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Wins are more valuable than yards as James Sims’ KU career winds down

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at 7:46 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at 7:46 p.m.

Kansas at Iowa State

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa

Records: KU 3-7, 1-6 Big 12; ISU 1-9, 0-7

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: Fox Sports 1

Three Things about Iowa State

1. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has already clinched his worst campaign at Iowa State. In his fifth season in Ames, Rhoads has qualified Iowa State for three bowl games and never lost more than seven — until this year.

2. Iowa State linebacker Luke Knott, is out for the season after suffering a hip injury earlier this year. Knott, a quarterback in high school, is the younger brother of Jake Knott, a former Cyclones standout now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

3. The Cyclones rank 90th in the country in passing yards (199.9) and 99th in rushing yards (128.0).

Key matchup

Kansas running back James Sims vs. Iowa State’s defense: Sims is coming off a career day against West Virginia, rushing for 211 yards and three touchdowns. Sims has quietly become the third-most prolific rusher in school history. He has two more games to add to his 3,396 career rushing yards.

Rustin Dodd’s pick: Kansas 24-17

The Jayhawks should take some momentum in Ames. And for the first time in what feels like years, Kansas could have a more talented roster than an opponent. If they can handle the cold, KU might just pick up its first road victory since 2009.

— When Kansas’ James Sims begins to think about his favorite Kansas memories, reflecting on four years of football, it only takes him a moment to compile the list.

Truth is, it’s pretty short.

Three years ago, during his freshman season, there was a miracle victory against Colorado at home. That was a good one, Sims says. There was also last Saturday, Sims wading through the joy on the Memorial Stadium turf, the Jayhawks finally snapping a 27-game Big 12 losing streak in a victory over West Virginia.

In four seasons, Sims, a senior running back, has carved his name in the Kansas record book, recording one of the most prolific careers by a running back in KU history. For a school that produced the incomparable Gale Sayers and NFL Hall of Famer John Riggins, Sims enters this week as the third all-time leading rusher in KU history, behind Tony Sands and June Henley.

And the truth is, Sims hasn’t always been able to enjoy it.

“When you have success in losses,” Sims says, “at the end of the day, you don’t really see it.”

That is what made last Saturday’s 31-19 victory over West Virginia so gratifying. Sims rushed for a career-high 211 yards and three touchdowns. And when the game was over, he could also smile.

“We didn’t really get wins through these years in conference play,” Sims says. “We’ve been winless in conference. And for us to just win now, in a conference game, it means a lot to us and the program.”

These final two games, beginning with a road game at Iowa State on Saturday, will mean something, too. After four years of losing, Sims hopes to lay a couple more bricks to the foundation in the season’s final weeks.

Of course, he can also take a couple more shots at the Kansas record book. After running for 1,013 yards in nine games last season, Sims is second in the Big 12 with 914 rushing yards in 10 games, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

And with two games left, a few marks are still within reach. Sims enters Saturday with 3,396 career rushing yards, needing 393 more yards to surpass Tony Sands for second on the career rushing chart. He is also 445 yards away from all-time leading rusher June Henley, who played from 1993 to 1996.

“Four good years of the work that he’s put in,” KU junior running back Brandon Bourbon says. “I’m proud of him, and happy for the success that he’s had. I want him to get the KU all-time (record), and if he has two really great games, he could do that.”

It’s probably a long-shot. Sims would need to average more than 200 yards in his final two games, including the season finale against K-State on Nov. 30 in Lawrence. But he is also on track for his second straight 1,000-yard season. That would make him just the third Kansas running back to record two 1,000-yard seasons, joining Sands and Henley.

But as Sims reflects on his four years at Kansas, he pauses for a moment. The record would be nice, but a couple more wins would be better.

“There’s been some down seasons, of course,” Sims says. “But we’re moving forward, we’re getting better.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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