After a fourth-quarter interception, with Kansas trailing Baylor 49-7 last Saturday, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen sent his first-string players back onto the field.
His message was simple: Don’t let the Bears score.
Bowen had reason for doing this. He wanted to get a look at how guys performed in tough circumstances when it would have been easy to not give full effort.
The red-zone drive likely was part of the reason defensive tackle DeeIsaac Davis earned the team’s defensive player of the week honors.
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On first down, Davis worked his way up the field, then hustled behind the play to help fall on the legs of Baylor running back Wyatt Schrepfer. On second down, Davis pushed back the center, then wrapped both arms around Schrepfer to close a running lane before it opened.
The third play, he made it far enough into the backfield that Schrepfer was forced to cut left into KU’s defenders. And on fourth down, Davis shed a block before teaming with Damani Mosby for a tackle in the backfield.
Davis, a Wichita native, certainly has made a lot of progress since arriving at KU in early 2016.
After transferring from Highland Community College, Davis showed up weighing 320 pounds, an amount Bowen politely described as “too heavy.”
“I knew it was going to be a long road to lose that weight,” Davis said.
Better nutrition was the first step. Davis gave up Five Guys burgers, which was one of his biggest sacrifices. He also started conditioning drills with strength coach Je’Ney Jackson, which sometimes included running up and down the Memorial Stadium stairs 12 times in a day.
Davis is now playing at 300 pounds after being asked to settle in the 295-305 range.
It was far from the only obstacle he faced, as he also lagged behind with fundamentals when he arrived in Lawrence.
“There were times there I kind of doubted if he was going to be a player for us,” Bowen said, “but through his hard work and his effort, he’s developed himself into one.”
With the help of defensive-line coach Michael Slater, Davis has learned the nuances needed to play inside. He’s become more explosive out of his stance and also learned to be more violent with his hands, which has helped him separate from blocks to make plays.
Davis has been one of KU’s best defensive playmakers at a position where his biggest objective is simply to hold his ground in the “A” gap. His 16 tackles are tied for ninth on the team, and he’s also made nine stops over the last two weeks.
“He’s not a flashy guy. He’s not the quickest guy in the world,” Bowen said. “But he is big, which is a talent, and he plays extremely hard.”
Davis, who played at Andover (Kan.) High his final year of high school, was raised a KU fan and says he didn’t need long to pick the Jayhawks after KU coach David Beaty offered him a scholarship over the phone.
“To be honest with you, it’s been a dream come true to play just to be able to play and put these colors on me,” Davis said. “Just represent my state, it’s been a great experience so far.”
His first name, which comes from combining his father’s name “Dee” and his grandfather’s name “Isaac,” is often mispronounced because with certain fonts, the capital “I” appears to be a lowercase “L.”
Davis says he doesn’t get bothered too much when public-address announcers say it incorrectly. The important part is that he’s continuing to produce.
“My goal was to get here and start and make a name for myself out here. I’m not there. I’m not close to where I want to be,” Davis said. “But I’m making strides every week.”
Oklahoma State at Kansas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence
TV: Fox Sports 1
Other story lines
1. Pick problem: The two teams are on opposite ends of the turnover spectrum, especially when it comes to interceptions. Oklahoma State’s two interceptions are tied for the second-best mark nationally, while KU’s 12 picks rank next to last. Oklahoma State enters as one of only three Big 12 teams with a positive turnover margin (plus-five), while KU is last at minus-11.
2. Continued pressure: KU sophomore Dorance Armstrong has at least one sack in four straight weeks — the longest streak at the school since linebacker James Holt went six consecutive games with a sack in 2008. Armstrong’s one-sack-per-game total is the top mark in the Big 12 and also ranks ninth nationally.
3. Well rested: Oklahoma State will be playing KU coming off a bye week, which has become a familiar challenge for KU. Previously, Memphis, Texas Tech and Baylor all played KU following off weeks, with the Jayhawks losing those three games by a combined score of 147-33. Nevada is the only other FBS school that is playing four different opponents following byes.