A few weeks ago, when Charlie Weis was still the coach and the Kansas offense was mired in another early-season rut, we examined the best quarterback performances of the Weis era.
The numbers were not pretty, of course, the mediocrity stretching through parts of three seasons and four quarterbacks. The Kansas passing game has been the great mystery of the program for going on three seasons. In an era where college offenses light up scoreboards — and quarterbacks chuck like never before — the offensive revolution seemed (and well seems) to be on hold in Lawrence.
Then there was junior quarterback Michael Cummings’ performance against Oklahoma State on Saturday in a 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State. It was Cummings’ first start of the season, the first since 2012. And again, it was not exactly pretty. Interim head coach Clint Bowen used the words “junk-yard dog” to describe Cummings’ quarterback style. But it was, if not quite a blast of fresh air, a bit of a relief.
Cumming completed 20 of 37 pass for a career-high 288 yards and one interception. It was the most passing yards by a Kansas quarterback since Dayne Crist threw for 303 yards in a loss to TCU on Sept. 15, 2012. It was more yards than Jake Heaps ever racked up; and more than former starter Montell Cozart managed during the season’s first five games.
After the game, Bowen would not declare Cummings as the starting quarterback for next week’s game at Texas Tech.
“We don’t ever give jobs away,” Bowen said. “Every week, every position, they will earn them.”
An admirable idea? Sure. But it’s hard to see how Cummings doesn’t get the nod on Saturday at Texas Tech. Early in the week, Bowen and offensive coordinator John Reagan spoke about what they wanted to see from their quarterback — whether it be Cozart, Cummings or sophomore T.J. Millweard. The offense, Reagan said then, simply needed someone to make sound decisions and control what the quarterback can control.
Cummings appeared to do that, even if the accuracy numbers were dragged down by some inconsistent throws and receiver drops.
“He brought what we wanted out of that position,” Bowen said. “Some leadership, some toughness, a guy people could rally around … not always pretty.”
Despite never beginning a season as Kansas’ starting quarterback, Cummings is not exactly some scrap-metal quarterback, riding out his career while taking up a spot on the depth chart. A former Turner Gill recruit, Cummings was a three-star quarterback from the state of Texas, a dual-threat athlete who drew a little interest from schools like Baylor and TCU. But for two years, Cummings appeared buried behind Weis’ transfer brigade. Now he might just be the Jayhawks’ best option at quarterback for the rest of the season.
“I would pick me,” Cummings said. “But I’m not a coach, so we’re going to go out this week and compete as well.”
Texas Tech is reeling in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. The Red Raiders fell 37-34 at West Virginia on Saturday, coughing up a 14-point lead and losing on a field goal in the last seconds of regulation.
It was their fourth straight loss, a stretch that began with a 49-28 loss to Arkansas and included a 45-13 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 4. The Red Raiders have lost their first three conference games for the first time since 1990.
“We just don’t know how to finish,” Kingsbury told reporters after the latest loss.
In other words, Kansas’ trip to Lubbock on Saturday could be coming at the opportune time.
Look ahead at the schedule, and the potential wins are few. Kansas will finish with games against TCU, at Oklahoma and at Kansas State. But two years ago, Kansas traveled to Lubbock and lost a game in double overtime. This year, they should be in position to compete.