James Sims has heard this stuff before. The slams. The jokes. The negative vibes building into a unhealthy smog around the Kansas football program.
In the days after Kansas’ 54-16 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday, it was tempting to pull the parachute on another season heading toward a Big 12 free fall. The Jayhawks had lost their 22nd straight conference game. It wasn’t particularly close. And if not for two fortuitous fumbles by Louisiana Tech inside the 5-yard line earlier this season, KU would likely be staring at a 1-3 record.
“People are going to have their own opinion on whatever they feel like,” says Sims, a senior running back. “I mean obviously, it doesn’t really bother me, because I’ve heard it all before, and we’ve heard it all before as a team. And we’re just look to bounce back.”
For Sims, the rebound can start with a trip back home. The Jayhawks (2-2) will face TCU (2-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Fort Worth. And Sims, a native of Irving, a town tucked in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, can attempt to get back on track after an unusually quiet day against Texas Tech.
“I’m gonna have a whole bunch of family there,” says Sims, who attended McArthur High. “So this is just gonna feel right at home.”
Last week, Sims rushed just nine times for 28 yards, the lowest output in both categories since his sophomore year. The Texas Tech performance came after Sims averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in a victory over Louisiana Tech on Sept. 21. And those are numbers that nobody had in mind after Sims rushed for 1,013 yards in just nine games as a junior.
During a dismal 1-11 season, Sims was a workhorse who would rush for 100 yards even as teams stacked the line of scrimmage with defenders.
“Last year, we ran the ball almost every play,” Sims says. “This year, it’s not really like that. We’re opening (it up), doing different packages or whatnot, throwing the ball a little more.”
On the whole, Sims’ per-carry average is similar to last year; he’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry in four games after running for 4.6 yards per attempt last season. But a revamped offensive line has lessened Weis’ confidence in the running game and led to fewer opportunities. Last year, seniors Tanner Hawkinson (a future NFL fifth-round pick), Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli cleared the way for a run-heavy attack. This week, KU will try its second option at left tackle (Pat Lewandowski) and its third center (Gavin Howard).
“So far the run game in general, to me, has been a big disappointment,” Weis says. “I don’t want to just single out the offensive line, there’s a lot of elements involved with that right there. It’s been a frustration because it should be a foundation of who we are.”
In the first half against Texas Tech, Weis employed an option attack as a changeup to KU’s regular offensive scheme. Back-up quarterback Michael Cummings was inserted to run the package, and the net result was mostly a negative.
The Jayhawks managed just 51 rushing yards in 37 rushes, although that total included a handful of bad snaps that resulted in huge losses. Kansas, in fact, averaged 4.5 yards per carry when Weis handed the ball to Sims or sophomore Darrian Miller, and that could be the most important number.
On Saturday, Sims will return to the state of Texas, where KU has lost eight straight. He’d also like to return to his old self. And after just four games, Weis believes KU can make progress on the ground.
“Not to be sarcastic, but newsflash: but we’ve only played four games,” Weis says. “We’re 2-2 after four games. It hasn’t been a pretty 2-2, but we are 2-2 after four games with eight games to go. So I think James will have plenty of opportunity to grow along with this group and see if we can’t get this thing improved. And if we don’t, it’s not going to be pretty around here.”