Images from Saturday's football game against Texas Tech at Memorial Stadium
Kansas football coach Charlie Weis talks after his team's 54-16 loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 5, 2013.
Equivalent to a blackout, the human electricity that lit Memorial Stadium on fire with emotion vanished in a blink Saturday afternoon. And once the momentum shifted, it never even hinted at shifting back.
An outcome so lopsided as Texas Tech 54, Kansas 16 can’t be traced to one play making the difference, but it certainly wasn’t difficult to pinpoint the moment the tide turned with tsunami-like fury.
KU put undefeated Texas Tech behind for the first time all season, 10-0, and after the Red Raiders tied the score in the second quarter, Kansas faced a fourth-and-13 from its 16. Time for a punt. Period. No debate. Nothing whatsoever to discuss.
Trevor Pardula, whose left foot is so much stronger than both feet working in tandem are fast, took the snap near the 5-yard line and sprinted to his left on a fake that had the same impact on the crowd as would killing the speakers at a rock concert. Dead silence. Then boos. No gain. So much enthusiasm lost. Pardula needed to run about 25 yards for a first down. Gale Sayers in his prime would have had a tough time covering the distance.
How in the world did this happen?
Kansas coach Charlie Weis explained that of all the looks Texas Tech uses when its punt return unit takes the field, one look could be exploited, apparently with ease. Weis was so confident of that he said, “It wouldn’t make a difference whether you needed 10 yards or you needed 40 yards. It wouldn’t make a difference. So therefore you don’t get scared off it.”
How many times did the Red Raiders align that way?
“It didn’t present itself,” Weis said. “And the young man (Pardula) felt it did present itself.”
It was up to the punter to read the field and make a decision.
“It’s not like we called it,” Weis said. “The same call was there for every single play until that happened.”
Pardula shot himself in his very strong foot by not using it and instead using his feet. But that doesn’t make him ultimately responsible for the play that stood out among so very many Keystone Cop moments during a stretch of 54 unanswered points by Texas Tech. The ultimate blame lies with the coach. Weis said as much and it was not a case of false humility. There is very little that comes out of his mouth that can be labeled at all false.
Pardula shot himself in the foot, but without Weis buying the gun, loading it and handing it to his punter, just in case he decides to use it, Pardula never could have wounded himself and the team’s chances of heading into the locker room feeling OK.
Unless the look that Weis referenced entailed 11 Red Raiders dropping back to receive the punt, any fake punt would seem a gamble not worth taking on fourth-and-13 at the 16 in a tie game in the second quarter.
“I’m not sitting here saying he did that completely on his own,” Weis said, putting his foot in the line of fire. “There’s a gray area there. I’ll ultimately take the responsibility when there’s a gray area because kids are kids and when they have to do too much thinking that can end up happening.”
Weis returns to the black chalkboard, white chalk in hand, trying to avoid gray areas and red faces.
It wasn’t close to the only play that made KU’s Day 1,063 without a Big 12 victory feel as if it lasted a few hundred centuries, but time never stood still quite the way it did as Pardula lumbered on the bridge to nowhere, the bridge the KU football program so often finds itself on, searching for the right engineers and labor force that can combine efforts to figure out how to construct an exit ramp. On this day, that knotty challenge felt so much like a work in regress.