Jayhawks Still Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

But they're getting closer every week, every season. More from Phog.net's Jim Williamson, inside.

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 at.

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 Kansas.

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.

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