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KU’s Grunhard still searching for right offensive line combination

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at 7:38 p.m.

— The message from Kansas offensive line coach Tim Grunhard to his players to begin this week’s preparation for West Virginia came in triplicate.

“We have a three-game season,” Grunhard told them.

Each with a different challenge but the same end game.

“We haven’t won a Big 12 game since I’ve been here,” Grunhard said. “I’d like to win a Big 12 football game. We have a great opportunity this week.”

Next is the team’s final roadie, at Iowa State.

“There’s nothing worse than getting off that airplane and walking through that airport in Topeka after a loss. And I’d like to experience that with a big smile on my face.”

Then, the finale, home to Kansas State. Earlier, coach Charlie Weis referred to that contest as the Jayhawks’ bowl game, because Kansas lost bowl eligibility with last week’s loss at Oklahoma State.

“I’d like to win a state championship again,” said Grunhard, who won a state title while serving as the coach at Bishop Miege. “KU-K-State, it’s the state championship.”

For any or all of that to occur, the Jayhawks need their offensive line to step up in what has been a tough season for the group.

Losing three seniors from last year was tough enough, but Kansas has switched positions, battled injuries and tried multiple combinations to make things work.

Only left guard Ngalu Fusimalohi has started the first nine games at his position. At three positions — left tackle, center and right tackle — three different players have started.

“Coach (Charlie Weis) and I have spent many a late night trying to find the right combination,” Grunhard said.

Without continuity, it’s been difficult for Kansas to generate offense. The Jayhawks rank last in the Big 12 in scoring (15.9 points per game) and total offense (295.1 yards).

KU won its opening game against South Dakota, an FCS opponent, 31-14, and hasn’t surpassed 19 points in a game against an FBS foe since then.

Kansas carries records of 2-7, 0-6 in the Big 12 into the 11 a.m. kickoff against the Mountaineers, and Grunhard and many of the coaches and players in the program, are experiencing losing on a level they’ve never known.

“Things came easy for me,” said Grunhard, who began his 11-year career with the Chiefs in 1990, just as the Marty Schottenheier/Carl Peterson era was budding. Grunny was the starting center throughout that era, appeared in the playoffs seven times and went to a Pro Bowl.

His Miege teams won five straight district titles and the 2009 Kansas Class 4A championship. The two-year record at Kansas: 3-18.

“Never take winning for granted,” Grunhard said.

A victory would soothe a painful season. But no matter how the last three games play out, Grunhard believes he’s getting the best from those he’s coaching.

“We’ve been inconsistent,” Grunhard said. “I’ll be the first to say that. But the one thing that hasn’t been inconsistent is the hard work they’ve tried to do. I can walk into the building and feel pretty good about myself because I know these guys are still trying and nobody is throwing in the towel.”

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