KU football looking to recuperate during bye week ahead of Oklahoma test

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas's Jereme Robinson (90) and Tommy Dunn Jr. (92) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

There may be no position group on Kansas’ roster more in need of a bye week than the defensive ends.

After starters Hayden Hatcher and Jereme Robinson went down with injuries late in the game against UCF on Oct. 7 and missed practice the following Monday, Robinson specifically was able to play significant time in Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State. But then Austin Booker, arguably the breakout player of the entire defense this season, had to deal with an apparent knee injury, after coming out with a brace on his right knee in warmups at OSU. He played a fair amount and even recorded nine total tackles but wasn’t able to add to his league-high five sacks.

Asked how the time off could help his knee, Booker said, “I think we all have bumps and bruises that we need to get right.” He added that a bye week will be “really good for us.”

Head coach Lance Leipold, for his part, pointed out that it’s been 11 weeks straight of work since KU began preseason camp. The Jayhawks “need to get fresher,” he said, “not just healthier just based on an injury or two.” They’ll practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a weight-room day on Friday, he said, before returning to practice on Sunday.

Booker noted that it coincides with KU’s academic fall break, giving the defense plenty of time to regroup and work on “redirecting” after, as he noted, struggling with a variety of quick screen passes and comeback routes in the loss to the Cowboys.

“We’ll have less distractions,” he said. “We’ll really be able to zone in on next week.”

One area of particular scrutiny in the lead-up to KU’s return to action on Oct. 28 against Oklahoma will be the continued absence of starting quarterback Jalon Daniels. Daniels had not appeared on the field at Texas or versus UCF, but was on the sideline at OSU in street clothes, wearing a headset and talking with quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski about what he saw as the game progressed.

“He’s mentally going through the calls in his mind as he sees them, all that stuff,” Leipold said after the game. “But yeah, it was good to have him there.”

Daniels has now started fewer games (three) than backup Jason Bean (four) on the season. Bean had a career day in Stillwater but made a few key mistakes down the stretch as KU was unable to close out the game.

Leipold said he has “great hope” about Daniels coming back soon.

“It’s kind of like last year’s deal (with Daniels’ shoulder injury), OK?” Leipold said. “He wasn’t out for the season, OK? And there’s no one that’s told me he’s out for the season this year … You can see him moving a lot better than he has been. So hope, yeah, I have no reason not to.”

He said the plan is to see how Daniels progresses over the course of the bye week.

Last season’s Jayhawks lost six of seven games after opening 5-1. This year’s team has dropped one of one. The ultimate goal of the bye week, as tight end Mason Fairchild put it, is to avoid letting that one loss turn into two.

KU successfully avoided compounding its first loss at Texas by coming back and routing UCF. Now, the rest of the road ahead won’t be easy for this year’s team, which is 5-2 and will host Oklahoma, travel to Iowa State, host Texas Tech and Kansas State, then go back on the road to Cincinnati.

Kickoff wrinkle

The Big 12 Conference announced Monday that KU will host OU at 11 a.m. on Oct. 28 in a game televised on Fox.

That lent some credence to the notion that Lawrence could play host to Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show, which leads into the network’s noon Eastern Time (11 a.m. Central) game.

Fox has, however, occasionally chosen to host “Big Noon Kickoff” at the site of a game played at a time other than noon Eastern, or at the site of a game that Fox itself is not televising. (Last Saturday, it went to Notre Dame-USC, an NBC game.) There likely won’t be full clarity on whether the show plans to visit Lawrence until next weekend.

“Big Noon Kickoff” has never come to a KU game. ESPN’s “College GameDay,” its competition and forerunner, visited Lawrence for the first time last year, when then-unbeaten KU lost to eventual national runner-up TCU.

Whatever happens, it’ll be the Jayhawks’ first morning game of the season, and will also serve as the team’s homecoming.


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