After losing eight of its last nine games in 2013, after a long offseason devoted to improving, bulking up and slimming down, after hearing all the doubters from fans and media, and after too much free time watching football during last week’s bye, Kansas football is finally ready to embark on a new year.
And it all starts Saturday at 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium against FCS foe Southeast Missouri State (1-0).
The Jayhawks can’t wait for the season opener.
“It’s anxious,” junior defensive end Ben Goodman said Wednesday. “It’s ticking like a dog on a porch and somebody walked by. We just want to jump off and taste it. That’s how anxious we are. We’re really ready.”
“I’m more excited than probably anybody to get back on the field with my teammates and win some more games,” senior linebacker Ben Heeney added.
While SEMO is a FCS opponent, don’t look for the Jayhawks to overlook the Redhawks after their 77-0 blowout over Missouri Baptist on Aug. 28, the highest scoring output in school history. Southwest Missouri State rushed for 304 yards and amassed 516 yards of total offense, while setting several defensive records after capturing its first shutout over a nonconference opponent in the program’s Division I era.
First-year head coach Tom Matukewicz had his players rolling.
“They were dominant in all three facets,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “They were dominant on offense. They were dominant on defense. And I think he was most pleased about they were dominant on special teams because it seems from doing the research on them that was the area they were most concerned with going into the year from the previous year.
“They have a bunch of high effort, good players,” Weis added.
So do the Jayhawks, who should be improved this season with as much depth as the team has had in in the Weis era. KU is expected to boast a strong defense, where nine of 11 starters return.
“I think our defense is going to be pretty solid, to tell you the truth,” Weis said. “I think if our offense can score enough points, we'll have a chance to win a whole bunch of games.”
On offense, it all starts with sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Weis has high hopes for the former Bishop Miege star, who started three games last season and completed only 23 of 63 passes for 227 yards with two interceptions.
“For us to win more football games, it starts with the guy with the ball in his hands every play,” Weis said of Cozart. “I think right now, he is confident, bordering on cocky. That’s a good place to be; I never saw that at any time last last year. ... I think you’re going to see a different kid. He’s been on fire, knock on wood. When you’re on fire, it means you’re completing most of your passes. That means everyone around you is feeding off of that.”
Weis also singled out sophomore nickelback Tevin Shaw on defense, saying he’s been probably the “most pleasant surprise.”
“We had to find a way to get him on the field,” Weis said. “Instead of being the third or fourth safety, along with “Fish,” (Anthony Smithson), we moved him to nickel, and he’ll start.”
After winning just one game his first year and three last season, Weis knows it’s vital for Shaw and all the Jayhawks to start Saturday on a positive note.
“I think it’s important for us to play well in all three facets,” Weis said. “The fans would like you to play well for them, but I think psychologically, you have to play well for you. I’m cognizant of the fact that last year we were going against a FCS team (South Dakota in the season opener), and it was 14-7 at halftime (KU won, 31-14). You have to be respectful of your opponent; SEMO just won 77-0. They could have won 100-0 if they wanted to. It’s important for the psyche of or team for us to play well. I think if we come out and have a sloppy opener, that doesn’t help the psyche of the team.”
Weis and the Jayhawks are on a mission to win as many games as possible this season.
“I think that our players will be very disappointed if they don't win a significant number of games more than we had last year,” Weis said. “I think that Kansas football at this stage is not about being just respected. I mean, we all want to win, starting in this building.”
Goodman just doesn’t want to win Saturday; he wants to prove a point.
“We most definitely want to make a statement, and we should make a statement,” he said. “We want to show the public and show all the doubters that we are ready and this is a different team.
“Like coach Weis says, ‘it’s time.’”