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The Day After: A close call vs. the Cowboys

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Kansas interim head coach Clint Bowen talks to senior Michael Reynolds just before the Jayhawks take the field Saturday afternoon. Kansas dropped the game 27-20 to Oklahoma State.

Kansas interim head coach Clint Bowen talks to senior Michael Reynolds just before the Jayhawks take the field Saturday afternoon. Kansas dropped the game 27-20 to Oklahoma State. by Ryan Waggoner

Two weeks after being blanked by a struggling Texas team at home, the Kansas University football team took the 16th-ranked squad in the nation to the wire in a 27-20 loss at Memorial Stadium.

It's been quite a transformation since former KU coach Charlie Weis was let go and interim head coach Clint Bowen was plugged in to replace him. The roster remains the same, the issues that existed under Weis are still present (though improving) under Bowen, but the Jayhawks appear to be playing harder and fighting with everything they've got.

Even while falling behind 20-7 at halftime, one did not get the sense that Kansas was out of it or overmatched. Led by a defense that's getting better each week and an offense that enjoyed its best four-quarter stretch of the season, the Jayhawks got the game tied at 20 with 6:55 to play and then watched a special teams miscue cost them.

Consistent effort and progress is what Bowen has preached since taking over and, even though things weren't perfect against the Cowboys, it's hard to argue that both were not achieved during KU's latest outing.

Kansas senior buck Michael Reynolds (55) and junior lineman T.J. Semke team up to sack Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman (12) during their game Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas senior buck Michael Reynolds (55) and junior lineman T.J. Semke team up to sack Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman (12) during their game Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

Quick takeaway

This week's near-upset of Oklahoma State may have been all about the Kansas offense finding its groove, but it would be a crime to overlook what this KU defense is doing right now. Saturday's game marked the second week in a row in which the Kansas defense did not surrender a single point in the second half. And it's not as if they were playing chumps during the past two weeks. Both West Virginia and Oklahoma State came in averaging well over 400 yards per game and the KU defense found enough rhythm, especially in the final two quarters, to really frustrate those dynamic offenses and give the Jayhawks a chance to hang around. It would have been real easy weeks ago for this defense to throw up its hands in frustration for the offense's struggles, but instead of doing that, Ben Heeney and company kept working, put more on their shoulders and finally saw the offense help them out a little on Saturday.

Three reasons to smile

1 – Michael Cummings clearly looks like the answer at quarterback. Not only does the junior who made the sixth start of his career look more comfortable, confident and competent out there, but he also is not afraid to make plays. He got the ball to Nick Harwell seven times. He exploited mismatches for Jimmay Mundine five times and he helped get Tony Pierson the 10-15 touches per game he needs for the offense to get going. The best part about all of that? He was hardly impressed. Cummings said he loved being back out there again but added that, based off of the team's performance, it's clear that they still have a ton of work to do. It didn't sound like coach speak when he said it either. Bowen didn't anoint Cummings the starter for the rest of the season publicly, but there's no doubt that the 5-10 junior is KU's answer at the position.

Kansas players Corey Avery (6), Mike Smithburg (65) and Michael Cummings (14) celebrate Avery's fourth quarter touchdown during their game against Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas players Corey Avery (6), Mike Smithburg (65) and Michael Cummings (14) celebrate Avery's fourth quarter touchdown during their game against Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

2 – The pride in the room was palpable but at no point did you get the impression that the Jayhawks thought what they did on Saturday was anywhere near good enough. That's a reflection of their head coach, who clearly appreciated how hard his team played and fought and how close they came to pulling the upset, but continues to emphasize that getting close is not what's important. Bowen coaches that way, his players reflect that in the way they play and, for the first time in a while, these guys seem to really believe in themselves. Instead of just hearing them say it, you can actually sense it. Nowhere is that better summed up than in a few words Bowen uttered toward the end of Saturday's postgame press conference: "I'm not so sure our team has to take a back seat to anybody. We show up any given day and compete."

Kansas senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd attempts to defend a pass against Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington during the first half.

