WACO, Texas — If you want some convincing evidence that the right coach can turn a sad-sack program into a respectable outfit, there was some of that on Saturday inside Floyd Casey Stadium.
Art Briles, a Texas high school maverick-turned-head coach at Baylor, stalked the sideline as the Bears continued their push for another bowl game. This, you might remember, is the same Baylor program that once lost 29 straight Big 12 games from 1998 to 2002.
In the instant aftermath of Kansas’ 41-14 loss to Baylor on Saturday — the Jayhawks’ 18th straight Big 12 loss — that might have been the biggest reason for a downtrodden Jayhawk to hope. Even a bullied program can turn it around: Sometimes, it gets better.
Not on Saturday, though. And it left KU coach Charlie Weis sorting through a messy sequence in the third quarter that turned a 20-14 game into a ghoulish blowout. The Kansas defense surrendered 666 yards, the worst number of the season. And the KU offense was shut out in the second half.
“This story is getting too old for me,” Weis said. “It’s almost like I’m telling a repeat story every week.”
This rerun even came with another weather delay, courtesy of a minor storm that rolled through the Waco area right after halftime. No, it wasn’t a natural disaster. But a few lightning strikes delayed the start of the second half — and an inevitable flood of yards and points from Baylor’s offense.
“The game changed in the third quarter,” Weis said. “It’s 20-14 at halftime. And we were really pretty fortunate for it to be 20-14 at halftime. The way the game started, it looked like it could have gotten ugly real early.”
Kansas dropped to 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have three more chances to search for that elusive Big 12 victory. And for longtime followers of the program, here’s a particularly grim number. It’s been 40 games since Kansas, off back-to-back bowl appearances, started the 2009 season 5-0. The Jayhawks have lost 34 of 40.
It’s too early to know whether Weis can replicate what’s happening here at Baylor — or what was happening at Kansas for a few years under Mark Mangino. But Saturday’s loss provided a 60-minuter microcosm of what ails the Jayhawks.
The offense has pieces … but not enough to score more than two touchdowns against a Baylor defense that ranked last in the Big 12. The defense has played with determination … but has still been cut up for more than 46 points per game in three Big 12 road games. Baylor, known for its air arsenal, also rushed for 299 yards.
“It gets old to live that story,” said KU freshman quarterback Michael Cummings, who completed 9 of 19 passes for 81 yards while throwing two interceptions.
One of the interceptions came during the rocky third quarter. Cummings lofted an almost-perfect deep ball to receiver Chris Omigie, who bobbled the ball into the arms of a Baylor defense. From Weis’ vantage point, its should have been a touchdown.
“Michael’s best throw of the day,” Weis said.
After Cummings’ second pick, Weis went back to former starter Dayne Crist, looking for a spark.
“When he came off the field,” Weis said of Cummings, “he had that look in his face like, ‘Time to go to the bullpen.’ ”
It wasn’t Weis’ first roll of the dice. Weis said Kansas knew it would have to be better on offense to keep up with Baylor. That meant a game plan to go for it on fourth downs in Baylor’s territory and a fake field goal on fourth-and-long in the first half. The field goal was a minor debacle, with holder Blake Jablonski swallowed up with nowhere to go.
Weis said the play had an option to kick the field goal or go for it — based on the defense.
“It was that gray area right there,” Weis said of Baylor’s defensive look. “I thought we were gonna kick the field goal, based off of the look.”
KU’s spread-out plan lasted until Baylor raced to a 14-0 lead, gutting Kansas on a grinding drive and a quick-strike pass that covered 68 yards to Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk.
“I wanted to be a lot more spread out,” Weis said. “But when you’re not getting any production, then you gotta go back to something that you’re more comfortable with.”
It worked for a while. Junior James Sims provided an early home run on a 58-yard touchdown run, and Cummings added a touchdown on a 22-yard run with 5:46 left in the second quarter, pulling Kansas to within 17-14.
But the skies soon turned gray. The game began to slip away. And for another week, KU was powerless to stop the momentum.
“We’re striding,” Cummings said, “trying to make an effort to be better in the second half (and) put up more points … We just gotta keep working towards our goal.”