LAWRENCE — Used to be a rushing day of about 400 yards, like the one Kansas threw at Texas Tech last weekend, put a victory in the vault.
Often a blowout victory at that.
Despite their rushing output Saturday, the Jayhawks lost 41-34 to the Red Raiders in double overtime. But as discouraging as the outcome was for Kansas, it represented a continued step, or steps in the right direction.
KU maximized a game plan by rushing for 390 yards, the most by a Kansas team since 1994, and came closer to a triumph in Big 12 play than at any time during the Jayhawks’ 19-game conference losing streak.
By running, the Jayhawks are playing to their strengths — top-notch backs in James Sims and Tony Pierson and a veteran offensive line. Saturday, Kansas made up a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit as Sims picked his seventh straight 100-yard rushing game with 127, and Pierson became the first Kansas player since 2001 to rush for 200-plus with 202.
KU topped 50 rushing attempts for the third time in four games. On the season, Kansas leads Big 12 teams in rushing attempts at 46.5 per game and trails only Kansas State by a half-yard as the league’s top rushing team at 213.1 yards per game.
But running wild on the Texas plains doesn’t guarantee success Saturday when Iowa State visits for Jayhawks’ final home game.
“Let’s say we take last week’s game plan, and we rushed for 400 yards, and put it against Iowa State,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said Tuesday. “We would get the crap kicked out of us. They would dog us. They would have answers to those things.
“You have to figure a different way to run them. (But) at the end of the day you still want to be able the things you’re best at.”
It’s been an offensive evolution on the fly for the Jayhawks, who started the year revved about the prospect of being led by a drop-back quarterback in Dayne Crist.
But it didn’t work, and Crist was benched in favor of Michael Cummings, who has been asked to use his running skills more. Crist never attempted fewer than 22 passes in the six games he took the majority of snaps. Cummings hasn’t thrown more than 21 attempts in a game.
Trying to win with a ground game goes against the grain today. Offense is plentiful, especially in the Big 12, and teams at the top throw and run well. But over the past decade or so, the league’s top passing team has far outgained the top rushing team.
In its history, Kansas has rushed for at least 400 yards in a game 18 times, and the Jayhawks have won all of those games. The only Big 12 team with more rushing yards in a game than KU this season was Oklahoma State, which rushed for 395 in its 84-0 victory over Savannah State in September.