LAWRENCE — They dressed in black, ready to bury four years worth of despair. All week long, Kansas’ senior class had talked about what a victory would mean. They’d been close multiple times. They had one more home game. They needed this.
If KU coach Charlie Weis were directing this movie, maybe the Kansas Jayhawks, decked out in all-black jerseys for senior night, would have marched onto the field and recorded a much-needed victory in front of an energized crowd inside Memorial Stadium.
But if Weis and Kansas have learned one thing over the past 11 games, it’s that the Big 12 Conference can be a crushing reality check. The latest dose came in a 51-23 loss to Iowa State on Saturday night, a systematic dismantling at the hands of a third-string quarterback.
Iowa State’s Sam Richardson, a redshirt freshman who had not thrown a pass in his college career, completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns, and Iowa State wrecked KU’s night in a decisive second-quarter beatdown. In a span of just more than 10 minutes, Richardson threw for three touchdowns, ran for another and turned a 14-10 deficit into a 38-17 lead.
“Just missed tackles,” senior safety Bradley McDougald said, “missed assignments.”
By halftime, some of KU’s players were still trying to learn Richardson’s name. And Weis admitted that KU had no idea that Richardson would play on Saturday.
“He wasn’t even listed in the two-deep (depth chart),” Weis said. “So, no, I didn’t give much thought to (him). And maybe I should have.”
By halftime, the KU students — many of whom had been treated to free tickets by Weis — had nearly deserted the grounds. And that was a pretty apt symbol for the night. Weis had spent the week campaigning for a grand sendoff for his senior class, a group that has been through three coaches and four years of nearly unprecedented losing. By Thursday, he even offered to pay the admission for students that didn’t have tickets. The message was clear: Weis may not have recruited this senior class. But these were now his guys.
“He just felt bad for the seniors,” senior center Trevor Marrongelli said. “We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve just come up short.”
If Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) needed any more momentum or emotion, Weis surprised his players with a jersey change. The Jayhawks had warmed up in their traditional blue home jerseys before returning to the locker room and finding an all-black get-up, accompanied by white helmets.
If the jerseys had a psychological effect, it was nullified when Richardson entered the game for starter Steele Jantz in the first quarter.
“It normally lasts about a half a quarter,” Weis said of the energy boost. “And guess what, it lasted for about a half a quarter.”
To that point, Kansas had built a 7-3 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by junior Taylor Cox. Even after surrendering the lead late in the first quarter, sophomore running back Tony Pierson gave KU a 14-10 lead on a 55-yard touchdown run with 14:50 left in the second quarter.
Pierson had taken the handoff left before faking a reverse pitch to quarterback Dayne Crist, who had lined up at receiver. Pierson then abruptly turned up field before running past the entire Iowa State defense.
But the rest of the half belonged to Richardson and Iowa State, leaving Kansas dazed and abused. There were moments of sloppy football. KU lost three fumbles. More dropped passes. Cox mishandled a kickoff return, a season-long staple for Kansas.
Saturday was the fifth-year anniversary of Kansas’ 45-7 victory over Iowa State at Memorial Stadium in 2007. That victory made KU a perfect 11-0, paving the way for an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated and an Orange Bowl victory. Two years later, KU would defeat Iowa State at home again, improving to 5-0 on Oct. 10, 2009. Since that day, the KU program is now 6-36 in its last 42 games. And the latest loss extended KU’s Big 12 losing streak to 20 games.
Kansas’ senior class has been through it all. And Saturday’s loss was another rough night — and another black mark — for the KU football program.
“That’s not the way we had this night planned,” senior defensive end Toben Opurum said. “We really feel like we had a game plan that would shut down their attack. We did a poor job executing what was asked of us.”