There was very little pretty basketball involved in Thursday's 64-59 victory by top-seeded Kansas over No. 9 seed TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
But even as hard as it was to watch the game through all of the whistles and mistakes, it was exactly the kind of game that makes March great.
A loss to the Horned Frogs would have been a bad sign for the Jayhawks — Perry Ellis or no Perry Ellis — and would've sent the Jayhawk Nation into the weekend searching for answers.
Instead, freshman Kelly Oubre stepped up and played like a veteran and sent the Jayhawks into the Big 12 semis with a career-high 25 points, including 15-of-19 shooting from the free throw line.
Aside from the long stretches of bad basketball from both teams, the game came with all of those feelings that normally accompany games at this time of year — clutch makes and crucial misses, anxious coaches, uneasy fans in the building and the general feeling that things could change completely at just about any minute.
While we wait to do it all over again tonight, when the Jayhawks take on No. 4 seed Baylor in the semifinals at 6 p.m., let's look back at some more of the highs and lows from Thursday.
KU won yet again despite not hitting a single three-pointer. That marks the second time in the past three outings that Kansas finished 0-for from behind the arc, yet the Jayhawks won both of those games. For all the talk earlier this season about this team's incredible three-point shooting and how it might need to consider shooting more three-pointers per game, these guys are absolutely desperate for one to fall. Three guys (Oubre, Brannen Greene and Svi) missed multiple three-point looks on Thursday and Selden missed the only one he attempted. One triple did go through for Kansas against TCU — a wing shot by Svi — but it came on a dead ball after a whistle. Kansas has proven that it can win games without the three ball, but doing so makes things much more difficult. And these guys don't want to see how long that luck can last.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It wasn't pretty — not by a long shot — but it also wasn't full of panic, like these March games between high seeds and low seeds tend to be. Kansas can thank Kelly Oubre for that. Every time TCU closed, tied or threatened to make it very interesting, Oubre put the ball on the deck and made his way to the free throw line. That not only led to easy points but also kept the pace calm and less frantic.
2 – Kansas blocked nine shots in this game, with Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas each recording three and Hunter Mickelson adding one. Considering those were the only big guys Self had to work with, the high number of blocks is pretty impressive. Clearly, having a short bench did not take away their defensive tenacity.
3 – Despite not doing or playing much in weeks, freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk proved he might still be able to help this team before this season is finished. The Svi that took the floor against the Frogs on Thursday was the most aggressive and confident Svi I've seen in a while. Self liked what he gave the Jayhawks so much that he started him the second half. Even if the guy only plays a few minutes here and there the rest of the way — however long that winds up being — he should do so with a ton of confidence.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The numbers just don't paint a five point victory over the ninth-seeded team in the Big 12. KU out-rebounded TCU by six, out-shot TCU 49 percent to 41 percent and only turned it over two more times. What's more, TCU made just 1-of-6 three-pointers on a day when KU missed all eight threes it attempted. There's no question that the Frogs came to fight, but just going off the numbers — although several other metrics would also work — the final score's a bit of a head scratcher.
2 – Yes, KU won this game without Ellis, but, no, it wasn't easy. The Jayhawks desperately need Ellis back, not only because of the numbers he brings to the floor, but also because he changes the way this team runs offense and the way opposing teams defend. All that said, imagine what a lift it will be when Ellis does return, even if he's not 100 percent when he does. These guys, who have been grinding for everything they've gotten the past few games without him, will probably be so relieved they'll finally relax and light up the scoreboard.
3 – The bottom line with this team — still — is that you, me and especially Bill Self still just do not know what it is going to give. On any given night they could be locked in or spaced out, fired up or barely breathing, offensively efficient or offensively challenged, defensively dominant or a defensive doormat. That's not a good recipe for a team hoping to make some noise in March. And even though the talent and potential is still there for any kind of run imaginable, I think we'll know/learn all we need to about what lies ahead for this team based off of what kind of effort it puts forward in the semifinal game vs. Baylor. Self said after the loss that “it gets old” waiting for his guys to bring energy. If they don't respond to that — with a berth in the conference championship game on the line — by doing it in over-the-top fashion, I think you'll know what's coming in the next week or so.
One for the road
KU's Big 12 tournament victory over TCU:
• Made Kansas 25-7 on the season, marking the 10th-straight season that the Jayhawks have tallied 25 wins, beginning in 2005-06.
• Improved KU to 10-7 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games and 5-1 on neutral floors).
