Bob Lutz

Which KU team will show up is anybody's guess

Monty Hall, the old host of "Let's Make a Deal," should be the master of ceremonies in Hattiesburg tonight for the Kansas-Southern Mississippi football game.

Behind Door No. 1 is the Kansas team that stunk up the joint against North Dakota State two weeks ago — losing in Lawrence 6-3. That team and that game caused thousands of Jayhawks fans to press the panic button.

Behind Door No. 2 is the Kansas team that miraculously rebounded a week later to beat 15th-ranked Georgia Tech. KU was a big underdog in that game, but nobody thought big enough. The Yellow Jackets, experts said, could pretty much name their score.

And, finally, behind Door No. 3 is the team that the Jayhawks will put on the field tonight. It could be the same team that laid an egg against North Dakota State. It could provide a repeat performance of the Georgia Tech game.

Or it could be completely different, yet another Kansas team we haven't seen before.

There's no predicting these Jayhawks, at least not yet. Everything is too new, from the coach to the quarterback to the freshman running back.

KU is still feeling its way and it'll probably be that way for the rest of this season. There aren't enough proven players for the Jayhawks to play consistently well.

Now, believe me, Turner Gill doesn't want to continue to see the wild swings that have been evident in the first two weeks of the season. His goal is to get this team to settle somewhere toward the Georgia Tech side of things and to never revisit the substandard play exhibited against North Dakota State.

Tonight's game against a solid Southern Miss team should provide a lot of answers. It's not necessarily a defining game for KU's season, but it could go a long way in telling us whether the Jayhawks have gained some degree of self-awareness or not.

Gill made huge personnel changes after Game 1, switching quarterbacks and going with a freshman running back, James Sims, who didn't appear in the North Dakota State game.

I don't know what that says about Gill and his offensive coaching staff. Given a full winter, spring and summer to figure things out, why weren't Sims and quarterback Jordan Webb the starters all along?

But I'm willing to give Gill the benefit of doubt and applaud him for making changes — the right changes — that couldn't have been easy to make.

Now KU, at least, is on solid footing with its personnel. It's a matter of performance.

Southern Miss is coming off a 7-5 season in which its five losses were by a total of 34 points and one came in overtime. One of those losses was against KU in Lawrence, 35-28.

The Golden Eagles will provide a test for Kansas' defense. Even in a 41-13 loss to No. 13 South Carolina, Southern Miss had 404 yards of offense. It rolled for 464 yards last week against Prairie View A&M.

In the 2009 game, KU had the weapons to match Southern Miss. Both teams passed for 331 yards. Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing completed 30 of 41 passes with three touchdowns and had one pass intercepted. Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis completed 28 of 42 with three touchdowns and had one pass intercepted.

It was that kind of game, close all the way. The difference might have been Kansas running back Toben Opurum, who busted his way for 109 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.

Opurum is no longer a running back, for reasons still not clear to me. And most of the KU players who piled up those big yards against Southern Miss last season are not around.

Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles still have Davis. They still have junior receiver DeAndre Brown, who caught four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against KU in 2009. It's an experienced Southern Miss team — one not in Georgia Tech's class, undoubtedly, but one also not in North Dakota State's league.

And there's the mystery.

We know pretty much what Southern Miss is. We know it's a team that will play somewhere inside a small window, not much different from the way it usually plays.

Kansas, on the other hand, remains an unknown. Trust has not been built. The Jayhawks' window of performance is as big as the great outdoors. What team will show up tonight in Hattiesburg? Who are these guys?

Pick a door.

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