MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It ended here, a final whimper in the idyllic mountains of West Virginia.
Charlie Weis could do nothing but put his hands on his hips and watch. The Kansas Jayhawks stood motionless on the sideline. An already-lost season came thudding to a merciless finish on Saturday afternoon as the Mountaineers serenaded the Jayhawks with a jubilant sing-along of its postgame staple, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
West Virginia 59, Kansas 10.
“If I hear John Denver one more time,” Weis said, “I might get sick to my stomach — although I love the song.”
In a micro sense, the Jayhawks’ latest loss was about a pass defense that couldn’t stop anything, and a pass offense that had the efficiency of a Ford Pinto with shoddy tires. A quick comparison: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith completed 23 of 24 passes (95.8 percent!) for 407 yards. KU quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Michael Cummings finished the game a combined 7 of 16 for 117 yards. In fact, every pass Smith threw Saturday was caught; his only incompletion ended up in the arms of KU cornerback Tyler Patmon.
“Give me a break,” Weis said, “it doesn’t get much better than that.”
But for Weis and Kansas, the worst part about these numbers is that they weren’t all that surprising. And as KU’s coaches scatter across the country to hit the recruiting trail, here’s the final image they’ll haul along with them.
A defense that made progress, but not nearly enough. An offense that learned to run the ball with power and speed, but will finish in the bottom 10 nationally in passing yards. And a program that finishes the season at 1-11, the first one-win season at KU since a 1-10 finish in 1988 — former coach Glen Mason’s first year on the job.
Yes, there are plenty of ways to categorize Kansas’ ineptitude this season, but here are a couple: KU’s receivers finished the year with fewer touchdowns (zero) than little-used freshman linebacker Schyler Miles (one). And the Jayhawks recorded their worst winning percentage since a forgettable 0-10 campaign in 1954.
Last December, Weis took over the Kansas program and offered a blunt speech about the state of the Jayhawks. Kansas had finished 2011 with a 2-10 record, while in-state rival Kansas State was 10-2, and Weis had arrived in Lawrence to find out why.
Nearly 12 months later, it’s safe to say that Weis has a better idea about the rot that has infected the KU program. The Jayhawks will enter next season on a 21-game Big 12 losing streak. And after finishing the season with two miserable losses — a blowout loss to Iowa State on senior day, a final-week egg here in Morgantown — finding answers for KU football is a murky proposition.
“This isn’t time for me to reflect on the season,” Weis said. “But I’m fully aware of our deficiencies. I’m fully aware. That’s why in about five seconds, I wanna be out recruiting so we can try to plug some of these holes.”
There were bright spots, of course. KU junior running back James Sims rushed for 57 yards in 18 carries, becoming the first KU player to surpass 1,000 yards in a season since Brandon McAnderson in 2007. Sims, who rushed for 1,013 yards in nine games, will be back next season. So will sophomore running back Tony Pierson. Late on Saturday, when the game was out of control, Weis found both players on the sideline and told them they needed to become leaders.
“It may not seem the same, because we’re not winning conference games,” Sims said, “but us as a team, we felt like we got 100 times better.”
Later, when Weis returned to the locker room, he found a string of text messages from quarterback Jake Heaps, a BYU transfer who sat out this year and watched Saturday’s game from home.
“He asked if he could have a meeting with me tomorrow,” Weis said, “so that when we’re on the road recruiting, that he can start moving things in the right direction.”
Ask Weis what he learned in Year 1, and he’ll quickly mention the recruiting trail. The Jayhawks need more reinforcements — players that can play now — and Weis wants them right this second. If nothing else, Weis believes his players learned how to fight.
But as the clock ticked down on Saturday evening, the mountains rising on the horizon, it was easy to see: Sometimes fighting is not enough.
“Fighting and winning are two totally different things,” Weis said, “We have a lot of ground to make up here. We made up a lot of ground in the year, but you looked at the product today, that’s not anywhere near good enough. So we have to get our hands dirty and really go to work.”