• Pushed the Jayhawks’ record in the Big 12 tourney to 18-2 in opening games (1-0 in first round and 17-2 in quarterfinals).
• Advanced Kansas to the conference tourney semifinals for the 17th time in Big 12 history and 35th time overall.
• Improved KU’s record in 67-25 in conference tournament play and 37-9 in the Big 12 tournament.
• Made KU 26-5 all-time at Sprint Center, including a 2-0 mark this season.
• Moved Self to 350-76 while at Kansas, 32-10 in conference tournament action (23-5 while at KU in the Big 12 Championship) and 557-181 overall.
• Made KU 2,151-829 all-time.
The win moved the Jayhawks into today's 6 p.m. semifinal, where they'll play Baylor, which knocked off West Virginia by 10 in Thursday's first game at Sprint Center. The Jayhawks swept the Bears during the regular season, winning a one-point dog fight in Waco and holding off a strong Baylor push in Lawrence in mid-February.
There was nothing about Saturday's match-up with TCU that made the excite-o-meter go off.
It wasn't a big game against one of the top challengers in the Big 12, it wasn't hyped up national showdown against a Top 25 team and it wasn't even a game that included a revenge angle or any kind of venom that would have the Fieldhouse faithful in a frenzy. Instead, it was just another late-February, Saturday afternoon home game that everyone expected KU to roll in.
The Jayhawks didn't exactly roll — winning 81-72 — but they did play well enough to prevent the Frogs from ever throwing a serious challenge at the Jayhawks and their one-game lead in the Big 12 race.
If there was one moment that stood out to me more than any other, it was the ovation Perry Ellis got during pregame introductions. Ellis took a ton of heat for missing a makable game-winner last Monday at West Virginia. He was trashed on message boards and Twitter, blasted by KU fans everywhere who like to believe that it's easy to just dunk everything and left Morgantown feeling down on himself for the miss.
Clearly, the 16,300 fans at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday didn't care. Ellis got the loudest ovation I've heard a KU player get during intros this season. And he responded by making 9-of-10 shots and scoring a game-high 23 points.
It's a small detail and one that probably didn't have a whole lot to do with the outcome of the game, but it was definitely cool to see a fan base rally behind their guy.
TCU showed up to compete and easily could have given the Jayhawks a little more of a scare than they did based on the way they played. TCU senior Trey Zeigler said he thought the Horned Frogs played better in Lawrence than they did in Fort Worth, even though the final score was closer in the first meeting between these two. Thankfully for the Jayhawks, who saw starters Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden and Cliff Alexander combine for just eight points on two made field goals, the Jayhawks' defense was up to the challenge. KU limited TCU to 41 percent shooting from the floor and held smooth guard Kyan Anderson, who has had a history of playing very well against KU to 14 points on just 4-of-14 shooting. TCU coach Trent Johnson talked about KU's defense making opposing offenses feel like they have to be perfect on just about every possession, and that burden ultimately led to a few turnovers and missed opportunities that wound up being the difference.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Every once in a while the two best dudes on a team step up and have the two best games on a given day. Saturday was one of those days for Kansas, as freshman point guard Devonte' Graham and junior forward Perry Ellis both eclipsed the 20-point mark and missed just one shot between them while tallying more than half of KU's 81 points. Graham was ultra-aggressive and played with toughness and confidence. Ellis played like a man who knew he couldn't be stopped — again. If either guy comes close to matching that performance the rest of the way, this team will be a tough out for just about anybody.
2 – How about Brannen Greene's work on the boards? The guy known mostly as a deadly three-point marksman nearly led the Jayhawks in rebounds, with six (one behind Ellis' seven), and he did his work in a number of ways, which included mixing it up with bigger bodies, crashing the offensive glass and cleaning up the easy board and kick-starting a fast-break. Greene is long enough and athletic enough to be a factor on the glass. It all just comes down to mindset for him. And, clearly on Saturday, he was ready to rebound.
3 – This last one is easy. That whole team manager Chris Huey suits up for the first and only time in his career and plays 35 seconds was way too cool. The fact that the kid got this chance is a real credit to both him and what he's all about and KU coach Bill Self, who did not have to even think about doing something like that. Neat moment, one you can't help but feel good about no matter who you cheer for.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's first-half offense was pretty sloppy. Even Perry Ellis, who looked locked in from the jump on Saturday, only took four shots. The Jayhawks did shoot 54 percent from the floor in the first half, but that was more a product of how they scored — nearly half of their points came in the paint — and not how they ran offense. It improved in the second half, as the ball movement got better and KU continually worked through Ellis in the post.
