A friend and fellow reporter floated an interesting question my way shortly after the Kansas University football team somehow lost to Rice despite having a decent grip on things for most of the game last Saturday.
The question: Did KU’s 25-24, last-second loss to Rice rank as one of the Top 5 most disappointing losses of the past three seasons?
My answer: No.
There’s no doubt that Saturday’s loss left a lot of KU fans scratching their heads and perhaps forced some to consider whether they’d be back any time soon. But, to my ears, the most common reaction among the fans exiting Memorial Stadium sounded a lot more like “Well, well, well,” than “What the hell?”
This latest loss, though surely tough for KU fans to swallow, also is tough to evaluate. The Jayhawks should not have lost. Everyone understands that from the players to KU coach Charlie Weis, who went out of his way to inform us that he clearly pointed out to his team that losing games was not acceptable.
If you’re an excuse maker, your list is long after this one. It’s still early. There are a lot of guys still shaking off the rust. It’s a completely new team running a completely new system with a bunch of players still searching for their chemistry. Like I said, the list is long. But here’s the worst part — even if you’re not interested in making excuses, all of that remains true.
Before moving on, let me tell you, briefly, why I don’t think the loss to a team from Conference USA ranks in the Top 5 most disappointing losses in the past few seasons. For one, the Jayhawks weren’t embarrassed. They fought and played with fire but came up short. For two, they didn’t quit. For three, they didn’t brush off the loss as no big deal when it was over. It was clear that they were upset about letting this one slip away and even more clear that they plan to do something about it.
So what now?
Well, I realize it would be easy for most to revert back to the old “When does basketball season begin” line that we’ve heard around here for oh so long. And if that’s your thing, I won’t hold it against you.
But I still think there are plenty of good things going for this football program and I’m willing to let things play out before calling this season a bust.
Let’s take a look at a few positives and a few of the negatives.
1. I think the defense has improved. They’re more active up front, they cover better in the secondary (even if they’re still not all that aggressive) and they’ve thrown up more three-and-outs in the first two games of the 2012 season than I can remember coming in 2010 and 2011 combined. What’s more, I think this is a group that, as long as it remains confident, will continue to improve each week.
2. The running game looks good. Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox make for a nice one-two punch, and, in seven days we can start to talk about James Sims again. If KU can continue to run the ball as effectively as it has during the first couple of weeks — and that’s definitely a decent-sized if with the schedule stiffening — the Jayhawks should have a shot at being competitive in the Big 12.
3. KU is forcing turnovers. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said it just the other day and hundreds of coaches before him have said it, too: Turnover margin is the most important stat in football. If the Jayhawks continue to get takeaways at the current rate, things eventually will tip in their favor. What’s more, turnovers are contagious, and once you get a few, you start taking the field believing you’re going to get more. That’s huge.
1. Dayne Crist hasn’t been very good. You know it. I know it. He knows it. So it’s no big secret. But I can promise you one thing: He hasn’t delivered back-to-back sub-par performances by choice. The guy’s trying. And he deserves some more time to get it figured out. As long as he remains healthy, he’s still the guy that gives KU the best shot to win each week. But he’s got to perform better quickly so the rest of the team is still willing to follow him.
2. There does not seem to be a killer instinct with this team yet. Stop me if you’ve heard this one... Getting fired up for games does not seem to be a problem for the Jayhawks, but staying juiced throughout does. When your energy drops, your focus drops and when your focus drops, bad things happen. I’m not sure if it’s a case of these guys expecting too much and then being a little dazed when they don’t deliver, or if it’s just a familiarity thing and that old cliche about bad habits being hard to break. Whatever it is, though, this team needs to avoid that second half lull at whatever cost.
3. KU lacks playmakers on offense. Outside of Tony Pierson, who has flashed big-play ability in both games, the Jayhawks have not had another player step into that role yet. Senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson has the potential, but a lot of his work thus far has come in a possession-type role. DJ Beshears also has the potential, but he’s looked out of sync in both games. Someone else needs to step up. The tight ends have looked good and Crist appears to trust them, but you don’t always think of tight ends as playmakers. Maybe it’s time for Andrew Turzilli or Josh Ford to embrace the moment. Or maybe it’s up to Crist.
Time to see which list gets longer.