OK, let’s start with the good for a change. The KU defense held the Mountaineers’ offense scoreless after halftime. Receiver Nick Harwell returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. The Jayhawks actually won the second half after falling behind West Virginia 26-0 at halftime.
So that’s something, perhaps — maybe some evidence that the Jayhawks kept fighting during interim coach Clint Bowen’s first game. But in the aftermath of Saturday’s 33-14 loss to West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium, it was hard to look past the bad: The Jayhawks’ passing game.
▪ Sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart was four of 10 for 42 yards before being replaced by junior Michael Cummings.
▪ Cummings was eight of 17 for 65 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per attempt.
▪ After five games, the Jayhawks, 2-3, rank 113th among 128 FBS teams in passing yards, averaging 154.6 yards per contest. They also rank 120th among FBS teams in passing efficiency.
OK, so none of this is new. A year ago, the Jayhawks ranked 120th nationally in passing (140 yards per game). The Jayhawks’ search for an answer at quarterback continues. Charlie Weis recruited six quarterbacks to Kansas in a two-year span; on Saturday, KU was resorting to Cummings, recruited to Lawrence during Turner Gill’s two-year regime.
Weis is gone now, of course, so the burden will fall on Bowen and offensive coordinator John Reagan. Bowen said Saturday that the starting quarterback job will be an open contest going forward. As Kansas prepares to face Oklahoma State on Saturday, Cozart, Cummings and sophomore T.J. Millweard, who came on late at West Virginia and completed his only pass, will have an opportunity to claim the job.
But here are a couple of things to consider about the Jayhawks’ flailing offense:
1. The problems of the last three seasons have now persisted through two offensive coordinators (Weis and Reagan), two schemes, four starting quarterbacks and two head coaches — though, to be fair, Bowen has been on the job for seven days.
There have been proud and accomplished football men running these offenses. Weis had the Super Bowl rings, the NFL resume, the bragging rights of having molded a young Tom Brady and guided Matt Cassel to the playoffs and Pro Bowl. Reagan, meanwhile, was an up-and-coming offensive mind, coming off a successful stint as Rice’s offensive coordinator. In 2012, Reagan guided Rice to the second-best offensive season in school history, piling up 5,556 yards and 31.8 points per game.
If you’re a Kansas fan, this doesn’t make the offensive struggles any easier to swallow, but it does make it a little more baffling.
2. Last night, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday set a single-game FBS record by completing 49 of 70 passes for 734 yards. In the same game, Cal quarterback Jared Goff was 47 of 53 for 527 yards and five touchdowns. Why is this relevant? In five games this season, Kansas (as a team) has completed 73 of 146 passes for 776 yards.
3. Former KU receiver Andrew Turzilli, who graduated last summer and surfaced as a graduate transfer at Rutgers, keeps making big plays in the passing game for the Scarlet Knights. Turzilli, who was a limited contributor in the receiving corps, had a 90-yard touchdown reception last week against Tulane. He then followed that up on Saturday by helping Rutgers to a 26-24 victory over Michigan with touchdown receptions of 80 and 14 yards.
Kansas returns home to Lawrence to face Oklahoma State on Saturday. But the schedule could soften a bit in the weeks after that. The Jayhawks will travel to Texas Tech, 2-3, on Oct. 18 and play host to Iowa State, 1-4, on Nov. 8. They also have a bye on Oct. 25 while facing unbeaten Baylor on Nov. 1.
The finishing stretch includes TCU at home and trips to Oklahoma and Kansas State. So if KU wants to pick off a Big 12 victory or two, the best opportunity could be Texas Tech or Iowa State.