Clint Bowen has two games left as Kansas interim head coach. Two contests remaining to build his resume and show KU athletics director Sheahon Zenger that he is the man to lead Jayhawk football in the future.
But does he really have anything left to prove? Bowen has already drawn support for the permanent job from respected TCU head coach Gary Patterson and former KU head coach and current Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. While Bowen has gone just 1-5 since taking over for Charlie Weis, he is actually 5-1 against the spread and his Jayhawks are clearly fighting hard for him.
This was never more evident than last Saturday when KU nearly upset No. 5 TCU, 34-30, on Senior Day.
Zenger told the Lawrence Journal-World after the game that Bowen continues to be a “strong candidate” for the head-coaching job.
Bowen was proud of how his Jayhawks played against the Horned Frogs.
“I really want to commend our players because last week was a tough preparation week in that the weather wasn't the best, getting ready for a tough opponent, went outside, our players handled it very well mentally, went out and put in good days of work on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and I thought the team was really focused and had a good week of practice,” Bowen said.
“I believe that showed on game day in terms of being able to come out of the locker room ready to play against a very tough TCU team.”
The next challenge for Bowen and KU (3-7, 1-6 Big 12) is a battle in Norman on Saturday against No. 23 Oklahoma (7-3, 4-3) at 11 a.m. at Gaylord Family--Memorial Stadium on Fox Sports 1. After losing two of its last three games to Baylor and K-State, Oklahoma is coming off a 42-30 win at Texas Tech last Saturday, where quarterback Cody Thomas became the 12th OU frosh QB to win his initial start. He rushed for 103 yards and one touchdown and also threw a touchdown.
Oklahoma is averaging 38.8 points per game and amassing 479.3 yards of total offense per contest. OU leads the Big 12 in rushing (240.9) and will face a KU rush defense which ranks No. 7 in the league (181.2). The Jayhawks have allowed 200-plus rushing yards in every road game in 2014, an average of 282.8 ypg in those contests.
KU must stop freshman sensation running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 213 yards against TTU and now has 1,001 yards this season. He leads the Big 12 in rushing (100.1 ypg) and rushing TDs (14), a record for ground scores by Big 12 freshmen. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, meanwhile, is an All-American candidate who ranks third in the league and 11th nationally in receiving yards per game (106.3).
On defense, Oklahoma only allows 25.2 points per contest. Linebacker and All-American candidate Eric Striker leads the team in sacks (6.5), TFLs (11.5) and QB hurries (4). He also has 45 tackles, including 32 solo, while sophomore linebacker Dominique Alexander paces the Sooners with 86 stops. Cornerback and All-American candidate Zack Sanchez anchors the secondary; he’s second in the Big 12 and tied for No. 9 nationally with five interceptions while having a team-high 11 passes defended.
For head coach Bob Stoops, it all adds up to dangerous team which will be looking to win the 10th straight game against Kansas. The Jayhawks haven’t won in Norman since 1996, and have lost 28-consecutive true road games and 31 games away from Lawrence overall.
Bowen knows it will be a big challenge Saturday against the physical Sooners. He has great respect for Stoops, who is 167-42 in his 16th season at Oklahoma.
“(Oklahoma is) a very talented team on both sides of the ball, special teams, a talented roster across the board, a team that's very well coached,” Bowen said. “(I’ve) been fortunate to know coach Stoops on a limited basis, know him a little bit, but several run-ins with him, tremendous amount of respect for his body of work for a long time, going back to when he was a defensive coordinator and had the best defenses in the nation year after year after year, and then to have the success that he's had at a Big 12 school for as long as he's had and to continue to keep Oklahoma where their program is amazing in the landscape of college football today. What he's accomplished, due to a few other guys on his staff, his hard work and his body of work is very impressive.
“On defense, Mike Stoops, another great defensive coach, has his players playing hard and playing physical, and this is a defense that will get after you and make you have a bad day. Offensively, Oklahoma has been kind of tops on offense for a while. They're an innovative group. If you go back as far back as 2008, they were one of the first true tempo teams in terms of that team rattling off 50 points a game. Each year they adapt to their personnel and they're able to put an offensive plan together that fits their players and is always very effective.”
Offensively, KU was boosted last week against TCU with career days from quarterback Michael Cummings, tight end Jimmay Mundine, and wide receiver Nigel King, while defensive lineman Tedarian Johnson came up huge with five tackles, one sack for minus-17 yards, and one fumble recovery.
While Bowen said “a loss is never acceptable,” he believes “our players continue to improve each week, and I think our development is starting to show up, and I think our players are seeing positive results from their hard work and the improvement on the field.”
The Jayhawks are now feeling confident by beating ISU two weeks ago and then almost pulling a monumental upset against TCU.
“TCU is a good team, and I think it proved at a lot of different positions, our guys held their own, made plays against that type of competition, so I think it does validate a lot of things that we've been telling them, that ‘hey, you guys belong here. You're recruited here to Kansas for a reason, and you're right where you belong and this is what you're supposed to be doing,’” Bowen said.
If KU can play on Saturday with the fire and passion it did against TCU, the Jayhawks could finally get that elusive road win and lock up the permanent head-coaching job for Bowen. The Lawrence native, though, has never once lobbied for the job; for him, it’s all about the players and “our team.”
Bowen feels KU is prepared to win against the Sooners.
“(It’s a) tremendous challenge for us, a game we look forward to, a chance for our team to go down and play in a great college football environment, and we're looking forward to the opportunity,” Bowen said.
“...We have talked about that our expectations are that we're Big 12 football players playing in the Big 12 Conference, and when you step on the field, you expect to win. You do everything possible in your power to win.”