Sports

Kansas players try to stay positive

LAWRENCE — Kansas senior linebacker Drew Dudley does not read or pay attention to media coverage of the Jayhawks. He is just following orders, the same ones given by former coach Mark Mangino during good times that are now echoed by current coach Turner Gill during bad times.

"What I've heard," Dudley said, "is that when you're up, they praise you, and when you're down, they blast you."

By not picking up the paper, Dudley has been able to insulate himself from some of the outside criticism stemming from KU's 59-7 loss to Kansas State last week, which came on the heels of a 55-7 loss to Baylor.

But last Friday night, as he waited at Allen Fieldhouse to take the floor with a group of teammates representing the football team at "Late Night in the Phog," he couldn't help but worry that he was about to be exposed.

"My heart was beating," Dudley said. "I thought, 'Man, we're about to get booed.' "

Turned out, Dudley couldn't have been more wrong. The football players received a standing ovation, a sign that all had not been lost during two of the worst KU losses in recent memory.

Certainly, it has felt that way at times for the Jayhawks. Junior Steven Johnson, Dudley's fellow linebacker, regularly reads coverage of the team online and therefore has been privy to fan reaction as well. After this latest loss, he just couldn't bring himself to look.

"I avoided my computer and just did homework," Johnson said.

Gill says he never pays attention to what people outside the program are saying. On Tuesday, he appeared undaunted by his team's 2-4 start, saying that the Jayhawks are not as bad as the last two scores would indicate and that there are six games left in the season to prove it.

"Everybody has a right to their opinion," Gill said. "On the inside, we understand that there's always three to four plays that make a difference in the game. That's what we've seen."

Gill's "three to four plays" assertion is further proof he prefers to take the most positive approach, even to the most negative situations. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush was a little more realistic about the number of plays that turned potentially competitive games into blowouts.

"Up until the past two weeks, it really had been three to four plays," Torbush said. "The last two weeks, obviously we've given up more than three to four plays."

For the defense, the issues are the same as they've been all year. KU has to start pressuring the opposing quarterback and create turnovers.

KU's offense has been plagued by penalties and turnovers, but coaches believe the Jayhawks have also developed a mental block that is keeping them from getting in the end zone. This week in practice, whoever touches the ball on every fourth play has to run with the ball into the end zone.

"Getting across the goal line is just as important as catching the football," KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said.

While the Jayhawks continue to get positive reinforcement, they know the reality is that many of their fans don't feel as if they've gotten their money's worth this season.

Saturday's homecoming game against Texas A&M is another chance to start backing up positive energy with positive results.

"I still have faith that this team is gonna go to a bowl game this year," Johnson said.

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