It would typically be a good indication of the outcome of a Kansas football game when Jayhawks quarterback Todd Reesing throws for 357 yards and running back Jake Sharp gains 106 yards on just 12 carries. When the Jayhawks roll up 491 yards of total offense, good things usually happen.
Saturday was an exception to the rule, though. Those were the numbers
on the stat sheet when the final gun went off in Norman, OK, Saturday,
but the Jayhawks came out on the short end of the most important stat
of all – points scored – in a 45-31 loss to the
#4-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
Saturday's was a game that head coach Mark Mangino often refers to as a
measuring stick game – the kind of game that gives an
up-and-coming team and their coaches a chance to take on one of the
country's elite college football programs and see where they're really
We learned two things about Kansas Football Saturday.
First, we learned that despite being light years better than they were
six-plus years ago when Mark Mangino was named head coach, the Jayhawks
still aren't quite ready to go toe-to-toe with a national title
contender on even terms.
KU has bigger, faster, stronger bodies than ever before, but for every
one they have, Oklahoma has three. And one of those is probably a
walk-on who turned down several scholarship offers because he has
dreamed of playing football at Oklahoma since he was three.
Oklahoma's defensive linemen absolutely abused redshirt freshmen
Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes. They were not only bigger than Hatch
and Spikes, they were quicker and, understandably, much more savvy.
Reesing had a great day, but there were a lot of plays when he would
set his back foot to throw only to look up and see a crimson jersey
coming at him.
As good as Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen was, it was hard to watch them
try to keep up with Oklahoma's receivers on quick slants that ended up
going for 16-yards before a safety could make the tackle.
Sooner running backs not only ran around and past KU defenders, they
ran over them a couple of times. There were just too many carries when
OU's runners looked stronger and bigger than anybody on the field for
No play illustrates this disparity better than Oklahoma RB Chris Brown's 14-yard touchdown carry with three minutes and change left in
the second quarter. With a 14-10 lead, Sooner QB Sam Bradford handed
the ball to Brown who ran around the right end. KU LB Mike Rivera got
to the corner only to have Brown run right through his tackle. To pour
a little more salt in the wound, Brown also ran through the arms of
would-be tackler S Justin Thornton on his way to the end zone.
But the second thing we learned is, the Jayhawks have come light years
in the last six seasons and seven games. They showed not just KU fans
but college football fans across the country that the 'Hawks are a
real, grown-up, competitive college football team. The Kansas Jayhawks
are no longer an automatic win.
If you doubt it, remember that the Jayhawks had the ball, trailing
31-24 with six minutes left in the third quarter. This isn't a big deal
unless you're old like me and can remember that for the better part of
40 years, the Kansas-Oklahoma game was, for all practical purposes,
long over with six minutes left in the third quarter.
For the first time in a long time, Kansas came to Norman and gave a
legitimate national title-contending group of Sooners a dogfight. This
wasn’t a fluke upset bid, like KU’s 1984 win over
#2-Oklahoma in a game Kansas has no business even being in. It
wasn’t like those Jayhawk wins back in the mid 1990s when KU
was up and John Blake’s OU teams were down. This time, the
Jayhawks showed they were a much-improved, talented, tough team that
showed up ready to play.
KU has done an awful lot to bridge the talent gap between them and the
conference's elite. They've done enough that I still think they're
going to beat defense-optional Texas Tech this Saturday. I also still
think Kansas matches up well enough with Texas that they’ll
give them a good ballgame in the friendly confines.
The gap hasn't been closed entirely, but one is wise, however, to keep
mind how wide and deep the chasm was just a few years ago. Remember the
gorge with the rickety bridge in “Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom?” It was like that. You don't just fix a
program that bad in just a few years.
An old story goes that one season back in the 1970s, the KU football
team got off the bus in Norman on Friday to be greeted by legendary
Sooner coach Barry Switzer. Switzer and the KU coach – it may
have been Don Fambrough, maybe Bud Moore – made conversation
as the Jayhawk players filed off the bus. Switzer looked the KU squad
up and down as he and the Jayhawk coach talked. Finally, the story
goes, Switzer said, “Y'know, I think it's a great thing that
you brought your junior varsity team along on this road
trip.” He wasn't kidding, and he wasn't being a jerk
– at least not on purpose. He really thought the players
getting off the KU bus were the junior varsity.
Even after all this improvement, Mangino still admits, “It's
an uphill battle; after all, we're still Kansas.”
But he and a lot of fans who watched the game Saturday would also tell
you that with each passing year, Kansas isn't such a bad place to play.