The night came more than two years ago, on an October evening in Norman, Okla. Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings, then a redshirt freshman, waited on the sidelines for the signal. In the days leading up to Kansas’ matchup with Oklahoma, then coach Charlie Weis had been mum on the starting quarterback spot. Would it be Dayne Crist, the senior transfer who had started the season’s first six games, or Cummings, the upstart freshman?
Weis wouldn’t divulge the answer. But it came as Cummings took the signal and jogged out onto the field for the game’s first possession.
More than two years later, Cummings is the unquestioned starter as Kansas, 3-7, travels Saturday to Norman to face No. 21 Oklahoma, 7-3 (11 a.m. on Fox Sports 1). After taking over the starting job on Oct. 11, Cummings has averaged 284 passing yards in five starts, invigorating a previously catatonic passing game.
Last week, Cummings racked up 332 yards in a near upset of TCU, the most passing yards by a Kansas quarterback since Todd Reesing threw for 338 in a victory over Duke in 2009.
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“He has kind of just kept battling along, and demonstrating his ability to lead, make decisions and be tough,” Kansas interim coach Cliff Bowen said this week.
Two years ago, Cumming completed just 10 of 21 passes for 111 yards and two interceptions in a 52-7 loss at Oklahoma. The rest of the season was much of the same. As a redshirt freshman, Cummings often looked overwhelmed or simply erratic. So when Cummings dropped to third on the depth chart as a sophomore, behind starter Jake Heaps and backup Montell Cozart, it didn’t raise many eyebrows.
Perhaps it should have. Given extended playing time as a junior, the 5-foot-10 Cummings has proven himself as a more consistent and more capable performer than any quarterback who showed up on campus during the brief Weis era.
When Bowen replaced Weis in late September, he was simply looking for a quarterback who would make sound and quick decisions. Those traits led him to Cummings.
“He had that leadership quality about him,” Bowen says, “to where he was able to take control of situations.”
Now Cummings returns to Oklahoma, the location of his first career start, and some questions still remain. Kansas, for instance, is still looking for a full-time football coach. And Cummings knows that playing time is never guaranteed. But when Cummings steps in front of 82,000 fans on Saturday morning, he’s just hoping for a better performance.
“It’s going to be fun,” Cumming said. “Playing in front of the OU fans — there’s going to be a lot of them there — but they don’t have a direct impact on the game. So we’re just going to have to tune them out and focus on our assignments and execute.”
Kansas at No. 23 Oklahoma
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Gaylord-Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Other story lines
▪ THE OFFENSIVE LINE: Kansas coach Clint Bowen announced this week that senior right guard Ngalu Fusimalohi would miss the rest of the season with an undisclosed injury suffered against Iowa State on Nov. 8. Last week, freshman Junior Visinia started in place of Fusimalohi, and the offensive line, which also includes redshirt freshman Joe Gibson, has started to come together. “I think they're all starting to play better as a group,” Bowen said. “I think they're starting to work together and communicate better as a group, which is helping them get a hat on a hat at all times. I think their fundamentals have improved.”
▪ THE BACKUP QUARTERBACK: Oklahoma freshman quarterback Cody Thomas will start in place of Trevor Knight for the second straight week. Last week, Thomas threw three interceptions in a come-from-behind victory over Texas Tech. If the Jayhawks have visions of an upset, they probably need to win the turnover battle. Can the Jayhawks force Thomas to make some mistakes?
▪ REMEMBER THE BELLDOZER? Blake Bell, a former Oklahoma starting quarterback and Wichita native, transitioned to tight end before his final season in Norman. Bell, who was once known for his physical running style, has 13 catches for 154 yards this season, but four of those receptions have been for touchdowns. Bell also has two rushing attempts.