It was midway through the second quarter when it all started to fall apart. Kansas was in the infant stages of what could have been a seismic upset, and here was KU true freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, trotting onto the field for the first time this season.
Everyone will remember this moment, maybe for some time, and this perhaps says something about Kansas football. They will remember what happened next, how another coaching decision backfired, how another chance for an elusive Big 12 victory disappeared like a grain of sand in a 14-mile per hour headwind.
It was a harmless decision, really. The KU passing game was going nowhere. It held a touchdown lead over the No. 18 Oklahoma Sooners. And Charlie Weis was looking for a soft landing for Cozart, a Bishop Miege product who hadn’t played in five games this season.
“We planned on using him against the wind,” Weis would say, “when we knew that we were basically gonna be running the ball.”
But in the aftermath of Kansas’ 34-19 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, it was to easy to get stuck on the momentum-shifting stretch that came next.
The Jayhawks held a glorious 13-6 lead that felt like football heaven for the 41,113 in attendance. KU, 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big 12, was trying to avoid its 24th straight Big loss. It hadn’t beaten Oklahoma since 1997. And senior running back James Sims, who finished with 129 yards in 23 carries, was turning the Oklahoma defense into a pulpy mush.
But as Cozart entered, there was a holding penalty and a quick three-and-out. On fourth and long, Oklahoma blocked a punt that resulted in a safety. And moments later, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops one-upped Weis by pulling off some real trickery. On the first play of the next possession, Oklahoma ran a double-reverse pass from the KU 49 that ended with receiver Lacoltan Bester throwing a touchdown strike to receiver Sterling Shepard. The Sooners took a 15-13 lead with 4:24 left in the half, and added another field goal before halftime.
“We decided that we were gonna use him,” Weis said of burning Cozart’s redshirt. “We weren’t just gonna throw him to the wolves and say, ‘OK, Oklahoma, you’re now the starter.’ We intended to use him in the game. And now, I think that any butterflies that he might have, those things have come and gone.”
In reality, Cozart’s entrance coincided with a game-changing sequence. But it was just a side effect of the real problem. KU quarterback Jake Heaps completed five of 13 passes for 16 yards, the fewest since KU recorded 15 passing yards in a 20-3 loss to Nebraska in 2010.
“Give Oklahoma credit, they’re another great defense that we faced,” Heaps said. “They’re very talented in the secondary, but I think it’s just overall, it’s a combination of everybody.”
Cozart returned in the second half, rushing three times for 8 yards. He didn’t attempt a pass, but Weis said there were pass plays for him in the game plan.
If this all sounds familiar, well …
Last year, Weis completely went away from his passing attack in midseason, benching starter Dayne Crist for freshman Michael Cummings. One year later, with Cozart waiting in the wings, it’s hard to miss the parallels.
“I can’t rule that completely out,” Weis said. “Because I’ll have to wait and see where we are. Obviously, you throw for 20 yards in a college football game, I don’t play if you’re playing the ’85 Bears, that’s just not acceptable.”
For another week, the offensive output — 201 total yards — spoiled a respectable performance from the KU defense, which was playing without its leading tackler in linebacker Ben Heeney. Even so, KU pulled within 25-19 with 10:15 left after a blocked punt by senior Josh Ford set up another Sims touchdown run.
Moments later, Wyman had his extra-point attempt blocked, and Oklahoma converted two points at the other end. Kansas hung with a top-25 team into the fourth quarter — and perhaps that’s progress — but a hint of ugly football remained.
“You really have one of two ways to go when things don’t go well,” Weis said. “You can say ‘Ah the hell with it’ … or you can fight to do everything you can to be part of the answer.”