LAWRENCE — Ten months ago at his introductory press conference, Kansas coach Turner Gill listed his goals. The Jayhawks were going to recruit, beat Missouri, recruit, win the Big 12 North, recruit some more and win the Big 12.
Looking back, Gill must have known something about the matchup with Kansas State. Because after Thursday night’s 59-7 loss to the Wildcats, a world-class noogie applied by big brother K-State and Grandpa Bill Snyder, it’s obvious the Jayhawks had no business thinking about beating their instate rival.
Gill’s omission of beating the Wildcats was spot on, and he had another thing right: The Jayhawks are going to recruit, and they’d better do it well — and fast.
“I'd say right now we're not a very good football team,'' Gill said. “That's the reality of it at this time.”
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Not very good is an understatement, even for the ultra-positive Gill. KU is 2-4 and looks like it could be on the way to 2-10, the same record that former Kansas coach Mark Mangino had during his first season in 2002. But after going 12-1, winning the 2008 Orange Bowl and moving into a state-of-the-art practice facility, the Jayhawks thought they were past the days of football futility in Lawrence.
Now, after losing to FCS program North Dakota State and starting the Big 12 season with blowout losses to Baylor and K-State by a combined score of 114-14, Kansas fans can’t help but look at their nice-guy coach and bring up names like Bob Valesente (4-17-1 record during 1986-87) and Terry Allen (20-30 record during 1997-2001).
It’s probably no coincidence that KU’s worst two-game stretch in program history came under Valesente in ’86 when the Jayhawks lost to Nebraska 70-0 and Missouri 48-0.
As for Gill, the current Mr. Nice Guy, he’s taking a road traveled by many a losing coach over the years. On Thursday night, he had no choice but to talk about going back to the basics with a bunch of guys who have been learning and practicing them since Pop Warner.
“Gotta keep working,” Gill said. “We gotta look at some things on the basics of football, being able to execute plays.”
There are built-in excuses for the offense. Starting quarterback Jordan Webb, who couldn’t get the offense moving for a second straight game, is a redshirt freshman. Starting running back James Sims, whose third-quarter fumble led to an 85-yard K-State return for a touchdown, is a freshman. The offensive line is a patchwork group has battled injuries and has players out of position.
On Thursday, the Jayhawks had three penalties that derailed their first two drives and finished with seven penalties for 76 yards.
Of course, given the way the defense played, it’s probably a little nitpicky to harp on penalties.
It’s back to the basics for KU football.
“We’re making those type of mistakes, missing tackles and stuff like that,” KU linebacker Steven Johnson said. “Things that we shouldn’t be doing because we’ve been playing football our whole lives.”
Gill said that this loss was no different than any other, that they all hurt. He was asked if he knew what a task he had in front of him when he took one of the toughest jobs in big-time college football.
“I didn’t have a predetermined notion of what it was,” Gill said. “I understood coming in that there was gonna be some work to turn the program around to be a winning program. That’s what we’re still here to do. I’m still here to get this thing turned around. How long it’s gonna be, I don’t know.”
Some would argue that there wasn’t much to be turned around. Sure, there was the shocking slip of a seven-game losing streak to end last season. But Mangino’s program won 50 games in eight seasons and played in four bowl games.
Now, the view from Campanile Hill looks way worse.
“It hurts just because, when we’ve had adversity this year, we’ve always bounced back,” KU receiver Daymond Patterson said. “I figured that’s what we were going to do this week. It’s a big game, Thursday night, a lot of people will be watching. We didn’t do that. We didn’t bounce back like we thought we would. It really hurts.”