As Matthew Wyman peered toward the end zone and measured his steps at the 43-yard line, a sense of confusion festered along the Kansas sideline. As the play clock ticked, Kansas coach David Beaty stepped forward onto the Jack Trice Stadium grass and looked for an official.
“There were some ideas on some things,” Beaty would say.
It was early in the second quarter on Saturday afternoon — the beginning stages of Kansas’ 38-13 loss to Iowa State in its Big 12 opener — but in this moment, as Beaty pondered a decision, the Jayhawks still trailed just 3-0. The football rested at the Iowa State 35-yard line. It was fourth and 3.
At first, the decision appeared obvious, at least on the KU sideline. Wyman, Kansas’ long-range kicker, trotted out with the field-goal unit, and the Jayhawks lined up to kick. But Beaty sensed a slight head-wind. He believed the down and distance — which he mistakenly thought was fourth and “4 or 5” — was too long to go for it.
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So on a fourth and short from the Iowa State 35, Beaty sent out the punt team. The kick bounced into the end zone, resulting in a net gain of just 15 yards. The decision summed up what would become another dullish performance from a rebuilding Kansas program.
“(We were) in a situation where we felt like we needed to change the field,” Beaty explained. “It was a little bit further than 3 (yards). I think it was about 4 or 5. It was a little too far for us in that fourth-down situation to think about staying and going for it.”
The decision would have little effect on the final result, which turned into a blowout as Iowa State ran the ball at will and KU played sloppy. But it was still slightly revealing. With nothing to lose, Beaty chose the most conservative route. Soon enough, the game was out of hand.
Under a bright sun and clear blue skies, the Jayhawks, 0-4, stayed winless and brow-beaten, offering few reasons for latent optimism. The offense struggled to sustain drives. The defense couldn’t stop the run. Facing an Iowa State team that was projected to finish ninth in the Big 12, the Jayhawks managed just 38 rushing yards while being gouged for 243 yards on the ground.
“It’s always just one little thing that causes it,” said sophomore linebacker Joe Dineen. “It’s like: Somebody is out of their gap. And the ball always seems to find the missed gap.
“You want offenses to resort to the pass, but if they don’t have to, then they won’t.”
That’s true of most teams, but especially Iowa State, which had struggled to run the ball in losses to Iowa and Toledo. The Cyclones, 2-2, went winless in the Big 12 last season, including a blowout loss in Lawrence, momentarily occupying the Big 12 cellar. On Saturday, Iowa State and its offensive coordinator — former KU coach Mark Mangino — repaid the favor, piling up 512 totals yards.
For Beaty and Kansas, there are no easy answers on defense. On Saturday, Beaty spoke of playing with better technique and limiting mistakes. He also spoke of adding muscle and bulk, and that’s something that can’t be done over the course of a season.
“We got to continue to play assignment sound,” Beaty said. “And then we got to get bigger and stronger, so that when we match up against people, we don’t get moved quite as much.”
On offense, the Jayhawks had no recourse. Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart completed 15 of 21 passes for 150 yards before leaving the game with a left-shoulder sprain. Beaty was already without backup Deondre Ford, who was injured last week against Rutgers. So true freshman Ryan Willis saw his first extended playing time. Willis offered flashes of his strong right arm on two accurate deep balls. But the Jayhawks’ running game was bottled up for the second straight week.
When Kansas linebacker Marcquis Roberts returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter, the defense had matched the offense in touchdowns.
As Kansas sits at 0-4 and 0-1 in the Big 12, KU fans may not want to peer at the upcoming schedule. Next on the docket, the Jayhawks will welcome high-powered Baylor to Memorial Stadium before facing Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks. If Rutgers and Iowa State were able to run wild, it’s hard to imagine what Baylor might do.
“I’m pretty sure everybody is going to try to run the ball,” senior defensive end Ben Goodman said.
As Beaty sat inside a weight room adjacent to Jack Trice Stadium, he tried to maintain a positive front. If the Jayhawks wanted to notch a Big 12 victory and avoid the despair of 0-12, they probably missed their best chance on Saturday. But Beaty didn’t want to dwell on the negative.
“We’re the adults in this deal,” Beaty said. “We’re not necessarily allowed to have bad days.”
So Kansas will keep moving forward, even as the ugly results stack up, even as the rest of the Big 12 schedule looms.
“These kids are not happy with what just took place,” Beaty said. “But at the same time, our job is to make them realistically look at themselves in the mirror each day and try to understand: There’s a reason why it happened, and we got to get better at it. That’s my responsibility as a coach.”
IOWA STATE 38, KANSAS 13
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
ISU: FG Netten 34, 1:54.
ISU: Sam B.Richardson 4 run (Netten kick), 5:40.
ISU: Al.Lazard 9 pass from Sam B.Richardson (Netten kick), :27.
ISU: Warren 62 run (Netten kick), 9:47.
KU: Parmalee 47 pass from Cozart (kick failed), 5:36.
ISU: Montgomery 13 pass from Sam B.Richardson (Netten kick), 2:15.
KU: Roberts 83 interception return (Bartolotta kick), 13:30.
ISU: Warren 7 run (Netten kick), 11:34.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Pnt/Int Ret Yds
RUSHING: Kansas, Kinner 11-46, T.Martin 4-11, Schadler 2-5, Mann 2-3, Cozart 10-0, Sims 1-(minus 9), Willis 3-(minus 18). Iowa St., Warren 18-175, Harger 5-29, Lanning 3-24, Jo.Thomas 4-9, Sam B.Richardson 6-5, Ryen 1-1.
PASSING: Kansas, Cozart 15-21-0-150, Willis 8-16-0-100. Iowa St., Sam B.Richardson 27-37-2-269.
RECEIVING: Kansas, Parmalee 5-81, Patrick 3-12, Sims 2-44, Hartzog 2-37, Taylor 2-20, Johnson 2-19, Kinner 2-14, Barbel 2-12, Neal 2-6, Crawley 1-5. Iowa St., Al.Lazard 6-75, Daley 5-31, Montgomery 4-55, Bundrage 3-20, Warren 3-(minus 3), Wesley 2-44, Boesen 2-12, Chandler 1-30, Ryen 1-5.