Matt Tait: Kansas football covers; was Les Miles watching?
photo by: Associated Press
Imagine, for a minute, that you were Les Miles on Saturday night and found yourself in front of a television set around 6:30 p.m.
Wouldn’t you have flipped the tube to FOX to check out the Kansas football team’s second-to-last game of the season at Oklahoma?
Whether with his family somewhere in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, celebrating the first college touchdown pass in the career of his son, Manny Miles, or sitting alone in front of a 70-inch screen taking meticulous notes about a team that reports have indicated soon will be his, the former LSU coach no doubt had a memorable Saturday night.
With North Carolina playing in the afternoon, Manny provided the first highlight, a Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the first half during UNC’s 49-26 Senior Day win over Western Carolina. The Jayhawks, perhaps to the surprise of many, provided a bunch more the rest of the night.
What Miles saw on Saturday night likely won’t mean much or still be on his mind by the time he leads Kansas onto the field to open the 2019 season, provided the reported deal does in fact become official.
But first impressions are pretty powerful. And if Saturday’s 55-40 loss at No. 6 Oklahoma was the first time Miles watched a Kansas football game with definitive knowledge that he soon will be leading the program, a number of KU players and coaches left a mark.
Freshman phenom Pooka Williams, of course, was the most notable of the bunch. From gobbling up yardage (270 yards on 18 touches) and rushing for two touchdowns to flashing his toughness and throwing for another score, the Louisiana native showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the second best player on the field on Saturday night.
No offense, Pooka, but that other guy wearing No. 1, in OU red, might be the best player in all of college football. And Kyler Murray’s team won.
If Miles was not aware of it before Saturday night, he went to bed knowing that his first official act as the Kansas football coach, should that be where KU’s search ends, has to be a little sit-down with Pooka. It’s not hard to imagine the two becoming fast friends.
But there were plenty of other players, underclassmen even, who also put some good things on film against the Sooners.
Two other Louisianimals, Mike Lee and Co Harris, along with Bryce Torneden, Hasan Defense and Kyle Mayberry.
Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams ran hard in relief of Williams. And the rest of the team played hard to the end, happily embracing the opportunity to show they belonged on the same field with the 10-1 Sooners instead of hiding from it.
The Jayhawks (3-8 overall, 1-7 Big 12) weren’t anywhere close to perfect in this one. Remember, there’s a reason new KU Athletic Director Jeff Long has been looking for a new head coach. But they hit hard, played harder and demonstrated that there’s something there to build on.
At halftime, FOX studio analyst Robert Smith said in no uncertain terms that what he saw Saturday was a much improved Kansas football team over the one he watched lose to Oklahoma, 41-3, last season in Lawrence.
Play-by-play announcer Tim Brando, a close friend of Miles’ who gave the Miles-to-KU talk life via Twitter a couple of weeks ago, referenced Miles vaguely throughout Saturday’s broadcast and pushed the excitement meter up a notch or two near the end of the game.
With just a few minutes remaining and the outcome decided, Brando said there would be news, “more than likely (Sunday),” out of Lawrence and then went on to gush about Miles’ ability, how he could put together a quality staff and why he believed Miles could turn things around.
If Kansas football, which entered Saturday as a 35-point underdog to OU, easily can cover the spread and hang 40 points on the Sooners in the process, Les Miles can wear crimson and blue.
Now we wait.