Tech falling to UT this past weekend and WVU falling apart, I’m not so sure any more. KU certainly will be heavy underdogs in both games, and if the offense can’t find a way to score some more points, the Jayhawks will have no shot. But both teams look a lot less invincible today than they did a couple of weeks ago.
That leaves Iowa State at home as KU’s other chance at victory, and this is one many Jayhawk fans have called KU’s best chance for weeks. It probably is, but Iowa State may be the best of the three remaining teams on the schedule. They’re certainly the toughest.
Enough about that, though. For this week’s Rewind, I’m taking you back to halftime of the Baylor game, when a 45-minute lightning delay forced us to wait on the outcome and inspired me to have a little fun on Twitter. In addition to answering dozens of questions thrown at me by a bunch of informed and engaged KU fans, I tossed one out to them: Which current KU player are you most excited about for next season?
I must have received nearly 100 responses, and while most went to one or two players, eight different guys were mentioned, which led me — and hopefully many of you — to the realization that even though things have been rough this season and the team’s record of 1-8 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play is certainly worse than fans had hoped for, there’s still plenty to be excited about when looking to the immediate and far-off future.
Here’s a quick look at who garnered mention in this impromptu Twitter exercise, listed in order of the player people picked the most:
1. Jake Heaps — Heaps was, by far, the most mentioned player, and with good reason. KU’s quarterback play has been bad this year and it’s not getting any better. Heaps, who I was told was the best QB on KU’s roster entering this season, represents hope for the future. The fact that he has the shiny five-star label and the Div. I experience only makes him a more attractive option at the game’s most important position.
2. James Sims — While most who named Sims said they couldn’t wait to see what he would do for an encore, some even mentioned their concern about whether Sims would still be here in 2013. Sims certainly has an NFL future, but coming back for his senior season and playing another year under Charlie Weis while backing up what he’s done this year would significantly increase his stock.
3. Justin McCay — People started missing McCay before he even put on a uniform. Thanks to the NCAA’s poor decision not to grant the Oklahoma transfer immediate eligibility this season, the WR from Bishop Miege has spent the season sitting out. He has big-time potential, though, and we’ve been told he and Heaps have developed a solid bond.
4. Jake Love — Love has been one of the surprise stars of the KU defense this season and it seems only natural for many to wonder what the young linebacker who plays more like a moving vehicle will be able to do in the future. He’s physical, ferocious and not afraid to get physical.
5. Ben Heeney — Heeney came less out of nowhere than Love this season, but what he’s done at middle linebacker has been no less impressive. He’s among the Big 12 leaders in total tackles and has taken that wild and reckless style that made him a force on special teams to defense, where he looks to have a very bright future.
6. Tony Pierson — Pierson was the man at tailback during the season’s first three games. But an injury and the return of James Sims have slowed him down a little these past few weeks. That’s a shame but it shouldn’t do anything to change Pierson’s long-range outlook. The guy’s a weapon and once he gets his confidence back and if the Jayhawks get a passing game to complement him, he has the chance to reemerge as one of the most dangerous one-play weapons in the conference.
7. Josh Ford — Ford has done well on special teams this season but he’s been a non-factor at wide receiver. The fact that he was mentioned in this poll speaks to the team’s desperate situation at wide receiver. I talked to Ford a week or so ago and the junior still has his head screwed on tight and believes he will be a factor in the passing game here before he leaves.
8. Eric Kahn — Weis said this Spring Hill, Kan., native and Mid-America Nazarene transfer could be a weapon on kickoffs. I’ve taken a look at him in practice and he certainly has that look. He’s long, tall and his legs look spring-loaded.
All right, forget the final score, the details of the blowout or the fact that the Jayhawks seemed to take a one-week hiatus from what had, for the most part, been a pretty promising streak of progress during recent days.
We all saw it. And those who didn’t were lucky to miss it. Either way, there’s no need to rehash the obvious: KU got whipped by Oklahoma last Saturday night. End. Of. Story.