2 – Twice during Saturday's victory the Jayhawks turned it over on inbounds plays following timeouts. One led to an easy dunk for the Horned Frogs and the other prevented KU from padding its lead. They may have been able to survive such mental lapses this time around — largely because they were at home and TCU is not quite ready to compete on the same stage as Kansas — but those are the kinds of things that will kill a team when the games start to really count.
3 – It was another rough day for Cliff Alexander, who made his fourth consecutive start but didn't do much more. Alexander made just one of four shots and finished with 2 rebounds and 3 fouls while playing just 11 minutes overall and only 3 minutes in the second half. I've been asked a ton during the past few weeks if it seems like it's time to concede that Alexander just might not become the player people thought he could or would become this season. Each time, I said no. It was too early to claim that, I thought. I'm not so sure any more, though. And this has nothing to do with motor, effort or desire, which were Alexander's issues midway through the season. He just too often looks a little lost out there and a step or two slow because of it. Maybe that's because he's had more trouble adjusting to the college game or Bill Self's coaching than people expected. Maybe it's just who he is. Either way, I don't think Alexander's a guy KU should expect a ton from the rest of the way. Does that mean he can't have some big games? Of course not. He absolutely can. But those games, if they come, will likely be the result of one thing and one thing alone — Alexander's ability to rebound and get points that way. All of that said, he's still this team's best option at altering shots in the lane, so the Jayhawks need to find a way to keep him involved enough for him to fulfill that role. Tough spot for everyone involved right now.
One for the road
KU's blue-collar victory over an improved TCU team:
• Made the Jayhawks 22-5 overall, marking the 26th-straight season that they have won 22 games.
• Improved Kansas to 11-3 in league play, giving KU 11 or more conference victories for the 21st-consecutive season.
• Extended KU’s home-court winning streak to 22 games, making KU 726-109 all-time inside Allen Fieldhouse, including 188-9 under Bill Self.
• Pushed KU’s edge in the all-time series vs. TCU to 9-1, including a 4-0 mark in games played in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Improved Self to 347-74 while at Kansas, 13-4 against TCU (7-1 at Kansas) and 554-179 overall.
• Made KU 2,148-827 all-time.
The Jayhawks head west for a Big Monday match-up with Kansas State at 8 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. KU knocked off K-State 68-57 Jan. 31 in Lawrence, in a game that KU led 20-5 and never looked back.
Wednesday's 64-61 Kansas University basketball victory over TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, was such a dud from a pure basketball standpoint, that it's not really worth spending too much time recapping it.
That's especially true with Allen Fieldhouse games against Kansas State (Saturday) at Iowa State (Monday) on the immediate horizon.
So let's get to the good and the bad of it and get out of here.
The Jayhawks won. And they won ugly. But a win is a win, as the saying goes, especially on the road in a deep and talented Big 12 Conference.
First off, TCU clearly is a better team than it has been in the past couple of years, but this one had as much to do with KU's inability to get locked in for extended periods of time as anything else. That's probably not that big of a surprise. Personally, I thought KU had turned the corner of having to worry about what kind of energy it brought to the floor from night to night, but it probably would have been easier to predict a letdown after a nearly flawless game against Texas last weekend. If you're looking for good news from this game, it lies in the final score. Most programs lose when they play poorly and are a little sloppy and sluggish while struggling offensively for large chunks of time. KU didn't. Give credit to some of the lesser-used role players, who, by definition constantly bring fire and energy, for helping the Jayhawks survive the Horned Frogs.
Three reasons to smile
1 – For starters, KU won. Again. And improved to 17-3 overall and 6-1 in Big 12 play. We're deep enough into Big 12 play now that, a record like that is reason enough to feel good about where a team stands.
2 – Wednesday's game was a not-so-subtle reminder of how sophomore guard Frank Mason can bail this team out almost whenever he wants to. On a night when KU shot 46 percent, Mason was 8-of-12 from the floor in 35 minutes. Curiously, Mason missed all three free throws he attempted, and even though he's still a .783 free throw shooter for the season, he's down to just .700 in Big 12 play.
