LAWRENCE — The last time Jake Love was inside Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, his older brother was there to play in a high school state championship game. That was 10 years ago, and Love, a native of Tonkawa, Okla., has not had much reason to go back since.
Love grew up a fan of Oklahoma State, a difficult gig for a kid who came of age just as Bob Stoops was building a juggernaut at Oklahoma.
“It was tough,” said Love, a redshirt freshman linebacker at Kansas.
Finally, though, Love has a reason to return to Norman. The Jayhawks will take the field against No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday night, and Love could mark his homecoming by playing significant snaps for the second straight week.
Love, 6 feet and 220 pounds, started in place of injured senior linebacker Tunde Bakare last week, answering the call by being a part of 12 tackles, including six solo stops. As a unit, the Kansas defense held Oklahoma State, the nation’s leading scoring offense, to 20 points in soggy conditions.
“When you get involved in as many tackles as he got involved in,” KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo said, “that sparks the ballclub in itself.”
In a general sense, Kansas coaches did not expect much from Love this season. He arrived in the program last year after picking the Jayhawks over Tulsa and Missouri State. He had two knocks against him. He was a little undersized and some were skeptical of the small-school competition he faced in high school. (Tonkawa is a town of just more than 3,200 residents.) Love was undeterred.
“I was more so excited about the challenge to try and turn around the program,” Love said, “because it was kind of in a slump.”
Bakare is expected to return this week after recovering from a head injury, so Love’s time on the field could shrink by a few plays. But Campo says KU’s coaches have been pleased by Love’s on-field motor. And the KU defense is definitely looking for consistency after its strong performance against Oklahoma State in a 20-14 loss.
“I felt calm, really for the first time in that game,” Campo said. “… I felt calm that we were getting lined up where we needed to get lined up, and there was not a lot of looking around and pointing.”