What is worth looking back on, however, is the play of red-shirt freshman quarterback Michael Cummings, who picked up the first start of his career against the Sooners and had a few good moments and a few too many bad ones.
At this point in KU’s season — the Jayhawks are 1-6 overall and 0-4 in Big 12 play — the biggest question about this team is not so much whether it will win another game as much as it is, do they have a quarterback.
We’ve seen what Dayne Crist can do, and, unfortunately for him, KU coach Charlie Weis and the Jayhawks as a whole, watching him play the position has been rough. Remember, this is a team that’s just a couple of throws away from owning a 3-4 record, perhaps better. Even if the Jayhawks had just laid a 52-7 egg at Oklahoma, can you imagine what a different feel this thing would have if that were the case? I know I can.
So, let’s take Crist out of the equation. Will he play again this season? Probably. Will he start again this season? I doubt it. Will it matter either way? Probably not.
What will matter, though, is the play of red-shirt freshman Michael Cummings, who last week against at Oklahoma, answered a couple of questions and raised a few more.
Here’s a look:
QUESTIONS CUMMINGS ANSWERED:
1 - Is he capable of stepping into a hostile atmosphere and leading the offense? Absolutely. KU didn't score much, but Cummings' moved the offense on the first couple of drives and did so in a high-pressure situation. The more I’m around this guy, the more impressed I am with him. He’s young, inexperienced and has played just a few minutes more than I have out there, yet you’d never know it from talking to him. He’s a cool customer and has a very natural leadership vibe.
2 - Cummings has a strong arm. We’ve heard Weis say it throughout the year and we finally got an extended look at Cummings' arm strength on Saturday. If anything, he may have a little too much zip on a lot of his passes, but you’d probably rather have that problem and work on the feel than have the opposite problem. Of the 21 passes Cummings threw, several were on a line and got on the receivers in a hurry. The KU wideouts are going to have to adjust to that to help Cummings become more effective, but we know this guy can wind up and wing it.
3 - Cummings is coachable. Rather than roll out there like a wildman looking to make plays at whatever cost, Cummings stuck to the gameplan, did what his coaches asked him to do and leaned heavily on KU’s running game. (By the way, this would be a good time to point out that this KU ground attack is legit and James Sims is well on his way to becoming one of the toughest players ever to wear a Jayhawk uniform.) OK, back to Cummings, for a young guy with no experience, sticking to the script surely earned more trust from the coaching staff. With more trust should come more of a chance to make plays. Weis hinted at that Sunday night: “This week, if Michael were the guy,” Weis said. “I think the offense would be quite expanded from where it was (against Oklahoma).”
QUESTIONS THAT WERE RAISED:
1 - Can the Jayhawks open up the offense when Cummings is under center? It sure didn’t look like it Saturday night, as Cummings handled mostly handoffs and read-option-type running plays. That was by design. Here’s Weis’ explanation: “Remember now, this is the first time the kid’s played and he’s going to Norman against a top-flight team. The last thing you want to do is have him having to think about 100 different adjustments walking in there. You want to get it where he knows what to do so he can just get out there and play.”
2 - Can Cummings eliminate the ill-advised throws down the field and into coverage? Time will tell. There’s no way to know the answer to this without, at first, letting things play out. But a good sign that he can get there is that both Cummings and Weis made it clear that they understood and communicated to each other (and the media) that he forced way too many throws while trying to make a play. With experience, such mistakes usually can be corrected.
3 - Can Cummings stay within the offense, even while running around to escape pressure and extend plays? Again, time will tell. I’ve seen as much evidence that he can get his head up and his eyes downfield as I have that he can’t. I really think Cummings’ cool, calm and collected demeanor will go a long way toward helping him in this area. This is not a guy who wants to be a hero on every play. He wants to make plays — no question about it. But he wants to make the right plays and has no problem deferring to his teammates.
