WACO, Texas – From the top rows at McLane Stadium, Baylor’s first-year jewel, you can see the sun glistening off the Brazos River, where the locals arrive via boat and tailgate just off the waterfront. From that same spot on Saturday afternoon, you could also enjoy an unblocked view of the north end zone, which provided a perfect angle of Kansas’ most frustrating moment in a 60-14 loss to Baylor.
It was late in the second quarter, the on-field carnage still very much in the early stages, and Baylor was threatening to punch in another touchdown before the end of the first half. The Jayhawks trailed by 22 points. More than 3 minutes remained in the half. It was fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Football can be a complex and difficult game, of course. And stopping the Baylor offense, which entered the day averaging 49 points, can be one of the most unenviable tasks in college football. So it was a little jarring to see the Kansas defense line up to stop Baylor — with 10 defenders on the field.
The rules of football allow a team to deploy 11 men on the field. But according to KU interim coach Clint Bowen, an injury to senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers had disrupted a substitution on a goal-line package.
Baylor calmly plunged in.
“The injury led to us not taking care of our business,” Bowen said.
The moment offered an apt summation of what transpired Saturday afternoon. For one moment, the Jayhawks were left playing with 10 men because a senior lineman and emotional leader had been carted off earlier following an injury scare.
“It’s hard,” Bowen said.
It was on Saturday. Baylor’s offensive machine smashed an overmatched Kansas defense on a cool fall afternoon, racking up 669 total yards. The Bears lived in the KU red zone, showcasing their vast arsenal of weapons.
And it’s telling that the Jayhawks’ defense was perhaps its most effective unit. The Kansas offense managed 304 total yards, including 16 yards on the ground. The Jayhawks fell to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12. They are 0-4 since Bowen replaced Charlie Weis on an interim basis Sept. 28.
“We obviously felt we had a good plan,” Bowen said. “We came out, Baylor had a better plan.”
The latest loss sets the stage for a home matchup with Iowa State next week. With games against TCU, Oklahoma and K-State looming in November, the Jayhawks’ last, best chance for a Big 12 victory could come against a familiar face. Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino will make his long-awaited return to Kansas this Saturday.
“We’re going to go right back to work tomorrow,” Bowen said. “We’re going to stay to the plan. We have a plan to work, continue to prepare and continue to try and win football games.”
Kansas arrived at McLane Stadium as a five-touchdown underdog, so the overall nature of a blowout was not unanticipated. But there were still aspects that infuriated Bowen, whose staff had an extra week to prepare for Baylor.
Entering Saturday, Kansas had lost one fumble in seven games. During the first 18 minutes against Baylor, the Jayhawks put the ball on the turf three times. For a program with a razor-thin margin for error, facing off against a juggernaut on its home field, the turnovers were crippling.
“You have to take care of the football,” Bowen said. “You have to be able to control the things that you can control.”
These types of words have been the connective tissue of Bowen’s days as the Kansas coach.
On the morning of Sept. 28, facing severe pressure from fans and donors, Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger fired Weis and asked Bowen to rally the beleaguered troops. Five weeks — and four games — later, the Jayhawks do not appear demonstratively improved, though they have played with more organization, more passion.
They have offered doses of competitive football — if only for a half or a quarter. But for all of Bowen’s elbow grease and steely focus — most of it lasered in on creating a new Kansas culture — there are still afternoons like Saturday, where the results are so cartoonishly grotesque, that you wonder how it ever came to this.
“They’re one of the top teams in the nation,” KU freshman running back Corey Avery said. “So if we’re going to compete with a top team, we got to play at their tempo.”
For his part, Bowen agreed, announcing Saturday that he had promoted first-year receivers coach Eric Kiesau to co-offensive coordinator, alongside first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan. The goal, Bowen said, was to facilitate a more wide-open offense, something closer to the spread scheme that Kiesau ran while serving as the offensive coordinator at Washington.
“We want to get to the point,” Bowen said, “where we’re playing ball in the Big 12 just like everyone else.”
In other words, Kansas would like to look more like Baylor, the hot program with high-powered offense and brand new stadium. On Saturday, the programs were separated by a pretty clear margin.