LAWRENCE — For more than a year, Charlie Weis has been focused on taking incremental steps, the kind of sign-post achievements that might indicate progress. When you take over a program in college football’s cellar, you have to learn to walk before you can run.
And when you’re the coach at Kansas — a program that has now lost 22 straight Big 12 games — you have to be competitive before you can win. That is, at least, partially how Weis has described his plan at Kansas. And it’s part of the reason why the Jayhawks’ 54-16 loss against No. 20 Texas Tech on Saturday was so demoralizing.
For Kansas, taking a loss to a ranked Big 12 team is, in and of itself, no reason to fret. But being non-competitive against another Big 12 team for three quarters is a reminder that perhaps Kansas hasn’t made much progress in Weis’ first 16 games.
"We're trying to take that next step every single week,” quarterback Jake Heaps said. “When we don't take that step, it's very frustrating. It's tough to lose in this fashion and as a competitor it'll eat at you. It's only week four of our season though, and we're going to continue to get better and practice — and eventually get this thing rolling."
Let’s start here: The Jayhawks’ offense struggled for the third straight week, struggling to sustain drives or piece together a consistent running game. An offensive line with four new starters has struggled to find a rhythm. And KU has averaged just 14.3 points in its last three games. On Saturday, the ineffective offense bled onto the defensive side of the ball.
For four straight games, a revamped Kansas defense had posted solid performances, helping the Jayhawks escape with a 13-10 victory over Louisiana Tech on Sept. 21. But facing a high-powered Big 12 offense for the first time, the Jayhawks’ defense was gouged for 518 yards — including 404 yards in the air.
From a macro perspective, it was an ugly performance. But upon closer inspection, some of the defensive issues can be credited to an offense that couldn’t stay on the field. As a result, Texas Tech’s offense ran a ridiculous 100 plays. And if a defense has to defend 100 plays, well, it’s certainly going to give up some yards. Junior linebacker Ben Heeney played at an All-Big 12 level for most of the first half, recording another 12 tackles. But for another week, Heeney was something like an ace pitcher who can’t get any run support.
“It's tough when it's third and 1 or third and 3,” KU tight end Jimmay Mundine said. “It's tough when you can't get those yards and you have to put the defense back out there."
After Saturday’s loss, Weis hinted at more shakeups and changes on the depth chart this week. The Jayhawks have eight more Big 12 games left, starting at TCU on Saturday. And if the Jayhawks lose out, they’ll set a new record for Big 12 incompetence, breaking Baylor’s record of 29 straight conference losses.
But if there’s a positive from Saturday’s loss, it’s that it is still just the first week of October. And the Jayhawks still have time to take some of those steps.
"One thing we're going to do,” Weis said, “we're going to have to critically evaluate everything that happened. From coaching and play-calling on one end, to performance on the other end. Then we're going to have to go down to a nucleus of players that we believe will all give us the best chance at competing."