There was little solace in another loss, no consolation in a near upset of a top-five team.
On Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, the Kansas Jayhawks led No. 5 TCU in the second half, standing up to a team on the cusp of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Inside a mostly empty Memorial Stadium, it felt like a watershed performance, at least for a moment. The Jayhawks posted their most productive passing day in five years; an interim coach was inspiring an emotional wave on defense; after five years of mostly unwatchable football, the Jayhawks were respectable — maybe even solid.
But in the days after the 34-30 loss, interim coach Clint Bowen didn’t quite see it that way.
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“The bottom line is we lost the game,” Bowen said, “and that has to be the story.”
Bowen has now been at the helm for seven weeks, and his time in charge has produced many victories — both moral and tangible. His decision to start junior quarterback Michael Cummings over sophomore Montell Cozart has paid dividends. His move to promote receivers coach Eric Kiesau to co-offensive coordinator and chief play-caller has further enlivened a previously anemic passing game.
But the Jayhawks are still just 1-5 since Bowen replaced Charlie Weis, and Bowen doesn’t want his players to mistake an improved process for legitimate progress.
“A loss is never acceptable, and that’s not what you go to do,” Bowen said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday in Lawrence. “We have talked about that our expectations are, that we’re Big 12 football players playing in the Big 12 Conference, and when you step on the field, you expect to win.”
As KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger continues a long search for the program’s next coach, the Jayhawks (3-7) will finish the season with road trips to Oklahoma and Kansas State, beginning Saturday in Norman. For Bowen, who is a candidate for the full-time job, it’s not the easiest finishing stretch. But this is not the Oklahoma of vintage form. The Sooners are 7-3, having suffered two home losses. They will play Saturday without starting quarterback Trevor Knight, who suffered a spine injury against Baylor on Nov. 8.
Reserve quarterback Cody Thomas will start again after completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions in a comeback victory against Texas Tech last week.
“Obviously, Trevor Knight probably had better command on the offense in general, just due to experience,” Bowen said. “But in terms of bringing a guy — they brought in a guy who really can do similar things with it.”
Oklahoma also showcased some versatility. When Thomas struggled early against Texas Tech, the Sooners unleashed a more ground-heavy attack in the second half, erasing the Red Raiders’ early lead. Oklahoma freshman running back Semaje Perine, who leads the Big 12 in rushing yards, finished with 25 carries for 213 yards in the second half.
“It shows the diversity of (Oklahoma’s) offense,” Bowen said, “that in the course of one game they can switch identities in a hurry and have equal success.”
The Jayhawks haven’t won Norman since 1996, a stretch of only four games. But Bowen believes his team should have a spike in confidence after Saturday’s performance against TCU. You don’t take consolation from a loss, Bowen says, but he hopes his team can tap into some renewed motivation.
“It’s confidence in what we’re telling them,” Bowen said. “If they carry it out, we’ll have results on the field.”
Fusimalohi done for season — Senior right guard Ngalu Fusimalohi will miss the rest of the season after being injured in a 34-14 victory over Iowa State, Bowen said Tuesday. Fusimalohi, a junior college transfer, missed Saturday’s loss to TCU. True freshman Junior Visinia, a Grandview native, started against TCU. On Tuesday, Bowen praised Visinia’s performance.
“I think the thing that’s most pleasing is that he’s handled it mentally,” Bowen said. “He hasn’t let the game get too big for him, and that he competes and fights.”
Cummings feeling better — After playing through a shoulder injury for the last several weeks, Cummings appears to making strides, Bowen said. Cummings was injured on the opening series against Iowa State on Nov. 8 and has played through pain in the last two weeks.
“We’re a lot farther ahead this week than we were last week,” Bowen said. “So I feel a lot better this week, than I did a week ago.”