LUBBOCK, Texas — Charlie Weis stood inside Jones AT&T Stadium, ready to move toward a doorway. Outside, up the sloped tunnel, a group of KU fans, mostly friends and family, waited in silence.
For nearly 10 minutes, Weis had tried to swallow and internalize another close call, a heartbreaking 41-34 loss to No. 25 Texas Tech in double overtime. One or two plays. That was the difference between a watershed moment and reality: KU’s fourth loss this season when leading in the fourth quarter or overtime.
“Great game,” a visitor remarked, as Weis shuffled to exit.
“There’s no such thing as a great game when you lose,” Weis said.
That seemed like an apt final scene for KU’s latest loss, a wild, scintillating affair under sunny and dusty skies in West Texas. Nearly 30 minutes earlier, Weis had stood on the field as the final pass, a fourth-and-9 prayer from freshman quarterback Michael Cummings, was batted harmlessly to the turf. The play wouldn’t have mattered; the Jayhawks’ committed an illegal shift before it began.
But it was still the death knell. Weis’ Jayhawks are 1-9 overall and 0-8 in the Big 12. And the same old streaks — like 19 straight Big 12 losses — are still alive. More progress. Another loss.
So now, if Weis and Kansas need a win to truly feel like the sea is shifting, like progress is being made, it will have to come next Saturday at home against Iowa State or on Dec. 1 at West Virginia.
“The locker room is as disappointed as it’s ever been,” Weis said. “The difference is I’ve had a conversation with the coaches about, ‘Let’s not wait until tomorrow to start picking these guys up.’ Usually, you let them sulk for 24 hours; not today.”
Weis’ optimism in defeat could be traced to a few moments on Saturday, but perhaps none more important than the fourth quarter and overtime. Kansas turned a 27-17 deficit into a 27-27 ballgame with 41 seconds left in regulation. And they did it their way. Junior Tony Pierson hit a 69-yard run. The Jayhawks dominated Texas Tech on the ground. And when sophomore kicker Nick Prolago converted a 32-yard field goal in the final minute, Kansas had overtime to take down a ranked team on the road.
This was the formula for success: Kansas finished with 390 yards rushing — Pierson gaining 202 yards on 16 carries, Sims grinding for 127 yards on 30 carries — and the Jayhawks controlled the clock for most of the second half.
“It’s anybody’s game,” Weis said of overtime. “It’s no longer about who is at home or who is on the road. It’s who makes that one more play.”
For a moment, on the black and green turf, it looked like the last play might belong to Kansas. On the opening drive of overtime, Cummings zipped a 5-yard pass to Sims that gave Kansas a 34-27 lead.
“I thought the game was over after that,” said Cummings, who rushed for 41 yards on eight carries. “I thought we would wrap the game up, get a turnover on downs. … But it didn’t work.”
Texas Tech matched Kansas’ overtime touchdown in four plays — even after an officials’ review wiped out a big pass play. Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, who torched KU’s secondary for 476 yards, made one more play, setting up the score.
Minutes later, in the second overtime period, the Red Raiders took the lead while dipping into their bag of tricks. Running back Eric Stephens took a direct snap and floated a 3-yard touchdown pass to Darrin Moore.
“That pretty much caught us off guard,” senior cornerback Greg Brown said. “They pulled that out of their sleeve.”
On the sideline, Weis was busy telling his assistants to prepare for a victory drive. If the Jayhawks scored, they were going for two. It never came to that, of course. The Jayhawks went backward on a third and 5, and Cummings was left to heave his Hail Mary toward the end zone.
At some point, Kansas will win again. That much seems likely. But on Saturday, as the players moved slowly up the tunnel, it was hard to know when that might be.
“It just hurt,” senior safety Bradley McDougald said. “To see my seniors still not get that win that we’ve been fighting for. So, it just gives us that much more fuel, that much more hunger, that much more reason to fight next week.”