LAWRENCE — The list of quarterbacks is seven deep now, a conveyor belt of hyped-up transfers and homegrown hopefuls. They have names that you might forget now — guys like Quinn Mecham, Jordan Webb and Kale Pick. There were Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps — two transfers that never seemed to fit — and there was dual-threat Michael Cummings, a part-time starter still on the KU sideline.
Now there is sophomore Montell Cozart, the latest man to struggle at quarterback for Kansas.
It is sometimes said that the difference between a good football team and a bad team is largely a result of the quarterback. For the last five years, no program has lived that reality harder than Kansas. And for one afternoon on Saturday, no game symbolized that idea more than KU’s 23-0 loss to Texas at Memorial Stadium.
“You know,” KU coach Charlie Weis said, beginning to state something he has said for three years, “our Achilles heel on offense is still making productive plays in the passing game. And that’s, at the end of the day, what ended up costing us.”
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It was Homecoming weekend in Lawrence, and that meant former Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing came into town and addressed the team in the days before Saturday’s matchup. It made sense, of course. Reesing, the old gunslinger from Texas, set pretty much every passing record in Kansas history during his sterling four-year career, leading the program to the 2008 Orange Bowl.
His presence was also a excruciating reminder. Five years after Reesing, the Jayhawks are still looking for another quarterback to fill the void.
On Saturday, Cozart completed 12 of 31 passes passing for 140 yards and four interceptions. Kansas (2-2) lost its Big 12 opener for the fifth straight year. And perhaps more painful, the Jayhawks missed a tremendous opportunity to take down a wounded Texas team, which was playing its backup quarterback (Tyrone Swoopes) and missing a cadre of offensive linemen.
The Longhorns (2-2) entered Saturday with a losing record, a program still trying to find its identity under first-year coach Charlie Strong. They had lost starting quarterback David Ash for the year, been blown out by BYU, and appeared ripe for an upset.
The Jayhawk defense brought the necessary effort. Texas finished with 329 total yards and didn’t have a touchdown drive that traveled more than 27 yards. One of those short drives was set up by a Cozart interception, while the other came after a long punt return from Texas receiver Jaxon Shipley.
“You need to be able to throw the ball to win,” Weis said. “So we’re going to keep throwing it. We didn’t throw it 100 times, but what did we throw, four picks?”
For another Saturday, the Jayhawks’ offense put on an exhibition of what life can be like when you don’t have an adequate passing game. By early in the fourth quarter, the drive chart included six punts, four interceptions and three turnovers on down.
“It’s really frustrating,” senior linebacker Ben Heeney said. “But like I said, I’m proud of the way the defense played … I think if we continue to play like that, we can put our team in position to win.”
Twice, the Jayhawks entered the red zone. The first scoring opportunity was foiled by Cozart’s first interception — a pass tipped high in the air at the line of scrimmage by Texas linebacker Steve Edmond. The second chance evaporated on a fourth-down fade play that wasn’t particularly close to working.
“I feel like we can move the ball in the air or on the ground,” said senior receiver Nick Harwell, who but in this game in particular we just didn’t do as well as we would have liked.”
Cozart, who was not made available to the media after the game, was the first Jayhawk quarterback to throw four interceptions since Kerry Meier against Toledo in the 2006 season. A year later, Meier was beat out by Reesing and on his way to becoming of KU’s best receivers.
Weis hesitated to place too much blame on a sophomore quarterback in his first full season as a starter. But he conceded that the coaching staff, including first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan, might have to explore other options — whether that be Cummings or sophomore transfer T.J. Millweard, who has not taken a snap.
“It’s possible,” Weis said, in response to a question about whether KU has better options. “I can’t rule that out. It’s possible.”
In that moment, though, Weis said he needed to see the video. It would reveal plenty, and not much positive on offense. Mostly, though, it would show what everyone seems to understand about KU football.
“Stats are for losers,” Weis said. “The bottom line is when you lose the turnover ratio like that, you’re going to lose most games.”