3 – Landen Lucas will never be one of those guys who this team counts on, but credit him for preparing like he is. Lucas played big minutes for the Jayhawks on Wednesday night, finishing with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in 24 minutes. The things Lucas lacks still showed up, so you didn't leave the game feeling like Lucas could be a difference maker in the future. But it takes efforts like this from unexpected places for a program to win 10 — or 11 — straight Big 12 titles, and Lucas delivered one Wednesday night.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's energy was lacking big time. Maybe it was the gym or the opponent or the fact that K-State and Iowa State at home are the next two games on the schedule. But those are just excuses. The Jayhawks should not be able to use youth as an excuse any more. These guys know better by now and have seen what it takes to compete and play at a high level. It's simply a matter of going out and doing it, which, over the course of a grind like Big 12 Conference play, is occasionally easier said than done. It's worth pointing out that the re-aggravation of Devonte' Graham's right foot is also a reason to sigh. Even though Graham re-entered and looked fine, seeing the freshman guard who has proven to be a bit of a difference maker doubled over in pain is definitely not something the Jayhawks want to see.
2 – KU's big men were outworked on the board throughout the game. Forget the final numbers, which showed TCU holding a 50-40 rebounding advantage, including a 26-9 edge on the offensive glass. What was more concerning was the way the Horned Frogs were attacking missed shots and the way the Jayhawks weren't. Early foul trouble on several KU players may have been a factor and caused KU to pull back its aggression, but that's a bad excuse. Guys can still play hard without fouling.
3 – Despite the off night offensively, foul trouble up and down the lineup and next to no energy, the Jayhawks looked to be in total control... until the end. That's when the wheels nearly fell off, which should be cause for real concern. KU's showing vs. TCU's pressure in final couple of minutes was nothing short of atrocious and it makes you wonder how Kansas will match-up with West Virginia, which plays like that almost the entire game, and even K-State, who showed flashes of that style in this week's loss to West Virginia.
One for the road
KU's three-point win over TCU:
• Made Kansas 17-3 overall and 6-1 in Big 12 play for the 10th time under head coach Bill Self.
• Pushed KU’s all-time lead in the series to 8-1, including a 5-1 mark in Big 12 games and a 3-1 record in Fort Worth.
• Marked KU's fourth straight win against TCU.
• Improved Self to 342-72 while at Kansas, 12-4 against TCU (6-1 at Kansas) and 549-177 overall.
• Made KU 2,143-825 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home Saturday for a 1 p.m. match-up with Sunflower State rival Kansas State on ESPN. The meeting will be the first between the two Kansas programs this season, and, two days later, the Jayhawks will welcome Iowa State to town for a Big Monday rematch with the Cyclones.
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.
I've spent a lot of time these past three or four weeks asking various members of the Kansas University football team to explain what exactly is causing so many problems for the Jayhawks' offense.
From the head coach and quarterback to the pass catchers and starting and back-up offensive linemen, nearly a dozen different players have had an opportunity to pinpoint why the KU offense has struggled so badly.
Small problem: It doesn't seem like any of them can do it.
OK, so maybe that's actually more like a HUGE problem, but the one thing that keeps coming up no matter who I talk to is the word execution.
“We need to do a better job of executing,” one player will say.
“We're just not executing,” another will say in a somber tone.
“We have to execute the small things so we can get on a roll,” says yet another.
Yes, yes and yes.
So do it. I know that's a simple way of looking at things, but it's really the only thing you can say at this point. If it truly is just a matter of taking the right step here, picking up the right block there or making the right read at the right time elsewhere, do that. Don't just say you need to and then continue to go out there and misfire.
I'm not trying to make light of the situation, nor do I think going out there and executing while the defensive players are trying to kill you is easy. But it's time for KU's offensive players, many of whom have talent and ability, to get on the same page and stay there. Think about it. For two games, the quarterback was sharp, made good throws and ran the offense the way it's supposed to be run. And his receivers dropped balls. And here lately, just when the receivers (a few of them, at least) have figured out how to hang onto the ball, the quarterback has started to lose a little of his accuracy, which was supposed to be by far his biggest strength.
Trying to figure out plays that work with an offensive line that's struggling is hard enough. But doing it without knowing whether your quarterback and receivers will be on the same page from play to play is a nightmare. And that's a huge reason for the Jayhawks' offensive struggles of late.
To demonstrate this, let's look at back-to-back plays in the third quarter of Saturday's game.
On first-and-10 from the TCU 27 yard line, one play after the Horned Frogs gave KU life by muffing a punt, the Jayhawks, who trailed 24-10, took to the air for one of the day's few throws that traveled down the field and looked bad in doing it. As tight end Jimmay Mundine cut to the inside down the seam, quarterback Jake Heaps threw behind him, low and to the outside.
