Kansas goes for back-to-back wins, Rutgers tries for rebound
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The last time Kansas walked off the field at Memorial Stadium, there were a few thousand fans left that couldn’t believe the Jayhawks had just lost an overtime opener to Nicholls State.
Things have certainly changed in two weeks.
The Jayhawks return home Saturday to face Rutgers after their first road victory in 46 games, and with a chance to beat back-to-back Football Bowl Subdivision foes for the first time since Mark Mangino was coach. And with it comes an opportunity to show all those fans who had thrown in the towel just one game into the season that they should keep paying attention.
“It’s everything,” linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. said. “The fans deserve a better product than what we put on the field two weeks ago, and I think hopefully we can go out there and perform a lot better.”
Kansas (1-1) still has a long way to go before it can compete with the upper echelon of the Big 12, but a win over the Scarlet Knights would be a welcome step in the process.
Rutgers beat Texas State in its opener but was trounced by fourth-ranked Ohio State last week. So while the Scarlet Knights pose a considerable test, they are also precisely the kind of Power Five opponent that the Jayhawks feel confident they can beat.
“We don’t worry about last week anymore,” Jayhawks safety Mike Lee said. “We’re focused on Rutgers. We know they’re a good team. We’ve got to keep watching film and keep doing what we’re doing to compete with them Saturday.”
The Scarlet Knights likewise think the Jayhawks are the perfect get-right opponent after they were blitzed by the Buckeyes. Kansas may be coming off a rare road win, but it hasn’t won a home game against an FBS opponent since beating Texas in overtime a couple years ago.
It’s also an important game for third-year coach Chris Ash, who spent his first year struggling to set a foundation, and last year won three Big Ten games to show considerable progress.
“Kansas has some good players, and any time you go on the road against an opponent from another Power Five conference like the Big 12, anything can happen,” he said. “We have to help some of our younger players get better in a hurry as we move forward here through the rest of the season. Like I talked to the team, we won’t let one loss on the road against a top-five opponent, one of the best teams in the country, determine our future or determine our season.”
Rutgers freshman Artur Sitkowski is expected to start despite missing most of last week’s game after getting sacked by the Buckeyes’ Nick Bosa. Sitkowski hurt his throwing shoulder and was limited in practice, but Ash said this week he should be available.
“He’s tough as nails,” offensive coordinator John McNulty said. “He’s going to hang in there and try to make the plays work.”
POOKA STILL CLEAR
Kansas running back Pooka Williams was held out of the opener after questions about his eligibility arose. He was cleared shortly before last week’s game and ran for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Beaty refused to elaborate on the situation this week, but he did say Williams is still cleared to play against the Scarlet Knights.
The Jayhawks were penalized seven times for 55 yards last week, and several of the flags put them in offensive holes.
“If we limit our penalties we can get our drives rolling and get into more of a rhythm,” quarterback Peyton Bender said. “All our scoring drives (last) Saturday we were penalty-free for the most part, then you look at the ones with penalties we ended up punting.”
This will be the second meeting between the schools. Rutgers ran for 312 yards on the way to a 27-14 victory over the Jayhawks on Sept. 26, 2015. The home-and-home series will conclude with the return trip to Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Dineen was the Big 12’s defensive player of the week after leading Kansas with 14 tackles, a quarterback hurry and his first career interception. Dineen also had 16 stops against Nicholls State, making him one of the national leaders in tackles. “It’s cool,” he said, “but more importantly, obviously, we got the win. None of these awards would’ve mattered if we lost.”