Ben Heeney lifted his cell phone in the air, and flipped over the screen, providing a brief glance at the photo he looked at all week. The image showed a handful of cars on a road, and a few words splayed across the bottom. But the most important thing, the part Heeney focused on, was the date: Sept. 12, 2009.
That was the last time the KU football program won a road game.
“No one on the entire team has won in a Kansas uniform on the road,” said Heeney, a junior linebacker and captain. “So we need to get this one this week.”
The image on the phone, Heeney said, was everywhere in the KU facilities this week. KU strength coach Scott Holsopple had put the photo in the weight room, locker room and anywhere he could find free wall space. For Heeney, that wasn’t enough. So he snapped a cell-phone pic to make sure the message hit home.
This is what a program does when it hasn’t won a road game in four years, a recent history that KU would like to put to death when the 1-0 Jayhawks take on 0-1 Rice at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Houston.
This is what players do when the streak, which sits at 19 straight, keeps getting brought up — by coaches, by friends, by reporters.
“They’re legit questions,” Heeney said.
Last season, in Charlie Weis’ first year as head coach, KU finished 0-6 on the road, a record that included a three-point loss at Northern Illinois and a double-overtime loss at No. 25 Texas Tech.
Those two losses were, perhaps, signs that KU was getting closer to its first road win since winning at UTEP back in 2009. And Saturday’s matchup at Rice provides another intriguing opportunity to end the misery.
When Rice traveled to Lawrence last September, KU held an 11-point lead late into the third quarter. The ensuing collapse was brutal — the Jayhawks fell 25-24 on a last-second field goal — but the memory has provided a lasting motivation.
“We owe them one,” Heeney said. “They came into our house and got us, when we honestly probably should have won that game last year.”
KU quarterback Jake Heaps watched that game from the sidelines, sitting out last season as a transfer. So did senior running back James Sims, who was serving a three-game suspension. One year later, Kansas is a touchdown underdog heading into Rice, a rare spot for a Big 12 program traveling to play a team from Conference USA. But with just four more road games remaining after Saturday (all in Big 12 play) this could be KU’s best opportunity to end the streak — and rip down those photos hanging in the locker room.
“They think we’re the underdog, and that’s perfectly fine,” Heaps said. “They have every right to think that way, and we’re just going to go in and play our game and see what happens.”