Because none of us can get inside the mind of Charlie Weis, it’s hard to say what all of this will mean.
It’s possible that Cummings will be given the keys to the offense from here on out and will use the next five games to audition for some type of role on next year’s squad, whether that’s as a legitimate threat to push Jake Heaps for the starting job or as the clear-cut back-up.
It’s also possible that Weis will continue to play both Crist and Cummings, and, depending on how that goes, may even consider looking in the direction of reserves Turner Baty or Blake Jablonski, although that option seems like a longshot at this point.
For KU fans, perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of Saturday’s 56-16 loss to Kansas State — other than the final score and the third quarter, of course — was the fact that the Kansas University football team let a golden opportunity slip through its fingers.
Down 21-14 at the half with most of the momentum on their side and the home crowd booing the Wildcats as they went to the locker room, the Jayhawks looked as if they were poised to hang tough with the No. 7 ranked team in the country to the end.
Think about that. I mean really think about it. Just months removed from some of the most embarrassing defeats in school history, KU was right there with one of the top teams in the country.
Had they stayed there, it could have and likely would have changed the way these guys felt about themselves for the rest of the season. Imagine if the Jayhawks had turned in a second half that looked a lot like the first half and lost 35-24. People would be talking. Sure, the national folks would have brushed it off and it would have registered more as a “What happened to K-State” question than a “How about those Jayhawks” statement.
But inside the program and among KU fans, such a result would have been encouraging. There’s no reason to think that getting to that point wasn’t encouraging in itself.
I know KU coach Charlie Weis said he would rather get drubbed by 100 trying to win than gameplanning to stay close. But the way things unfolded last Saturday, no one would have accused Weis of being too conservative had the Jayhawks hung in there in the second half and lost by 10-14 points.
They didn’t, of course, and the final score and the feelings that followed resembled those we’ve seen in recent years with this rivalry. It’s too bad, too. Because other than the final score, this game was nothing like the blowout losses we saw the past couple of seasons.
In those games, the Jayhawks looked lost, made tons of bonehead mistakes and never seemed to actually be in the game. Saturday, KU committed just two penalties (by the way, they’re the third least penalized team in the country through six weeks), made plenty of mistakes but mostly mistakes of effort and had the ball down just 12 points with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
To me, that’s progress.
Don’t confuse the word progress with achievement. Nobody is saying KU has accomplished anything yet. Not I, not Weis, not the players, nobody. But I think it’s OK to say they’re making progress. Especially when it’s true.
I have to admit I’ve been a little surprised by the outrage shown by a good chunk of KU’s fan base so far this season. I’m not sure if people actually expected this thing to turn around overnight or if they just have gotten so used to complaining about KU football that it’s the only thing that seems right these days.
Either way, I think it’s too bad. Because even though the signs of progress — better effort, fewer penalties, more competitive play, a coach who works hard and cares — haven’t made a difference on the scoreboard, they are there. And, overall, Weis seems pretty pleased with that. Pleased, mind you. Not satisfied.
The first step, he said, was getting to the point where he didn’t have to wonder if his guys were going to play hard for 60 minutes. They’re there.
The next step, he said, was getting to the point where the outcome of each game was still in doubt at the half. They’re there.
I’m guessing the next step will be consistently having a chance at the end of the game and then, from there, winning.
Whether Weis’ Jayhawks get to those the next few steps this season remains to be seen and certainly seems unlikely considering Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12 are still on the schedule.
But the tide is slowly turning and I think it’s fair to say that this is not the same old Jayhawks.
A friend and fellow reporter floated an interesting question my way shortly after the Kansas University football team somehow lost to Rice despite having a decent grip on things for most of the game last Saturday.
The question: Did KU’s 25-24, last-second loss to Rice rank as one of the Top 5 most disappointing losses of the past three seasons?
My answer: No.
