The Kansas football team has its Scarlet Letter.
When — if? — the program makes it back to prominence, when a transcendent coach is able to get the team to respectability, the first question asked by those too young to remember will be this: Just how bad was it?
That answer came on a warm and windy night at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
KU is now in the record books with a mark that is unlikely to be broken. The Jayhawks suffered their 44th straight road defeat, tying the FBS record set by Western (Colo.) State from 1926-36 — a mark set a few years before the United States entered World War II.
The truth is this: There wasn’t anything fluky about Kansas’ 43-0 loss to TCU. The Horned Frogs, a 37-point favorite, didn’t get help from wacky turnovers or strange plays as it built a 24-0 halftime lead.
TCU simply lined up and overwhelmed KU, down after down, block after block, catch after catch.
KU coach David Beaty, who said earlier in the week that his twin brother and mother were planning to attend the game, was asked about his emotions afterward.
“Man, I’ve got a few of them. Disappointed,” Beaty said, his voice slowing as he looked down. “ ... I know that our kids are preparing — we’re prepared well. Something’s missing. I’ve got to figure that out.”
For the Jayhawks, a nightmare scenario played out following this week’s announcement that Fox would be nationally televising the Jayhawks for the first time since the 2008 Orange Bowl.
Fox’s announcers didn’t exactly know how to process it all. Tim Brando made a comment about how a Cole Moos’ 67-yard punt might have been KU’s best play. At halftime, Matt Leinart was asked to talk about KU and he literally couldn’t, dropping his head into his hands as he started to laugh.
One could understand the reaction. KU’s offense was embarrassingly bad, mustering 21 — 21! — total yards on 49 plays. Seventeen of those yards came on the team’s final drive in garbage time.
To give that some context: College Football Reference’s play index tracks stats going back to 2000. KU’s 21 yards were the worst mark out of more than 26,000 results, beating out Mississippi State’s 24-yard effort against Mississippi in 2008.
“That’s a challenge that rests on my shoulders,” Beaty said of the offense. “I’ve got to be able to get that going with my staff.”
Here are some other stats that will take some time to digest:
▪ The Jayhawks never advanced the ball past their own 43 yard line offensively.
▪ KU finished with negative-25 rushing yards.
▪ The Jayhawks had four first downs total, with two coming off TCU penalties.
This is what it’s become in Beaty’s third year, a hope-filled season circling the drain quicker than anyone could have expected. This drubbing was so out of hand that both coaches agreed to a running clock for the final 12:49 of the fourth quarter — so the teams could end it before severe weather hit.
“People are hurt about this,” KU linebacker Joe Dineen said of his teammates in the locker room. “We know it’s unacceptable.”
So where does KU go from here? The next two home games seem vitally important.
The Jayhawks play host to rival Kansas State next week and winless Baylor the week after, representing the two contests left where KU won’t have an overwhelming talent disadvantage.
In other words KU, at 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12, is running out of time to show signs of progress in Beaty’s third season.
“We’ve just got to push forward,” KU offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji said. “We’ve still got five games left. We intend to go out there and keep playing hard.”
In the meantime, the team will likely face a tough week after backsliding during its TV closeup.
“This was a huge opportunity for us to go out there and show the country what we’re about,” Dineen said. “I don’t feel like we did that at all.”