AMES, Iowa — One hour before Kansas kicked off against Iowa State, senior linebacker Darius Willis removed his shirt and went for a short jog on the sideline at Jack Trice Stadium.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
The temperature hovered around 13 degrees — the wind chill around 4 — and the latter would fall to near zero degrees before the end of the night. But Willis, wearing nothing but mesh basketball shorts, his skin glistening with sweat, looked completely comfortable while doing something completely crazy.
If Willis, a backup linebacker, was attempting to show his teammates that they could handle the arctic conditions on a frigid Saturday in Iowa, the pregame gambit didn’t quite pay off.
For another night, the Kansas offense was stopped cold in a 34-0 loss to Iowa State. On an icy playing surface that was frozen solid outside the hash marks, the Jayhawks couldn’t finish off drives. They couldn’t muster any momentous plays. And they couldn’t pierce an Iowa State defense that entered the night ranked 117th in Division 1 in scoring defense.
“I really didn’t feel like the weather itself was a factor,” KU coach Charlie Weis said.
“I thought the field was a factor. But both teams played on the same field. So I thought, obviously, Iowa State did a much better job of handling (the field).”
Just like that, Kansas (3-8 and 1-7) fell back into a tie for last place in the Big 12. For two years, since the reconfiguration of a 10-team Big 12, the Jayhawks have occupied the cellar. On Saturday, as Iowa State (2-9 and 1-7) notched its first Big 12 victory, the Jayhawks were back at the bottom.
“We lost 34-0,” senior center Gavin Howard said. “The field wasn’t the reason we got killed.”
Last week, Kansas had snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak in a 31-19 victory over West Virginia. And Weis had talked about program mile-markers, signs that his team is moving forward. Kansas had finally taken down a Big 12 opponent, and that set up the next line on the agenda: Beat somebody on the road.
As the wind chill fell to single digits late, Iowa State handed the Jayhawks their 24-straight loss on the road.
While senior running back James Sims rushed for 114 yards, becoming the first KU player to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, the offense couldn’t sustain much of anything. Freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, who was making just his second career start, completed just four of 12 pass attempts for 20 yards before being replaced by Jake Heaps with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
The Jayhawks quickly went three-and-out.
According to the National Weather Service, frostbite can set in when the body is exposed to temperatures below zero. So as the Jayhawks played one of the coldest games in recent Big 12 history, the offense appeared to be suffering from some major freezer burn.
KU finished with just 279 total yards and converted just three of 16 first downs. And maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but Kansas twice failed to convert fourth downs deep in Iowa State territory in the first half. In both cases, there really wasn’t a really choice. The weather dictated that Weis go for it.
After driving 64 yards on 12 plays on its opening drive, Kansas failed to convert a fourth and 4 from the Iowa State 26-yard line.
Another opportunity vanished under similar circumstances midway through the second quarter. On third and 10 from the Iowa State 22, Cozart scrambled left and appeared to have an angle for the first down. But Cozart pulled up shy of the marker, stepping out of bounds nearly a yard short.
Weis challenged the spot, saying he wanted to call a timeout in that situation anyway. The call was upheld, and Sims was stuffed on fourth and 1.
“If you don’t make plays in the passing game at all…” Weis said. “You’re in a heap of trouble.”
Iowa State, meanwhile, appeared to take advantage of the football field-turned-skating rink. The Cyclones’ opening touchdown came on a KU defensive breakdown as Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly ran free on a 58-yard touchdown reception.
“Sometimes you’d slip,” said linebacker Jake Love, who lost his footing while blitzing on the play. “But they handled it well; we didn’t handle it really well.”
For Kansas, which will return home for its season finale against Kansas State next week, it would only get worse. Another opportunity for a building-block victory slipped away in the cold.
“It was slippery,” senior James Sims said. “It just wasn’t normal. But you just can’t use that as excuse. You should have capitalized on the drives that we had.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.