There’s no doubt that Saturday’s loss left a lot of KU fans scratching their heads and perhaps forced some to consider whether they’d be back any time soon. But, to my ears, the most common reaction among the fans exiting Memorial Stadium sounded a lot more like “Well, well, well,” than “What the hell?”
This latest loss, though surely tough for KU fans to swallow, also is tough to evaluate. The Jayhawks should not have lost. Everyone understands that from the players to KU coach Charlie Weis, who went out of his way to inform us that he clearly pointed out to his team that losing games was not acceptable.
If you’re an excuse maker, your list is long after this one. It’s still early. There are a lot of guys still shaking off the rust. It’s a completely new team running a completely new system with a bunch of players still searching for their chemistry. Like I said, the list is long. But here’s the worst part — even if you’re not interested in making excuses, all of that remains true.
Before moving on, let me tell you, briefly, why I don’t think the loss to a team from Conference USA ranks in the Top 5 most disappointing losses in the past few seasons. For one, the Jayhawks weren’t embarrassed. They fought and played with fire but came up short. For two, they didn’t quit. For three, they didn’t brush off the loss as no big deal when it was over. It was clear that they were upset about letting this one slip away and even more clear that they plan to do something about it.
So what now?
Well, I realize it would be easy for most to revert back to the old “When does basketball season begin” line that we’ve heard around here for oh so long. And if that’s your thing, I won’t hold it against you.
But I still think there are plenty of good things going for this football program and I’m willing to let things play out before calling this season a bust.
Let’s take a look at a few positives and a few of the negatives.
1. I think the defense has improved. They’re more active up front, they cover better in the secondary (even if they’re still not all that aggressive) and they’ve thrown up more three-and-outs in the first two games of the 2012 season than I can remember coming in 2010 and 2011 combined. What’s more, I think this is a group that, as long as it remains confident, will continue to improve each week.
2. The running game looks good. Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox make for a nice one-two punch, and, in seven days we can start to talk about James Sims again. If KU can continue to run the ball as effectively as it has during the first couple of weeks — and that’s definitely a decent-sized if with the schedule stiffening — the Jayhawks should have a shot at being competitive in the Big 12.
3. KU is forcing turnovers. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said it just the other day and hundreds of coaches before him have said it, too: Turnover margin is the most important stat in football. If the Jayhawks continue to get takeaways at the current rate, things eventually will tip in their favor. What’s more, turnovers are contagious, and once you get a few, you start taking the field believing you’re going to get more. That’s huge.
1. Dayne Crist hasn’t been very good. You know it. I know it. He knows it. So it’s no big secret. But I can promise you one thing: He hasn’t delivered back-to-back sub-par performances by choice. The guy’s trying. And he deserves some more time to get it figured out. As long as he remains healthy, he’s still the guy that gives KU the best shot to win each week. But he’s got to perform better quickly so the rest of the team is still willing to follow him.
2. There does not seem to be a killer instinct with this team yet. Stop me if you’ve heard this one... Getting fired up for games does not seem to be a problem for the Jayhawks, but staying juiced throughout does. When your energy drops, your focus drops and when your focus drops, bad things happen. I’m not sure if it’s a case of these guys expecting too much and then being a little dazed when they don’t deliver, or if it’s just a familiarity thing and that old cliche about bad habits being hard to break. Whatever it is, though, this team needs to avoid that second half lull at whatever cost.
3. KU lacks playmakers on offense. Outside of Tony Pierson, who has flashed big-play ability in both games, the Jayhawks have not had another player step into that role yet. Senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson has the potential, but a lot of his work thus far has come in a possession-type role. DJ Beshears also has the potential, but he’s looked out of sync in both games. Someone else needs to step up. The tight ends have looked good and Crist appears to trust them, but you don’t always think of tight ends as playmakers. Maybe it’s time for Andrew Turzilli or Josh Ford to embrace the moment. Or maybe it’s up to Crist.
Time to see which list gets longer.