Kansas senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd attempts to defend a pass against Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington during the first half. by Ryan Waggoner

3 – KU's secondary proved just how good it is by frustrating Daxx Garman (17-of-31 for 161 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 1 lost fumble) and the Oklahoma State passing offense WITHOUT the services of starting cornerback Dexter McDonald, who missed all but one play of Saturday's game because of injury. Matthew Boateng filled in and fought his tail off, JaCorey Shepherd kept his sensational season rolling, nickelback Tevin Shaw played arguably the best game of his career and safeties Cassius Sendish, Isaiah Johnson and Fish Smithson were tough against the pass and strong in support of the run.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – Those darn kickoff returns. That's two weeks in a row that the Jayhawks have given up a kickoff return for a touchdown, and this one cost them the game. Bowen said practicing the kickoff coverage unit was one of the toughest things to do because you can't afford to send guys flying down field at full speed repeatedly in practice without risking injury, but KU's going to have to find something that works because this group is not getting it done. Bowen said it was the second week in a row with the new personnel on that unit, so maybe it's just a matter of reps and time. Compounding matters is the fact that KU, though decent, continues to get nothing significant from its kick return unit. Average starting field position for OSU on Saturday was its own 35, which included four drives starting in KU territory. Average starting field position for KU? The KU 28, with just one drive starting in OSU territory. Until that kickoff return by Tyreek Hill, the Jayhawks had kept the Big 12's No. 2 all-purpose yards per game guy bottled up to the tune of 71 yards, less than half of his average.

Kansas' Justin McCay (19) and Jake Love (57) team up to put a hit on Oklahoma State punt returner Tyreek Hill during their game Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas' Justin McCay (19) and Jake Love (57) team up to put a hit on Oklahoma State punt returner Tyreek Hill during their game Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. by John Young

2 – Trevor Pardula's shank punt near the end of the first half proved to be a killer. It's hard to pile on Pardula too much here because the guy so often has been one of the few bright spots in some bad beatings during the past couple of seasons. But when KU really needed a good one to finish off a strong first half, Pardula yanked a 20-yard kick out of bounds. That set the Cowboys up with a short field and, five plays, 30 yards and 59 seconds later, OSU picked up a touchdown that pushed the halftime lead to 20-7. The way the Kansas defense was playing, if Pardula had just boomed his average kick of 44 yards, the Cowboys may have come away empty and led by just six heading into the locker room.

3 – KU knocked down its penalty total from 11 last week at West Virginia to 8 this week against OSU, but that's still a tad too high. The reason? Because so many of KU's penalties were unforced. The Jayhawks had four false start penalties, a couple of face masks and a questionable pass interference call. When you're playing hard, these things are going to happen — particularly on defense. But Bowen and the offensive coaches have to find a way to address the false start penalties by the offensive line. This offense is not good enough to overcome flipping second- or third-and-short situations into second- or third-and-long.

One for the road

The Jayhawks' 27-20 loss to 16th-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday...

• Dropped Kansas to 578-593-58 all-time.

• Featured the Kansas defense forcing Oklahoma State to a three-and-out on its first drive of the game, marking the third time in six games that the Jayhawks haven’t allowed a first down on their opponents’ first drive.

• Included KU's first lead in Big 12 play since a 31-19 victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16, 2013 (7-3 in the first quarter).

• Included an offensive series that featured the most plays in a single drive by Kansas this season, a 14-play 72-yard drive that spanned 4:56 and ended with a KU field goal that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.

• Featured a forced fumble by Michael Reynolds that gave the Kansas defense its sixth forced fumble in as many games.

Next up

The Jayhawks (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big 12) will hit the road for a 2:30 p.m. Saturday match-up at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off of a 37-34 loss to West Virginia and own the same records as the Jayhawks. “We haven't given up, despite what a lot of people think," senior linebacker Ben Heeney said. "We're 2-4, we have six games left and we're focused on Texas Tech right now. Why can't we win next week?” All of a sudden, that seems like a pretty fair question.

Kansas senior safety Cassius Sendish intercepts a pass early in the 2nd half of the Jayhawks 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon. The play was one of two turnovers forced by Kansas on the day.

Kansas senior safety Cassius Sendish intercepts a pass early in the 2nd half of the Jayhawks 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon. The play was one of two turnovers forced by Kansas on the day. by Ryan Waggoner

Comments

Alex Graves 7 years ago

Two other sighs that were very visible and Matt what would be your take on these...

1) Play call on the last few drives was suspect at best! Your QB and WR were finally getting into rhythm but Reagan starts call runs up the middle? Made absolutely no sense! The strength of our team is our WR/TE and getting them the ball in those crunch times should be the highest priority. Not running the ball up the middle which didn't work all day besides Avery TD.

2) To make passes that bounced 3-5 yds in front of the WRs. Maybe it was mechanics or maybe it was fatigue but this bounce passes in the 4th quarter combined with suspect play calling is what ended up costing KU getting the ball in the end zone in the 4th quarter. Missed opportunities but I would rather talk about missed opportunites than getting absolutely dismantled again!

Defense played very well and after that kick off return for a TD we found out why we didn't kick it deep the entire game!

kellerman411 7 years ago

1) Exactly. And that is why they were expecting the pass. And when we didn't pass and they were able to stop the run, who would expect us to run again? Reagan kept going back to it hoping to catch them off guard but they were able to clog that middle and shut it down.