When I asked Heaps about the throw after the game, he said it was 100 percent on him and then went on to talk about working as hard as he could to make every play succeed and get this offense going. On the very next play, he proved that was possible, as he lobbed a nice ball to Mundine on a corner route near the 5 yard line and Mundine rose up, snatched it out of the air like a man possessed and then stomped into the end zone. It was as good a ball as Heaps had thrown all day and maybe as good as the Jayhawks had looked in their down-the-field passing game all year.
The point is this: On one play, they looked awful, out of sync and in complete disarray. On the very next, they looked like a competent offense, like the Jake Heaps and Jimmay Mundine many expected to see all season.
So, what gives?
The players and coaches have said that inexperience is not an excuse. By now, they say, these guys have all been out there enough to be able to step up when their numbers are called. In addition, they insist that they do execute all the time during practice and they believe if they can do it in practice they should be able to and expected to do it during games on Saturdays. They're right.
Frustrated fans have tossed out all kinds of solutions for this offensive mess, some of which make sense and some of which are just not possible, at least not during the middle of the season.
I've spent my fair share of time trying to analyze what's happening here, too, and the only thing I can think of that can actually happen is that these guys can step up and become gamers.
Sounds easy, but it's really not. Either you are or you aren't. James Sims is a gamer. Justin McCay may not be. The rest are probably somewhere in between. But it's time to find out who falls where.
With seven games left and the defense and special teams playing at a high level, this season is not a lost cause. KU's not going bowling, but only a small percentage of KU fans actually thought that was a possibility before the season began anyway, so that's not breaking news. There is time, though, to win a couple more games, pick up some momentum heading into Year 3 of the Charlie Weis era and give these fans something worth watching when the KU offense is on the field. Todd Reesing to Dezmon Briscoe it will not be. But it doesn't have to be the 2005 KU offense either. Remember them? The group that struggled to score and sustain drives week after week while the defense played out of its mind and plenty well enough to win. (I'm specifically thinking of that 19-3 loss to Oklahoma at Arrowhead Stadium right now). That's kind of what we have going right now and the only guys that can do anything about it know who they are.
This is the roster for 2013. There is no free agency, there are no out-of-work veterans waiting for a phone call at home. This is it. So this is the group that has to get it done.
If that means they need to execute more or better or more consistently, then do it.
Before we look back at what went right and what went wrong during last Saturday’s 20-6 loss to TCU, let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: The 15-yard, personal foul penalty for “hitting a defenseless receiver” called on KU safety Bradley McDougald midway through the fourth quarter was quite possibly the worst call I’ve ever seen in my football-viewing life.
The blown call did nothing to impact the outcome of the game and was rather harmless in the big picture, but I don’t think it’s right for that kind of blip to slide by without so much as a mention. Credit the Jayhawks and head coach Charlie Weis for not publicly griping about it after the game. That wouldn’t have accomplished anything and, worse, would’ve made them look like whiners.
Weis made it very clear that his is not a team of whiners when he talked about his displeasure with the way quarterback Dayne Crist came to the sideline with his palms up after some confusion in the passing game. “We don’t do that here,” Weis said simply. And they don’t whine about officiating either.
Their restraint is part of the reason I chose to bring it up here. That official should at least be forced to miss some Big 12 games and work at a lower level for the next couple of weeks. Inexcusable. I’m not sure what McDougald is supposed to do there. Let the guy land before he hits him? That’s not football.
OK, moving on...
Prior to the TCU game I heard a lot of people say they felt like this would or could be the “Georgia Tech game” like KU had in 2010 after losing at home to North Dakota State.
It wasn’t, of course, but even if the Jayhawks had pulled off the upset, I don’t think it would’ve been like the Georgia Tech game at all. For starters, that one came after one of the most embarrassing losses in program and Big 12 history. Losing to Rice was a tough beat, but it was nothing like losing to an FCS team, 6-3, in a coach’s debut. Beyond that, the Georgia Tech game was the peak of the Turner Gill era at Kansas. Things only got worse — nearly every week — from then on out, and I don’t get the sense that the peak of the Weis era will come at any point during the 2012 season, let alone three weeks into it.
To me, it seems as if this team will continue to improve dramatically — week to week, game to game, year to year — and that this year’s loss to TCU, many months from now, will be looked back on as the one where everything started to click.
After the game, the players and coaches who were made available for interviews clearly were upset that they had lost the game. But it wasn’t the kind of anger that comes out of embarrassment, frustration or failure. It was the kind of anger that comes from believing you should’ve won and these guys most certainly believed that. Had the offense just been a little sharper, they might have pulled it off.
