Jayhawks desperately need to win opener against Rhode Island

BY foxsports • September 2, 2016

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The energy and passion David Beaty managed to sustain throughout a moribund first season at Kansas was perhaps the most impressive thing to come out of the Jayhawks' winless campaign.

All that fire could begin paying off in more tangible ways this season.

The Jayhawks begin year No. 2 of their coach's vast rebuilding job Saturday night against Rhode Island, a lower-division bottom-dweller. It may be the only game Kansas is favored to win all season, and a crucial early-season barometer for the state of Beaty's downtrodden program.

"You know, winning cures a lot," he said this week. "I think getting off to a fast start here would be a big, big deal for us. If I didn't talk about it or say that, then I would be remiss."

The Jayhawks started Beaty's tenure with a thud, losing to South Dakota State in his first game on the sideline. Things never got a whole lot better in a series of lopsided losses to everyone from Memphis to Oklahoma to down-the-road rival Kansas State.

Of course, that wasn't entirely Beaty's fault.

The revolving door of failed head coaches, from Turner Gill to Charlie Weis, left the locker room bereft of talent. Season-ending injuries to the top three quarterbacks left a freshman taking snaps. And an aging eyesore of a stadium has made the game-day atmosphere in Lawrence a snoozefest.

To be sure, Beaty has faced an uphill challenge ever since arriving from Texas A&M.

"Hey, listen, everybody's working hard. Everybody's doing what we're doing," Beaty said. "Now it's going to be who is the smartest football team, who can execute accurately in all three phases, and for us, we're guarding against that. We're guarding against the fact that you think you worked hard, so you just deserve to win. You know, everybody's working hard."

That no doubt includes the Rams, who won just once last year.

"I've told our defensive coaches and our players that we've got to have a stalwart defense," Rams coach Dave Fleming said. "We need to be able to go out, compete and get off the field. We need to create as many opportunities as we can giving our offense a short field."

That's because Rhode Island struggled to move the ball last season, getting shut out by Syracuse in its opener and held to single touchdowns by Albany and Stony Brook.

As the Jayhawks and Rams prepare to meet, here are five things to watch:

KANSAS QB: Beaty refused to identify a starter ahead of Saturday's game. Montell Cozart, Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley are all in the mix. "I've just got to go into the game with the mindset of when I'm in there, controlling what I can," said Cozart, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury.

RHODE ISLAND QB: Wesley McKoy beat out senior Paul Mroz and redshirt freshman Jordan Vazzano for the starting job. McKoy completed 56 percent of his passes in limited action as a freshman.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU: The Jayhawks and Rams have never met. In fact, Kansas has not played a team from the Colonial Athletic Association since losing 33-7 to Villanova on Nov. 1, 1940.

FRESH FACES: Both teams will have newcomers in the mix, but keep an eye on Kansas wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez. The once high-profile recruit transferred from Texas A&M and will be playing for the first time since Dec. 29, 2014, a span of 614 days.

AS FOR THE RAMS: Running back Harold Cooper gained at least 100 all-purpose yards in eight straight games last season. "Their running back is very talented," Beaty said. "He's also very talented in the return game and he will be a challenge to contain."