Before we look back at what went right and what went wrong during last Saturday’s 20-6 loss to TCU, let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: The 15-yard, personal foul penalty for “hitting a defenseless receiver” called on KU safety Bradley McDougald midway through the fourth quarter was quite possibly the worst call I’ve ever seen in my football-viewing life.
The blown call did nothing to impact the outcome of the game and was rather harmless in the big picture, but I don’t think it’s right for that kind of blip to slide by without so much as a mention. Credit the Jayhawks and head coach Charlie Weis for not publicly griping about it after the game. That wouldn’t have accomplished anything and, worse, would’ve made them look like whiners.
Weis made it very clear that his is not a team of whiners when he talked about his displeasure with the way quarterback Dayne Crist came to the sideline with his palms up after some confusion in the passing game. “We don’t do that here,” Weis said simply. And they don’t whine about officiating either.
Their restraint is part of the reason I chose to bring it up here. That official should at least be forced to miss some Big 12 games and work at a lower level for the next couple of weeks. Inexcusable. I’m not sure what McDougald is supposed to do there. Let the guy land before he hits him? That’s not football.
OK, moving on...
Prior to the TCU game I heard a lot of people say they felt like this would or could be the “Georgia Tech game” like KU had in 2010 after losing at home to North Dakota State.
It wasn’t, of course, but even if the Jayhawks had pulled off the upset, I don’t think it would’ve been like the Georgia Tech game at all. For starters, that one came after one of the most embarrassing losses in program and Big 12 history. Losing to Rice was a tough beat, but it was nothing like losing to an FCS team, 6-3, in a coach’s debut. Beyond that, the Georgia Tech game was the peak of the Turner Gill era at Kansas. Things only got worse — nearly every week — from then on out, and I don’t get the sense that the peak of the Weis era will come at any point during the 2012 season, let alone three weeks into it.
To me, it seems as if this team will continue to improve dramatically — week to week, game to game, year to year — and that this year’s loss to TCU, many months from now, will be looked back on as the one where everything started to click.
After the game, the players and coaches who were made available for interviews clearly were upset that they had lost the game. But it wasn’t the kind of anger that comes out of embarrassment, frustration or failure. It was the kind of anger that comes from believing you should’ve won and these guys most certainly believed that. Had the offense just been a little sharper, they might have pulled it off.
That mentality is as good a sign as any that Weis truly has changed the losing culture that existed here. The results might not be showing it yet, but seeing that these guys genuinely believe they can and should win games might mean more to the big picture than a couple of early victories.
So now the Jayhawks move on to Northern Illinois. They’re a 1-2 team and they’re headed on the road this week, but their confidence is back and they’re starting to look like many of us expected a Charlie Weis team to look. If they can just get the offense to reach that point, too, it should be fun to watch this group play the rest of the way — win or lose.
As Weis said Sunday night: "So, now we've got 'em playing hard the whole game, now we just gotta play better."
Quickly, here were three things I really liked about the TCU game, all of which I think will pay off big-time for the Jayhawks down the road:
It was good to see Tony Pierson involved in the passing game. The guy’s a weapon and finding creative ways to maximize his play-making ability should be a priority for the Jayhawks. Here’s guessing we’ll see new wrinkles involving Pierson just about every week from here on out.
It also was nice to see Andrew Turzilli really be a factor out there. The kid has some serious skills and now, with his first start and a 100-yard game fresh in his mind, maybe he’ll have the confidence to take his game up a notch or two.
Former Notre Dame linebacker Anthony McDonald made a difference. Sure, he was a little rusty to start out, and, yeah, he might not be the fastest guy on the field, but he’ll hit you and his experience really is an upgrade for this young group of linebackers. McDonald played more than most expected and finished with six tackles, one fumble recovery and a huge smile. More importantly, he finished relatively healthy and should be ready for an even bigger game this Saturday.