The trips home have been long and sobering. The silence is suffocating, the feeling demoralizing.
There are plenty of good ways to describe the mood after a road loss; the feeling of getting onto a bus and preparing to return to Lawrence without a win. But after three-plus years on the Kansas football team, senior safety Bradley McDougald can tell you exactly how it feels.
“It just feel like you got fired,” McDougald said. “It’s just not a good feeling. And you gotta ride with your boss all the way back, knowing that you’re fired.”
McDougald, of course, has been part of way too many of these dispiriting bus rides and plane trips. The Jayhawks have lost 13 straight games on the road. And three other games on a neutral field to Missouri, the program Charlie Weis refers to as “our ex-arch-rival.” That’s 16 straight losses away from Lawrence, a streak that dates back three seasons and two coaches to now.
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And when KU takes on Northern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in DeKalb, Ill., McDougald and the Jayhawks would like nothing more than to bury that streak and all it represents.
“If anything, it should be motivation,” McDougald says, “especially for the older guys. Last shot: you only have six road games promised to you.”
The last KU road victory came at UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009, a 34-7 win that feels like KU football bizarro world in retrospect. McDougald was a freshman receiver that day. Daymond Patterson, now a senior receiver, was a defensive back. Toben Opurum, now a defensive end, was a running back. Mark Mangino was still on the sideline. Todd Reesing was under center.
“We had little (No.) 5 running around there at quarterback, scrambling around, making plays,” McDougald says of Reesing. “But I just definitely remember the feeling of winning; I remember how that felt getting back on the bus, and how enjoyable that plane ride was.”
Weis has used the road losing streak as a key point of motivation this week. But when looking at the past, he doesn’t see any grand theme or trend in the losses.
“I think that usually good football teams win at home,” Weis says. “And usually bad football teams lose on the road. We’ve been one of them.”
So perhaps Saturday’s game is less about the streak and more about determining what this Kansas football team can be after starting the year 1-2. Are the Jayhawks better? If so, a road victory at Northern Illinois — a program KU narrowly defeated last year — seems to be within reason.
“There are several steps that we have to take this year,” Weis says. “One of them is win a game on the road. Let’s get that one behind us, too. This would be a good time to do that.”