Kansas has been the center of college football attention a few times in the past several years, and not for any news that flattered the Jayhawks. Coach fired, losing streak extended or some other indignity that defined the program as the worst among the power five conferences — too often, these stories carried a Lawrence dateline.
KU basked in a different kind of attention in the aftermath of Saturday’s 24-21 overtime triumph over Texas.
So many losing streaks ended with the outcome. The important ones to fall: 23 straight against FBS opponents, 19 in a row in the Big 12.
Losing so shaped the program’s identity it’s been difficult to detect progress. Losses piled up, and truth be told, as the 2016 season unfolded, the results too closely resembled the winless 2015 debacle to stamp a seal of improvement through 10 games.
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A narrow loss to TCU, competitive play against Texas Tech, blowing opportunities in the non-conference schedule, shaky quarterback play ... the ills of 2015 followed Kansas through much of 2016.
The one difference was a more capable defense led by a legitimate star in defensive end Dorance Armstrong, but even that didn’t produce a significant victory.
More tangible signs of improvement were required to believe David Beaty’s program was indeed headed in the right direction.
Saturday became the day. It didn’t feel that way early, as the game’s first snap resulted in a 75-yard touchdown connection for Texas on a play that should have gone for 5. And when the Longhorns led 21-10, with the ball and seemingly unstoppable running back D’Onta Foreman rolling, Kansas was shaping a familiar narrative: a competitive home game but another loss.
But over the final 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime, a combination of Kansas opportunism and poor Texas decision-making flipped the game.
Texas handed the ball to Foreman 21 times in the fourth quarter. The first possession ended in a touchdown and the second was punted away.
The next two breathed life into the Jayhawks. Foreman fumbled away what could have been at least a field-goal drive, then was stopped on fourth down, starting the possession that ended with Kansas’ game-tying field goal.
Texas didn’t slow its pace and Foreman, who finished with 51 rushing attempts, had to feel the effects.
When the Longhorns committed a turnover on their first overtime possession, Kansas faced its biggest challenge in years.
With one possession from the 25 to score and end a slew of ugly streaks, Kansas not only didn’t wilt, it played like a team that knew something about winning. The calls were low-risk-but-determined running plays that got kicker Matthew Wyman nearly to extra-point range, where he banged through the game winner.
Texas coach Charlie Strong likely sealed his firing with the loss, and around the nation, the topics of Florida’s triumph at LSU and narrow victories by Ohio State and Michigan were headliners.
But so was the scene in Lawrence, where fans ripped down the goal post, coaches cried and the Jayhawks ended streaks of futility that had become an embarrassment.
Followers of the program no longer have to take Beaty’s word when he talks about progress. Saturday provided the proof.