HATTIESBURG, Miss. — In hotel rooms across the country, college football players had nothing to do but watch Kansas and Southern Mississippi. Friday night’s national broadcast offered KU the perfect stage to answer the question on everybody’s mind after two weeks: Who exactly are the Jayhawks?
During a 31-16 loss to Southern Miss at Roberts Stadium that never felt like it was going to be a Jayhawk victory, KU revealed itself as something in between the schizophrenic team that showed up the first two weeks.
The embarrassment of getting creamed by a Conference USA team in the first road game of the season will not equal that of losing to North Dakota State, a team from a lower-division, at home. But the Jayhawks certainly did not follow through on the promise of their Georgia Tech victory, leaving much to be desired in all three phases of the game.
Who are the Jayhawks? Don’t bother asking them at this point.
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“I wouldn’t say up and down,” KU safety Olaitan Oguntodu said. “We’ve had three weeks. The first week was heartbreak, the next week we came together. It’s football. We have nine more games left.”
A week from today, the Jayhawks will take the field again, and it’s hard to know what to expect.
“Just as a whole team we gotta come out and have some more energy,” KU cornerback Chris Harris said. “We kind of felt like we didn’t have a lot of energy coming out. I don’t know if it was the short week, I don’t know if everybody’s tired or something, but we just gotta come out with lot of energy.”
Other Kansas players said the energy was fine. They could all agree on one thing: The execution was not.
Offensively, Kansas struggled to finish drives. KU quarterback Jordan Webb was sacked four times and had to throw under duress often during his first road start. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and lucked out on a couple of dropped balls by Southern Miss defenders. Webb showed an ability to keep plays alive with his feet, and it appears he’ll need to keep doing that the rest of the season. KU has major issues on the offensive line.
“At times, we do a really good job of protecting, at times we do a really bad job of protecting,” KU guard Sal Capra said. “We just need to get some consistency up there.”
Defensively, the Jayhawks struggled in their first chance to play against a spread offense. KU coach Turner Gill said that he wanted to recruit speed to Lawrence, and he better get started. The Kansas defense looked like the one fans have become accustomed to – a unit overmatched by opposing running backs and wide receivers in space.
Southern Miss speedster Desmond Johnson gashed KU for 89 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. Quarterback Austin Davis threw for 155 yards and rushed for 61 more.
“I thought the tackling was probably below average tonight,” Gill said.
Despite the negatives, the Jayhawks still were only outgained 358-274. But a special teams performance that was reminiscent of the North Dakota State game made sure the Jayhawks (1-2) weren’t leaving Brett Favre’s old stomping grounds with a win.
Kansas trailed 14-3 with less than two minutes left in the second quarter when Southern Miss’ Tim Green blocked a punt by KU’s Alonso Rojas, who also had a punt blocked against the Bison. Southern Miss’ Deron Wilson recovered it and ran it in from seven yards out to give the Golden Eagles a 21-3 lead.
“I don’t care what the situation is, we can not give up the opportunity there,” Gill said. “That hurts your football team. We gotta get that corrected.”
Another similarity from the North Dakota State game? The Jayhawks blew timeouts early in the second half and had none left when they got the ball back with three minutes left, trailing 31-16. Against the Bison, KU had no timeouts at the eight-minute mark.
Kansas’ final drive went nowhere, setting up a fourth-and-15 on its own 8-yard line. Instead of trying to keep alive a miracle comeback attempt, the Jayhawks punted the ball away.
They’ll try again next week, and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.