LAWRENCE — The Kansas Jayhawks came to the aid of their quarterback on Saturday night after a humbling 35-13 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners.
KU coach Mark Mangino didn't excuse Todd Reesing's three first-half interceptions, but Mangino was happy to offer up the possibility that his coaching was at least partly responsible. Reesing's teammates, offense and defense alike, tried to offer some perspective on the kid who showed up on campus four years ago unannounced and changed KU football.
"Todd is a human being," center Jeremiah Hatch said. "No one is perfect."
"He's not Superman," nickel back Ryan Murphy said.
In suffering their second straight loss in which Reesing turnovers led to 14 points for the opponent, the Jayhawks didn't need a hero. They needed a quarterback who would protect the football and make good decisions early in the game so that his team could get in a rhythm.
On Saturday, Reesing wasn't trying to do anything heroic during his three bad plays. On the first, a routine pass on a corner route sailed on him. On the second, a short pass was tipped at the line. On the third, Reesing attempted a simple quick pass to the sideline, a pass he's completed probably thousands of times. OU cornerback Dominique Franks read the route, Reesing delivered it late and Franks took it 85 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 OU lead.
No, the Jayhawks, now 5-2 and 1-2 in the Big 12, didn't need a hero to beat the Sooners or even to be competitive with them. They needed the old reliable Todd Reesing, not the one who ran off the field to a smattering of boos in the third quarter.
"After how many games I've played here, they expect a certain level of performance," Reesing said. "And I expect that from myself as well. To go out there and not be able to make plays that I'm used to making, not making all the throws that I used to make, yeah, that expectation is there, and it's there for a reason."
It's there because Reesing waved his wand two years ago and created the expectation out of thin air. Remember, there were no expectations for Reesing to do anything other than hold a clipboard in big-time college football when a family friend put his high-school tape into the hands of former KU assistant coach Pat Henderson, who works for the school's Williams Educational Fund.
Mangino liked what he saw from Reesing and offered him a scholarship. Mangino didn't think he was bringing a hero into his program, but after Reesing led the Jayhawks to what is now looking like a truly miraculous 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory, the image of a hero is what he got after all.
Over time, Mangino even started to buy it. With the Jayhawks 5-0 and coming off a game in which Reesing threw for 442 yards against Iowa State, Mangino spent two days doing his best to insert Reesing into the Heisman Trophy conversation. It was so unlike Mangino to beat the drum for one of his players, but Reesing had earned that. And listening to Mangino, you would have thought Reesing had done it by being heroic.
"The real appreciation you have for Todd Reesing," Mangino said then, "is after you watch him play. It's not fair to just look at his statistics."
Reesing's completed 56 percent of his passes since Mangino's endorsement, and opponents have scored 28 points off his five turnovers. Maybe the most heroic thing about Reesing was not the way he scrambled around and made unthinkable plays but the way he handled the little things.
"I don't think he's trying to do anything spectacular," Mangino said. "He's playing within the talent level that he has. I think people are making some good plays on him."
Usually, after home games, Reesing walks into the post-game interview looking like the proud face of a growing program. On Saturday, his red tie was loosened, slack around his unshaven neck, and he didn't bother with the usual splash of hair gel to hold himself together.
"Rough day at the office," Reesing said.
"I hold myself to the highest standard of anybody, and nobody takes that performance harder than I do. I just gotta learn from it and move forward, help get this team back on track."