LAWRENCE — With the dust now settled from Kansas’ hope-shredding loss against Rice last weekend, the Jayhawks have emerged from the momentary fog to find themselves in a most peculiar position in their conference opener. Let’s sort it out.
On one hand, KU will welcome No. 16 TCU to Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday for the Horned Frogs’ first Big 12 game — and the significance hasn’t been lost on the Jayhawks. It’s up to them to give TCU its Big 12 initiation.
“I would imagine that they want to make a statement,” senior receiver Daymond Patterson said.
On the other hand, the Jayhawks are coming off an embarrassing home loss and carry a 12-game Big 12 losing streak. Which leads to this odd question: Which team is actually trying to prove it belongs in the Big 12?
“I feel like we are responsible, being their first Big 12 game,” senior defensive end Toben Opurum said. “And we’ve got to be able to put up a fight with them. We’re not laying down for anybody.”
In the big picture, the Jayhawks are just ready to play again after last week’s late breakdown. But for Opurum, the Big 12 opener provides another test for a defense that became a weekly punching bag during conference play last season. KU surrendered 43.6 points per game in Big 12 games last season. And while the Kansas offense has sputtered out of the gates, the defense has made incremental improvement, allowing 21 points and 407 yards per game — albeit against lesser competition.
KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo says he looks less at the week-to-week results and focuses on if his unit is getting better every day. So far, he says, that’s been the case. There’s more than a smidge of coach-speak in his statement, but it’s also true that the Jayhawks’ defense will need to keep taking baby steps if they want to hang with most Big 12 offenses.
“I think this is gonna be a good gauge as to where we stack up against those offenses,” junior linebacker Huldon Tharp said, “and it’ll be a chance for us to get our first conference win in a while.”
Tharp says the Jayhawks, whose last league win came against Colorado in November 2010, have spent the week hearing the same old criticisms — “After reading some of the stuff,” he said, “it kind of (ticks) you off, honestly” — but Tharp said the Rice loss didn’t linger like some of the losses last season.
Instead, the energy and focus quickly turned to TCU and the Jayhawks’ leading role in the Horned Frogs’ Big 12 welcome party.
“I think it’s a perfect opportunity,” Opurum said. “The better the offense, the bigger the challenge it’ll be. And I think that’s just only gonna get us better.”