Both Kansas and Kansas State start season in uncomfortable territory
LAWRENCE, Kan. — There was a point Saturday night when Kansas was trailing Nicholls State in the second half and, a short drive down Interstate 70, Kansas State was trying desperately to rally against South Dakota.
The Jayhawks wound up losing in overtime. The Wildcats barely survived.
For both, it was a somber, somewhat humiliating start to a season that was filled with expectations. They each returned a load of starters on both sides of the ball, and while Kansas was hoping for a breakthrough campaign that might save coach David Beaty’s job, the Wildcats harbored hopes of competing with Oklahoma and West Virginia for the Big 12 championship.
Those goals are still attainable, of course. The odds just seem a lot longer now.
“I’ll tell you this, the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and this team is going to continue to work toward the goals that they have set,” said Beaty, who has never been one for pessimism.
He could leave that to his counterpart at Kansas State.
Asked about his emotions after the 27-24 victory, which required 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Snyder replied: “All of them — angered, disappointed, et cetera. But it goes back again, we can say all we want about anything, but I just didn’t have them prepared to play.”
“If they were ready to play and played the way we wanted them to,” Snyder continued, “which is my responsibility, we would have probably fared a little bit better than what we did.”
Both games deserve a bit of context: Nicholls State is an ascending program with several high-major transfers that reached the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last season, and South Dakota also made the playoffs — and won a game — while challenging for the Missouri Valley title.
But neither of them is the same caliber of Central Michigan, where the Jayhawks visit Saturday as they seek their first road victory since the 2009 season. And they certainly aren’t on the same level as No. 18 Mississippi State, which brings its high-powered offense to Manhattan next weekend.
The Jayhawks, to their credit, don’t sound as if they’re going to let another embarrassing defeat linger any longer than the next film study.
“We go into film, see what we did wrong and make corrections. Then we have to flush this one. We can’t let it loom around and drag us down for the rest of the year,” Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. said. “It’s one loss. Half the teams in the country right now have one loss.”
The problems that face Kansas are oh-so-familiar, though.
Its defense was unable to make a stop when it mattered most, after Kansas kicked a field goal to start overtime, in the 26-23 loss. The Jayhawks’ special teams were shaky and their offense, despite an influx of talent and an offensive-minded head coach, continued to struggle.
Peyton Bender and Miles Kendrick were a combined 21 of 38 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and the Jayhawks’ run game produced just 56 yards on 32 carries.
“The season just started and you have a lot of football left to play. You can turn the season around to be one to remember,” Bender said. “We just have to keep our heads on straight going into every game, ready to play and don’t take anything for granted.”
Snyder wasn’t sure whether the Wildcats took anything for granted after winning eight games and their bowl game a year ago. But he certainly thought they were better prepared than they showed against the Coyotes, who had them down 24-12 when the fourth quarter began.
It took an 85-yard punt return touchdown by Isaiah Zuber to finally wake the Wildcats up, and they didn’t take the lead until Zuber hauled in Skylar Thompson’s TD pass with 7:21 to go.
No doubt there were some bright spots. The defense played well most of the night, and Alex Barnes ran for 103 yards as the Wildcats piled up 256 on the ground. But Thompson was 8 of 14 for 61 yards with an interception, and backup Alex Delton was just 5 of 14 for 91 yards and a pick of his own.
Their wide receivers hardly helped, dropping passes and in one case batting one into the air for an interception. Barnes fumbled three times, losing two of them.
Unlike the Jayhawks, the Wildcats managed to overcome their miscues against plucky South Dakota.
Good luck trying to overcome them against Mississippi State.
“It was a rough performance all around, but I mean, we found a way to win the game and that’s what is important more than anything else. We’ve got to be thankful for that,” Thompson said. “But I mean, we have to play better from here. We’ve got to play better next week.”