Many fans had pegged this game as being all about their former coach. When it was over, it was only about their current one and the raucous celebration on the field. Kansas not only defeated former coach Mark Mangino and Iowa State 34-14, they did so convincingly with their most complete performance in at least three years.
The game was not only monumental for Kansas (3-6, 1-5), but for interim coach Clint Bowen, who notched his first career victory at the school he not only grew up watching, but played and later coached at. From the time the students began chanting “Bowen, Bowen,” to his victory Gatorade bath to the falling of the goalposts, the emotions were high and a long time coming for many including Bowen.
“You know, I've always seen those. They're a lot colder than you think,” Bowen said. “The old ice punch challenge came through there. Honestly, about the greatest feeling of my life as this coaching thing goes.”
The players all remarked that they wanted this one bad for Bowen, who replaced Charlie Weis, who was fired on September 28 and they came out determined to make it a reality and leave little doubt. The Jayhawks put together a first quarter that fans hadn’t really seen since, ironically, the Mangino days.
They rocketed off to a 17-0 lead through one quarter thanks to a 14-yard touchdown run from running back Corey Avery on the first offensive series of the game. Following a three and out by the defense, quarterback Michael Cummings found tight end Jimmay Mundine for a 20-yard touchdown pass and a quick 14-0 lead.
The Kansas defense was alive from there. In fact, they didn’t even allow an Iowa State (2-7, 0-6) first down until well into the second quarter. Running back Tony Pierson made it 24-0 on a six yard scoring run and it seemed as if not only would Kansas win, but they would do so in a way in which it always seemed would happen to them in previous losses.
“We have been practicing fast, and practicing good, so we just turned it over to Saturday and just kept going with it all together,” Pierson said.
In all, Kansas tallied 514 yards of total offense, their most in a game since 2011. They passed for 286 yards and rushed for 228 with two runners going for over 100 yards.
Iowa State would fight back into the game, closing the gap to 24-14 early in the third quarter and they seemed poised to narrow it even more, but a forced fumble by Victor Simmons switched the momentum around for good and together with the rest of the defense, the ending was written. All that was needed was for it to be played out.
When Cummings tacked on a final touchdown on a quarterback sneak from a yard out, the attention turned to Bowen and the celebration that would soon unfold. Following the game, team captain and senior linebacker Ben Heeney presented him with the game ball and an emotional Bowen took it all in.
“It was awesome. It was great,” Bowen said. “So great to be able to see those kids jump around and celebrate and just smile and be happy. You know, smile and be happy. It was a lot of fun in there.”
Obviously the next question centered on whether or not Bowen felt the victory stated his case to have the interim tag stripped and for his dream job to truly be his, but he wouldn’t have any of it. With the class and grace that he is known for, he kept the perspective on the program hat he holds so dear and the many people that make it up.
“It means that our players finally get a reward for all the hard work and effort that they put into everything that they do,” Bowen said. “We have a tremendous group of young men down there who work just as hard as everyone else and have came up on the short end of those games so many times, and it means that they get to hold their heads high and be proud of what they did today and celebrate and have fun and do all those things that they came to Kansas to do.”
In a game that was supposed to be about the return of Mark Mangino, it never really materialized that way. In fact, thanks to the way it all played out, it never really did have anything to do with the former Jayhawks coach.
It ended up being about a Kansas program that has been hurting since his departure following the 2009 season. But most importantly, it ended up being about the players who wanted to taste true success and celebrate just once with their fans. It ended up being about Clint Bowen, a man whose life revolves around Kansas football. And as the fans poured onto the field and set their sights on the goal posts, there stood Bowen and Mangino, linking past and present and the perspective was suddenly as clear as the cold, night sky overhead.
“You know, his message was just congratulations on the win, and it's probably more my message to him, that I truly appreciate everything he's always done for me for a long time, personally, professionally,” Bowen said. “He's had a huge impact on my career. There's so many things that I've done in the last four weeks that I learned from Coach Mangino. The guy is a tireless worker, put his heart and soul in this program, and I think anyone that's a Kansas fan should appreciate that.”