2) Cummings probably had a stinger. He was body slammed at least 4 times yesterday. After seeing his accuracy throughout the game, those last couple passes that were 5 yards off are clearly due to the punishment he endured.

3) This defense is downright salty. It's time to stop acknowledging them as just a bright spot on a horrible team. This defense CAN PLAY. We constantly put them in position to fail and they just come through again and again.

Dirk Medema 7 years ago

1 & 2 don't make sense next to each other.

1) "The strength of our team is our WR/TE and getting them the ball in those crunch times should be the highest priority."

2) "To make (many?) passes that bounced 3-5 yds in front of the WRs."

WR/TE can't really be the strength of the team w/o a QB to get the ball to them. It would also seem a little questionable given the number of drops. 2? 3? More?

There would seem to be lots of potential there, and the success of the team seems to hinge on getting something/anything out of them.

Dirk Medema 7 years ago

Worst of all, that kick seemed to create a false sense of confidence in being able to kick long, which led to the fateful return.

Brad Farha 7 years ago

This one hurts. We were so close, we had our chances.

Matt -- after the game, the players gathered on the field for a bit, and then went to the locker room without singing the Alma Mater with the student section. Is that something Coach Bowen is not going to continue......or was it a result of so few students left at the end of the game?

Micky Baker 7 years ago

I think that's a product of changing the culture. It's not necessarily a bad thing to sing the Alma Mater with the students, but maybe it should be after a win instead of a loss? Motivation for both the team and the 12th man to stay until the end?

kellerman411 7 years ago

Man, when you look at Texas Tech and Iowa State, I just can't help but think that yesterday KU just may have let a chance at a bowl birth slip through their fingers. Those 3 would have given us 5 wins.. we would have had to steal one of the other 4. I'm making some pretty strong assumptions but Cummings just looked so calm and in control of that offense. If he keeps playing like that, we're going to win a couple games I would think.

Dale Rogers 7 years ago

As for practicing defending kickoff returns without having your defenders running that distance full speed several times in a row, why not station them half way, have them count off x seconds after the kick, then start moving on their defense. Less running. Or am I missing the point?

Eric MacDonald 7 years ago

Kick-off and punt-returns result in a high degree of injury and some of the most serious injuries because players are running at full speed before making contact. During typical play the only thing nearly as bad is a receiver catching the ball across the middle and getting blown up by a linebacker. I don't blame him for not risking injuries in practice with guys they need for games.

Dirk Medema 7 years ago

It's sort of like falling, which isn't nearly as bad as stopping/the impact at the end.

Titus Canby 7 years ago

I said it before the season started and still feel the same way. I love this team. Our record stinks, but these guys play hard. And now we have a coach who coaches hard. No matter what happens, I'll always be a huge Bowen fan based on his quote at his first press conference: "Anyone who sees this job as a stepping stone is an idiot."

I love KU football.

Thank goodness we now have a coach who feels the same way.

Bill Kackley 7 years ago

My question is, why wasn't,t the illegal bock in the back called on the kickoff return. I admit I didn't see it when I was at the game but it was obvious on television.

Kyle Sybesma 7 years ago

I saw it on the replay too. I also thought the play should have been reviewed. He was close to being out of bounds. I'm not sure how replay gets triggered to the officials on the field in college. I think it's all starts upstairs.

Jack Joiner 7 years ago

I was able to make my first game of the season and came away happy even though we didn't win. What I liked about Cummings was the he looked comfortable in the pocket and when rushed he stepped up in the pocket instead of running to the sideline. I was with an OSU season ticket holder who travels to away games. He says he likes our stadium better than all the rest. I'm fort keeping Bowen.

Cliff Leiker 7 years ago

I am excited about KU football. We are looking a lot better and competing with a very good OSU team. I am not a fan of the punter though. He has repeatedly throughout his career made bonehead plays. I don't know if he took his eyes off the ball during that punt before half time, possibly sneaking a peak at the oncoming bad guys. He needs to learn to focus when it matters most. Lastly, even if the coach instructed him to kick it deep, I am almost 100% certain he didn't say kick to the fastest dude on the field. Come on, use your head. Please.

Kyle Sybesma 7 years ago

I think he was told to punt away from Hill and it got in his head to make sure he didn't punt to him. Well, he certainly accomplished that. Pardula has made many more positive plays than negative ones.

Cliff Leiker 7 years ago

I also wanted to mention that the defense is starting to look like the defense we had the year we won the Orange Bowl. The defense is gang tackling like they did under DC Bill Young.

Doug Cramer 7 years ago

Gotta love the Crimson Girl with the fro in the last picture.

