Bob Lutz: Saturday's loss another step back for KU, Turner Gill

10/24/2011 6:36 AM

10/24/2011 6:36 AM

LAWRENCE — It's becoming harder to argue for Turner Gill to continue as Kansas' football coach.

But I'm going to stick to my guns that Gill, whose Jayhawks imploded Saturday against Kansas State in a way you had to see to believe, needs more time.

More time for what, I'm not sure. Because this is bad. Really bad.

Kansas wasn't going to beat the unbeaten Wildcats under any circumstances. But to lose the way KU lost — and adding this collapse to all that have come before — is heavy artillery for the anti-Gill crowd, which believes the former Nebraska quarterback is in over his head in the Big 12.

To that end, read ahead.

Kansas, which has some offensive firepower, scored a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the first half Saturday to cut K-State's lead to 28-14. OK, it was a two-touchdown deficit, but not a bad way to go into the locker room considering the Jayhawks were showing the ability to move the football.

Now the story takes a turn.

KU did not kick deep and K-State's Laton Dowling returned the ball to the K-State 43, where the Wildcats started with 11 seconds remaining.

There was no taking a knee and going to the locker room with a 14-point lead. Instead, quarterback Collin Klein dropped back to pass. He looked deep. And he found a wide-open Tyler Lockett, who blazed 48 yards to the Kansas 9 before a timeout. With one second left, Anthony Cantele kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 31-14.

Who gives up a 48-yard pass play on the final offensive play of the first half to a wide-open receiver? KU does.

After supposedly re-grouping at halftime, though, the circus added a fourth ring.

K-State's Lockett — Gill will have nightmares about Lockett — returned the opening kick of the second half 97 yards for a touchdown. It was 38-14 and exits around Memorial Stadium were picking up traffic.

But it gets worse.

KU's Brandon Bourbon returned K-State's kickoff 36 yards to the KU 47. Behind him, though, the Keystone Cops were at work as the Jayhawks committed three penalties: an illegal block in the back, holding and, after the play ended, a personal foul on D.J. Beshears.

Instead of getting the ball at its 47, KU got the ball at its 8. Cue the carnival music because Jayhawk running back Tony Pierson immediately fumbled. It was recovered by K-State lineman Vai Lutui and two plays later Klein scored from a yard.

It was 45-14.

Kansas' next possession resulted in another fumble, this one by quarterback Jordan Webb. It was recovered by the Wildcats' Jarrell Childs and it took six plays for Klein and that man Lockett to hook up for a 19-yard touchdown, making it 52- 14.

In a span of 4:38, K-State expanded its lead from 28-14 to 52-14, mostly because of an array of miscues by a Kansas team that looks less and less likely to give its beleaguered fans reason for optimism.

When Gill told reporters after the game that his goal was "to continue to improve," he was asked if the Jayhawks are improving.

"I think today maybe we took a little step back as far as improving,'' Gill said. "I think there are some things there. A lot of things that are coming to the surface is our inexperience. There's a little bit of a temporary setback. It's one football game and you get ready to go for the next one.''

First of all, Saturday was not a little setback. And there is no evidence to indicate it was temporary.

There have been too many embarrassing moments for the Jayhawks and while inexperience is a legitimate factor, it's well within bounds to question how this team is being coached.

The kinds of mistakes that happened Saturday — including a terrible facemask penalty on defensive end Malcolm Walker that allowed what would have been a three-and-out for the K-State offense to keep alive a drive that resulted in a second-quarter touchdown — can't be explained away just on inexperience.

The thousands of KU fans who left after the third-quarter meltdown aren't lamenting KU's inexperience.

They're disgusted that the Jayhawks aren't playing better and have been on the bad side of mismatches in 11 of the 12 Big 12 games they have played under Gill.

In those 11 losses — KU did beat then-conference foe Colorado 52-45 last season thanks to a wild comeback — the Jayhawks have been outscored 511-157. Or 46.5 points per game to 14.3.

No doubt, Kansas' offense is better this season. But the defense is worse. Much worse. Atrociously worse, having given up 42, 66, 45, 70, 47 and 59 in the past six games.

It's commendable, I suppose, for Gill to keep a stiff upper lip through these difficult times. If he is worried about his job security or the direction of the team he coaches, he doesn't show it.

His fan base — what's left of it — does. Things continue to crumble around him, but Gill trudges on.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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