There’s been plenty of talk during recent years about Texas owning the Big 12 Conference, particularly during the conference realignment craze that dominated the past two summers.
But when it comes to running the football, it’s the Sunflower State that owns the league, as Kansas State and Kansas University rank first and second, respectively, in the conference in rushing heading into this weekend’s games and Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, a Wichita native, leads the Big 12 in rushing by an individual.
Although the 10-0 Wildcats, who rank No. 1 in the current BCS standings, feature a slightly more balanced offensive attack than the Jayhawks — QB Collin Klein ranks fourth in rushing but also leads the conference in pass efficiency — neither team has made any attempt to hide the fact that running the football is its bread and butter and they’re going to do it week in and week out no matter who is staring at them from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
There are a couple of reasons both teams have enjoyed sustained success on the ground. It starts with talent, as KU's James Sims (875 yards, 8 touchdowns on 180 carries) and Tony Pierson (657, 3, 103), along with K-Staters Klein and John Hubert, are among the most effective runners in the conference. It extends to the efforts of the head coach and offensive coordinator, which, in KU’s case, is the same man.
“It’s kind of challenging,” said KU coach Charlie Weis. “I’m fired up (to figure) out how are we going to run it this week.”
“Window dressing” is the phrase Weis used to describe the concept of tweaking the offense’s look to allow the same couple of backs to continue to anchor the nation's 20th best rushing attack.
“They know we’re going to run it, we know we’re going to run it, but you’ve got to stay one step ahead of the posse,” Weis said. “Let’s say we take last week’s game plan where (we rushed) for 390 yards and let’s go put it against Iowa State. We would get the crap kicked out of us. They would dog us because they would have answers to those things. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t run those plays, but you have to figure out a different way to run them.”
Asked how different this week’s attack might look compared to last week’s effort in a loss at Texas Tech, Weis simply smiled and said: “Window dressing. There was a big, healthy order of it dialed up on Monday, so we’ve got a lot of it.”
Crist to play Saturday?
With fifth-year senior and first-year Jayhawk Dayne Crist being one of 23 players who will play the final home game of their careers at 6 p.m. Saturday against Iowa State, Weis was asked if the former starter who came to Lawrence last December might get back on the field.
“Michael will start at quarterback,” Weis said. “You know, I might play Dayne in the game, but Michael will start at quarterback. Hey look, I brought Dayne in here. No one loves Dayne more than me. But this is about the team. There’s no better way for me to honor those seniors, Dayne included, than to win.”
Several KU seniors had the chance to speak to the media this week and, when each was asked what he expected in terms of emotions on Saturday, the overwhelming response went something like this: Chills but no tears.
Whether that holds true remains to be seen, but, until then, Weis said the team would focus on preparation for Iowa State first and Senior Day festivities second.
“I’ll do some of those things towards the end of the week,” he said when asked if any seniors would address the team. “Right now, it’s all business. I don’t really worry about those things until you get through Thursday. I mean, there is so much mentally — you know, installation and all that other stuff. There’s so much that takes place in three days in a very little window, you really don’t have time to let guys get up there and talk for an hour.”