Jayhawks Looking to Rebound

Kansas football isn't used to losing these days. Heck, the Jayhawks had lost just twice in 19 games before its heartbreaking 37-34 defeat to South Florida in Tampa last Friday night.

So it should come as no surprise that the No. 19 Jayhawks (2-1) felt  a bit testy this week heading into their 6 p.m. game tonight against Sam Houston State (1-0) at Memorial Stadium. The contest is a sellout and will be televised on Fox College Sports.
    
Kansas squandered a 20-3 lead in the first half to USF, giving up 31 unanswered points, including 17 points during a 10:31 stretch in the third and fourth quarters. While sophomore quarterback Todd Reesing led a valiant comeback and tied the game with two passing touchdowns, Maikon Bonani kicked a 43-yard field goal at the buzzer to give USF the win.
    
"I think (the players) reacted the way I expected them to react, like a good football team does,” Mangino said at his press conference on Tuesday. “They are angry, they're mad and that's the kind of reaction you are looking for. Sunday's practice normally for us is kind of a correction day and a walk through. This (Sunday) ended up in some real battles on the practice field. Guys were knocking the crap out of each other and that's the way it ought to be. If you don't like losing you have to do something about it."  
    
KU is facing a Sam Houston State squad from the Southland Conference which hasn’t fared well against NCAA Division I Bowl Subdivision  teams the last 21 years (2-21). The Bearcats, who cruised past East Central, 58-14, in their home opener on Aug. 28, were idle last week after their home contest with Prairie View A&M was canceled due to Hurricane Ike.
    
This is the first matchup between KU and Sam Houston State, which returns 12 starters from last season’s 7-4 team. The Bearkats lost several key players from 2007, including three All-Conference offensive linemen, two-time All-SLC selection David Branch (defensive end), two all-conference safeties, and All-American tight end Blake Martin.
    
Senior star quarterback Rhett Bomar is back, though, in addition to some other talented players. The OU transfer led the Southland and ranked No. 8 nationally in total offense (290.6 yards per game) last year. The Bearkats also feature some impressive receivers in seniors Catron Houston (46 receptions for 597 yards in 2007) and Justin Wells (42 catches for 660 yards). Junior running back James Aston is also an offensive spark, rushing eight times for 115 yards and two touchdowns against East Central.
    
On defense, the Bearkats return All-Conference defensive ends Eric Mikolajchak and Chris Brown, who recorded five of the Bearkats’ 13 sacks last season. Undersized senior linebacker Nolan Bucek (5-10, 202 pounds) also returns at linebacker; he led the Southland in tackles in 2007 with 88 stops.
    
While Mangino respects Sam Houston State, he admits he focused more on his own team this week and trying to correct mistakes against South Florida.
    
“As far as preparing for them, we only have one game that they played this year,” Mangino said. “We have watched some of last year’s games, but there’s not a lot to know. They played a Division II school (East Central) that wasn’t really a great deal of competition for them.
    
“What we’ve elected to do is prepare for Sam Houston State, but also (used) this week to focus on getting our team better, because there is such a limited amount of information about Sam Houston State.”
    
Of course, Mangino is familiar with Bomar.
    
“He's talented,” Mangino said. “He throws the ball well, he runs the ball very well and he's got great speed. ”
    
And on defense, “they are scrappy type of kids, they play hard.”
    
Mangino expects KU to play scrappy and hard on Saturday. The Jayhawks certainly have room to improve on both offense and defense. KU’s rushing game was nonexistent against USF with only 61 yards, and the ‘Hawks gave up 25 first downs and 458 yards of total offense.
    
Mangino wants to see better blocking by KU’s offensive line and wide receivers, and hopes his running backs can find the creases and lanes better. Defensively, Mangino said “we did not play up to our standards in a lot of areas” against USF.
    
“I think our defensive line has to play at pad level and do a better job of taking care of gap responsibilities,” Mangino said. “Our linebackers need to play gap responsibility, play downhill. ...In the secondary we have to do a better job of zone reads, closing to the football, contesting the ball in the air and playing with balance with our feet underneath us."  
    
Mangino said KU’s mistakes are all correctable.
    
The players are certainly hyped for game day and looking to rebound after their loss to USF.
    
"We were angry we lost (and) disappointed,” said sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Wilson, who had a career game versus USF with 10 catches for 171 yards.
    
“We are just looking to get better now because we have something to prove."
    
KU wants to have a great game with a bye week coming up before conference play begins at Iowa State on Oct. 4. Expect the Jayhawks to turn up the heat and deliver some bone-crushing this evening.
    
“Losing stinks, everybody knows that,” said senior defensive end John Larson. “We’ve always had a pretty good work ethic, but the intensity and focus goes up that much more. We’re learning from this loss.” 

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