In late October, as the losses piled up and the disappointment bubbled just beneath the surface, Kansas coach David Beaty went looking for some positive reinforcement. He found it during a pregame discussion with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
As the Jayhawks warmed up on the morning of Oct. 31, Beaty and Stoops met on the turf of Memorial Stadium. KU had started 0-7, and as much as Beaty tried to keep the energy high and the tone positive, he feared he might be losing some of his kids. Stoops, Beaty recalls, said something reassuring.
“ ‘You’ve got to love them kids,’ ” Beaty remembered Stoops saying. “And Bob talked about it, when he first got to Oklahoma, about how those kids had to realize that they had value, and that they believed in them.
“Bob reinforced that in (our) pregame talk. He said, ‘Hey, look, this ain’t their fault, man. Just keep loving them boys. You’re on the right track and doing the right things.’ ”
For Beaty, a first-year head coach, the conversation provided a chance to take a deep breath and reflect. Even Stoops, a coach with a national title on his resume, once felt the burden of a rebuilding job.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks, 0-10 overall and 0-7 in the Big 12, will host West Virginia, 5-4, at 11 a..m. at Memorial Stadium. With a loss, Kansas would become the first team in program history to start a season with 11 straight losses. They would also move one week closer to the school’s first winless football season since 1954, when the Jayhawks finished 0-10.
The prospect of a winless season has loomed for months. But Beaty has preferred to put the focus on the process. After seven straight Big 12 losses, the Jayhawks will wrap up the season with a slight break in a daunting schedule. After facing West Virginia, the Jayhawks will conclude the season at home against K-State, which also enters the weekend looking for its first Big 12 victory. West Virginia and K-State will provide stiff challenges, but the baptisms against the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor are now over. What’s more, Kansas is coming off its most complete performance of the season, a 23-17 loss at a ranked TCU program.
“It’s the Big 12,” Beaty cautioned. “I think anybody is capable of playing great any week. That’s us included. You know what? Last week was its own game. It’s not going to be anything that’s going to help us move it forward. It’s going to be what happens when that ball gets snapped.”
West Virginia, meanwhile, enters Saturday on a two-game winning streak after losing four straight against the top four teams in the conference. The Mountaineers have handled Texas Tech and Texas and can gain bowl eligibility with a victory Saturday.
“There is plenty of motivation for those guys coming into this game this week,” Beaty said. “They’re a good football team, and they’re getting better. You can see them improving. This is no small task for us.”
West Virginia at Kansas
Kickoff: 11 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kan. (FCKC)
Three other story lines:
1. Beaty familiar with West Virginia’s Holgorsen: Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen is a product of the Air Raid coaching tree, having spent time as an assistant coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. David Beaty has connections in the same tree, but their relationship goes back further. When Beaty was a college receiver at Lindenwood in the early 1990s, Holgorsen was a quarterback and opponent at Iowa Wesleyan. “We actually played against each other,” Beaty said. “He was a heck of a player. A really, really good player for those guys. I think we may have split 1-1. I’d need to look that up, to be honest with you.”
2. Controlling the return game: West Virginia ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 in kickoff returns, and the Jayhawks were hurt by a special-teams touchdown last week, allowing a punt return in the first half of a loss at TCU.
3. Ryan Willis on the mend: Kansas freshman quarterback Ryan Willis is battling through a long list of nagging injuries, including some groin issues. He likely won’t be fully healthy for the rest of the season, but Beaty is confident he’ll be able to finish out the season. “I’m not going to say a whole lot other than that,” Beaty said. “But the groins are — those things linger and they’re hard. I mean, really (the) hardest thing about (the) groin is you really need to rest them, but we don’t have that luxury right now. We’re taking care of him as best we can, but he’s beat up all over the place.”