LAWRENCE — Kansas center Jeremiah Hatch has been on quite a journey the last few days.
It began Saturday night when he experienced a loss of feeling in his limbs during KU's loss to Oklahoma. After some anxious minutes inside a quiet Memorial Stadium, Hatch was taken off the field on a stretcher. He rode in an ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he began to move his extremities. By the end of the night, he was back on the sideline. The whole thing was perspective-inducing, to say the least.
"You think about everything," Hatch said, "the smaller things in life, like just walking, being able to move around."
But even after that eye-opening experience, Hatch is the same guy. The things that were big before his neck injury have not lost their importance, which is why Hatch will be hoping and praying KU's team doctors clear him to play Saturday against Kansas State.
"It's my last year," said Hatch, a senior captain. "Two games you can't miss, K-State and Missouri. That's what I want to do."
If Hatch's desire to play in the Sunflower Showdown just a week after going through such a scare doesn't convince you much Kansas wants this game — some would say needs — then nothing else will.
The Jayhawks don't have to be reminded of the sting that came with last year's 59-7 rout by the Wildcats in Lawrence, but the coaches went ahead and did it anyway, just to be sure. When the players went to lift weights Tuesday morning, they were greeted with pictures of the scoreboard on the walls.
"You could see how bad it really was," KU linebacker Steven Johnson said. "That's not acceptable for this whole program."
These games make careers and define legacies, and the 2011 edition will be no different. KU's seniors were youngsters on a team that had beaten K-State three straight years. It seemed the tide had turned, but just when they were riding high with their chests out, K-State brought back Bill Snyder, whose Wildcats are threatening to reverse the momentum fully with their third win in a row.
KU (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) is desperate for a win. K-State (6-0) is ranked 12th with a growing ambition of competing for a Big 12 title. Only the Jayhawks stand between the Wildcats and a showdown of unbeatens Oct. 29 against Oklahoma.
"There's a lot of confidence circulating throughout this building," Johnson said. "We're just looking forward to getting it turned around, and what better opportunity would there be than K-State? They're an undefeated team right now, ranked in the top 25. They're going to try to come in here and push us around, and we can't allow that."
Every week presents a fresh opportunity for KU coach Turner Gill to convince an increasingly skeptical fan base that he is the right man for the job. Last week, the Jayhawks showed some spunk defensively against No. 3 OU, but that effort was nearly overshadowed by the second-half disappearance of the KU offense. After last season's debacle against a mediocre K-State team, Gill can't afford to appear overmatched by Snyder once again.
Gill was asked Tuesday about why he thinks Snyder has been so successful in Manhattan.
"I haven't researched that enough to give a true answer," Gill said. "I don't have the time to go figure all those things out. I've taken a couple things I think he does. He believes in his plan, and he sticks with it. We have a plan here, and I believe in what we're doing. You just have to believe in your plan and keep going with it. That's a big key. He's had some time to put his plan together."
It's unclear how much time Gill will have to see his vision through at Kansas. A win over K-State would almost certainly buy him more. Gill says he and his team will be ready.
"It's one of those things that gets me excited and me want to play myself," Gill said. "As a former player, you want to throw on the uniform."
Notes — Gill said redshirt freshman safety Keeston Terry and senior center Jeremiah Hatch are questionable for Saturday with injuries. Senior running back Rell Lewis will be out due to injury.... Gill said redshirt freshman running back Brandon Bourbon, who missed last week's game while recovering from a concussion sustained at Oklahoma State, will be available.