Forty-five minutes before Kansas was set to kickoff against Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders strolled through the press box at plush, cozy Boone Pickens Stadium.
Sanders, the greatest football player the state of Kansas has ever produced, was at Oklahoma State, his alma mater, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy winning season in 1988. That was the season of 2,850 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns — perhaps the greatest individual year in college football history. And as Sanders, a Wichita native, stopped to meet with a pack of reporters, he was asked if Kansas had recruited him out of Wichita North in the mid-1980s.
“Kansas recruited me. I’m not sure to what degree,” said Sanders, who had his strongest offers from Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Emporia State. “They were down at that time; they were pretty well down as far as college football.”
Over the next four hours, as Kansas suffered through another forgettable 42-6 loss to No. 15 Oklahoma State, it became quite clear that the Jayhawks aren’t all that different than the program that once let Sanders escape south.
The Jayhawks lost their 27th straight Big 12 game — two shy of tying Baylor’s all-time record — and they did it in altogether dreary fashion. Kansas, 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the Big 12, failed to score 20 points for the eighth straight game, the longest such stretch since the Jayhawks went 13 straight games without scoring 20 points in 1986-87, a short while after Sanders left Wichita for Stillwater.
“I can sit there and give you 15 excuses,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. “I’m not going to do that.”
In a golden age of college football offense, of spread schemes and high-tempo attacks, of Baylor and Oregon turning football into a fast-break free-for-all, Weis just can’t seem to find a way to put points on the scoreboard. Kansas is now averaging 15.8 points per game, among the 10 worst offenses in the nation.
On Saturday, they managed just six.
If the last two years have caused Weis to reflect on his offensive philosophy, he offered some insight in the moments after Saturday’s loss. In Weis’ view, there are two schools of thought: Oklahoma State can spread a team out and crank up the tempo, winning games with a high-scoring unit. But a program like No. 5 Stanford, which outmuscled No. 2 Oregon on Thursday, can win games by pounding teams into submission.
“If you ask me to pick one, I’m picking the Stanford mentality,” Weis said. “But the point is: ‘Can you surround yourself with the type of players to be able to run that mentality?’ And the answer might be no.
“So if the answer’s no, you’ve got to go in the other direction.”
For another perspective, it took Oklahoma State, 8-1 and 5-1 in the Big 12, just 13 seconds to clinch a victory. Kick returner Justin Gilbert fielded the opening kickoff at his own goal line and raced 100 yards for a early 7-0 lead.
“You can’t let it deflate the team, it’s one play,” KU cornerback Cassius Sendish said. “The play happened in (13) seconds, so you can’t let (13) seconds dictate the whole game.”
Junior running back Tony Pierson, who had spent the last month recovering from a concussion, returned and finished with 87 yards on six carries. But the Jayhawks could only muster field goals, with senior Ron Doherty squandering an early chance with a kick off the left upright.
Junior quarterback Jake Heaps completed just four of eight passing attempts for 56 yards and an interception before Weis turned the game over to true freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, who showed flashes of his playmaking ability.
Cozart rushed 18 times for 55 yards and kept plays alive with his feet. But he completed just six of 17 passes for 58 yards. Weis said he’ll likely lean toward one quarterback during the season’s last three games, and while he’s not saying who, most signs point to Cozart.
“You can see this kid has rare athleticism,” Weis said. “And he’s got a chance to cover a lot of sins.”
If there’s hope for Kansas, it’s in a softer November schedule. KU will play host to West Virginia this Saturday before traveling to fellow Big 12 doormat Iowa State on Nov. 23. And as the streak pushes on, Weis will continue searching for that elusive Big 12 victory.
“We got all these streaks,” sophomore linebacker Jake Love said. “I think right now we got the second-worst Big 12 losing streak on record. So we’re definitely just trying to end the streak.”