“I think it’s a good idea,” the coach answered, deadpan.
"Outside of some running plays, I never really felt that we were in sync on offense today. We just weren't sharp, and there are reasons for that: we had a lot of kids that didn't get many reps on the practice field this week. We weren’t sharp. We had chances to make plays and didn't do it.”
There was no better illustration of this than a KU 3rd-and-1 on the Jayhawks’ 444 with 3:38 left in the game and the Jayhawks protecting an 18-13 lead. Convert a 1st down and the game is as good as over. Come up short, and the Aggies have over three minutes to score.
Kansas lined up in the I-formation and attempted to smashmouth their way to a first down. Instead, runningback Jon Cornish ran into a wall of white jerseys for no gain. The Jayhawks were just 3 of 15 on 3rd down conversions Saturday.
On 4th down, Kyle Tucker hit a 56-yard punt for an Aggie touchback. From there, A&M quarterback Stephen McGee – who went 25 of 45 for 240 yards on the day – managed the clock and the sidelines masterfully, guiding his team 80 yards in 12 plays, taking just 2:57 and a 21-18 lead with only 30 seconds left.
Why go all Rush Limbaugh on the 3rd-and-1 call, Coach?
“There was no question that we did not have good ball management at the quarterback position. Normally we would sneak it or run the option. Those are our first two choices; we used neither because we have not had the kind of ball management at the quarterback position that we need. The last thing we I wanted to do needed was to call an option and flip it behind the back for a 20-yard turnover. So it was a conservative call.”
Throw in four KU possessions that started on the Aggies’ 46, their 22, the Jayhawks’ 46 and their 48 that resulted in a just two field goals, and you have the recipe for blown opportunities and another one that got away.
Adam Barmann was spotty Saturday, following up great performances against South Florida and Nebraska with just 13 of 31 passing for 127 yards against A&M. However, Mangino said that it wasn’t just Barmann whose play didn’t meet expectations.
Mangino said, “I can’t blame him for all that. It’s all 11 guys and we weren’t hitting on all cylinders. Credit Texas A&M; I thought they played really good defense. We’re just all over the practice field. That’s the issue that, I think, slowed down our offense.”
Mangino explained that a number of Jayhawks on the offensive side of the ball were limited this week, with a few not practicing until Thursday. The “skeleton offense” practiced Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That drastically limited the starting offensive unit’s reps together, resulting in a loss of continuity.
“I thought that a couple of them managed things really well and I think they’re going to be fine – just some soreness that they can get through. And there’s a couple I’m still concerned about how they function. Then, of course, we had one we didn’t play at all because of an injury. Hopefully we’ll heal up pretty quick,” Mangino said.
This loss of continuity proved especially problematic at quarterback.
“We had to find out if Kerry Meier could work. So he took a lot of the quarterback repetitions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and after Wednesday, he just wasn’t ready to play. So we had to give Adam all his reps on Thursday. We thought Kerry would be prepared and ready to go, but the fact of the matter is, he was probably at least a week away.”
It’s likely that Meier will reassume his starting quarterback spot next week against Oklahoma State, but it’s not a done deal.
“We’d like to make a decision [about the starting QB] tomorrow [Sunday], but because we’re dealing with the recovery from an injury, it’s day to day,” Mangino said. “We think Kerry should be okay here, hopefully, to start practice and take full repetitions as soon as Sunday. That would be what we’d like to happen, but I can’t tell you for sure if that will.”
And if KU fans are frustrated with not having Kerry Meier on the field, they need to get in line behind Mangino. Meier will practice, but the decision lies in how Meier’s shoulder feels the morning after. Mangino said that he’s going to give Meier 50 or 60 percent of the practice reps and wait and see how he feels the next day. If he feels good, reps will increase, but if not, it’s back to day-to-day.
“We’d like to have our number one quarterback get 75 to 80 percent of all the repetitions on the practice field. If we can have it fixed tomorrow, we will. But if not, we’ll just have to go day-to-day,” Mangino explained.
As for the injuries, Mangino’s satisfied that the only health problems for the Jayhawks after two late losses to good-but-beatable teams are from the neck down.
“I’m not worried about our emotional health. I’m more concerned with our physical health,” Mangino said. “Emotionally, we’ll be fine.”
It’s getting hard to not wonder, though, if these close losses are starting to wear on the Jayhawks. Remember last year when linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Reid offered to fight the Jayhawks’ offensive unit? (To quote Chris Farley, “That was awesome.”)
I don’t see that kind of frustration brewing yet. After all, the defense has made its fair share of mistakes against good teams and bad.
A good stiff dose of Oklahoma State may be just what the doctor ordered. I would expect the Jayhawks to be a solid favorite over a Cowboys team that gave up a ton of points against a very young Kansas State offense.
Kansas needs a sound, realtively injury-free win next week to rebuild some confidence, cling to a sniff of hope in the Big 12 North and stay on track for a bowl berth. In many ways, it’s a must-win game for the Jayhawks, and if Mark Mangino’s proven anything in his time at Kansas, it’s that his teams are resilient.
The Jayhawks will have to dig down deep this week. Injuries at this point in the year tend to linger, not heal, and continuity is hard for any team to maintain. But for teams like Kansas – teams that don’t yet go as deep as the more traditional powers they aspire to contend with – maintaining personnel is especially difficult six games in.
There are no two ways about it: Mangino and his staff have a tough road ahead of them.