Richard Duran 7 years ago

Most improved player is Mundine. He's catching almost everything and making good yardage after the catch. keep giving him the ball! And please wear those blue helmets the rest of the year. They are sharp. Never wear those awful Crimson Chrome unis ever again.

Dirk Medema 7 years ago

Coach Bowen thinks so too given his and Stowers post-game comments.

Bill Kackley 7 years ago

DID NO ELSE SEE THE ILLEGAL BLOCK?

Jonathan Allison 7 years ago

I did! Would have been another sack by Reynolds, but he got pushed to the ground from behind.

Kyle Sybesma 7 years ago

For those who thought Weis needed more time this is what improvement is suppose to look like. This is what we should have looked like last year. It's only one game but I'm impressed with the 2 week improvement from Bowen over the 2+ year of no improvements from Weis.

As soon as the game was over I was excited to think about next weeks game vs Tech instead of dreading it. No matter what happens, Zenger needs to do a thorough search but IMHO Bowen has put himself in the drivers seat.

Jonathan Allison 7 years ago

Not a stretch to say that Kansas could have won the game.

McDonald may have shut down the corner TD pass that barely sailed over Boateng's fingers.

The shanked punt at the end of the first half put OSU is field goal position before they even took a snap.

Several other instances where discipline and fundamentals could have turned the tide.

Overall, a very encouraging performance. Last week after the WVU game, players said that they believed that they could build off of that game. They did. They played their hearts out and almost stole this game. There was however plenty that the coaches can break down for them in the film room and they should be able to continue to build. If they do that, then they may break the road game streak this week in Lubbock.

Winnable games: ISU, TTU

We have TCU at home. And I've had them marked as winnable before because of that. They look like they belong as a top 10 team though right now. However, we showed against OSU that we can hang with the big boys at home. We'll have to cut out the mistakes though to keep things close against TCU or at OU, Baylor, or KSU.

If we beat TTU AND ISU and can cut down the penalties, then I think that Bowen has shown enough to be the frontrunner in the coaching search, but if we take three straight blowouts to end the year against TCU, OU, and KSU then there's certainly no guarantee.

John Myers 7 years ago

Not a stretch in the least. Harwell makes that easy catch in the endzone is +4 points for us. Pardula doesn't shank the punt and don't give up the kickoff return - conceivably -14 for OSU

Steve Corder 7 years ago

This is a different team since Bowen took control.

Chris Bailey 7 years ago

Why don't we kick the ball out of bounds and just start it at the 35? It sucks but it's far better than a TD. Or find a guy who can kick it out of the endzone? Hell hold tryouts for kids on campus. Surely we have an ex-soccer player that has a leg on him. Boot it through the back of the endzone consistently.

Al Martin 7 years ago

I remember this same comment (not from you, necessarily, although I don't remember) two years ago. How sad is it that this remains a recurring issue?

Dirk Medema 7 years ago

Wasn't Wymans the answer from 2 yrs ago?

Brian Skelly 7 years ago

It's the first time in a long while where I felt like that light at the end of the tunnel might not be an on coming train.     We looked like a reasonably competent D-1 football program.    We even did for fits and starts in the WVU game.    Are we there yet?   Of course not.     But maybe there's something there.    It can be excruciating to watch us fall short,  but before we werent able to that.     It's progress though.      Im sure we all can sense that now.

John Fitzgerald 7 years ago

I have to say this game was much easier to stomach. We fought hard and stayed in the game, giving our offense a chance to tie it at the end. Take away a few of those silly mistakes, and we could have pulled off the upset. I'm actually excited for the Tech game and feel pretty confident that we have a chance. If we can get 3 more wins this year, one of them being on the road (Texas Tech) then I feel this job should be Bowens. My only concern with him is recruiting. Not sure if he's a good recruiter so we'd have to really find some good recruiters to back him up. It's also hard to convince kids to come to your program when it's not winning and the coach is completely new to being a HC. Bowen has been a good DC, but not necessarily a "great" one. I think he can be a great head coach judging by his attitude and leadership though.

Jonathan Allison 7 years ago

Reggie Mitchell is a very good recruiter and should be retained if possible by the next coach.

Darren McSweeney 7 years ago

I'm not ready to say that we're greatly improved OR that Clint Bowen is the answer at all. Remember that we've had these types of games a few times over the last few years. What happened after each of these "close" Big 12 games, or even the win over West Virginia last year? We got blown out for the next few games. Remember that we're starting a completely new team and the other team has no idea what to expect from us. Montell Cozart beat West Virginia for this exact reason.

I can admit that the game gave me some hope... we just can't get ahead of ourselves.

John Fitzgerald 7 years ago

That's a good point. These next few games will tell the tale.

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