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KU’s Weis urges Crist to adjust thinking

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012, at 11:10 p.m.

— Dayne Crist was fighting the truth, his competitive instincts taking control. He had played two games at Kansas, two middling performances that had not met his own expectations. He had watched his Jayhawks fall 25-24 to Rice on Saturday, a painful loss that magnified his struggles.

In the moments after the game, Crist gritted his teeth and mustered answers about needing to be better. In Crist’s mind, if there was a lesson to be gleaned from the early loss, it had to do with playing harder — with taking on more pressure and more responsibility.

The idea that Crist may have been carrying too much of a burden? Trying to make too many plays? Trying to be too perfect? It never entered his mind.

“I was fighting it, and denying it at first,” Crist said. “But that’s 100 percent what I was doing.”

That answer came on Monday night, when Crist took a trip to the KU football offices to visit coach Charlie Weis. These meetings are not rare. But Crist had made plans to see his coach. And Weis had an important message to impart.

“You don’t have to bear all the weight on your shoulders,” Weis told Crist.

Weis began to take his quarterback through the Jayhawks’ first two games. KU running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox have established themselves as weapons, he said. And the offensive line has mostly been solid. The Jayhawks don’t need an all-world performance at quarterback. They just need efficiency.

Maybe it’s a dirty word among quarterbacks, but the Jayhawks need a game manager.

“With the way that our running backs have been able to run the ball, it’s really about just going out and running the offense and having fun,” Crist said. “It was clear that, in watching myself on film, I just wasn’t having enough fun out there.”

Crist, of course, only accounts for a percentage of the offensive struggles. But if there’s a frontman for the slow start, the honor falls on Crist.

In two games, Crist has completed just 51.6 percent of his passes (33 for 64) while throwing two touchdown passes and three interceptions. He’s thrown for just 313 yards in two games while averaging just 4.9 yards per attempt. And at the macro level, the anemic passing numbers have slowed an offense that scored just 24 points against Rice — the same team that allowed 49 to UCLA the week before and ranked 111th in total defense last season.

For a team that was expected to rely on a veteran quarterback and a coach that specializes in offense, the underwhelming numbers have been glaring.

“I wouldn’t say I’m very happy with the passing game right now,” Weis said. “To say that might be an understatement on my part. I do believe that the passing game has a lot of room for improvement, and I think that it better come in a hurry. Because the better your opponents are each week, you’re gonna need to score more than 24 points.”

Weis talks about the “big boys” in the Big 12. They’re coming, he says. And he lumps conference newcomer Texas Christian into that group. Under coach Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs have become a perennial member of the national defensive rankings. And Saturday will bring their Big 12 debut.

“The bottom line is we need to be much better in the passing game if we’re gonna have a chance,” Weis said.

On Tuesday, Crist went to practice with a new mission. For a day, he would stop worrying about all the plays he could make — and focus on the ones Weis needs him to make.

“I’m not sitting here to make excuses and saying it’s just magically gonna be 100 percent better,” Crist acknowledged. “But I’ve identified the issues I think I need to identify. And it all just starts with having more fun.”

Kande out for season — Kansas coach Charlie Weis announced Tuesday that junior linebacker Prinz Kande would miss the rest of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament Saturday in the Jayhawks’ loss to Rice.

“He’s doing rehab right now,” Weis said. “(He’ll) get the swelling down, and then he’ll have surgery.”

Kande, a native of Euless, Texas, made his first career start against Rice. The injury leaves senior Tunde Bakare atop the depth chart at strong-side linebacker. Middle linebacker Ben Heeney and weak-side linebacker Huldon Tharp have started both games this season.

Weis also said the status of senior receiver Kale Pick, sophomore running back Brandon Bourbon and senior safety Lubbock Smith was “day-to-day” after all three suffered injuries Saturday. Weis previously said that Pick’s injury was not as severe as once feared, but all three players will need to make progress to play on Saturday against TCU.

“If we were playing today,” Weis said, “I don’t know if any of the three of them would play. But all three of them are trying to play this Saturday. So, we’ll see how it goes.

“Structurally, they’re OK. But there’s swelling and pain and things like that that we have to deal with.”

Senior linebacker Anthony McDonald, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, is expected to make his season debut Saturday against TCU. McDonald was scheduled to start at middle linebacker at the beginning of fall camp, but injuries limited him for the latter half of August and forced him to miss KU’s first two games.

On Tuesday, McDonald was listed as the backup behind Huldon Tharp at the “Will” linebacker position.

“Were gonna play a team this week that might just line up and try to pound us,” Weis said. “So you can’t play with a bunch of 5-8, 190-pound linebackers. You better be ready to have some girth.”

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