That mentality is as good a sign as any that Weis truly has changed the losing culture that existed here. The results might not be showing it yet, but seeing that these guys genuinely believe they can and should win games might mean more to the big picture than a couple of early victories.
So now the Jayhawks move on to Northern Illinois. They’re a 1-2 team and they’re headed on the road this week, but their confidence is back and they’re starting to look like many of us expected a Charlie Weis team to look. If they can just get the offense to reach that point, too, it should be fun to watch this group play the rest of the way — win or lose.
As Weis said Sunday night: "So, now we've got 'em playing hard the whole game, now we just gotta play better."
Quickly, here were three things I really liked about the TCU game, all of which I think will pay off big-time for the Jayhawks down the road:
It was good to see Tony Pierson involved in the passing game. The guy’s a weapon and finding creative ways to maximize his play-making ability should be a priority for the Jayhawks. Here’s guessing we’ll see new wrinkles involving Pierson just about every week from here on out.
It also was nice to see Andrew Turzilli really be a factor out there. The kid has some serious skills and now, with his first start and a 100-yard game fresh in his mind, maybe he’ll have the confidence to take his game up a notch or two.
Former Notre Dame linebacker Anthony McDonald made a difference. Sure, he was a little rusty to start out, and, yeah, he might not be the fastest guy on the field, but he’ll hit you and his experience really is an upgrade for this young group of linebackers. McDonald played more than most expected and finished with six tackles, one fumble recovery and a huge smile. More importantly, he finished relatively healthy and should be ready for an even bigger game this Saturday.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) vs. No. 16 TCU Horned Frogs (1-0) •
11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
Opening Las Vegas Line: TCU -26.5
Current Las Vegas Line: TCU -21
Three and out, with TCU...
The Horned Frogs own the nation’s longest current winning streak at nine in a row. TCU also has won 24 consecutive conference games (albeit in a different conference), which also is tops in the country.
The Frogs have won 17 of their last 19 road games and won their last 12 road contests in the Mountain West, including a 36-35 victory at Boise State last season which snapped the Broncos’ 35-game home winning streak.
TCU is the only school in the nation to win at least 11 games in six of the last seven seasons, one of just four programs (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both the Associated Press and USA Today polls during the last four seasons, and one of just three schools (Florida and Utah) to win at least six bowl games in the last seven seasons.
TCU is 3-1-1 when playing its first game in a new conference.
According to the school’s records, TCU defeated Oklahoma A&M, 7-6, on Oct. 6, 1923, in its first game as a member of the Southwest Conference, knocked off Houston, 34-17, on Sept. 29, 2001 in its first ever Conference-USA game and upended Utah, 23-20 in overtime, in its first game in the Mountain West on Sept. 15, 2005.
TCU’s only loss in a conference debut came in 1996, when New Mexico spoiled TCU’s WAC debut, 27-7. As for the tie, TCU and Texas A&M played a scoreless game during the Frogs first TIAA conference contest.
During its season-opening victory against Grambling State last week, TCU played 13 true freshman and several other red-shirt freshmen and sophomores. Although it’s clear that Patterson trusts them enough to put them out there, the TCU coach acknowledges that it’s still an uneasy feeling.
“Freshmen in their first game are always scared to death and it’s hard for them to focus on the task at hand,” Patterson said. “When you play (13) true freshmen, every day’s a new experience right now. Most people don’t want to play three of them. So we’ve just really gotta keep working on attention to detail and keep getting better at what we do.”
Patterson conjured up an old quote from legendary hoops coach John Wooden, of all people, to express how he thought his young guys played in the opener.
“There’s an old saying in the John Wooden book that says, ‘You need to be quick but you don’t need to look like you’re in a hurry,’” Patterson said. “And a lot of our younger players looked like they were in a hurry.”
One of TCU’s most impressive freshman was punt returner Deante’ Gray, who was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week. Gray set a TCU single-game punt return record with 160 yards on five attempts. He ripped off a 70-yard touchdown on his first collegiate touch and also had a 61-yard punt return in the second half.
TCU holds a 16-8-4 all-time advantage in the series vs. Kansas, which dates back to 1942. The Frogs are 9-6 all-time in Lawrence and 7-2-2 against the Jayhawks in Fort Worth, Texas.
TCU and Kansas are meeting for the first time on the gridiron since a 17-10 KU victory in Lawrence in 1997, the year before Gary Patterson arrived at TCU as defensive coordinator.